If you’ve seen the 2011 documentary, The Crisis of Civilization, then you’ve no doubt realized that our modern society is teetering on the verge of disaster. There are a number of culprits responsible, but climate change brought on by years of fossil fuel use is one of the more notable causes.
One of the most rational (and unpopular) solutions would be to drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum. The latter would be especially difficult for our modern society to stomach, however, as petroleum products are present in a surprising number of items that we use every day.
To provide perspective on what future generations might be facing, here are some of the things our children or grandchildren would likely have to do without in a world bereft of petroleum products:
Computers – Since you’re on the Internet, it can be safely assumed that you’re using some kind of computer to read this article. Whether it’s a laptop or smartphone, these devices are largely made up of plastic. Unfortunately, all plastics are made from petroleum, so kiss Angry Birds and funny cat videos goodbye in a world without fossil fuels.
Medicine – While medicines such as penicillin are made from organisms, most over-the-counter pain relievers contain acetylsalicylic acid. In case you haven’t already guessed, ASA is made from petrochemicals.
Cars – While plastics only account for about 10 percent of the weight of modern cars, they make up about 50 percent of the volume. Petroleum is also present in other areas of your vehicle, from the enamel in paint to the synthetic rubber in your tires.
Food – Most food products have been intimately affected by the petroleum industry before they ever enter your mouth. Pesticides and fertilizers are introduced to fruits and vegetables before harvesting, and then they’re spruced up for the market with everything from preservatives to artificial flavoring. Organic foods are meant to avoid such environmentally destructive methods, but you’ll also end up paying extra for the privilege of being a responsible consumer.
Cosmetics – The next time you’re putting on makeup, think about all the crude oil that’s being dabbed or smeared onto your face. That’s because up to 80% of the ingredients in cosmetics are made from petrochemicals, including everything from dyes to oils.
Fuel – If you want your mostly plastic car to move down the road (which is paved with a petroleum product known as asphalt), you’re going to need fuel. A single 42-gallon barrel of oil creates about 19 gallons of gasoline, and another third is used for jet and diesel fuel.
Athletic Shoes – Some shoes are still made from substances like leather, but most people wear athletic shoes suitable for activities such as basketball and jogging. All of the latter are manufactured using polyurethanes, which is yet another substance derived from petroleum. In the future, moccasins may be making a comeback in a major way.
Synthetic Fabrics – Your shoes aren’t the only things you wear on your body that are made of petroleum. Synthetic fibers are cheaper to manufacture and easier to maintain, and they’ve become increasingly common over the decades. The next time you slip on a polyester shirt or pair of spandex jogging pants, don’t forget where those fibers originated from.
As you can see, petroleum-based products are everywhere. They make our lives easier and better, while at the same time slowly tightening a noose around our collective necks. It’s not too late to make some changes, but such actions would lead to the absence or alternation of many common items that we take for granted on a daily basis.