Monday, June 24, 2013

Post Carbon Economy pt.2

The role of the petroleum industry.

As I have pointed out petroleum products have permeated our lives. They are essential for; almost all modern medical procedures, the harvesting, transportation and packaging of many agricultural products, the manufacturing processes for goods that keep our very society running. I know for a fact that anyone reading this (because it is only published on the internet and thus requires a computer) owes a debt of thanks to the petroleum industry for the computer and probably many other products in their lives.

Petroleum from refined crude oil or otherwise extracted from the ground, is sequestered carbon that is the result of more than 50 million years worth of biological and geological activity. If a process takes that kind of time to form, how do you harvest it in a sustainable way? The truth is you can't. So It is time for humanity to start prioritizing how we consume this incredibly valuable resource. Is it more important for you to drive five blocks to the store today or for a child to have access to the materials necessary for kidney dialysis in a hundred years?

The petroleum industry is not going to embrace the kind of austerity of consumption necessary to ensure this resource is managed intelligently. Asking an industry that is used to immense profits to self regulate for the betterment of long term goals is like asking a junkie in the throws of a binge to refrain from their drug of choice. We also cannot depend on the government to hand down regulation that will curtail excess consumption because of the mess that lobbying and the campaign finance economy has made of our democratic process.

From the standpoint of a petroleum producer, the faster the last barrel of oil is extracted the better, because that last barrel will be worth a fortune. They are not planning ways to make this resource last for the next ten generations. Maybe they assume some technocratic solution will alleviate the suffering of future generations when the systems that many depend on for their very lives can no longer be sustained. Like a run away freight train, even if people inside of these corporations want to change the rate at which oil is extracted, they are powerless to do so because of laws protecting shareholders.

So it is up to consumers. We must become aware of how and why we consume petroleum products and strive to limit our consumption. There is no one looking out for our best interests. Governmental entities have to weigh out many competing interests, economic, social, and environmental. In many cases the compromises they are forced to make, render inadequate results. Many small changes in peoples lives in aggregate could substantially prolong access to petroleum products for future generations.

Changes like ditching plastic bags and avoiding over packaged products. Changing commuting habits to include alternative forms of transportation. Reducing energy consumption both at home and at work. Simply being aware of personal consumption and placing efficiency higher on the criteria used when making new purchases can have a dramatic influence. One step further would be to eliminate unnecessary travel and purchases all together. Ask if a four day work week of ten hours shifts is possible, eliminating fifty or more round trip commutes a year. There are many different ways to take responsibility for personal petroleum consumption. It is not in the hands of the producer or the government, it truly is in the hands of the people.