Almost everything around us has been made from or has used oil in its distribution; we are hopelessly addicted. The news that low oil prices are to be around for a while due to the success of US shale oil has been seen by the media as a good thing….but is it really?
The majority of oil is used as fuel for transportation cars, HGVs, planes and shipping. This is not an efficient use of this valuable resource, petrol engines are typically 25% efficient and diesel cars are typically 40% efficient, marine engines up to 50%.
There are some unusual and important things that oil is also used to make: heart valves, parachutes, antiseptics, rubbing alcohol, hearing aids, motorcycle helmets, nylon rope, fertilizers, aspirin, detergents, soft contact lenses, artificial limbs, bandages, dentures, antihistamines, cortisone. Given that oil is a finite resource that won’t last forever, it could be argued that ethically it would be better to save oil for these uses instead of burning it engines, causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Whilst we have low oil prices there is no economic driver to look for alternatives and we keep along the business as usual model of ‘drill and combust’ these fossil fuels. Our unwillingness to factor in the external costs to society of the damage that oil does to the environment, and their inherent resource value will increasingly become apparent. As air quality continues to be an issue for our health and climate change brings greater instability and turbulence at a global and local level, the environmental impacts will become economic impacts that we will not be able to ignore. But that may come too late. The cost of Storm Desmond in 2015 has cost the UK economy over £5bn, we simply cannot keep on paying for this. Our reliance on the market does not adequately account for resource scarcity until it becomes too late, and in practice the cost of resources will only go sky high once Governments in possession of the remaining resource pools start to strategically price them, and consumers are held to ransom. Why are we waiting to have these consequences imposed on us instead of evolving now while we have the chance to do it in a measured way?
We need to wean ourselves off our addiction to oil, and fast, there is technology already available that can help us do this but it needs the political will to drive this. We need to remind ourselves that despite recent global events, the majority of the world’s population believes we should act. The anti-science rhetoric coming from the US is not an excuse to fail to act.
As environmentalist David Suzuki often says you cannot have any economy on a planet that is so polluted and hot that we cannot live on it. This is not politics or economics…. it’s fact.
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