A Man-Made Disaster

Oil Spill Interrupted

fossil fuel usage“Marine biology and environmental experts said they feared the aggressive cleanup operation, during which oil has been set alight and oil-dispersing chemicals have been dumped into the sea, might be more damaging than the oil itself. …. The chemically cleaned up areas have taken the longest to recover and they are still damaged. The areas that were left alone actually recovered much quicker.”

Truly, honestly, in the 71st day of mass oil bleeding into the Gulf, could it possibly get any worse? According to the above statement, we’ve made it far worse than anything ever imagined possible. We need to find alternatives to our petroleum addiction.

Petroleum is such a huge component of our lives, reaching far beyond the fuel that we consume in our cars (although the transportation industry is oil’s top user … think planes, trains and automobiles).

In their blog, Triple Diamond Energy Corporation, a Texas-based oil and gas production and exploration company, breaks down the three major uses of petroleum:

  1. The transportation sector remains the greatest single user of petroleum: petroleum-based products, especially motor gasoline, distillate (diesel) fuel, and jet fuel, provide virtually all of the energy consumed within the transportation industry.
  2. The industrial sector is the second largest consumer ~ Petrochemical raw materials are converted to basic chemical building blocks and intermediates (such as ethylene, propylene, normal- and iso-butylenes, butadiene, and aromatics such as benzene, toluene, and xylene). In turn, all these chemicals are used to produce plastics found in our everyday objects. If you think Petroleum Jelly is a healthy product to use, think again …
  3. The residential / commercial including the electric utility sectors account for the remaining petroleum consumption ~ the heating oil used to keep our buildings warm; in medicines, food, plastics, and even in the clothes we wear.

As North Americans, here are some interesting statistics that might bring the reality a bit closer to home (as adapted from the book “Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells—Our Ride to the Renewable Future” by Amanda Little:

Americans consume nearly 800 million gallons of oil—about 20 times more than the total estimated volume of crude that has spilled into the Gulf so far. Each of us, on average, consumes about 30 percent more oil everyday than the average European, and roughly 40 percent more oil per day than the average citizen of Japan.

That’s a whole lot of dependence on a diminishing resource … we seem to have an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. Are eco-friendly alternative fuels the answer? How about nuclear power? Biofuels? Tapping solar and wind energy? The use of algae as a green source of energy? What about biodegradable products and packaging (aka bioplastics ~ think potato, corn starch, soy, sugarcane based, used in lieu of the plastic derivatives used in our everyday lives)? For example, do we really need to double-wrap our bread loaves and ‘package’ all of our organic fresh produce separate from the conventional counterparts, especially when it’s pitched as soon as we get home? But then do we open a whole new can of worms by using these alternative food sources for bioplastics and biofuels, creating a food shortage instead?

renewable raw materialsOur current reality: the time is coming where we really won’t have a choice but to look to alternatives. At the rate we’re going, the world oil supply will inherently decline in the near future. We’re rapidly using up our fossil fuel supply (and bleeding a good portion of it into our oceans, creating an even larger man-made disaster).

So many possibilities, and more importantly many solutions, are available with today’s available technology, brainpower and resources. There will always be downfalls to any consumable available to humankind. There are far too many humans on this planet to find the perfect solution in a one-size fits all bundle. But realistically, the time has come. Up to this point, it seems that we as a society have been slow to recognize our own roles, as consumers, in the catastrophe. It’s time to step outside of the box and our comfort zone, look towards a community less reliant on the use of petroleum in our everyday lives and move to alternative sources of energy, power and petroleum-derivative objects.

Perhaps, instead of being totally distraught by what’s going on around the planet where we have little control over the outcome or current situation, why not try to make a difference at home, in the workplace and in the community. Did you know that the biggest consumable of energy in our lives isn’t our cars, but rather is our homes. Gwyneth Paltrow’s newsletter GOOP divulges that our homes are demanding huge amounts of energy and are emitting roughly double the amount of CO2 as the car in our driveways. Take a step beyond that. ‘Greening’ our homes, perhaps becoming Energy Star compliant, and efficient with our power usage at home is a fantastic place to start. Ditching our reliance on plastic water bottles and using a reusable container. Rather than buying new, new, new, reusing the plethora of resources already out there. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This is my mantra, and I hope it becomes yours.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:  use secondhand clothing for both adults and children; reuse office products such as binders, plastics, paper; commute to and from work, or see if you can work from home for a day or two each week; grow your own garden or buy locally grown food which is sustainable and supporting local business; BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) for shopping rather than purchasing plastic bags; take public transit or employ personal peddle power to get around …). You get the picture. Now go make a difference. 🙂

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