Life Without Oil and Other Petrochemicals

I am amazed by the number of people who seem to believe that we can replace crude oil with some other energy source and everything will be lovely. Let’s suppose that we could (though the numbers say we can’t). Outside of the energy replacement issue, we have all the other products which are derived from petrochemicals. This article hits on a few of the things:

Petroleum is used in many of the medical products we take for granted. Visit any hospital or doctor’s office and you will find these items that are derived from petroleum: heart valves, artificial limbs, stethoscopes, syringes, hearing aids, vaporizers, anesthetics, antiseptics, operating gloves and equipment tubing.

In the home, petroleum is a major component of many items found in medicine cabinets and on cosmetic stands: dentures, aspirin, nasal decongestants, rubbing alcohol, deodorants, cough syrup, bandages, burn lotions, antihistamines, allergy medications, vitamins, cologne, insect repellents, moisturizers, soaps and petroleum jelly.

And that is just for starters in one area of application. For a more detailed list of the different things which we need and use which are based on petrochemicals, go check out this chart (PDF).

The short of it? If we removed everything from our lives that is based on petrochemicals, we would not recognize it. Could we replace some, or many of these products with similar products made from renewable energy sources like corn and soybeans? Of course we could–as long as we drop the Earth’s human population by some mind-blowing percentage while increasing our crop outputs dramatically. In case you are wondering, the quick answer is “No.”

Could we live without the thousands of products which are derived from black gold? Yes, as evidenced by the millions who lived before the modern age–when we figured out what to do with oil. Do we wish to go back to that simpler, yet more dangerous time?

I most assuredly do not.