Depleting Natural Resources; A One Way Dead End Street
By Mike Folkerth and Greg Chadwick
Finite, non-renewable, forever; these are absolutes; once non-renewable resources are gone, they are gone forever; absolutely. However, most Americans never consider that they are burning massive quantities of non-renewable resources every minute of every day.
This is a one-time endowment folks, all of the tickets are sold. These resources that make our lives possible took tens of millions of years to accumulate and we are consuming it in just over 200 years (the majority in just 60 years)! Yet we use non-renewables for everything, in spite of their finite nature. Ain’t we something?
We “modern” humans are sometimes characterized as Petroleum Man. All that we have and all that we are is only possible because of fossil fuels. Our society will cease to exist without them, yet we take it for granted and will leave nothing behind. Well, nothing other than a resource depleted and polluted planet with mountains of garbage and debt. Quite a legacy we bequeath to our Grandchildren, huh?
Sitting in my office, here’s what I see – oil! Much of what I see is made from petroleum distillates, and what isn’t is only here because of cheap oil, coal and natural gas that is used to mine, manufacture and transport it.
The list is long; my laptop computers, the monitor, the mouse, mouse pad, telephones, tape player, blood pressure monitor, plant containers, the pills on my desk; yes, pharmaceuticals contain petrochemical feed stocks. That’s not all! All of the cords, surge protectors, the paper shredder, printer case and components, the base and moving parts of the leather chair, my cheap flute and one piece of art that looks like wood, but like everything else, are actually made from petrochemicals.
There are even petrochemicals in the carpet and the padding and the picture frames. The laminates on my desk and file cabinets are made with petrochemicals. Never mind the amount of plastic and other petrochemical by- products in cars, garden hoses, household cleaners and detergents. I have missed as many items as I have listed, so follow this link to see what else is made with petrochemicals.
In addition, all of the energy used to manufacture and ship these items to our homes comes directly, or indirectly, from fossil fuels. Even nuclear plants are built and maintained with fossil fuels. Without fossil fuels, nuclear power plants, photovoltaic panels, windmills, electric and hybrid cars, you name it; none of this would be possible.
And yet, you can go to any coffee shop in America and listen to someone rear back and with their best impression of divine wisdom say, “Don’t worry, they’ll come up with a substitute for oil.” To this, I ask them, “What’s your idea?” The response to that question is deathly silence.
When fossil fuels become too expensive or population rises to the point that there is simply not enough to go around, we will slowly revert to a pre-industrial life style. At that point, we will have what little timber is left, hydro, geothermal, wind, solar power and our own labor and that of our animals. Unfortunately, all of this combined can’t match the energy density, ease of use, portability and versatility of oil. Nothing is even close.
Oh sure, “They,” could come up with a brand new form of energy that can be used in place of oil and save us all from our collective stupidity, but remember, the Department of Energy was formed to do just that in August of 1977! After 32 years of spending billions upon billions of tax dollars to find a solution; nada. In fact, our energy dependence has grown every year during that period.
If this all sounds insane, consider that our goal is to increase consumption of these non-renewable resources, each and every year. We have to ask ourselves, at what point does ignorance become stupidity?
We have another underlying problem of monumental proportion that is just now rearing its ugly head. American’s built the largest and most complex infrastructure in the world using cheap fossil fuels and plentiful mined materials. That infrastructure is now aged and needs replaced, but there is a problem. Ya see, we didn’t take into account that these fuels and materials were of the no-deposit, no-return, sort of goods.
The cost of gasoline in the west has risen from around 25 cents per gallon in 1971, to more than $3.00 today (nearly $4.00 at one point). That’s 12 times more. So if a person were making $5.00 per hour in 1971 (about average) that same person would have to be making $60 per hour today or about $120,000 per year to remain even. Medium household income for 2009 (not yet officially available) is expected to drop below $50,000!
So to cut to the quick, we can no longer afford to maintain our infrastructure. The cost of fuel and materials has far outpaced wages. We could build it, but we can’t replace it. This is called poor planning.
Add to this the very real fact that world demand will no longer allow our 4.8% of world population to utilize 25% of global fuel and 30% of world materials.
The combination of the above is why nearly every state, city, town, and county in the nation is putting infrastructure construction and repair on the back burner. Sure, they can conveniently blame it on recession, but that dog won’t hunt.