Friday, May 21, 2004

There is a great layman's introductory article on the global oil economy in the latest issue of National Geographic that I would recommend. It has some very cool maps like this one as well as enough information on tar sand to make the subject actually interesting.

The article also contains a great photo on pp. 82-83 (not on-line) of a Stow, OH family on their front lawn lost amidst all the stuff they own which is made from oil. In the picture I can pick out: footwear, athletic equipment, toys, sewing machine, booster seat, storage bins, food containers, furniture, clothing, electronics, household appliances, lawn tools, sunglasses, tires, the car . . . well, you get the picture. Another photo on pp. 98-99 of a 1250-lb. steer standing next to six big red 42-gal. oil barrels gets another important point across; the caption reads "a pound of beef takes three-quarters of a gallon of oil to produce".

All this underlines the point that oil is about a lot more than simply "energy".
In the U.S. about two-thirds of the oil goes to make fuel for cars, trucks, and planes. But the synthetic fabrics in our wardrobe and the plastics in just about everything we touch started out as oil too. We can also thank oil and its cousin, natural gas, for the cheap and plentiful food at the supermarket, grown with the help of hydrocarbon-based fertilizers and pesticides. As Daniel Yergin writes in his oil history The Prize, we live in "the Age of Hydrocarbon Man."
Factor in all the oil embodied in the goods and services the US imports via its $500bn annual trade deficit and you can't help but see that our entire civilization floats atop a sea of oil. $40/bar. is about far far more than the price at the pump.

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