Sustainability is not just a pipe dream, it is a necessity; and if we plan on making it through this century, we will have to make it our way of life.
I have been pumping gas into a car for about 10 years now and like many others, I have noticed that gas prices have doubled in that time period. It was not until recently that I started to look closer to see what could be done to curb my cost at the pump when I realized the grim reality: there was nothing.
There is nothing we can do to permanently lower gas prices and in fact, they will continue to rise until we can no longer afford them at all. The simple fact that we have known for years is that our oil resources are finite, and our demand now exceeds our ability to produce. The model of oil production that has proven true was proposed back in 1956 by renowned geophysicist Marion King Hubbert.
Hubbert’s prediction was scoffed at until it was proven true in 1970 when the United States entered a decline in oil production for the first time ever. Americans felt the sting of foreign oil dependency for the first time in 1973 when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) stopped all shipments to the United States, sparking an energy crisis.
One of the biggest misconceptions I had before I did any research was that our dependence on oil could be reduced by simply making cars that ran more efficiently or making them run off of alternative fuels like ethanol or electricity. While these would definitely help, they would only postpone the inevitable.
Corn, used to produce ethanol, has been proven to be unsustainable. Ecologist David Pimantel of Cornell University, in his March 2005 paper to the National Resources Research Journal, has calculated that it takes 29 percent more energy in the form of fossil fuels to produce ethanol than it can in turn provide.
It is also a common misconception that electric cars do not use fossil fuels. In fact, electricity is not a power source; it is simply a means for transporting energy from one place to another. According to a paper in the Harvard Business Review by John B. Hess, hydrocarbons supply approximately 85 percent of the world’s energy; so when you plug your electric car into the wall, you are in fact still using unsustainable energy.
Another thing I discovered while doing research was an article by Richard Gibson in the Butte Weekly from Dec. 21 & 28, 2005 on how much oil was used by our cars and how unsustainably produced the cars themselves were. I investigated further and found that Gibson has a book out as well. In the book, entitled “What Things are Made Of,” Gibson shows how just about everything we come into contact with has used oil in its production. What I began to realize was that not only could we not sustain a fuel supply for the cars we drive, but we could not even sustain production.
It is not just the gas we pump into the tank that is the problem, but also the oil we have to pump into everything else. Uncovering this idea that cars are produced so unsustainably led me to look elsewhere. Practically everything we use can be tied back to oil. I looked around my home and saw that everything had oil in it. Even the wood items had to be sawed down by a chainsaw and transported on trucks. Similar stories could be told about almost everything.
What happens when all of the oil is gone? We cannot just drill more wells because the easiest oil to get at has already been gotten. According to the United States Department of the Interior, as of 2010 we have 3500 off-shore drilling operations; it is reasonable to say that we would not be drilling offshore, where it is hard, if we still had supplies onshore, where it is easy. Will we be able to develop the technologies needed to sustain ourselves?
We are running out of time to change our lifestyle and if we do nothing, we will soon have to resort to drastic measures. On the current track we will collapse, so we need to start seriously investing money in alternative energy research so that when oil becomes too expensive to drill for, we will still be able to function.
We need to school our populations on the conservation of energy, so that they do not take what we have left for granted. Every single person can make a difference, and if we want to continue expanding as a species, we will have to work together.
- Scott Schetselaar
Senior Staff Writer