The next time you shop for anything, notice how everything is packaged. You’ll find almost everything you want from compost to bottled water to baby food is packaged in some form of plastic.
Plastic is everywhere. It is in our cars, our toys, our electronic devices, pens and pencils, recording equipment, cameras, shopping bags, tool handles and wheelbarrows — just to name a few.
Plastic is made from oil. Oil in the United States is about 80 percent imported. Fortunately, Canada and Mexico are two of our biggest suppliers for the oil we burn, but much more of it is sent to the countries from whom we buy so much of our merchandise, groceries and other consumables. They then send their products to us wrapped in plastic.
Last year, I wrote it takes about an ounce of petroleum to produce a bottle of water and get it to the store. If you care to do the math, you’ll find bottled water is almost nine times as expensive as the gasoline that got you to the store. In that piece, I also mentioned observations of people sitting in their idling vehicles just to stay cool, people driving enormous sport-utility vehicles and dual-axle trucks only to go to the store for groceries. As I scan our behaviors from the luxury of someone with too much time on his hands, one word keeps pinging in my brain: waste.
The petroleum resources people are dying for are being wasted as much as they are being used up. What, for example, do we do with all the empty beverage containers, wrappers, razors, computers, cell phones and all the rest when we’re done with them? We throw them in the trash and never give a second thought to their subsequent destination. Where all this processed oil ends up is in a dump, landfill (talk about misnomers) or burned somehow releasing more toxic chemicals into the air we breathe.
I am not a tree hugger, nor am I a squirrel feeder. I like to think of myself as a pragmatist who values what people live and die for. Every major oil-producing nation in the Middle East is in some sort of conflict that involves the killing of humans either directly or indirectly related to somebody’s use of oil. That said, I have to ask how those lives from battling over rapidly dwindling resources are valued. What good is all this mayhem and the mayhem to come when the oil finally does run out? How do we justify our mountains of petroleum-product waste in view of economic systems built on steady supplies of cheap oil?
Back in the day, beverages came in glass containers, some of which were recycled. Soup crackers were packed in wax paper instead of extruded plastic sleeves. Eggs were shipped in pressed paper cartons instead of Styrofoam. I carried my groceries and other purchases home in paper or canvas bags. My clothes were made with natural fibers. My athletic shoes were made from cowhide. My pencils were made of wood. My records were made of wax (Yes, I’m that old.) All our indoor and outdoor furniture were built from wood and metal.
I also do not deny that many petroleum-based products have added immeasurable quality to everyone’s life as well as to the medicines that keep us healthy from disease. My point is we should want to extend those benefits for as long as possible until we can actually find ways to make affordable, non-petroleum replacements. Some day the oil will be gone — all of it. Guaranteed.
A good case for an alternative energy is biodiesel fuel replacing petro-diesel. Oils extracted from soybean, safflower and a variety of other oil-producing plants make superb fuel for diesel engines. Diesel engines are designed to burn virtually anything flammable. Navy ships, jets, trucks, cars and generators all burn biodiesel more efficiently and with fewer polluting emissions than petro-diesel. It’s cheaper to make than petro-diesel and ethanol and actually provides the same energy output as petro-diesel.
So, naturally, the oil industry fostered a disinformation campaign while pressuring fuel outlets to quash the use of biodiesel. And so the story goes …
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks.He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.