Petroleum, or oil, is a pretty amazing substance. It powers our vehicles, can be turned into an overwhelming variety of products by adding different ingredients, and it’s found simply sitting underground.
But the flexibility and relative ease of locating oil comes at a cost. In January 2006, President George W. Bush famously said that America is addicted to oil.
He was right; however, it isn’t only America’s problem. Societies all over the world depend on oil for almost every aspect of life.
Beyond the gasoline and oil used in the powering of combustion engines, oil is used to create some of the plastics that protect our food, the foams that make our beds and couches more comfortable, candles and even the liquid soaps we use to clean up.
Our lives are quite literally coated in oil. Humans today aren’t merely addicted to oil – most addictions can be stopped with enough time and effort. With our world being so inundated with oil and oil derivatives, we have intertwined our modern existence with the availability of oil.
We are children of oil, born from the advances and conveniences that oil manipulation has given to our cultures.
As humans become more aware of the global changes being accelerated by our inputs into the system, our use of oil is taking a forefront as one of the main causes of global emissions and pollution.
While driving less or switching to an electric vehicle accomplishes a lot in the way of curbing emissions, we all need to take a close look at other petroleum byproducts used in our everyday lives in order to attempt to curb unnecessary pollution and emissions.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. consumed more than 20 million barrels of petroleum per day in 2019. Most of this is refined into gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil and diesel fuel, however some is used to create plastics.
It is doubtful the reader needs a reminder about how pervasive plastics are in our daily lives- chances are a cursory glance around the room will find at least a handful of plastic items.
Plastic’s double-edged sword comes in its durability. Being remarkably resistant to weathering and decay, plastic can last a long time even in very thin sheets. Unfortunately for the environment, plastic can last a long time even in very thin sheets. This leads to large buildups of plastic pollution.
Plastic has been found polluting almost every ecosystem on the planet. Scientists studying the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean trench known, even found plastic pollution in the guts of every animal they tested.
Researchers have been able to locate organisms that are actually able to feed on plastic, such as bacterium and even a kind of waxworm, and we will most likely lean on these little-understood creatures in the future to try and combat global plastic buildups. Until then, it’s important to try and limit the amount of plastics we use in our daily lives.
This can even help us lead healthier lives. Scientists are beginning to unravel the effects that different compounds used to turn oil and other petrochemicals into various forms can have on our bodies. Interestingly, some of the same compounds used to make a plastic water bottle, for example, have the ability to mimic or affect hormones in our bodies, including testosterone and estrogen.
The long-term effects these compounds can have on the body are largely unknown, however it is becoming clear that getting too comfortable with using certain plastics can’t be very good for us.
While we attempt to slow climate change by altering the ways we travel, it is important to also remain vigilant about the other petroleum products we use in and around the house, in order to remove unneeded plastics and other derivatives from daily life.
Brannen Basham is a writer and horticulturalist. Together with his wife, Jill Jacobs, he owns Spriggly’s Beescaping. He recently published his first book, “A Guide to the Wonderful World Around Us: Notes on Nature.” For more information visit www.sprigglys.com.