On top of the many benefits that fossils fuels provide, including the ability to use machines to amplify our productivity and improve our lives and the ability to provide cheap, plentiful, and reliable energy on a scale of billions, we have yet another set of benefits.
Our hydrocarbon world
Using oil and gas, the hydrocarbon industry also produces a caliber of synthetic materials that cannot be matched by any other industry. We have so many diverse materials. We have artificial hearts, bullet-proof vests, insulation, carpet, golf balls, ink.
Where did these materials come from? Let’s take something as seemingly unrelated to oil as paper. You might say, “I know where paper comes from. Paper comes from trees.” But if you notice, there’s a coating on the paper that makes it a lot easier to write on.
It’s worth asking with all of these things, “Where does it come from? Does it come from a rock, does it come from a plant, does it come from metal? Glass? Sand? Where does it come from?”
If you ask that question, you’ll find that the answer more often than not that it comes from oil, or from natural gas. It’s amazing how much in our life is made from hydrocarbons.
Another question you should ask yourself is, “How frequently do I use oil-based materials?” You may be surprised to find that it’s nearly impossible to get through an entire day without coming into contact with dozens of oil-based products that improve your life. And when I say oil-based, I include natural gas-based products too.
An oil walk
Let’s try this. Say you wake up reaching to snooze your alarm clock. It’s an electric device so why aren’t you worried about potentially getting electrocuted? Well, there’s a cord that insulates the electricity and protects you from that. What’s that made of? It’s made of oil, which means that some brilliant engineers figured out how to take this substance, this hydrocarbon, and turn it into a cord, and do it very affordably.
How does that work? Basically, hydrocarbon molecules have a potential to be very versatile, but you need human ingenuity to figure out how to break them down into “monamers,” which are very small hydrocarbon molecules. Then, the brilliant engineers figure out how to make the monamers into “polymers,” which are these different combinations of the hydrocarbon molecules that can serve any purpose.
Next, say you don’t want to get out of bed because it’s so comfortable and you think, “Gosh, I love this Tempur-Pedic bed, it feels so good.” Where does Tempur-Pedic come from?
This is oil, too. You might think, “Well, this isn’t relevant to me because I have a Sleep Number bed, and that’s high gauge plastic, not just foam.” Wait. The oil industry makes that, too.
You can’t even get out of bed in this exercise, because there’s so many things about your bed that are made from oil.
When you do get up, what’s the first thing your feet touch? The floor and very likely a rug or carpet. What’s that carpet made from? It’s made from oil. And why are you warm? It’s not just because of the natural gas-based heating you may have, but also because of the insulation in the walls. “What about the paint on the walls?” That too, is from oil.
And as you get dressed, you’ll find that your plastic eyeglass lenses, your nylon socks, and your rubber-soled shoes all come from oil, too. You see that so much of our lives is based on using hydrocarbons, for all of these amazing modern materials.
What if hydrocarbons were more expensive?
Here’s the question to ask. What would happen to these materials if oil and gas were more expensive? It’s very simple. The products that use those materials are made that way, because the oil-based materials enable them to be higher quality, less expensive, and sometimes exist in the first place. Sometimes there’s no other way to do it.
To recap what we’ve covered so far:
- Energy is fundamental
- Energy needs to be cheap, plentiful, and reliable
- The process for creating energy also needs to be cheap, plentiful, and reliable.
- The fossil fuel industry is the only industry that can provide cheap, plentiful, and reliable energy for billions of people
And that brings us to the conclusion that without the hydrocarbon industry’s unique efficiency, vital energy and materials would not be affordable or available to billions more people.
Fossil fuels = access to energy
Simply put, using fossil fuels means more people have more access to energy. Which means all things being equal, more years of life added on to billions of people’s lives.
And thus, every fossil fuel discussion should incorporate the context that the fossil fuel industry is the only industry that can produce cheap, plentiful, reliable energy for billions of people.
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