Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holy Shit, Oil!

Oil Well


That's right, oil. Black gold. Texas tea. A number of other metaphors, not all of which are featured in the introduction of The Beverly Hillbillies.
Jed Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies
Though I don't personally see the use in a Clampett-less oil metaphor.

More specifically, petroleum, which is one of those pesky words that mix their etymological roots. It comes from the Greek word petra (stone) and the the Latin word oleum (oil). At least it's not as bad as the scientific name for swordfish (Xiphias gladius. Greek and Latin for sword sword. Come on, science. It's like you're not even trying.)

More to the point, petroleum has been a part of human society for at least 4,000 years, when it was used in its semi-solid state (asphalt) to build the walls and towers of Babylon. In 1847, oil got its big break, like a young, diamond-in-the-rough musician impressing a talent agent at a dive bar with her moxie and soothing, soulful voice. Except instead of a talent agent, it was a Glaswegian chemist named James Young.

James Young
With a remarkably bitchin' dwarf beard.

And instead of moxie and vocals, it was petroleum's ability to turn into kerosene that piqued Young's interest. From there, it was a meteoric rise to world superstardom. Especially when gasoline was invented a few decades later.

Suddenly, petroleum became one of the most vital natural resources of all time. Like all precious resources, it moved nations to violence. Ever wonder why Japan was being such a dick in 1941 with the whole surprise attack thing? Well, the U.S. wasn't too happy about their expansion, so we cut off their supply of sweet, sweet oil.

Around the same time, Hitler went on an ill-fated vacation into Russia. He talked a big talk about living space and the evils of Communism and Slavic people, but I'm pretty sure those plump Caucasus Oil Fields had something to do with it as well.

Oh, and hey, remember how the U.S. has been involved to some extent in every major conflict of the Middle East for the past century or so? I wonder what that could be all about. Well, it starts with a dinosaur and a bunch of rock (nature's extremely slow juicer)...
Orange Juice
Mmm. Fossily.

Except WAIT.


It doesn't.

There's been an abundance of dead dinosaur jokes concerning oil lately, and I want to dispel that myth here and now. It's important to remember that just because everything we know about dinosaurs was gleaned from fossils doesn't mean that all fossils are dinosaurs. It especially doesn't mean that "fossil fuels" are dinosaurs.

The weird thing is, fossil fuels are organic matter. Petroleum is essentially made of algae and bacteria, buried under sedimentary rock and heated over millions of years by geothermal energy. The millions of years thing is a problem. In 1965, new oil discovery reached its peak. In the 1980s, oil production began to outpace oil discovery. By many estimates, peak oil has either already occurred or is expected in the very near future.
Peak Oil
It's not gonna go back up.

That's a very, very bad thing. I mean, on the plus side we'd have to worry about climate change a little bit less. On the downside, though...we'd pretty much be looking at a thorough, worldwide economic collapse. Petroleum is in everything. On top of being the linchpin of the transportation industry, it is a key ingredient in plastic. Try to go a single day without using something that is plastic. If you're reading this on a computer, you probably already failed that challenge. If you're reading it on something that is not a computer, I'll probably have an idea for my next topic.

With that in mind, it might be time to consider investing a little bit more in alternative energy. Because oil, a foundational pillar of the global economy, is starting to crack.

Unless, that is, we can replicate a process that takes millions of years and do it in a few minutes. Which is apparently not out of the question.

Holy shit.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised alternative energies haven't taken a more popular turn what with the oil running out and all. I guess it's time to start the algae farm!