Editor, Daily Nexus,
I wish the end of oil were as simple as everyone riding their bikes and walking to work. I wish I could say – with certainty – that it will be a smooth, brief transition. While it’s true that “barrels of crude oil are not commonly purchased by college students,” realize that plastic is made out of oil. Did you know that? That’s where plastic comes from: barrels of crude oil – polyester, too.
Think about a world without plastic or polyester. Like the whalers on Nantucket, we have integrated petroleum products so efficiently into our way of life that it might take 30 or 40 years to develop alternatives. It’s not just the Ferraris that are going to take a hit – it’s the airplanes, the helicopters, the fire engines, the police cars and the ambulances. We’re going to have to invent new things to hold blood in. And who gets the blood bag when oil is $150 a barrel? Not the broke college student. Not the Third World.
Ah, you say, technology will save us – they’ve got plastic made out of corn now. Newsflash: 80 percent of the corn produced in the U.S. is genetically modified and unlabeled. In some people, one of the side effects of consuming GMO corn is anaphylactic shock. What then? Okay, say we solve that problem, miraculously – Monsanto decides to grow nothing but non-GMO organic corn for the good of the planet. Now, ask yourself: Exactly how much corn would the world have to grow to replace our global petroleum supply? That puts us back to square one: investing all our eggs in one basket.
What is the lesson of evolution? Monocultures breed monopredators. Which is why the end of oil isn’t really about the end of oil. It’s about our realization that we have invested a great deal of our future in a resource that is finite, in a system that is not sustainable. And when things aren’t sustainable, they face extinction.
What worries me, more than all of this, is the lack of critical thinking involved in all these “solutions” to the end of oil, because it’s not technology that’s going to save us, it’s critical thinking. Technology is not a fairy godmother, people. It’s a hammer, and without critical thinking, it can’t save anyone.
I put a challenge to the students at UCSB: Step up to the plate, kids. Instead of praying to some technology god to rescue us in 50 years, instead of getting baked while the last of the oil is circling the drain, put your thinking caps on. Ask questions. Use your brains. You have within you the optimism that only exists when you’re young, that is so necessary to do the impossible, to change the world. Put your mettle to the pedal. The future needs you.