Gasoline Car Lows: Politics & Pollutants
Strictly as a transportation fuel, gasoline does a great job. It packs a lot of energy for its volume and weight; it's fairly easy to handle and transport; it doesn't need to be kept at any special temperature or pressure, and its price -- even currently -- makes it economically viable for regular folks to buy and use.
But even after more than 100 years of being the motor fuel of choice, it sure seems to cause a lot of trouble. Derived from a "fossil fuel" source, it's a finite resource and, while it may be true that there are billions and billions of barrels of oil still to be explored and refined into gasoline and a dozen other products, it's also true that the easier pickings have already been located. There are certainly vast amounts of oil in tar sands, shale and perhaps deep under the oceans' floors, but getting it out of there is going to be increasingly difficult and bring even more environmental concerns. None of us want to leave our grandchildren a bunch of video cards and websites that show what the world once looked like before we made a mess of it.
Further, more and more people want (and need) energy. For decades the so-called "industrialized nations" were able to use oil pretty much as they wanted, but China, India and other places where people once got around on bicycles are now dealing with traffic jams of four-door sedans, and folks are lining up at the gas pumps. This increased demand is going to cut into our once-comfortable supply and will likely drive up everyone's prices.
Those prices are driven by an increasing complex set of demands. It's not just gasoline. Out of every barrel of oil a refinery can make a variety of products, from gasoline to schoolyard paving to re-sealable refrigerator containers, but there are trade-offs. If you want more diesel, you're going to have to settle for less gasoline. As the world continues to industrialize, as people seek more efficient cars and as more trucks are needed to haul things, there will be a growing demand for diesel fuel. Everything in the industrialized world moves on a truck. Everything.
Add to that the considerable environmental issues associated with gasoline. Concerned about global warming, carbon dioxide, children breathing lead, a giant oil tanker running aground on a wilderness beach or just hazy skies? The consumption of fossil fuels could be considered the Number One culprit in a shipping container of environmental evils. It's not just burning the stuff, but every step of the way is seen by some as a horrific defilement of nature's wonderland, a massive-scale equivalent to pouring paint sludge into Walden Pond.
Then mix in "dependence on foreign oil" and the accompanying political, societal and world-wide financial considerations, and it's pretty convincing that the planet was a simpler place before somebody figured out that gooey black stuff oozing out of the ground could keep a lantern lit at night. Rightfully, the issue of "dependence on foreign oil" can be taken several ways, and this country could reduce that "dependence" if restrictions on drilling and refinery capacity were eased, but that goes straight back to the environmental issues. Are we dependent upon petroleum? Of course. Do we have to be dependent upon "foreign oil?" Not so much as we are now, but choices need to be made, and all the technology in the world is not going to change geography and where oil is accessible. After all, if you were sitting on top of an oil field, would you sell it cheap?
It may be a long time from now, maybe a century or two, but, sooner or later, the last drop of economically viable oil is going to come through the last length of economically viable pipe. By that time, the world better have some other way to run its sport utility vehicles.
That's half the story. Here's the other:
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