Imagining life without any fossil fuels

So many truly intelligent people on the "right" side of the petroleum issue love to point out how electric cars need lots of rare earth materials for computers, motors, batteries, and so on.  The amount of oil required to power the mining machines is huge, the rare earths are toxic, yada, yada, yada...

"Wake me up when you're done.  We have to get rid of evil, dirty, fossil fuels!  They're killing us!"

When reason can't penetrate the barrier put up by the emotional rants of non-productive semi-sentient bipeds, what can we do?  I think back to a video I did many moons ago: "Can You Talk with Your Neighborhood Liberal?"  Let me demonstrate.

Your granddaughter just came home from the hospital.  She couldn't drink fluids, so she had to have an IV.  Imagine where she'd be without petroleum.  The IV would have to be a metal needle.  But two-year-olds don't hold still well.  A metal needle would lacerate the vein, and we'd have to restart it.  Rinse and repeat.  Getting fluids to the needle requires tubing, and that tubing is all plastics made from petroleum.  So without oil wells and fracking, she's dead.

Your grandfather just went to the E.R. with a massive heart attack.  An interventional cardiologist comes in to save him.  But we don't have oil wells anymore.  You got rid of those nasty fossil fuels.  Therefore, we don't have any catheters to do a heart cath because those are all made from plastics that are made from oil.  And if we found a blockage, we couldn't put in a stent, because those need plastic and cobalt, a rare earth metal.  So, sorry, your grandfather will die.  We'll just give him a little more pain medicine.  But wait, we can't even do that because the drug factory must have plastics to purify the medicine.  So he's not just going to die, he's going to die in pain.

By now, even the lowest of the low-I.Q. crowd will raise an eyebrow or two.  Isn't health care a right?  Suppose it is.  We can have all the doctors and nurses that can come out of our schools, but without oil, they can't do any more than Healer Claire Beauchamp in Outlander.  They can grind up a few herbs in a mortar and pestle, then use them.  An occasional person will be helped, but most will die because modern medicine is impossible without plastics, which are all made from oil.

Image: Oil pumps by wirestock.

But surely, we should do away with fossil fuels.  Nope.  Just watch the "Storm Watch" episode of Night Shift.  You'll have to click your ruby slippers three times to save any of the people in that emergency room.  All the solar and wind power in the world won't supply electricity when tornadoes take out the grid.  You must have big diesel generators and lots of diesel fuel (from oil!) to cover the blackout.

Well, maybe we should look at something simpler.  Obviously, that mask saved you from the evil COVID monster.  I'm not talking about the homemade cotton mask that even the CDC admits is worthless.  No, I'm talking about the supremely effective N-95 you got through Amazon.  But did you read the label?  The active filter layer is "ultra-high grade electrostatically charged meltblown polypropylene."  That's made from oil.  Oops.

Maybe we should look at something simpler, like those leggings you really don't look so good in.  That fabric was made from oil.  So are the tires on your Tesla, the lenses in your glasses, and your Invisalign braces.

Let's cut to the chase.  There isn't anything in our lives that doesn't depend on "fossil fuels."  It's so easy to see the picture of smoke from a tailpipe or chimney and get disgusted.  It's "dirty" and should be eliminated.  But that's only a single pixel in a 4K screen...which is also largely made of oil and rare earths.  There is no place that a modern person can look that isn't highly dependent on oil.  One might think of Alex Javor on Life Below Zero, Next Generation.  He refuses to use chainsaws or snow machines.  That looks like a low-carbon lifestyle.  But he must burn wood for heat, and most of his clothing is made from synthetics that are...drum roll, please...made from oil.

Lest I beat this dead horse too much, let me simplify the point.  Miss Greenie, show me any part of your life where we can completely eliminate fossil carbon.  I'll wait, but not too long because I don't want to miss my golf game with my cardiologist next week.  Without oil, he doesn't have anything to do but play golf, so that's what we'll do.  Every single tool he has, from medicines to diagnostics to interventional devices, is wholly dependent on oil.

Should you happen to think of something, you know where to reach me.  Wait.  You can't reach me because my iPhone is totally dependent on products made from oil.  So have a nice day.

Ted Noel, M.D. is a retired anesthesiologist/intensivist who podcasts and posts on social media as DoctorTed and @vidzette.  His DoctorTed podcasts are available on many podcast channels.

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