Lots of energy, cheap, easy to store and densely packed. Petroleum is a package we cannot resist. Within three generations, this perfect drug has given us the technological progress of centuries and made the planet our subject. A good trip so far? - A tool-based stocktaking.
When oil was discovered at the beginning of the 21st century underneath Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, the Ecuadorian government proposed that the global community should pay 50% of the expected revenue from oil production. In return, Ecuador would not exploit the resource and thus protect the particularly biodiverse national park. The initiative Yasuní-ITT failed, in part due to Germany’s withdrawal from the project, and Ecuador has now gone ahead and approved oil production. Like
, we choose to go for gold and overlook the preservation and protection of the last places that we have not yet completely subjugated.
Within three generations, we have pumped up, processed, and burned or carelessly thrown away almost all of the petroleum that has been under the Earth’s crust for millions of years. We have lit fireworks of unknown glory and splendour, built huge factories, carved holes into mountains, covered roads with tar and pavement, created concrete jungles in our cities, cut down entire forests, and exterminated animal and plant species on a larger scale than ever before. However, even the fireworks of petroleum - the biggest fireworks since the land before time - will come to an end. Whoever thinks that we will get anything as a reward from the fire, bang, and smoke of the fireworks is wrong - because the
eventually leads only to endless suffering for all.
Prometheus was considered a good Samaritan of humanity, as he tried to force the worthless parts of a sacrificial animal upon his tyrannical opponent Zeus in order to give the edible flesh to the people. However, the plot was revealed, and in retaliation, Zeus denied the people the possession of fire. Later on, however, Prometheus succeeded in stealing back fire for the people but ended up getting chained to a mountain as punishment. Prometheus was thus the first to be put into the
. His only companion was an eagle who ate his liver.
Over time, many people and nations have become addicted to oil as a commodity and the endless possibilities its ownership presents. The
clearly shows today that most global decisions are made by people who are so highly dependent on oil that they put the need to satisfy their addiction first. People don’t back off from crimes and wars in order to acquire oil. Our recklessness leads to climate change which affects billions of people who have had no say.
Yes, we pull million-year-old oil out of the ground and break it down into its components. We make plastic spoons from some constituents, coated plates from others, pack everything into a plastic bag and drive into the countryside for a picnic using the ‘city tank’ that runs on a gasoline-powered engine. Or maybe also to the seaside? On the horizon, container ships burn the thickest, stickiest black remains of our beautiful crude oil and in 14-day cycle packages, sail in new and fresh plastic fun all around the globe. After an hour, our stomachs are full, the packages are empty and the rest goes to waste. How do you rate yourself as a
Only a few people are trying to radically reduce their own ecological footprint. But the personal sacrifice and commitment required to monitor your every purchase, move, and holiday in order to reduce your CO2 balance is large; it’s like using a single
. The end of the oil age will not be the sum of the abstention of individuals, but rather will require global, regional and local political negotiation in order to implement the agreements reached.
Many easily accessible oil resources have already been used up, but a process that uses small earthquakes to deliberately break up rock formations to release trapped oil and gas called "fracking" catapulted the USA back to being the world's second largest oil producer. Unfortunately, not all released gas and oil is extracted. Sometimes gas gets into the drinking water supply and from there, through the water pipe to your home. And if the water in your bathroom burns like in the documentary "Gasland", if wells explode and you only see your neighbors wearing a gas mask, then you have unfortunately had bad luck with the
is pretty much just the oil fist of a new age. No other resource has changed human life so dramatically in such a short period of time - and this change is not limited to the oil-powered automobile alone. For the first time, petrochemistry has produced vast amounts of artificial substances that have never existed before: paints, adhesives, fragrances, nylon stockings, medicines, preservatives, baby diapers, foils, mattresses, soaps, packaging, insulating materials and the blades of wind turbines - these are all hallmarks of the global petroleum order, enforced with an iron fist.
A good 75 % of primary energy consumption in Germany is supplied by fossil fuels, i.e. primarily crude oil and natural gas. The total energy consumption of people with a university degree is about a third higher than that of people with a lower secondary school leaving certificate. In quantitative terms, this compares to about 15,000-20,000 kilowatt hours of energy consumption per year. The difference in energy consumption becomes even clearer when disposable income is taken into account. People earning less than 1,000 Euros per month consume about 10,000 kWh/year, while people earning 3,000 Euros per month consume twice as much energy on a yearly basis, that is, nearly 20,000 kWh/year. In short, the higher we stand on the
, the higher our energy consumption is - and statistically speaking, the people with the greatest environmental consciousness are also the biggest energy consumers.
‘Unnatural’ disasters stemming from technological progress have left devastating impacts in their wake. Hundreds of tanker accidents on an immense scale, 33 major incidents of damage from production platforms in the oceans, such as the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 and the threat to drinking water-bearing strata from fracking are just some examples of this. Leaking pipelines continuously contaminate an area of around 70,000 square kilometers in the Niger Delta, and accidents in refineries, such as the most recent one Germany in the city of Vohburg in 2018, are leaving a trail of devastation with damage to the environment and people that can hardly be quantified. None of this can be seen or heard at the gas station, because the
provides the gasoline for a carefree Sunday excursion without question.
The massive use of oil in every human activity lets us forget the
for a few moments. When we put on our glasses for sharper vision, or when we help our hearts with pacemakers, or when we board a long-haul flight to Bali or when we simply cruise at 230 km/h to the bakery around the corner...what we see for a moment as a free ride for those belonging to a species freed from nature only ends up constraining us even more. The smooth delivery of all these seemingly ‘free rides’ and ‘free lunches’ relies heavily on the operation of massive global infrastructure, the consequences of which we have long lost the ability to understand or control.