“Vice” is an unflattering word that’s been used over the years to characterize many of mankind’s habits considered harmful to our health and environment.
These days “vice” and “addiction” are being used to characterize modern society’s oil dependency.
While several concerns about oil use are well justified, some would counter that crude oil consumption over the years has actually, on the whole, been beneficial to us.
That’s the contention of a new research paper from the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), that explores how, over the course of generations, humans have found innovative ways to turn an initially unpromising new resource into an affordable and safe form of energy that not only made our lives easier, but healthier as well.
In it, authors Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu take on the reliance-on-crude-oil-as-an-addiction view and argue society’s use of crude, although not perfect, has been more akin to a healthy diet.
Benefits of crude oil
They point out that mankind’s overall standard of living, life expectancy and health significantly improved as a result of energy source switches from wood to coal and eventually crude oil. Among the ways petroleum-based products contributed positively included:
- Making cities healthier as the invention of the internal combustion engine led to the removal of horses and associated health threats from their excrements and dead bodies;
- Juicing agricultural yields through the advent of tractors as replacements for oxen and mules in the fields;
- Facilitating the transport of food over long distances, helping end famine in many parts of the world.
The authors also explore how the benefits of oil extend beyond its primary role as an energy source. Unlike wind and solar power, versatile crude can be turned into a myriad of useful products that help raise our standard of living, from lightweight plastic water jugs to fertilizers, vitamins and medical devices. The MEI authors even go so far as to argue that discovering petroleum helped save the sperm whale, which had been hunted almost to extinction for its fat which was turned into candles, soap, cosmetics and machine oil.
Innovation is key
The authors of the MEI study express confidence that human innovation can be used to tackle production challenges that aren’t that different from historical ones.
They point to oil sands development and recent improvements in the sector’s environmental performance, from lowering greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of crude to advances in in situ recovery methods.
While crude oil is not a perfect energy source, it is, as the authors point out, a superior option to many other alternative sources or combination of sources. Crude oil has helped make life better in much of the world and can continue to be used to raise the standard of living in less fortunate societies.
A little food for thought before deciding to give up crude oil ‘cold turkey’.
OSQAR app now available
Add OSQAR to your Apple, Android or BlackBerry mobile device. For full details, visit our subscription page.