A Little Reality Amid the Slogans on Oil

By May 26, 2010Energy

Thanks to Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute for rebutting the “addicted to oil” sloganeering that has gained further purchase after the Deepwater Horizon accident. Bryce’s column today in The Examiner, “The blowout and our addiction to prosperity,” rejects equating the economy’s productive use of oil to an individual’s woes that can be overcome by something akin to appearing on “The Biggest Loser”:

If only it were so easy.

The blowout in the Gulf is a heartbreaking mess. I say that as someone who swims, fishes, and birdwatches on the Gulf Coast. But as awful as the blowout is — as dreadful as the environmental damage is and will likely be for years to come — the simple unavoidable truth is that we humans cannot, will not, quit using oil.

If oil didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. No other substance can compare to oil in terms of energy density, flexibility, cost, and convenience.

For all of the myriad problems that oil creates, it also provides us with unprecedented mobility, comfort, and convenience. While we think of oil primarily as a transportation fuel, it’s also a nearly perfect fuel for heating.

It can be used to generate electricity. When refined, it can be turned into an array of products ranging from cosmetics to shoelaces and bowling balls to milk jugs.

The addiction meme inflames the masses and makes for convenient talking points for ambitious politicians, but the reality is that oil remains an absolutely critical commodity in the global economy. And that’s why BP and Transocean were out there in the Gulf of Mexico drilling in 5,000 feet of water.

President Bush’s promotion of the “addicted to oil” logic in his 2006 State of the Union was a low point in analytical thinking and clear communication. Unfortunately, it remains popular today, including, not surprisingly, with the New York Times’ Tom Friedmann.

Bryce provides a good starting point for informed debate and policymaking: Oil is a natural resource and a commodity critical to prosperity and mobility.

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