What do we do without all of the things that are made from petroleum?

A reader sent an Oxy Petroleum ad that points out the many things that are made with petroleum.

Hydrocarbon Man Video

Tonight, I thought perhaps we could talk a little about the issue of our dependence on petroleum for so many products. Our factories today are all set up assuming that petroleum is available. How do we make a transition to getting along without hydrocarbons? Is there any way we can keep hydrocarbons for "making stuff," while giving up transportation and other uses?

Well, without quantifying the issue it's pretty hard to say. How many of the 85 million barrels a day are for non-energy uses?


This is not the exact answer to your question, but should give you some idea

The U.S. Product Supplied page is a bit more handy.

From a report titled Major Uses of Petroleum in the United States which I believe is part of BP's annual energy review.

In 2008:
Raw material for plastics, chemicals, etc: 1,993,000 bbl/d 10.3% of total

Asphalt road pavement: 537,000 bbl/d 2.8% of total

I am not a chemical engineer, but anyone who has taken a materials course knows that petrochemicals are a major ingredient to society's goods. For example, polyethylene for plastic. Put simply, there is NO way we can live the way we do without petrochemicals. However, why bother asking the question posed by Gail when we will never live in a world of no petrochemicals. We currently use 20 mbpd for petrochemicals. That means long past peak we are okay, I'd say indefinitely too. I think if we taxed plastics we could be using them more wisely. For example, my dental floss is mounted on a plastic frame but must be tossed because I can't change the floss on the frame. Anyways, petrochemical uses of petroleum will always outbid transportation. So there really isn't anything worth talking about here.

That 20 mbpd is an interesting number. Do you have a source for it?

By the way, I'm with you on the dental floss and a lot of other products like it.

I read the 20 number from somewhere reliable but can't remember. All I can cite right now is wiki-knowledge. See link below. That picture suggests 11% for actual non-fuels but I am not sure of its source nor do I know whether the Chinese for example, who make most of our goods, use much more for petrochemicals instead of fuels.


But even other figures we here about, like how 70% of oil is used for transportation in North America, seems to suggest the 20mbpd non-fuel number is not far off.

That 20 mbpd is an interesting number

Seems quite a bit too high for portion coming from oil (assuming using "m" for million) -- from a refining perspective, this breakdown looks roughly reasonable for the US:


~7.4% of barrel of oil ends up as LPG's / gas (which go to mix of both petrochems & fuel usage)
~2.5% of barrel of oil ends up as heavier petrochem feedstocks (would include benzene, toluene, xylene family among others)

A bit less than 10% of a barrel of oil currently that is pulled into potential petrochem feedstock in the US, on worldwide basis would be quite a bit less than that on average. So of the 80 million bbl/day produced of oil, quite a bit less than 8 million bbl/day currently ends up in plastics.

(note this is not counting natural gas production, which is another significant source of petrochem feedstocks, but does not come from "oil").

US Product Supplied, June 2009

Put simply, there is NO way we can live the way we do without petrochemicals.

key phrase... "the way we do"...

i tried it... for a month... on all the things i "use"... containers mostly... E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is or has plastic... what i ended up doing was trying not to throw out one piece of plastic for a month - i had bags and bins at attempted sorting... from razors to those little plastic "necks" that substitute for a twist tie... even the friggin garbage bags... i was trying to reduce the garbage... even the little "bins"... 38oz coffee containers...

it was interesting... to see...

then everything else... the alarm clock... the (yes) electric - toothbrush... all the plumbing... the laptop... furniture... appliances...

BUT... we DID live withOUT this much plastic... at one time... up until The Graduate... ;)

so the species would not go extinct w/o plastic...

BUT... the rate we're going... the plastic and it's disposal MAY choke us...

try hunting down that video from what his name on the pacific plastic "float"... he does a great job bringing the point home...

so what to do... stop using it... buy alternatives... the market giveth and the market taketh away...

start with - those plastic grocery bags - refuse to use - ask for paper - take no bag - bring your own -

bottled water's another one... and that'll have a twofold effect of stopping depleting the resovoirs... check out penn and teller on the absolute silliness of bottled water lovers...

As for plastic water and food containers, I think switching back to glass containers would increase weight and energy consumption. Perhaps the containers need to be reusable rather than disposable. For example, take an empty glass ketchup bottle back to the grocery store and refill it from a dispenser.

While plastics are cool, as noted above, lots of them can be substituted with other materials (in the cafeteria at work they got rid of the little plastic sampler cups in favor of a corn-based material that apparently melts if you sample soup).

The real petroleum replacement problem, as I see it, are lubricants and coatings. Life's tough with out a lube job and a nice coat of paint.

I doubt you'd get that past the food regulators. Anything mass-produced to the degree our current food supply is, is subject to an untold number of safety rules. Mostly, for good reason.

The only thing one could reasonably expect to dispense from a bulk container is dry goods. I don't think I'd want to purchase anything else refillable from my local grocery store ;) Especially if air conditioning becomes unreliable or non-existant. Or preservatives become unavailable en masse.

There's a reason people "put up" their own relishes and pickles.

I don't think it would be too hard to manufacture and police perishable food dispensers although i don't know what the costs might be.

But I top off mu coffee cup from a big plastic bag filled with half and half when i buy coffe at the gas station.

And kitchens large and small use the same containers over and over, and lots of us eat from self serve bars at restaurants with very few problems.

If milk can be delivered in bulk by refrigerated truck from dairy to processsor plant, I don't see why it can't be delivered in bulk on to the supermarket-in principle at least.

Where I live there are three ways to buy milk. 1. From the village shop - in a petrochemical based container. 2. If you are lucky enough to get in the list delivered to your gate by the village bus daily from cows milked in the village. Petrochemical based, would you believe. They do a swap system on the containers which are all identical and plasic! 3. Buy from the van that calls outside the village pub at three o'clock every day. He will put it in _anything_. Many of his customers have what I would call mini milk churns - maybe a couple of litres. Aluminium. Of course it is still petrochemical based as the supplier drives his van from the local town. Could always be done with a horse and cart though.

In Britain you can still get milk delivered to your door each day in glass bottles. I know in my house there are many plastic containers. Most of the containers are more expensive to make than the stuff they contain. And they just go in the garbage, or for recycling when I am finished with them. We have made plastique stuff for recycling or disposing, not for re-using. I suppose this kind of planning only considers the bottom line... how much petrochems can we make a market for. Plastique seems really cheap. I say that just because we throw it away so fast. A friend just reminded me that she was alive when people were promoted to use plastic garbage bags because it 'saved a tree'. But does anyone know where to get non-plastic toothbrushes? And how did Sherlock Holmes's landlady, Mrs. Hudson store the left-overs?
Of more pressing concern is the connection between Petro-Chems and the Agricultural sector. A very good book on the difficulties inherent in petro and Ag. is 'the HIstory of Fertilizers in America'.

re: The Graduate--I have one word for you, for your future, "Hemp."

The issue I see is that we use a very complex process for pulling oil out of the ground, refining it, and selling the products, on an international basis. The companies doing the refining and the drilling need to be able to continue to buy computers and all of the replacement parts they need to keep their operations going, with inputs from around the world. Somehow, the international financial system has to stay together, in such a way that replacement parts can be bought. This means that countries that have very little to export (like the US) need to be able to continue to buy imports, with nothing more than IOU's. (Hard to believe the system has stayed together this long!) Nearly all of the international trade needs to stay intact.

If the system doesn't say together, it seems to me that oil and oil products available for us to buy will drop off very quickly--much more rapidly than the downslope of Hubbert's curve would seem to indicate.

Furthermore, what oil we do have available will need to be divided up in such a way that it provides a lot of different things besides products. International trade is clearly one of the items that need to continue. Roads would be a nice thing to have, as would working water and sewer systems. Having these things would require road grading equipment, operating on diesel fuel. It might be nice to continue to have food produced and delivered to supermarkets--even if it is locally-produced food. The workers who are producing the oil would need to be able to get to work. All of these needs (and many more I haven't thought of), would likely at least triple the oil needed to keep the make products.

Hi Gail;

"Somehow, the international financial system has to stay together.."

The two central questions that your topic raises for me is;

1) How 'Plastic' are our basic international systems? Not to say how many polymers do they rely upon, but how malleable and reshapable are they intrinsically? You often look at both the Financial Systems and at the Grid, and their vulnerabilities.. and I agree that they are critical pieces that have to be functioning one way or another, while I think you seem to view them as completely brittle and likely to shatter into completely nonfunctional parts, while I feel that they have brittle AND soft components, so that they may disassemble, or 'decompose', but that smaller surviving segments will then have the independence (in a very hectic world, at that point) to evolve into some successes which will be more fit for the new realities, and will then, dare I say it, Grow to fill in where older Dinosaurs didn't work anymore.
(I'm not against Growth.. but go Ask Shiva, when she's 10 feet tall - She Giveth and she Taketh Away. (She?))

2) What CAN we build without FF? To approach your basic theme, I have to look at it as 'Yes, we've hit the iceberg, and the Ship WILL sink' .. So What around here Floats, and What will keep me/us from freezing till we get to shore? I don't pretend noone will die, or that any fixes some bunches of us find are only tenable if they save everyone, and keep the ship from going down, as the challenges to any offering for a useful tool are regularly met with here. But there ARE ways to have Polymers, to work with metals, to transport things by wind, sun and water..

I think it's important to acknowledge what we know we CAN do with our without oil, even if at this late hour, it will require the help of some of the remaining FF supply to build out an inventory of such tools so that there is some cushioning to the impact. It won't be enough, but it'll be better than landing on just the echoes of our arguing whether to do something or not. ('Something' being a million reasonable BB's from millions of informed people who will come up with their own version of solutions.. Bob Shaw's Wheelbarrows, Solar Water Heaters and Solar Ovens, Alan's Durable and Efficient E-trains, Sail-driven Container Ships..)

Accentuate the Positive, while not ignoring the Negative.. but don't mess with Mr. Inbetween. (IE, perpetual argument and doubt, as nature reliably acts)


Gail, who is the "Decider" going to be ?

As long as we live under a (so-called) free-market system, the "invisible hand" decides which products to make, not necessarily the ones that make most sense, solve the most problems, or use resources most effectively.

Last time I looked, centralised decisionmaking over the means of production and distribution, and who gets which reource, was a economic/political system the West couldn't wait to see dismantled.

*EVERYTHING* is made from fossil fuels these days, whether it contains a FF based feedstock or not. A steel shovel with a wooden handle is made from FF. A shortage of FF will lead to a shortage of all material goods, regardless of actual composition.

Dmitry Orlov had an interesting blog (available at energybulletin.net) on linear thinking, and how it doesn't mesh with reality too well. Resource depletion often leads not only to high prices but also to an abrupt collapse in demand as well.

I saw an excellent example of this in a past life, when I was a forester. One day I came upon a pile of absolutely beautiful old growth Alaska yellow cedar logs, left to rot on the landing. Rings so tight you couldn't even see them with the naked eye. At one time they would've fetched 4 to 5 times the price of any other tree cut on the tree farm where I worked. What happened? The resource became scarce, to the point that nobody dealt with them any more, and demand collapsed. What would've once easily fetched $50,000 was now worthless rubbish. I suspect the collapse in our petroleum economy will follow similar lines.

Do not confuse "made and transported with fossil fuels for cost/convenience" with "requires fossil fuels to be made".

Do people forget how to walk when they get their driver's license?

True, these are not the same thing.

However you seem to refer to a time long lost, when finished goods actually were made near where they were used, even made and used by the same person. Those days -- while they will certainly return -- are at the moment lost.

Today almost everything used in American homes and industries is manufactured overseas. Even our American cars are made of component parts made in Asia and Mexico. Our plate steel comes from China and Korea, and the iron ore before that came from Australia. And I hear that timbers taken from US forests are shipped to Korea to be made into lumber, which is then shipped back, while our north-west region lumber mills sit idle and fall into decay and people who used to live in mill towns move into cities and take jobs as pet-sitters or Realtors.

It will take a long time to undo this damage. Until we do, that metal shovel containing no plastic is soaked in fuel oil used to transport it -- and the raw goods that went into it -- around the planet.

The change will not happen overnight in any event.

World oil production is not like the tank on a car. It isn't "all fine" then "all gone", it tapers off. There will be time to adjust.

Many people are of the opinion that there will not be enough time to adjust, but I am not one of them. I'm not of the "Life will be peaches and cream" crowd either. For a lot of people life will be horrible post-peak. For most of them this will be a small change, if any, from the lives they lead today.

Do people forget how to walk when they get their driver's license?

It seems they do, yes. I'm a physical training instructor, and the heaviest people coming to me all have cars, the slimmer ones rely on bikes or public transport (which usually has to be walked some distance to).

I think the reports of the pending death of plastic have been greatly exaggerated. True, we make most plastics from petroleum feedstocks right now, and true, we use an awful lot of petroleum for those purposes. A grossly unsustainable amount, to be exact.

But a future with NO plastics? Forget squandering plastic on the soda bottles and plastic toys, there are many high-value uses for which would justify much higher prices - and thus options for making the required plastic stuffs out of bio-feedstocks. Take the contact lenses I'm reading thru right now. At $100 a pop the material costs could go up a hundredfold. Meanwhile they are enormously beneficial. The same could be said for many medical uses of plastics.

Again, there is an enormous difference between consuming billions of pounds of plastics per year - mostly for single-use, low-value packaging - and not consuming any. This is something the market will sort out just fine.

I also dispute arguments that we will loose the technical and organizational abilities to make plastics out of bio-feedstocks (not to mention the dregs of petroleum with an EROEI far below 1. Refineries need not be that large or high-tech to crank out high-value plastics. I figure our collective chances for being able to manufacture plastics in the future are comparable to our chances to make ball bearings and Vise Grips.

And God help us all if we don't have Vise Grips in a significantly de-industrialized future! Would life be worth living?

I also dispute arguments that we will loose the technical and organizational abilities to make plastics out of bio-feedstocks

However: Bio-feedstocks are dependent on petroleum. The largest manufacturer of bioplastic feedstock is Cargill, and their feedstock is made from (you guessed it) monocrop industrial farming which is dependent on fossil fuels in Oh So Many Ways.

Bioplastics is a great idea, but it needs to be reformulated so random organic trash (grass clippings, weeds, etc.) can be used to make the feedstock, and then it has to be decentralised so that localities can use their local production of organics for making the feedstock and THEN, you need local factories to make the plastic things you want, rather than ship the crap to China on a Fossil Fuel burning boat.

Speaking of boats, I was staring intently yesterday at a display of 19th Century boat building tools in a glass case in the lobby of our tourist hotel in the Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco. My thoughts were: all wood and metal, no plastic in sight; I could probably build an entire boat with those tools, using only wood and caulking made from tar/pitch-soaked cloth; those tools looked shop worn but still useful; and finally, I sure could use some of those tools, even now.

The hotel appeared to be a remodeled wharf warehouse, with enough timber in it to reconstruct a small redwood forest, assuming you could put it all back. Forgot to ask its age.

Since plastics are made from other fossil resources in addition to crude oil, the depletion of crude oil would not end the production of plastics (How is plastic made?).

Plastics, also called polymers, are produced by the conversion of natural products or by the synthesis from primary chemicals generally coming from oil, natural gas, or coal.

Without plastics, there would be no epoxy and therefore no plywood.

Without plastic pipe, we might have difficulty obtaining enough zinc for increased use of galvanized steel pipe and copper would have a higher priority use as an electrical conductor. Perhaps we would need to use clay pipe.

"I figure our collective chances for being able to manufacture plastics in the future are comparable to our chances to make ball bearings and Vise Grips."

I hope so! After all, as Fletch reminded us, it's all ball bearings these days...

Perhaps we should express the question differently:

Can we keep making stuff without oil based transportation?

I see this as being worthy of discussion from two basic perspectives:

Without oil based transportation, can we maintain bau and therefore continue to manufacture all the stuff made with hydrocarbons?

Can we make the stuff presently made out of hydrocarbons cheaper and more easily than we can make them out of alternative materials,in a hydrocarbon constrained world?

In the first case, I think that technically we could do it, but as a practical matter we will crash and burn as a result of petroleum,credit,leadership, confidence,and other essential resource shortages.

In the second case, I have no doubt that numerous products made from oil are essentially priceless in terms of thier utility versus the amount of petroleum used in thier manufacture;insulation for electrical systems, rubber seals and hoses for machinery, lubricants,pesticides, and many other such products are absolutely necessary to our industrially based existence.

Surely we can somehow manage to reserve enough petroleum for these essential uses-if we can preserve bau and our lives.

Just as surely, we can easily get by without throwaway plastic food containers by using refillable glass,and hundreds or thousands of other throwaway oil based products.

Some of the ones that come to mind quickly include plastic decorative trim on consumer goods,asphalt based shingles, synthetic fabrics used for clotheing,toys,
sporting goods,most rubber tires(by switching to rail based street cars and railroads using steel wheels),storage containers, carpet and padding,foam cushions and mattresses.

In general nearly every cheap throwaway oil based item could be replaced with one made either from other materials , or else made from oil but made well enough to last a very very long time.There is no real reason, other than holding down initial cost, why a plastic plate or canister or chair should not last indefinitely.

And when such items do finally wear out, there is no real reason why the plastic should not be easily recyclable.

Without oil based transportation, can we maintain bau and therefore continue to manufacture all the stuff made with hydrocarbons?
With the exception of air transport, I see no reason we cannot continue sea and land based transportation as long as coal, NG and renewable electricity is available.

Can we make the stuff presently made out of hydrocarbons cheaper and more easily than we can make them out of alternative materials,in a hydrocarbon constrained world?
Not relevant, BAU doesnt depend on plastics etc having a constant cost, they are already competing with natural products( rubber, cotton, wool) on price higher prices will favor more natural products.

BAU depends on adequate supplies of inputs , regardless of the source.Cotton and wool could probably easily be produced in amounts necessary for clothing,but natural rubber most likely could not be produced in great enough quantity to need the need for rubber.

It is not a fore gone conclusion that organic or fossil materials other than oil can be produced in adequate amounts,or work well enough,to replace oil based products, or that price will drive oil out of the market.

For products that need only a small quantity of oil but have very high unit values, even five hundred dollar oil might be a bargain.Somebody else mentioned contacts lens as an example.

There are probably thousands of oil based products that will continue to be manufactured-if bau survives- even when the last few barrels of petro diesel and gasoline are reserved to the use of the military and emergency uses such as fire trucks.

The cops won't need thier Crown Vics anymore;they will be in alternative fuel or electric vehicles like everybody else.

Cotton and wool could probably easily be produced in amounts necessary for clothing

Are you sure of that?

I seem to remember today's cotton crop is heavily dependent on fertilizers and pesticides, both of which are based on fossil fuels.

And the wool industry cannot grow significantly: Australia is by far the largest wool producer, and has about 80 million sheep. The all-time record number of sheep in Australia was 170 million in 1970. The wool production could perhaps double if the price went high enough, but no more.

World wool production was stretched to its limit in the early 1950s, and I doubt if production today could even reach that level, due to use of grazing land in Australia for other purposes and climate change. The world wool shortage was ended by the adoption of synthetic fibers for most clothing. If synthetic fibers become scarce, there will be a lot of cold people in places that have a real winter.

The demand for cotton can be reduced by people wearing less clothing when it's warm (which they'll probably want to do when the AC stops working). Overall, I think people will have to get used to keeping their clothes longer, and taking better care of them. That might be difficult with less access to dry cleaners (who also use petrochemicals).

Reasonably sure, yes;but I base my answer on a new paradigm of scarcity and reduced consumption, plus diversion of resources from other crops.

We in the rich countries use several times as many items of clothing as we need, and dispose of most of them while still in perfectly servicable condition.

Although most of the older women of my extended family are capable of sewing from scratch, and have the machine necessary, they seldom make even a minor repair these days, beyond sewing on a missing button, as new clothes are so cheap.They do still make quilts, but not because purchased blankets are expensive;they just like to make quilts.

A well made shirt or pair of pants can last for a VERY long time if well cared for.

A few million less cows in feedlots peplaced by several tens of millions of sheep grazing the ground formerly used for corn for feed would take care of the wool supply.

Cotton can be grown with a lot less inputs if necessary; of course the yields will fall dramatically off but in a world of scare resources,we will probably learn to value cotton like we do silk and cashmere now.

My thinking is that ag resources going into crops with less utility ranging from wine grapes to high cost low nutritional value veggies such as lettuce will go into things we simply can't do without.

All this speculation seems to assume that human population will keep growing, or even remain at the same level of magnitude or similar geographic dispersion. Within a couple of generations of the kind of crash being speculated about here, the population of the world could be half what it is today, couldn't it?

Or less, but I wouldn't count on it.

Not to mention bamboo clothing. Bamboo grows quickly and is used to make clothing, fabric, etc. It doesn't require near the fertilizers, etc that cotton does. Or the acreage that wool would.

I recently parted with an organic cotton shirt I bought 25 years ago in high school. Not because it was worn out (it was in great condition). But, because I finally out grew it. Oops!

You don't need petroleum to make plastics. You can derived the ingredients for making plastics from plants. They're called bioplastics! There's even a magazine dedicated to producing plastics from renewable resources.


Marcel F. Williams

Soybean Car

Many people ask us about Henry Ford's experiments with making plastic parts for automobiles in the early 1940s. These experiments resulted in what was described as a "plastic car made from soybeans". Although this automobile never made it into the museum's collections, we thought we would address the myriad questions we receive about this unique and fascinating vehicle.

Where do you get the plants from, how are they grown? How are they harvested and processed? Using petroleum products?

Is there a "plant equivalent" to a barrel of oil?

Making do with less will ultimately be the answer in the decades to come. Unless we find another planet.

Then again, what the hell would I know.

Natural rubber is the best exmple of a bio elastomeric material. The first synthetic rubber for tires was SBR in WW2. It was suitable but in many respects inferior to natural rubber. Premium tires use more natural rubber than cheaper ones. New silicone rubber blend tires are longer lasting and have excellent energy efficiency (in use).


I took many years to make synthetic cis polyisoprene. Cis has the side brachnes arranged on the same side of the chain. Trans (alternating side branches) was easy to synthesyze although in natural form it is chewing gum.


Check out www.ecovativedesign.com

Growing materials with a substrate of local agricultural byproducts, bonded together by mycelium ( mushroom "roots"). It grows in under a week and is already replacing some petrochemical based packaging foams.

Is there any way we can keep hydrocarbons for "making stuff," while giving up transportation and other uses?

Higher prices for oil and natural gas so that they become too valuable to burn. Replacing coal fired electricity with nuclear and renewable electricity, so that coal can be used to produce petrochemicals presently made from oil and NG.

In many cases, small consumer products are packaged with very large plastic covers. This is quite often done to prevent shoplifting. This has an interesting ripple effect which results in extra energy usage:

1. Energy required to fabricate the plastic packaging.
2. Energy required to transport the plastic packaging to the product manufacturer.
3. Energy required to transport the larger packages to distribution and retail outlets.

Of course, with smaller packaging, distrubution centers may not require the same footprint, resulting in lower energy usage. Also, items with large plastic packaging require more plastic bags for the consumer to take them out of the store. Then the consumer uses more plastic trash bags for further transport to landfills and on rare occasions recycling centers.

Just some food for thought....and I'm sure a missed a few energy consuming steps along the way.

Excellent point. Ripple effects are seldom considered (or are inadequately traced out) when people justify their usage of non-renewables.

Where I live they charge for plastic carrier bags. Quite a bit too. I use a canvas bag to carry my shopping. Many use good old fashioned baskets - you know the stuff that is woven out of whatever.

I'm just glad toilet paper isn't made of plastic.

Yeah, I know that it takes petroleum to harvest trees and make paper, but I'm sure they'll think of something (besides the hand ;-)

They already did: dried corn cobs. They take a little getting used to.

ROFLMAO! Well, maybe not "Laughing",... grinding? Hate to see what it does to hemorrhoids >;^)

I never saw a corn cob in an outhouse in my life, although such outhouses, and cornfields, were very common when I was a kid in this area.

There was typically a supply of old newspapers, catalogs or magazines if these were readily available;lacking these materials, a basket of partly dried leaves or grass was the usual if the family was really hard up.Toilet paper was used by the fifties by the more affluent folks who had not yet saved up enough to put in bathrooms and septic tanks.

Tough jobs and cantankerous men were described as being "rougher than a cob" so cobs must hace been used at least occasionally-maybe when there was a heavy snow and the grass and leaves basket ran out.

The expression is still commonly heard around here.

More people in this world use some variation of the "bidet" than will ever *see* toilet paper.

Well, the Quran recommends pebbles... Ouch!

For much of the world -- Asia, Africa, and the Islamic World -- toilet paper is a useless luxury. Water is the method of choice. And this need not be applied with the hand. I'm in India right now, and most of the hotels I've been in have little nozzles at the end of copper tubing that are attached to the stool in such a fashion that the outlet aims a stream of water at just the right angle to clean everything. Two minutes of that and all the gooky stuff is gone. Another option, more common perhaps, is a sprayer, the same kind you find accompanying a kitchen sink in the US. Again, no muss, no fuss. And hey, it's a damned sight cleaner and more hygienic than smearing things around with the paper!

How much oil to retrofit all of our loos with one of these?


Supreme Bidet 1000

Convenient Remote Control

Powerful deodorizer with carbon filter

Patented 1 pocket 3 nozzle system

Auto Smart Power Saving

Extra protections on electronic parts

Quality approved by UL CE TUV

Heated Seat

Warm Air Dry

Built-in Filter

-Hydraulic Seat and Cover

-Safety Sensor


-Wide Cleaning

-Massage Cleaning

-Quick Release for Easy Cleaning

-Gentle Aerated Water Stream

Looks nice!


I have a non-electric bidet in my house, folks are scared of it. Works great, no need for paper, much more hygienic.

I just don't see that much of a problem assuming that the transition is slowish. Vast amounts of residual organic waste is burned or plowed under in farm fields. There is no lack of hydrocarbon feedstock available. It might require some new infrastructure to process it, and may alter ultimate costs, but it is available. Will we die if coke comes in cans instead of plastic bottles? Will we die if plastic lawn chairs cost $20 instead of $4 because they are made from processed farm waste?

We need to plow the organics back into the ground. It's called soil preservation. It's also called the conservation of matter...

I would like Coke in glass bottles again, please.

The argument that the Market will solve all problems fails to reassure me.

I have the distinct impression that the Market is at the heart of most of the problems that beset us : financial meltdown, ecological catastrophes and global warming, gross inequity, and more.

I cannot trust the Market to work for the good.

To answer the question, 'What do we do without hydrocarbons?' I have a very incomplete list:

For one, elastics become hard to get. Which means underpants and socks will have to be held up in different ways. Condoms can be made from natural rubber, but may still become rare. The Pill will mostly disappear. Contraception will have to revert to old-fashioned techniques.

Foam cups and barquettes, cellophane wrap, milk cartons, plastic liquid containers, etc. disappear and have to be replaced by metal, glass and (oiled?) paper. Cans will not have a plastic coating.

Paints, colors and ink have to revert to plant or animal oils, quite a few modern pigments will go the way of the dodo.

Bank cards will have to be made out of paper or wood or metal.

A computer could be built without plastics, but it wouldn't have an LCD screen. Ivory would do for the keyboard, but where have all the elephants gone?

Luckily, we still know how to make a watch from metal and glass. (wouldn't it be strange, if our most enduring archeological remains were to be watches?)

Naturally occurring oils, resins and lacquers can replace a lot of the hydrocarbons we use today, but certainly not in the amounts we need today.

If we lubricate all of our mills and drills and machines and machining with organic oils, will we have enough left to fry chicken wings?


shoulders back and balls up front. don't lose your dignity in the face of death.

Love the humor. Really going to miss the pigments. Tragic when you think that I was almost 50 when a previous wife told me that periwinkle was a color. I was happy with black, white, blue, green, red and yellow.

The catch is, even if we know how to make watches out of metal and glass, we don't have any factories set up to make that that way.

And the methods we use to extract metals use a lot of diesel and other oil products. I expect glass making uses a lot of fossil fuels in our current system--I haven't looked into it. So we would need to go back a step or two before the watch making itself, and get the earlier steps set up not to use oil products as well.

Some of these things could be done with coal, but it would take some lead time to get them set up that way. We likely would run short of coal in not too long, if we ramped its production way up, to make up for a petroleum shortfall. (Not to mention climate change concerns!)

The catch is, even if we know how to make watches out of metal and glass, we don't have any factories set up to make that that way.

Why do we even need factories that only produce consumer junk? Isn't that just one more unsustainable aspect of BAU that is going away? Perhaps we will find ways to return to producing high quality hand crafted instruments. I myself have made my own alloys from raw ingots and crafted some decent pieces with some pretty primitive hand tools and I'm not even a very good craftsman. After a couple of years in a guild under a good master craftsman just about anyone can do this.

Not too shabby for 16th century pre-petroleum based technology and workmanship...
We've got a pretty long ways to go before we are all back in the dark ages, wouldn't you say.


Gail, you of all people know that BAU is dead, when are you going to start accepting that fact?
You keep telling us that we can't keep BAU alive, we already know that... don't you think it's time to start thinking about what is possible with what we still have left?

The big problem is trying to keep mass production afloat.

Mass production of everyday consumer items has been facilitated by cheap fossil fuels. Once petroleum and coal start becoming in short supply, large production of cheap, disposable goods will start failing.

BAU = enormous mass production and transportation of cheap, low-value, disposable items with low margin but high throughput.

We'll have to start relying more on things that last and are repairable, and rebuilding the artisan network to do that.

NEW Scenario = locally produced, high-value, low throughput, repairable, artisanal, sourced from local materials (scavenged, probably).

Not a model for huge profitability of big corporations, but a model for sustainability of communities.

Postscript : for some reason, I am afflicted with the "Swiffer" commercial this morning - "dump your *old* broom..." (for some disposable piece of plastic garbage with mop parts you use once and then toss in the trash)...sheesh....

There is an in-between space here.

Mass production itself is dependent upon precision parts manufacture, not petroluem.

Obviously the BAU paradigm as you describe it is dependent upon petroluem.

My hypothesis is that the big change will be market driven, with wasteful and unnecessary uses becoming unprofitable as fewer people choose them due to price and simply fading away.

It is important to distinguish between things that use petroleum because it is necessary and things that are done with petroleum because it is convenient.

It is important to distinguish between things that use petroleum because it is necessary and things that are done with petroleum because it is convenient.

Probably the wisest sentence in this whole comment thread. Possibly the wisest sentence ever written in a comment on TOD.

Especially since direct electrolytic reduction of CO2 to carbon or CO has been demonstrated, as has direct electrolytic production of syngas (which can make ethylene for polyethylene, among other things).  We don't even need reduced carbon, just CO2, water and energy.  Just like a plant.

Postscript : for some reason, I am afflicted with the "Swiffer" commercial this morning - "dump your *old* broom..." (for some disposable piece of plastic garbage with mop parts you use once and then toss in the trash)...sheesh....

BTW, straw grows pretty fast...

The catch is, even if we know how to make watches out of metal and glass, we don't have any factories set up to make that that way.

Of course we have factories set up to make things that way. We have factories that make metal and glass parts, and we have factories that assemble parts into finished products (sometimes separate factories, sometimes not). At the beginning of a production run of any product, designers and factory managers figure out which processes will be used for that particular product. New products are designed and built all the time. It's not like there would be any huge leap involved for a designer to say "I want to design this product only with metal and glass". Or, more likely, "I'm going to use a bit less plastic this time."

It may be that the injection molding plastic machine off in the corner becomes more of a lonely step child over time. But this could happen slowly enough that no one notices.

My watch is almost entirely metal and glass. It's almost ten years old but nearly identical models from Swiss Army are still on the market. Apparently they've changed minor details of the designs, which means retooling the factory routinely, so it would seemingly not be out of their normal routines if they decided next year to substitute etched metal parts for the few plastic ones. (Those parts would probably be made by newer technologies like lasers.)

There is really no need to "go back a step or two" from a factory managers point of view. Not if there is any time at all to make the decision.

Friends, I come before you now to discuss a matter of extreme urgency and importance. My only hope is that we still have time to address this new crisis, which far outstrips peak oil in magnitude.

For years, we have sat idly by assuming that we would always have it. Our factories are all set up assuming that it will continue to be available. Every economy on earth is critically reliant on it. If it ever ran out, every country on earth, every city, every company, and everything would soon crumble into dust. It is all the more desperate now that it's starting to disappear.

We have reached the tipping point of peak water. Every year there are more thirsty humans, more industrial humans, more agricultural humans that are hogging up the world's water supply, and yet every source of water is already tapped out almost everywhere around the world, except in inhospitable places like Devils Lake, glaciers up north, or Bangladesh. Every year, there is less fresh water, drinkable water, potable water, and everything else associated with water such as wetlands, sea life, wild rivers. Mankind has an unquenchable thirst for water, and all of the products associated with it.

Imagine if we solved the Peak Oil problem, but let the Peak Water problem linger. The result would be disaster. It is time for us to recognize that two trends are at fault here: human overpopulation, and human waste of resources, including water and for that matter, oil.

I am not sure peak water exists since we are not significantly consuming the resource by converting it into another molecule with higher entropy. As long as the hydrologic cycle persists, fresh water is renewable. Pollution contaminating fresh water probably will not make the supply trail off to zero like a bell curve. I am not disputing your argument that an ample supply of fresh water is in jeopardy due to pollution and population, but am questioning the accuracy of an analogy between peak oil (a finite resource) and peak water (a renewable resource).

Well, with everything we've dredged up, concentrated, recombined and scattered on the land and in the sea, we might be mixing up a batch of Salad Dressing across the Earth's Surface that no-one will be able to touch.

'Water, Water Everywhere, but nary a drop to drink..'

Hi Bluetwilight,

am questioning the accuracy of an analogy between peak oil (a finite resource) and peak water (a renewable resource).

What many people do not realise is that a lot of the water used by humans is pumped up from fossil aquifers, which are in fact not dissimilar to oil, in that they are often prehistoric in origin, and recharge at very slow rates especially when compared to the rates at which they are drawn down. Those that are now in very arid climates will probably never recharge.

As far as the 'renewable resource' goes, many rivers no longer reach the ocean due to dams and draw off. From the Colorado to the Yellow River some are bone dry others barely a trickle.

This wired article has some interesting info on the whole Peak Water thing and an example of how industry uses it. Also, as Gary Woodard of the University of Arizona points out:

...he invokes the "water-energy nexus": the idea that it takes water to produce energy, and energy to take advantage of water. That is, supplies of water and power are interdependent.

Which highlights the real problem.

Even here in the UK, renown for its damp climate, we have had the driest start to the year since 1929, leading to a hosepipe ban in the north west, due in part to the shear volume of water now used by the Manchester conurbation. Its started raining again like recent years, which now could lead to flooding - yet still not a drop to drink!


This thought occurred to me when I was reading the bidet thread. I thought. But I don't drink toliet paper. I might need the water to drink rather than bathe.

What do we do without all of the things that are made from petroleum?

Well, whatever the answer, it will be tad long time before we do without them. Apparently, the worlds largest landfill is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.


Because of the stability of this gentle maelstrom, the largest uniform climatic feature on earth is also an accumulator of the debris of civilization. Anything that floats, no matter where it comes from on the north Pacific Rim or ocean, ends up here, sometimes after drifting around the periphery for twelve years or more. Historically, this debris did not accumulate because it was eventually broken down by microorganisms into carbon dioxide and water. Now, however, in our battle to store goods against natural deterioration, we have created a class of products that defeats even the most creative and insidious bacteria. They are plastics. Plastics are now virtually everywhere in our modern society. We drink out of them, eat off of them, sit on them, and even drive in them. They’re durable, lightweight, cheap, and can be made into virtually anything. But it is these useful properties of plastics, which make them so harmful when they end up in the environment. Plastics, like diamonds, are forever!

What's more, this garbage dump poses a quiet threat to human well-being.

It’s not just entanglement and indigestion that are problems caused by plastic debris, however. There is a darker side to pollution of the ocean by ubiquitous plastic fragments. As these fragments float around , they accumulate the poisons we manufacture for various purposes that are not water-soluble....

....These are not like heavy metal poisons which affect the animal that ingests them directly. Rather, they are what might be called “second generation “ toxics. Animals have evolved receptors for elaborate organic molecules called hormones, which regulate brain activity and reproduction. Hormone receptors cannot distinguish these toxics from the natural estrogenic hormone, estradiol, and when the pollutants dock at these receptors instead of the natural hormone, they have been shown to have a number of negative effects in everything from birds and fish to humans....

....A trillion trillion vectors for our worst pollutants are being ingested by the most efficient natural vacuum cleaners nature ever invented, the mucus web feeding jellies and salps (chordate jellies that are the fastest growing multicellular organisms on the planet) out in the middle of the ocean. These organisms are in turn eaten by fish and then, certainly in many cases, by humans. We can grow pesticide free organic produce, but can nature still produce a pesticide free organic fish? After what I have witnessed first hand in the Pacific, I have my doubts.

As my grandmother used to say, "what goes around, comes around."

The 1950's mantra, "better living through chemistry" takes on a whole new dimension fifty years later.

I've always tended to place my bets on good ol' Tom Malthus, I don't see us "engineering" our way out of this one, and unlike times past when large City States and their populations thought they would go on forever (you know like now...), history proved them very very wrong.

Unlike any other time in history we have one item that is different (human psychology has not really changed), when we REALLY start to fight over the scraps, we now have the capability to ensure that not one group dies, but all of em'. The "Bang" will be quick, but the "whimper" will take a while...

Humans did OK without plastics until a hundred years or so ago, and without many things made from plastic until about 50 years ago.

After about 3/4's of the world's population dies off, humans will once again learn to live without plastic.

Being optimistic, of course.

We have been who we are as a species for 100,000 years and we have used petroleum for about 0.002% of our existence.

Our ancestors would laugh at our inability to use our wits to solve our problem.

People might want to watch the documentary “Blind Spot” to better understand that we are in the stages of the sixth major extinction.

Do we want to be the part of the human species that figuratively ‘dropped the ball’ because of an addiction to petroleum?

Not sure most of us have a "choice" the lot of us who understand at least in part whats at stake, may well not have enough influence to change the outcome; when "the majority" will finally realize whats happened is when nothing comes out of the gas pump, and the light switch no longer works...

There will be no choice that will be given to you; life has never been a multiple choice exercise.
What will be needed is imagination and wits.

Albert Einstein has been quoted saying “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

If we were smart enough to make flint tools and use fire for more than just keeping warm and protection, than surely our big brains that have not changed in 100,000 years should be able to survive without petroleum.

Survival would be a whole lot easier if there were 1/10 or 1/100 as many of us. Back a couple of hundred years ago, we had problems with deforestation, with a whole lot fewer people on the earth than we do now. We talk about using plants for everything from heating our homes, to second generation biofuels, to biomass to substitute for coal, to feedstock to substitute for plastic.

When we tried it before, with a whole lot fewer people, we ran short just with heating our homes and clearing more land because we were less efficient farmers without fertilizer and irrigation. It is hard to see how there will be enough plant material for all purposes.

"How do we make a transition to getting along without hydrocarbons?"

That strikes me as an irresponsible question. Even if petroleum is at a peak, no one can say that the decline is a cliff or a slope. The only thing is certain is that is might (yes that's about as certain as we are) get more expensive in the near term and that portable fuel may even get cheaper in the longer term. You yourself suggest a "transition" so it's alarmist to talking about "getting along" as if we will have none.

All those folks who are hopeful that "western civilization" may collapse may also be mistaken.

Does that mean that we have serious issues? Of course, Yes! But the blanket assumption that we will be "getting along without hydrocarbons" is not founded on fact or even educated guess.

I can see how 'Getting Along' might imply that we have none, but knowing this discussion and the various viewpoints in the room here, it's fair enough to remember that a significant part of the question is that we are looking at doing without 'Increased or even Steady' oil supply as much as some are postulating on 'drastically less or no' oil available.. That there have been many reasonable arguments put forward to suggest that even on a declining slope, our systems that were built to function 'only while driving uphill', 'only under powered flight', might fall apart badly, and leave us to discover how much we've become dependent on some of these invisible slaves, and haven't bothered to put, for example.. 'handbrakes' onto this 'uphill energy suspended drive system', when various trusty power sources and their backups become much more fickle and curtailed.

I was talking to a German friend yesterday about the overheating in the German Trains last week, and how some kids were dangerously overheated in a Train which had no way to open the windows when in motion, and yet the A/C had died. We've got some ongoing blindspots that we need to make sure we have Manual Overrides for.

I differ with Gail on some of the language and assumptions, but I think we are generally heading in the same direction on these things..

'We' really haven't seen shortages yet. (Apologies to Lahore, Port au Prince, Baghdad.. etc..) We've still had enough various cavalries around to ride to most of the fires.


Back when we were facing deforestation (late 1800's in the US, much earlier in Britain) we were heating uninsulated drafty homes with open fireplaces that are almost negatively efficient (more heat up the chimney than into house). Not to mention that I don't think there was any serious effort to manage the woodlands and replant harvested trees.

Today modern homes can be insulated very well and the best modern wood burning stoves and wood gassification boilers can be as much as 80-90% efficient. A house that burned 10-15 cords of wood a year in New England just to keep one or two rooms warm could be entirely heated on as few as 3-5 today.

There still may not be enough woodland to replace all FF heating with wood ~ I am just pointing out an example of how modern technology would allow us to support a much larger population on bio feedstocks than was possible 200 years ago.

Almost everything we're currently making from oil can also be made from coal. Over the detour of calcium carbide, we get to acetylene, wich is a hydrocarbon.
On the basis of acetylene, most, if not all, products of modern petrochemistry can be created.
Granted, it does consume more energy, and thus is more expensive than using dirt-cheap oil as a precursor, but it is possible.
Recycling plastics will become a huge market in turn, and also durable goods will see a comeback.

No, using coal will not be an answer.

If you believe that climate change is real as I do, then the use of coal to produce our advanced industrial life style will also lead to our extinction.

I'm not talking about burning coal to generate electricity or heat, I am talking about using coal as a resource for chemistry.
It makes no difference where the carbon in your resins, polymers, lubricants and pharmaceuticals comes from, oil or coal.
Of course, the electric energy to make carbide must not be produced by fossil fuels.

Can't believe I got this far down before the first mention of recyling.

More steel is created from recycling cars than is used to build them. Plastic is recylable. As is paper.

It all depends on energy. If you don't think nuclear, solar, and wind can do the trick long term, then there will be a reset at a lower population level.

I think we'll grow to 10 Billion people.

In my opinion the problem is not availability of petroleum feed stock but the ability to maintain a production and distribution system.

Production and distribution of low value (JUNK) plastic will cease due to feed stock price escalation. This will significantly reduce feed stock requirements.

The world economy will continue to deteriorate due to debt at all levels from the individual house hold to the sovereign nation. Increasing cost of essential resources such as petroleum, copper, coal, steel, etc. will ensure the inevitable collapse of the economy.

At some point in this international economic decline, there may not be enough customers with money to purchase any thing but the most essential items. The result will be elimination of producers. As producers fail and consumers have ever decreasing income, and savings, the amount of feed stock required will not be a problem.

The solution is to learn to live as my family did in the 1930s. Both of my grandmothers died at 92 and my mother in law died at 101. My point is that you can live a long, productive, happy life in seemingly primitive conditions, if you face reality and make the right choices.

The sooner that we give up on business as usual and start preparing to live as people did prior to the petroleum age the better our chances of living joyful productive lives.

History guy here. All of us but the Japanese got off whales. We can get off oil. I know, I have to do it every time a hurricane hits here. When I grew up, I ate food that came from within walking distance with some of it grown in the yard. You sound like the Romans at the start of the Dark Ages. Do you think we will lose the formula for concrete for another 1800 years? This is a problem, but it is not THE problem. The problem is we are going to end up killing each other on purpose.

Of course we'll still be killing each other. That's a given.

Who kills who is never mentioned, which give TOD just the fairy tale quality all good campfire stories require.

I'll go for Orwell, given the lunacy and sheer stupidity of the masses, both First and Tenth worlds.

We need hydrocarbons, and will need them in any conceivable future. There are many avenues how to get them, without reliance on biomass or fossils. One way is plasma arc recycling of existing landfills and other waste heaps. The other is electricity + CO2 from air + water:
LA-UR-07-7897: Green Freedom: A Concept for Producing Carbon-Neutral Synthetic Fuels and Chemicals (PDF, 1.8MB)
LA-UR-08-1805: Green Freedom Synthetic Fuels and Chemicals Production (PDF, 1.2MB)

While many petrochemicals are used for making industrial and personal luxury goods, in a country like mine (India) the most critical product from petroleum is the chemical fertiliser mainly Urea which had enabled India to be self sufficient in food grain production. Though organic fertilisers are desirable their production is not adequate to meet the huge demand for grain production. I wonder what we aould do to meet the food grain needs if the petroleum feedstock is not available for fertilser production.

Hydrogen needed for Nitrogen fixation, which is the basic of synthetic fertilizer production, can be obtained by water electrolysis or some thermo-chemical splitting, such as the sulfur-iodine cycle. As long as you have electricity you are fine. India is currently leading the way of breeder development, and with breeders we have billions of years worth of energy available in Uranium only. Then there is Thorium.

I understand China is using coal to make urea or something pretty equivalent.

In India also we had one or two Plants based on coal gasification process. They proved to be highly electric power intensive and also life of the Plants were low due to high corrosion. I wonder what the expeirence of China is?

Hi Psudarsanam,

Of course there is a low tech solution - litteraly: use urine not only is it full of urea, but contains many other trace elements as well as phosphorus, another depleting mineral.

My understanding is that India used to be completely self sufficient in food, with a completely sustainable system, until the British destroyed the culture in the 19thC, and then the so called green revolution with all its high inputs of fertilizer and energy mechanised what was left. The modern systems of mono cropping and land grabbing by commercial interests are being fought still by activists like Vandan Shiva

I say the 'British', for it was an elite part of British society, the same 'elite' that stole the common English man's land over several centuries with the enclosures. Despite the myth of the tragedy of the commons, it is this privatised land grab and mono-cultural philosophy that is causing most problems and doing the most damage by removing peoples ability to provide a livelihood for themselves and robbing them of their connection with the land, the true source of human life.

Sorry, rant over, but we really must start seeing things from a different perspective, and not trying to continue some form of BAU.


Thanks for the response. The low tech solution poses problems of collection and distribution!
Seriously apeaking, the key problem of India is the growing need of grains to feed the fast growing population. You may decry 'green revolution' but atleast it stopped us from going to USA with begging bowl for wheat imports received under US Public Law PL-480 as happened in 50s. I agree that the chemical fertiliser inputs have their inherent negative impacts but regrettably without them we cannot meet the grain requirements till some other magic solution is found.


Thanks for the funny video. But, most of the stuff our "hydrocarbon man" lost can be replaced by biopolymers produced from sugars that come from biomass. Here is one example of how this can be done.

Dow and Cargill formed a joint venture (Natureworks LLC) in the late 90's and built a plant in Blair, Nebraska that is producing Ingeo, a poly-lactic acid (PLA) biopolymer, since 2003. The original source of the sugars was corn, but the sugars can come from any cellulosic material really. Dow pulled out a few years later (oil still too cheap, I suppose) and NatureWorks LLC became a joint venture between Cargill and Teijin. A year ago, Cargill acquired full ownership of NatureWorks.

Ingeo can be made transparent or opaque, rigid or flexible and has been used to make everything from packaging and consumer goods to fibers for apparel. You can buy Ingeo products now (they cost a bit more, I found) and they have the added advantage of biodegradability so they will not stay "for ever" in the landfill.

Now if you couple this technology to (a) the fact that we use less than 10% of the oil for materials (see previous post by David.ChE), and (b) a strong push to reduce, reuse and recycle (prices will add an extra incentive), you can come up with a realistic scenario of replacing oil as the feedstock for the materials our "hydrocarbon man" needs. Sugars are, after all, hydrocarbons and we have some very smart "molecular engineers" who know how to transform molecules into other molecules. Ingeo is (or rather, should be) just the beginning.

Ingeo-like materials cannot replace the roof shingles from HM's home (at least, I do not think so). But, there are other alternatives for roof coverings.

I am not trying to say that it will be an easy transition. But, this looks much more feasible (from a mass and energy balance point of view) than replacing a substantial portion of transportation fuels with biofuels.

Home page for NatureWorks LLC

Slate makes great roofs. Any decent stone should do.

What no one knows is either how soon or how quickly our industrial society might decline. Any one inclined to quit using some or all of these products will make it easier on the rest of us. We all can read the data from EIA and IEA but neither they nor we can read tea leaves. There are things we could do, from conserving energy to decreasing population, but neither of these looks very popular right now, especially the latter.

Most of you are familiar with peak oil, so most of you know that reaching a peak in oil extraction is hardly the same as running out of oil. The world isn't going to run out of oil any time soon, so it should not be viewed as the next apocalypse.

You don't have to run out of anything if the entire basis of your society is continued growth being necessary. Once a system like that begins to contract it will have to adapt (a bit too late for that on a societal scale) or collapse, restructuring that society for continued contraction is inevitable one way or another. Expecting that a great many people will not die in this process is not realistic in my opinion. Just look at the logarithmic population growth of the last century or two, if our resource base collapsed and our population remained constant it would be a first for any species in natural history. Nature doesn't play favorites, and I don't think we are her favorite as we have been raping and crapping all over her that whole time.

Previous societies had the benefit of inefficiencies (otherwise known as redundancies) built into their systems because of less technological advancement, coupled with localization, and slow communications this gave most a longer transition period than I believe we will have. The wrong electrons get sent down a wire and the whole world will start to shake itself to pieces in short order. Just-in-time manufacturing is probably one of the most short-sighted ideas man has ever had.

or cedar shingles...

No, unfortunately;

Slate easily breaks up into thin flat sheets which can then be easily sawn into rectangular shapes with holes easily drilled for nailing.

I don't know of any other stone which has these properties and is cheap enough to use for roofing.

Most stones could probably be drilled and sawed I suppose but only at great expense.

There is a granite quarry nearby that processes some of the stone into very thin sheets with saws for decorative tiles but the price of the stuff will take your breath.

It takes one of the saws several hours to finish a single large cut.

Cargill's feedstocks are based on industrial style monocrop agriculture that is completely dependent on fossil fuel for fertilisers and pesticides. The genetic engineering reagents used to develop and "improve" these monocrops are also based in fossil fuels. Bioplastics are a cruel dodge, a false promise.

Bioplastics can be made from any cellulosic material, not just the monocultures you are referring to. All plants contain cellulose and hemicellulose that can be broken down to 6- and 5-carbon sugars. These sugars can then be fermented to form the monomers needed for bioplastics. The biomass that remains after you break down the cellulose and hemicellulose (mostly lignin) can be used to provide energy for the process.

We will need liquid fuels for harvesting and transporting the biomass. But, a distributed, small scale production and distribution system can cut down the energy needed. Biomass can also provide some biofuels for such a distributed, but highly integrated, system.

Polystyrene, aka Styrofoam when expanded, dissolves readily in acetone making a "lacquer" that I've experimented with for weatherproofing wood. It doesn't work very well (and it's dangerously flammable), but it illustrates the kind of things that could, possibly anyway, be done. And I'm not even a chemist - heh.

Linseed oil works great on preserving wood, but mildew is an issue. Shellac is made from alcohol and bug shells. The shell of the Lac bug.

Maybe I misunderstand your point - but what is the significance of being able to make something from polystyrene. Polystyrene is a petroleum product. It is made from polymerizing styrene, which can be made by the dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene, or can be made as a co-product from propylene oxide manufacture.

There may be some biological sources of styrene - is that what you are talking about?

What did the Egyptians use? Yes the desert helped, but some of the wood looks almost new.

Hard plastics replaced bone and horn, for example, in knife handles. I dont see any reason why this situation cannot be reversed.

the human you take it from might object :)

( the animal kingdom being depleted by then ofcourse)


I wonder if Dad would give me his Titanium Knees when he's done with them? He's a big Lovecraft fan, I think he'd really dig the idea of my making his old joints into some new shop tools.. I'll have to chew on this. (Alright, I'll say it, 'He'd get a kick out of it!' - actually, when asked how he's doing, the stock response is 'Alive and kicking..'.. so that would have to get put onto the Tool somewhere, I think)

Don't know how related it is, but speaking of 'Recycling from the Ancestors', I've got my Great^2 Grandfather's Civil war Sword and Spurs, and had the crazy, Hippy-dippy notion of finally beating it into a plowshare, or some similarly useful implement. I do need a Scythe..

I mean really, we take old Rakes, Hoes and shovels to the dump, but an old Weapon gets the impetus of Sacredness. I'm not even against having some reasonable 'Claws and teeth' around to face the harsh realities of life, but we've elevated our Honoring of Killing and Dying to such a level as to border on Obsession. (D'ya think?) My wife disagrees, of course.. we are nothing if not contentious, but I am amazed at people's intense resistance to follow that fine suggestion of letting our weapons be laid to rest, or turned to better purposes, when the chance is there, when the war is over.

Think I should do it? A 'Sacred' Piece of American History, versus some peacenik reference from Isaiah 2:4 (and Micah 4:3), and the chance to hold that proud scabbard again as Francis Skinner Fiske did at Bull Run, only now to help feed my family.. or at least clear some brush?

'What's important in this life? Ask a Man who's lost his wife..' Chrissie Hynde


It seems that TOD is falling prey to the same misunderstanding of peak oil as the common ignorant response.

"Oil is going to run short some day," we say.
"Impossible! Oil will never run out!" cries the indignant middle-classed suburbanite in his 4WD at the burger drivethrough.
"Of course it's not going to run out, but it will run short."
"Nonsense! Oil will never run out."

This is not the first article where Gail wonders what will happen when the oil runs out. Surely TOD can do better than this, I was hoping that with the well capped we'd be spared from the endless run of articles about the Gulf of Mexico spill and could have more varied topics again. But if DOOOOOOOOOOOOM! is the only option, well give me more drill bits and concrete cubby houses.

I am a Transplant Recipient. If the drugs disappear between 80 and 90% of us will die. Simple isn't it.


Jim, I don't mean to sound flippant, have you ever though about how many people die every day on this planet from lack of food and clean water? How many people right here in the US don't have access to even the most basic health care? Yes, it is very simple, a lot of us are going to die...even those of us who aren't transplant recipients. There are just way too many of us on this planet right now. Nature doesn't discriminate and she doesn't care.

Do you mean 80-90% of transplantees?

I certainly hope your meds aren't totally FF dependent.. and that we're learning other ways to fight against organ rejection.. but I suspect that a great many current Medical Approaches are either so Energy, Tech Equip, or Money dependent that your basic point is true.


If we were prepared to pay an infinite price, then an infinite amount of liquid hydrocarbons would be available for petrochemical feedstocks. We could produce them from coal, tarsands, oil shale, or a sabatier reactor reacting nuclear/renewable derived electrolytic hydrogen with carbon dioxide derived from limestone.

So a more appropriate question is: how much can we afford to pay for each oil application, what is the resource set available at different prices at each time and depletion level, and how is demand suppressed as price increases?

Basically, as the supply set becomes more expensive, the supply and demand curves for each application cross at different points. The more expensive, the lower demand, etc. But ultimately, as prices rise and disposible income diminishes, the entire economy will contract because of feedback effects. So the answer as to what we would do with less conventional oil available is:
consume less, partly through efficiency, partly through alternative energy sources and partly through becoming poorer. Difficult to be any more specific than that.

Isn't this question why we are all here?

Industry is trying to scale back on crude in the petrochem department, but it can only do so much in the crude based world we have created.

Take a DVD cases. It has a decorative holes cut in the case. Saves 20% of the plastic over the old cases. Water bottles? They also cut 20% of the plastic with thinner shaped bottles and smaller caps.

But even if we did find out how to burn water for energy, petrochemicals make up roughly 9% of every barrel of crude goes to petrochemical use.

If we stopped burning crude this instant, we would still suck the wells dry, albeit not as quickly, just from petrochemical use.

I have to laugh at the knuckleheads that say 'lets get off crude.' What do they think they will pave the roads with? And roof our houses and buildings? The tires on our electric cars...the Chinese clothes on our backs..the keyboards we are all typing on...all crude based.

Some work has been done with making plastics from corn, but it can't touch the variety of plastic and rubber products that crude produces.


So even if we all stop driving we will just be postponing the inevitable .

From this list we can see that we are still massively depend on crude for our non sustainable lifestyle.

There is no replacement for crude...crude is in the details of our life.

Solvents Diesel Motor Oil Bearing Grease
Ink Floor Wax Ballpoint Pens Football Cleats
Upholstery Sweaters Boats Insecticides
Bicycle Tires Sports Car Bodies Nail Polish Fishing lures
Dresses Tires Golf Bags Perfumes
Cassettes Dishwasher Tool Boxes Shoe Polish
Motorcycle Helmet Caulking Petroleum Jelly Transparent Tape
CD Player Faucet Washers Antiseptics Clothesline
Curtains Food Preservatives Basketballs Soap
Vitamin Capsules Antihistamines Purses Shoes
Dashboards Cortisone Deodorant Footballs
Putty Dyes Panty Hose Refrigerant
Percolators Life Jackets Rubbing Alcohol Linings
Skis TV Cabinets Shag Rugs Electrician's Tape
Tool Racks Car Battery Cases Epoxy Paint
Mops Slacks Insect Repellent Oil Filters
Umbrellas Yarn Fertilizers Hair Coloring
Roofing Toilet Seats Fishing Rods Lipstick
Denture Adhesive Linoleum Ice Cube Trays Synthetic Rubber
Speakers Plastic Wood Electric Blankets Glycerin
Tennis Rackets Rubber Cement Fishing Boots Dice
Nylon Rope Candles Trash Bags House Paint
Water Pipes Hand Lotion Roller Skates Surf Boards
Shampoo Wheels Paint Rollers Shower Curtains
Guitar Strings Luggage Aspirin Safety Glasses
Antifreeze Football Helmets Awnings Eyeglasses
Clothes Toothbrushes Ice Chests Footballs
Combs CD's Paint Brushes Detergents
Vaporizers Balloons Sun Glasses Tents
Heart Valves Crayons Parachutes Telephones
Enamel Pillows Dishes Cameras
Anesthetics Artificial Turf Artificial limbs Bandages
Dentures Model Cars Folding Doors Hair Curlers
Cold cream Movie film Soft Contact lenses Drinking Cups
Fan Belts Car Enamel Shaving Cream Ammonia
Refrigerators Golf Balls Toothpaste Gasoline

Isn't this question why we are all here?

George Carlin knew the answer... PLASTIC!


answer - Hemp Oil

I'm not going to do it today, but that list can very quickly be pared down by cutting things that are either frivolous or have reasonable substitutes. ' Shag Rugs, Golf Balls, Model Cars, Dice, Folding doors, Curlers..'

It's worth looking at all of these things to remember how invisibly this stuff is all around us. We do have our work cut out for us, and it will be a 'Transition'.. it's not all got to turn over by Jan 21st at 9am, after that no oil in anything..

.. but it's also a matter of Discovering What We Really Need

Thoughts on dire predictions. It seems an extreme view to assume that petroleum feed stocks will completely disappear and that we will have no more plastics. They will most likely slowly dwindle and their prices should rise to appropriate market levels. Once made, thermoplastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene are very recyclable. Thermosets (such as epoxy and polyurethane) will be a little harder to recycle. Polyhydroxybutyrate can be made from bacterial sources, and cellulose grows well and converts to Rayon, so the ultra-tweed market should be safe as well. Nitrocellulose billiard balls also lent an air of excitement to games in the late 1800's. I'm not particularly esthetically taken by corn-based packing peanuts and cutlery, but I can live with them. I expect that tires can be recycled back into rubber and not just mulch. And I am very relieved that the "Petroleum" man was apparently wearing cotton briefs and not Lycra.

If we look at the chart which opened this thread, we see some 73% of petroleum being used by ground transportation, which should be the easiest component to replace by alternative energy sources. Depending on exactly where the ethylene, propylene, and petroleum feedstock fractions go, perhaps 12% of the petroleum lands up in plastics and industrial chemicals. If we simply eliminated the ground transportation consumption and did nothing else (no extra coal, gas, conservation, etc.), we should be able to extend the lifetime raw feed stocks for plastics (etc.) by a ratio of something like 73/12 or by a factor of 6. Finally, petroleum is still about the densest portable energy source and there is no reason why it cannot continue to be used for this purpose if it is used conservatively. For example, I'd rather run my camp stove off of petroleum ether or propane than batteries, although a sun oven is an interesting possibility, at least for breakfast. It won't keep the bears away at night, however. LED lighting should be a big improvement over the standard thorium mantle gas lamp, however. Sun and hiking (energy recovery) can both be exploited to recharge lighting, GPS, and radio batteries. A solar powered Kindle also seems like an attractive idea.

Finally, looking towards the next generation, we seem to be fixated on where our next gallon of petroleum will be coming from, rather than on setting aside some wells and reserves for our children (and beyond). This seems particularly thoughtless, considering how often various sorts of family values are trotted out as excuses for everything else. It is reminiscent of showing up as a guest, cleaning out the refrigerator and departing without so much as a thank you.

"Nonsense! Oil will never run out."...

Peak oil...it is just a theory. That is what my wife's lady stockbroker told her.

Dismissing peak oil as 'just a theory' is an easy and quick way to rebut PO.

If the question is when we will peak - yes we can only theorize.

If the question is if we will peak - then it is not a theory and only a question of time.

No one knows the exact peak date for world oil production, but we do know that time will come in the not so distant future. Finding the peak is not hard problem once we can look back on it by a few years...but we need some time to do it...again, only time will settle this debate.

And the possibility may be that we find another big discovery and the peak dates look more like a double top stock market chart than the drop over a cliff.

But all this does not really matter. The bottom line is we are running out of crude no matter how the hard the spin doctors try to masturbate the facts.

The fact that 'we have to estimate' reserves or useful life of anything says that the item in question does not have an infinite supply or life span.

I never argue with persons claiming that we have peaked already or others that claim the peak is 20 years away. To me they are both on the same page, just looking at different paragraphs.

"If the public does think briefly about future oil supplies, the question usually asked is, "How long will oil last?" This is the wrong question. Oil will be extracted in some insignificant quantity perhaps 200 years from now. The critical question is: When does the peak of world oil production occur?" ~ Richard C. Duncan

The US peaked in oil production in 1970 at 3,517,450,000 barrels Since that time we have never approached that figure again. In 2007 we were producing 1,848,450,000 barrels. That's a decrease in production of about 52%.

I always tell the proponents saying peak oil is a conspiracy and think that we have an unlimited amount of oil, natural gas, coal, uranium...actions speak louder than words.

We can look at global oil production and see what the general trend is.

We can look at the trend in drilling to see how deep we have to go to find oil. How many big finds are being made?

We can look at the quality of crude being produced.

Is it light sweet crude or high sulfur, heavy, hard to refine crude?

The light sweet is just that 'light' and is on the surface of the oil pool. Whereas the less desirable heavy sulfated crude is on the bottom of the pool. Does the phrase hitting the bottom the barrel mean anything to you?

Lately we have been putting much of our hope in the tar sands of Canada.

When we have to get the oil out of the sand and shale it sounds like we are hitting the bottom of the barrel again. Even talk about getting our gas from refining bitumen coal.

We're doing something near to impossible, which is to predict the future. Tons of IF's, AND's and BUT's that could happen. We just don't know.

As futurists we try to anticipate future events and the direction the world is headed in and as survivalists we try to prepare for those circumstances.

Whenever you are confused, always look at the trend.

Things can go in 3 directions...get better...get worse...stay frozen.

This helps remove some of that confused or wishful thinking and can help settle the war raging on in your head.

So, what's your point?

"It seems an extreme view to assume that petroleum feed stocks will completely disappear and that we will have no more plastics."

Yes, I agree. We will have plastics and the rest.

But at what cost?

As crude prices rise, so do all the other derivatives of crude...even food!

We got a taste of that in the last crude bubble.

Personally, I think it's a good time to be scouring antique stores and yard sales for things that were made 100 years ago and haven't ended up in the Pacific Vortex, and practise using them.

e.g. clocks or watches that you - (arghhh - indrawn breath) - *wind up*. Glass containers, metal containers, metal utensils such as steam irons, push mowers, the list goes on. Look for things that don't plug into a wall outlet.

Once one regains the familiarity with things not made from disposable plastic, or juiced up from the grid, one can then start to wrap one's mind around where to get them if they fall apart. Or have them repaired.

The problem we have is over-reliance on "the invisible hand of the free market". Try negotiating with it to get what you really need when you actually need it. Like trying to buy a space heater at the local big box retailer out of season....

Postscript : when you've paid a hefty price for a wonderful old clock, you have good incentive to repair rather than replace. Part of our problem is the disposable mentality of contemporary consumerism.

I think it's now been fairly well established by the info presented in some of the above comments that the production of petrochemicals and plastics consumes but a very small fraction of total petroleum consumption.

So, what can we conclude from that fact? Depends on how you look at it. Most of our petroleum consumption is transportation-related, and most of that transportation-related consumption is from the use of the personal automobile. Therefore, would it not stand to reason that if we made a concerted effort to simultaneously increase average fuel economy and decrease total vehicular miles traveled that we would then have 'produced' more than enough petroleum to easily keep us in petrochemical and plastic feedstock for a long, long time?

I don't think some people around here understand the concept of a hierarchy of uses very well. Burning oil in furnaces and cars is a far less valuable use of these precious resources than the manufacture of petrochemical and plastic, not to mention pharmaceuticals.

And whilst on the subject of plastics, so much of it is wasted on unnecessary packaging, that I suspect we could reduce the production of some of the commodity polymers such as polyethylene, and polypropylene by over 50% without suffering severe societal hardship.

Let us also remember that back in the Golden Age of plastics during the 1950s and 1960s, the petroleum industry aggressively strove to expand the use of plastics into every conceivable cranny of American life . ("Benjamin, I want you to remember just one word ..... Plastics!). So there is considerable fat in the system that could be cut out.

Being that the volume of petroleum feedstock for petrochemicals and plastics is so much smaller than that for auto fuel, that says to me that the production of bio-polymers is a far more sensible use of valuable agricultural land than growing marginally energy-positive ethanol to put in cars. First things first.

And as a somewhat more general comment: it is a mistake to assume that light to medium manufacturing (other than the obvious case of petrochemicals and plastics) is very heavily dependent upon petroleum for things other than transportation of raw material in and product out. The reason is that most small to medium-size manufacturing facilities use electricity in the actual manufacturing activities and little if any petroleum.

Thank you. Sane use, not insane use or unrealistic conservation goals. We have passed peak gold (1990?) and there are still wedding bands; we have probably passed peak oil (2008?) and we still drive, we are about to pass peak helium and peak neodymium (2012?) and no one has stopped manufacturing headphones or MRI's. These things dwindle, they don't disappear overnight (although the passenger pigeon did, and it was a disaster for the millinery industry). So the question becomes one of: "How do we use this borrowed time most productively?", to develop acceptable engineering and social replacements? In my opening lines, I simply observed that while recycling plastic is good, and will help to sustain an existing supply, it will never get us to energy independence. Reducing our transportation usage will provide much more future on the petrochemical horizon, which is arguably the more valuable use of a limited resource. Following that, we can shift to bio-polymers, not all of which are currently as ideal as polyethylene. And I agree that plastics are not the ideal solution to all of our problems: I hate my slippery plastic cell phone case; thank God that it has a rubber bumper to go around it;) (Note the smiley for all of our angry, humor impaired, readers:)) Personally, I prefer returning to simpler times and re-embracing the aesthetics of mahogany and ivory, naturally reproducing materials which will never run out.

Nice summary. So, the short term answer, is an effort to "reduce, re-use and recycle." At the same time, we need to look for sustainable "oil substitutes" and processes for the materials we will need in the future. If I had one advice for the Benjamins of today it would be: "Biomass is for materials."

If a viable way is not found soon and immediately implemented to humanely accelerate the current decline in human fertility rates worldwide, the end of plastics and other 'essential' petro products will likely not take on the significance it does in our time?

As Fred Magyar has noted, the current huge scale and unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers in our time is the global challenge that dwarfs all other human-driven threats to human wellbeing and environmental health.

There is an undeveloped deposit of tar sands in Canada that is rich in the aromatic hydrocarbons that some plastics like styrene are made from. It's likely there are other similar oil sands deposits, but as long as oil is cheap they are not economic.

As a chemical engineer I know it is possible to transform biomass, coal of tar sands into many different chemicals. Cost is the issue and the byproduct mix isn't always good. Biomass is a limited option because 50% is already being harvested. We have perhaps 100 years of lower grade fossil resources if we can maintain today's style economy. The higher costs mean it's most likely that we will decline economically.

Spring, you got to get with the program. (USA's program that is.)

Consumption and waste is good...recycling, reusing and doing without is bad...

Check out out world according to Victor Lebow

"Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption...We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption."

Victor Lebow was a 20th century economist and retail analyst, perhaps best known for his quotation regarding the formulation of American consumer capitalism found in his paper "Price Competition in 1955"

IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE TO DO A 180...Without compulsive spending and conspicuous consumption funded by unaffordable debt, we would fail as a country. Since our economy if fueled 70% by the consumer, we must stay in debt and consume by any means necessary to keep the Ponzi scheme from collapsing.

We must make shoddy products that self-destruct quickly - so new products are in constant demand to keep the workforce of drones working. All the while squandering natural resources. But on a positive note, we are increasing the business of the landfills.

We must not grow our own food. We must buy poisonous food from chemical laden farms. Our concrete jungles could never hope to allow anything else from their inhabitants.


Would you rather eat an embalmed potato or a live potato? The store bought 'Green Giant' red potato vs home grown live KB potato. Both stored for 7 months in my root cellar.

And we must squander fossil fuels as fast as possible to keep the economy booming. What would all the tourists traps from Las Vegas to Florida do without the travelers? And the multitude of business that depend on travel along the pilgrimage routes?

On an a more global level, lets say everyone becomes voluntary simplicity and frugal squirrel devotees. We recycle, reuse, repair and just say NO to buying more crap. If we stop buying all the stuff that America imports from China - who keeps the 1.3 billion plus people in China from starving, so they do not go back to old ways of trying to take over the world?

We can see we have created a time bomb. Even the highest level brainiac economists can't fix what ails us. Our whole system is based on an unsustainable model that will eventually collapse no matter how much money that is printed up by the Fed. (...they don't even need to print money nowadays, all that needs to be done to create billions is to magnetize a silicon chip!)

Tony Benn's take on things:


We can see in the pop chart above, the population was pretty steady over the centuries. People lived within natures boundaries. They grew their food, burned wood for fuel and ate the game and fish nature provided...until the age of fossil fuels.

Whale oil or wood was the prevalent fuel up to that time. As whale oil was running out, coal and liquid coal (crude oil) came on board. Then petroleum / natural gas based fertilizers made cheap food possible.

Fossil fuels allowed people to move from an agrarian from of life to an urbanized city lifestyle that removed all the hard and dirty work of growing and producing one's own food. Fossil fusels also made possible many areas of life extending improvements to humans. And people spread to all corners of the planet and flourished...but by an artificial and non sustainable means.

What happens when something is running at an unsustainable pace?

It must slow down to a sustainable pace - if it is to keep moving forward steadily and sustainably. Slow down = Dieoff.


It would be one thing if we all reverted back to rural living, burning trees for fuel and housing and living within our comfortable means allotted to us by nature, as our ancestors did back in the day. But seven billion people can't burn the trees!

When we live out of balance with natures intended means there is a price to pay to come back in balance with nature. And the price usually extracts pain from us in the adjustment process. Now renewable energy will replace some of fossil fuels benefit to mankind. But don't be under the delusion that they are a seamless and fungible replacement. There is NO replacement for crude, NG, coal and uranium...all fossil fuels.

It has been estimated that for the earth to sustainably support its population without fossil fuels a 90% dieoff must occur. I don't know if that is the right figure, but I do know humans could not live as they do unless it was funded by artificial means via fossil fuels.

So if this dieoff happens, of course there will be great amounts of pain in the world. But it is natures intended balancing act.

It also reminds us that nature does not bow to humans - it is humans that always bow to nature.

As my survival mentor says "to prepare for the unthinkable...one must first think the unthinkable." You have lost this key tool forethought preparedness by getting stuck in dream land. As such, you will fail to prepare for what awaits you by subscribing to wishful thinking. But the positive part of this is that you now have the information to possibly change your future.

But no matter how you slice it...



Is hard to fix without this:


You still have some valuable time left to prepare for what awaits you down the road.

We are in the 'Indian Summer' of a carbon based world. Don't wait until the winter sets in to start work on your preparedness efforts....Semper Paratus

Consumption and waste is good...recycling, reusing and doing without is bad...

Does anyone else remember the 3 R's mantra - reduce, reuse, recycle? Funny how 'reduce' seems to have disappeared. Seems the idea of getting by on less isn't too catchy.

oil is used in 500,000 products and nearly all essential objects are made WITH fossil fuel energy. Glancing at the list, I see pesticides are missing, I'm sure quite a few other important items are left out


Clothing Ink Heart Valves Crayons Parachutes Transparent tape
Enamel Telephones Antiseptics Vacuum bottles Motorcycle helmets
Pantyhose Rubbing Alcohol Carpets Epoxy paint Unbreakable dishes
Upholstery Hearing Aids Cassettes Pillows Car sound insulation
Deodorant Shower doors Shoes Awnings Refrigerator linings
Shampoo Safety glass Salad bowl Rubber cement Nylon rope
Ice buckets Fertilizers Hair coloring Toilet seats Denture adhesive
Loudspeakers Movie film Fishing boots Candles Water pipes
Car enamel Shower curtains Credit cards Aspirin Soft contact lenses
Detergents Sunglasses Glue Fishing rods Linoleum
Plastic wood Golf balls Trash bags Hand lotion Electrical tape
Shaving cream Footballs Paint brushes Balloons Fan belts
Umbrellas Paint Rollers Luggage Antifreeze
Model cars Floor wax Tires Bandages Sports car bodies
Toothbrushes Toothpaste Combs Tents Dishwashing liquids
Lipstick Oil filters Hair curlers Ice cube trays Electric blankets
Tennis rackets Drinking cups House paint Rollerskates Insect repellent
Guitar strings Ammonia Eyeglasses Ice chests Life jackets
TV cabinets Glycerin Nail polish Roofing Car battery cases
wheels Refrigerants Cold cream Camera Plywood adhesives
Anaesthetics Artificial turf Artif. Limbs Dentures Beach Umbrellas
Mops Ballpoint pens Boats Golf bags Caulking Tape
recorders Curtains Putty Percolators Vitamin capsules
Dashboards Skis Insecticides Fishing lures Perfumes
Shoe polish Petroleum jelly Faucet washers Cortisone Food preservatives Antihistamines Dyes LP records Solvents

Gail, the answer is quite obviously in the title of your post:

"What do we do without all of the things that are made from petroleum?"

"Do without", of course. Life will go on for some. Unfortunately I think many will perish.

A couple of comments:

First, as long as we can maintain a few people who are competent chemists, we need not live without ANY plastics whatsoever. There are some plastics that can be made without any petro feedstocks at all, if you know what you are doing. Bakelite and cellophane are two that come to mind, both were developed before the petrochemical business really got up and running. There are probably quite a few other examples that could be cited. As a general rule of thumb, I would expect to see us having to give up plastics in reverse order to their invention, with the most recent inventions being the first to go. The oldest - like bakelite and cellophane - would hang on the longest.

Second, just because plastics are used in so many things today does not mean that is a good thing. Plastic may last "forever" (not literally, but maybe at least as long as any human civilization has so far), but that doesn't mean that it retains its utility for that long. As most of us have certainly found out by personal experience over and over again, plastic things wear out and break very quickly. The words "cheap" and "plastic" just seem to go together. If we are ever to transition to a lower-energy, lower-material-throughput, sustainable economy, then making and using things that are really very durable would seem to me to be an essential aspect of it. The fact is that most of the stuff that we have now that is made out of plastic really doesn't fit that specification at all. Maybe our future is not having a lot of cheap plastic stuff, but rather having a few really well-made things that may be expensive but last more than a lifetime. Most of the few things I have now - all treasured possessions - that fit in that category are NOT made of plastic.

If only time was on our side.....

Sometimes I feel as if many too many are comforted by 'the courage' they display by seeing no truth, hearing no truth, speaking no truth and doing nothing to change anything while the clock runs out. We are facing a forbidding global predicament, but too few are willing to discuss what so many believe to be its root cause.

These circumstances are revolting.

Hi Folks,

Went to an interesting talk tonight by Satish Kumar of the UK Schumacher organisation, about his concept of Soil, Soul and Society. He talked about how we, especially in the 'West' are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder ( as espoused by Richard Louv's "Last /Child in the Woods" ). He also pointed out our overbearing materialism - the fact that someone in Paris uses 50 times the resources of some one in Bangladesh for instance. While he was using an extreme case to make his point, his main thrust was towards the need for a simpler way of life. As he put it with regards to our possessions we should aspire to what his mother called the bud principle: to own things that were beautiful, usable and durable - wouldn't that alone reduce all that crap made from the black stuff?


Make substitutes from other feedstocks. The first "plastic", Bakelite,(as the result of a competition to find a substitute for ivory in billiard balls) was made I think from milk casein. Rayon was made from cellulose. Many many chemical concoctions can be made starting from alcohol - or ethanol as we like to name it now. Many more complex ones from coal and coal tars. That raw material will be around for a long time, especially if we get smart and leave a good bit of it in the ground.
Yes silly to leave a post now when everyone has moved on to the next topic.
I always meant to write a piece on how "Drugs and Alcohol can Save the World" You just read the gist of the alcohol part of it.