What We Can Do To Reduce Petroleum Use

As Quakers we try to live our lives in harmony with our values and with the historic Quaker testimonies. It might be fairly straightforward to think of actions we can take to increase the amount of peace and simplicity in our lives and the lives of those around us. A more difficult challenge is to consider the indirect and hidden affects on the world of the things we purchase, whether in their production, use, or disposal. One product that we all use is petroleum. It's one of the most common ingredients in almost every purchase we make. Petroleum is a product on which Quakers should consider reducing their dependence because it threatens the physical wellbeing of all life, as well as the ecological and political stability of our world.

Why Reduce Petroleum Consumption?

There are health, environmental, and political reasons to reduce petroleum consumption. Sources of health risks from petroleum include pesticides in food, nitrates in ground water from petroleum-based fertilizers, chemicals leaching from plastics, and MTBE leaking from gasoline storage tanks. The problems of plastics include extreme pollution from production, toxic chemical exposure during use, hazards from fires, and their contribution to the world's growing solid waste crisis. One category of chemicals used in plastic production, especially PVC and vinyl, is called organochlorines, which are resistant to breakdown and will remain in the environment for decades to come. Scientific studies reveal that these chemicals are linked to severe and wide-spread health problems, including infertility, immune system damage, impaired childhood development, hormone disruption, cancer and many other harmful effects. Environmental hazards of petroleum use include global climate change from burning petroleum products and oil spills that destroy natural habitats. Oil drilling is one of the main reasons that rainforests around the world are being destroyed. The political effects of petroleum use include manipulation of world markets by governments and large corporations at the expense of the poorest world citizens, and the waging of war in order to control the worlds shrinking oil reserves.

How can we reduce petroleum consumption?

The first step in reducing petroleum consumption is to understand what products are made from petroleum. Petroleum turns up in the ingredients list of more things than most people might be aware of. Here's a partial list:

  • Gasoline, Motor oil, kerosene, fuels, home heating oil
  • Plastics (and synthetic rubber)
  • Paint, paint thinners, lacquers, solvents, floor cleaners, hair spray, printing inks, asphalt
  • Petroleum (or paraffin) wax used in candy making, packaging, candles, crayons, matches, and polishes
  • Petrolatum (petroleum jelly) used in medical products and toiletries (lip gloss)
  • Synthetic fibers like polyester
  • Fertilizers, pesticides
  • Petroleum coke used as a raw material for many carbon and graphite products, including furnace electrodes and liners, and the anodes used in the production of aluminum
  • Petroleum is used in the generation of electricity (from fossil fuel power plants), and in the transportation of products to market

Once our awareness has been raised as to the problem of petroleum use and the products in which it is used, the solution does not seem all that easy. Since petroleum is directly or indirectly involved in producing almost everything, nothing less than overall simplification of our lives and buying less of everything is what's required. The recycling slogan is brought to mind - "reduce, recycle, reuse". We can begin by reducing the amount of energy we use by driving less, carpooling, turning down our thermostat, turning off lights when not in use, buying energy-efficient appliances, hanging laundry outside to dry, etc. We can buy food in bulk to reduce packaging, grow your own vegetables or buy them at a local farmer's market to reduce transportation, and buy organic food to reduce the amount of fertilizers and pesticides that are used. Search out simplification and recycling ideas at the library and on the Internet, starting with the links included below.

Find alternatives to petroleum products

There currently exist many alternatives to petroleum and petroleum-based products. Many automobile producers are making electric or natural gas-powered cars. Several now have hybrid gas-electric cars that are marketed to general consumers. There also is a little-known alternative to diesel fuel called "bio-diesel", which is made out of used vegetable oil and can be burned in diesel cars and in home oil burners. Alternative energy sources for home heating and electricity generation exist, such as photovoltaic, passive solar, wind turbines, and renewable fuels such as wood pellets and corn. Thanks to electrical deregulation, we can now choose an electricity supplier that provides "green" alternatives. Plastics can be made from substances other than oil - like corn or the hemp plant. Research such products and encourage legislators to support them. Here are some other ideas:

  • Make a solar shower
  • Use water-based latex paints
  • Look for products based on bee's wax or soy-based waxes
  • Use glass, ceramic, metal, and cloth containers instead of plastic
  • Buy drinks that come in glass containers

Again, information on these alternatives and more are available at your library and on the Internet. Maybe you'll be inspired to create a clearinghouse of petroleum-reducing ideas for your community.

Helpful Websites

Identifying petroleum products:
http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/seahome/housewaste/house/prodmenu.htm
http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/infosheets/petroleumproducts.htm
http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/analysis_publications/petroleum_profile_1999/profile99v8.pdf
Reducing petroleum use: http://pierceclemmer.us/marina/archives/000096.html
Organochlorines: http://www.greenpeaceusa.org/media/factsheets/poisonplastictext.htm
Hybrid Cars: http://www.wired.com/news/autotech/0,2554,58516,00.html
BioDiesel: http://www.biodiesel.org/resources/biodiesel_basics/
Rainforest destruction: http://www.ran.org/kids_action/s09_oil.html
Cleaning products: http://www.morethanjustcommerce.org/resources/cleaning.html
Living lightly: http://www.fcun.org/sustain/living.html
Electric Choices: http://www.md-electric-info.com
Biodegradable Plastics: http://www.earthshell.com