In Praise of Oil

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Oil has gotten a bad rap in recent decades. Concern over global warming, the troubling geopolitics of supply lines, and the recent Deepwater Horizon spill have led politicians and voters alike to describe oil as an "addiction," which is "almost by definition ... something one is healthier without," as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby remarks. But Jacoby reminds readers of the other side of the coin, the jointly obvious and oft-forgotten fact: "oil-based energy improves human health and reduces poverty--it makes life longer, safer, and better."  It's not just an energy source. Petroleum leads to "plastics, synthetic fibers, lubricants, waxes, asphalt," as well as "'ink, crayons, bubble gum, dishwashing liquids, deodorant, eyeglasses, CDs and DVDs, tires, ammonia, [and] heart valves.'" He makes the case viewing oil as "a blessing," rather than an addiction:

Of course there are problems created by oil, as the Deepwater Horizon calamity so heartbreakingly demonstrates. But most things of great value come with downsides. There are 40,000 traffic fatalities in the United States each year, but no rational person suggests doing away with cars, trucks, and highways. Airplanes sometimes crash and boats sometimes sink, but air and sea travel are not derided as "addictions" we need to break. Deaths due to hospital infections, medication errors, or unnecessary surgery number in the scores of thousands annually, but who would recommend an end to medical care?

Someday there may be an energy source that is as abundant, efficient, clean, and economically viable as oil. But nothing today fits that bill--certainly not biofuels, wind farms, or solar power.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.