In my opinion, the true wonder material is oil. Of course, plastic is made out of oil, thus what you explain about plastic applies.
Without oil, there would be no industrial agriculture, no mass transport of goods and people. Without oil powered machine, building houses, or mining materials for your electronic devices would be orders of magnitude more expensive. People could not buy products made far from their home region. The standard of living in rich countries would not be very different from poor countries.
Bad news : oil is not unlimited (unlike credit). It will be very hard to replace it once exhausted.
Bit of a tangent, but while we might plausibly run out of cheap oil in the near future, the supply of expensive, unconventional oil is vast. By vast I mean ‘several trillion barrels of known reserves’, against an annual consumption of 30bn.
Question is just how much of those reserves are accessible at each price point. This is really hard to answer well, so instead here’s an anecdote that’ll stick in your head: recent prices ($50-$100/bbl) are sufficient that the US is now the largest producer of oil in the world, and a net exporter to boot.
For what it’s worth, this whole unconventional oil thing has appeared from nowhere the last ten years, and it’s been a shock to a lot of people.
This is very true, Andy. Venezuela is the country that has the largest reserves but it’s very expensive to get it out. Technology will be the answer there.
Perhaps going a level further down we can talk about the wonder of polymers. Plastics. Oils. DNA. WIthout polymers we have no life I suspect.
I would really like to write something like that in the future, especially from a meta level. Polymers is super interesting as well.
I’ll give it some thought and probably write something about it. If you’d like to receive that essay, I’d love to have you join our Weekly Memos where I send similar essay. Join us here --> juandavidcampolargo.com/newsletter
Hi! Oil is also a great topic to explore. And you’re right the true wonder material is oil. I’m very familiar with oil as I grew up in Venezuela so I have some experience on what oil what can do. Sometimes it becomes a “curse” but for the most part and if you use it well, oil is a true wonder.
I’ll give it some thought and probably write something about it. If you’d like to receive that post, I’d love to have join our Weekly Memo where I send similar essay. Join us here --> juandavidcampolargo.com/newsletter
Unconventional oil largely consists of oil shales, which I can remember being taught about in the eighties. It becomes more commercially feasible to extract as the price of oil goes up.