Will We Ever Live in a World Without Fossil Fuels?

I was asked this week by my father-in-law, a very wise man and doctor, “when do you think we will get 100% away from fossil fuels?” 

To be transparent, the question had never really crossed my mind before, so it wasn’t something I was prepared to answer at that moment. But, I’ve been pondering on it for a while now and I have my best educated guess.

Here it is: I don’t think we will ever completely get away from using fossil fuels (pending an astronomical discovery in technology). I’m aware this statement will ruffle some people’s feathers.

The key to my perspective is that I’m not only looking at fossil fuels as an energy source. I’m considering the enormous amount of other goods derived from fossil fuel raw materials. The vast majority of everything you touch each day is derived from some sort of fossil fuel raw material. 

A Day in the Fossil Fueled Life

To paint a picture of how many things in your life are made with fossil fuels, let’s take a look at some everyday items and activities. 

We’ll start as you wake up in the morning and your head lifts off your pillow. Do you have a memory foam pillow or mattress? Memory foam is derived from fossil fuel raw materials. No memory foam? Unless your mattress and pillow are stuffed with down feathers or another natural material, they’re likely packed with a petrochemical-derived stuffing made from fossil fuels.

Next, let’s look at the wardrobe you’re choosing from to get dressed. Unless your entire wardrobe is derived from natural fibers such as cotton, hemp, and wool, you likely have clothes that contain synthetic fibers. These include nylon, polyester, rayon, and many others, all of which are derived from fossil fuels. 

For the sake of time, let’s sum up breakfast, lunch, and dinner and look at your meals in general. Do you use plastic utensils or storage containers? Do you buy things wrapped in plastic? Even if you answered “no” to both of these, there are plastic components in appliances, in your car or the vehicle that transported your produce, and in farm equipment. From seed to plate, plastic—a material made from fossil fuels—is involved. 

Plastic is also containers for personal care products like toothpaste, soaps, cosmetics, and deodorant. So, unless you’ve found plastic-free alternatives for all of these, fossil fuels are hanging out in your bathroom and medicine cabinet. 

Next up, the roof over your head. Without fossil fuels, the building materials for your home are very limited. Bricks, wood, cement, drywall, and a few other materials would be available to build your home.  The wood might not be pressure treated though because some of the chemicals used in pressure treatment have fossil fuel raw material. Your roof could not be made of asphalt shingles because along with the tar paper used in roofing, they both are derived from fossil fuels.

The alternative to asphalt shingles is an unpainted and rust-prone metal roof because, without fossil fuels, you have next to no choices for paint. Although we do have water-based paints, during their manufacturing process there are compounds used that are fossil fuel-based material. So, without any fossil fuels, your options would be berry juice, linseed oil, chalk, and other natural pigments. 

Of course, there are living roofs (roofs made of soil and vegetation) and natural alternatives to conventional building materials. If you live in an Earthship, grow your own food, eliminate all plastic in any supply chain you rely on, and sleep and dress in only natural fibers, you’re a perfect model of a fossil-fuel-free existence. But, since this isn’t an option for most, the reality is that fossil fuels are here to stay.

The Matter at Hand

There are simply too many items made from fossil fuels that we touch every day. Beyond the many examples given above, the medical, technology, and construction industries rely on plastics and other fossil-fuel-derived materials. From the roads we drive on to the device you’re reading this on, fossil fuels are deeply integrated into our lives. 

I do, however, believe that we can all be more efficient with the matter we have in our control. 

According to the law of conservation of mass, mass cannot be created or destroyed. All we can do is create a circular economy from what’s given to us. That means we can use our waste energy to replace fossil fuel-driven power plants. We can recycle materials into usable goods. We can find creative ways to save energy. 

But a world that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels at all may never exist. 

I could be wrong. As more landfills become mountainous and pollution becomes problematic, innovation is taking place. People are finding solutions to the problems instead of ignoring them. At Nexus PMG, we are a group of those people. We help bring projects to life that help us be more efficient with the matter that’s been entrusted to us. 

Personally, I still use materials made from fossil fuels, but I do my best to use them wisely. My goal, personally and professionally, is to do the best I can with the resources in front of me to build a better world for my children, and not waste the blessings I’ve been given. 

Clint Manley
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