Foreign oil

Al Gore receiving the Nobel Peace Price 2007 (picture Kjetil Bjørnsrud)

Another thing about the Al Gore film “An inconvenient truth” that needs to be written about. This point annoyed me quite a lot when I saw the film – the friend I was with said she could tell I was getting agitated, my annoyance showed – so I thought I would keep it out of the first blog entry on the subject so as not to put anyone off, because it is a good film that you really should go to see.

In the credits at the end, there comes up on the screen a series of recommendations of things to do to help fight climate change. Fit low energy light-bulbs, ride a bike, that kind of thing. And then this: “Reduce our reliance on foreign oil”.

Anything that uses the word “foreign” instinctively perks my ears up. What’s wrong with foreigners? Even better, what’s wrong with foreign oil?

First of all, though, what’s wrong with oil. It is made up of various hydrocarbon compounds which, when they burn, break up to form carbon dioxide and water, releasing a lot of energy in the process. That energy can be captured and put to good use, which is why we burn it in the first place. (Various combinations of C-H and O-O combine to form O-C-O and H-O-H, using the proper symbols.)

Now, is there a form of oil found inside the United States that doesn’t form CO2 when it burns? I concede that it is more than 20 years since I did my chemistry A-level, but I don’t recall any such possibility being discussed.

Oil is formed from the remains of organic life that is crushed down over a period of hundreds of millions of years. The oil that we are burning today was first laid down before even modern continents existed. The super-continent Pangaea broke up during the last 200 million years, to form first Gondwanaland and Laurasia, the latter of which then subsequently formed the continents of the northern hemisphere. Gondwanaland became South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica.

So, if the oil underneath North America is hundreds of millions of years old, North America itself is only tens of millions of years old, and the United States of America only 230 years old.

Furthermore, there’s no point telling Saudi Arabia or Norway to rely less on foreign oil, given that they don’t depend on foreign oil at all. For these reasons, then, I think that worrying about “foreign oil” is not the point. Let’s worry about oil, from wherever it comes.

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