Oil's Strategic Status

In their book, Turning Oil Into Salt, Anne Korin and Gal Luft define the problem of the world's dependence on oil in a way that opens the possibility of a solution. People have identified the problem in different ways, and the way a problem is defined influences how you solve it. Defining a problem incorrectly can produce pointless or even counterproductive "solutions."

For example, do we use too much oil? Is that the problem? Is that what leaves us economically vulnerable to OPEC? Or do we import too much oil? Is that the problem?

Our attempts to solve those problems have led nowhere because the problem we need to solve is oil's strategic status. What does that mean? In the introduction to their book, Luft and Korin write:

Oil's strategic status stems from its virtual monopoly over fuel for transportation, which underlies the global economy and our entire way of life. Without oil, food cannot travel from farm to plate, mail cannot reach its destination, raw materials cannot reach their factories and children cannot attend their schools.

They use salt as an analogy. Salt was once a strategic commodity because it was the primary way to preserve food. It was very important to every country to have enough salt. Without a steady and secure supply of salt, food could not be preserved and widespread starvation became a real possibility. So wars were fought over the possession of salt sources, wars were lost because of a lack of salt, and colonies were established because of salt. Salt was a strategic commodity.

In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a large reward to anyone who could find another way of preserving food for armies on the march. He defined the problem correctly. He didn't call for a different form of salt or ask how we could do it with less salt or how to make our own salt from something we possess in abundance. He asked for an alternative way of preserving food. The way he defined the problem changed the world.

Within a very short time Nicholas Appert came up a solution — he invented the first canning process, originally using a glass container. Eventually there were many innovations in food preservation including tin cans, refrigeration, freeze-drying, and so on. There are so many different ways to preserve food now that nobody even thinks about it. Nobody worries about salt. Nobody cares where it comes from or whether they'll have enough of it.

Salt lost its strategic status. No wars will be fought over salt any more. No economies will crash because of it.

The problem we now need to solve is oil's strategic status. Right now, 97 percent of our transportation vehicles run on nothing but oil. And since transportation is the foundation of the world's economy, oil has an extremely high strategic status. It is the most important commodity in the world.

But if there were many viable and available fuels our vehicles could use, nobody would even think about oil or would care where it comes from or whether there will be enough. Nobody would worry about it because we would have an abundance of other forms of fuel, and an abundance of other forms of transportation that might not even require fuel.

The quickest way to reach this state is to use technologies already available to us — to use vehicles and facilities we already have, to use car manufacturing techniques we already use, to use liquid fuel delivery systems we already have (but to increase the number of different fuels) — and to have fuels that come from different sources. That's what fuel competition will achieve.

We can make this happen. We don't need every person in the country to convert their cars to flex-fuel vehicles. We don't even need a majority. We just need to convert our own cars, and then encourage our friends to do the same. There are a growing number of people burning ethanol in their cars. Let's keep up the momentum and get it done. The fastest and easiest way to make it happen is an open fuel standard.

Adam Khan is the co-author with Klassy Evans of Fill Your Tank With Freedom and the author of Slotralogy and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.

No comments:

Post a Comment