Why do we need oil? What products are made with oil?


Why do we need oil? What products are made with oil? These are two questions I get asked regularly.

The need for oil and gas is apparent for every use in our everyday lives, from your toothbrush, cell phone, and organic foods. People do not attribute many things to fossil fuels: fertilizers, cell phones, electronics, or even their wood furniture.  

The graphic below is not a total list of the items made from petroleum, not the things that use fossil fuels to get to our homes. Farmers, truckers, railroads, ships, and the entire supply chain run on fossil fuels. 

Each manufactured product has some sort of supply chain; whether it is food or an iPhone, it has a path from creation to consumer. Along every supply chain, there are many steps, and almost 99% of those steps require energy. That energy will come from oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, and even solar. Less than 2% of the energy required to get the iPhone from the cobalt mine to your hand is renewable energy. Understanding how much energy it takes to manufacture the iPhone is an eye-opener.

The critical mineral mining, transportation, mineral processing, manufacturing, assembly, and packaging of an iPhone takes resources, but trading in your old smartphone for the newest model is the worst thing you could do. According to Apple’s own metrics, 81 percent of the phone’s lifecycle carbon emissions are released during production.

The energy required to mine the rare materials for iPhones is huge. According to one report, “buying a new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for an entire decade.”

So, as you hear people trying to control their carbon footprint, you can ask them if they have a cell phone and look for their response. 

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