Commentary

A Life Without Fossil Fuels Is Impossible Today

Vijay Jayaraj
By Vijay Jayaraj | April 8, 2019 | 4:03 PM EDT

New Delhi, India (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Growing up in India, I’ve always appreciated the fossil fuels that made my life easier. Gosh, I can still remember the dark days without electricity when our state thermal plants ran out of coal. Yes, I’ve studied for exams with just candlelight.

However, with the advent of the climate-change issue, it is common to see many protests against fossil fuels and carbon dioxide in the streets of the developed West.

Is there something wrong with fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide released when we use them? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, I challenged myself to live without fossil fuels for a single day. Here is how it went.

In order to minimize my dependence on the fossil-based products in the industrialized cities of India, I decided to stay in a small town surrounded by farms. Already a winner, eh! One brownie point for avoiding roads that are made from petroleum derivatives.

My day began with brushing my teeth. In India, Neem tree barks are used as traditional tooth cleaners. There was a tree right in front of my home and I picked a bark. One more point for avoiding fossil fuel (although there is no concrete evidence to prove that my teeth are safe).

Things went downhill from there.

All my clothes are modern. They contain petroleum-based manufactured fibers.

Yes, there are still some clothes that are traditionally woven, but they don’t last long, especially for someone who owns only a few sets of clothes and uses them multiple times in a week in the sweltering heat of India. No points.

Next comes the bathroom.

The pipes, the buckets, the wall paint, the toilet seat—all are made from petroleum derivatives. I did use a natural powder for scrubbing, but I got no points given the overwhelming use of petroleum derivatives.

Next came my kitchen space and breakfast time. The food was fresh and involved no petroleum derivatives. But it was grown in farms that used petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Even organic produce gets to market by vehicles that run on gas.

I used a banana leaf as my plate. But I cooked my food on stove that relied on gas, using utensils made partly from petroleum derivatives. No points for the kitchen.

My daily accessories—my wallet, my phone and my pen—all were made out of petroleum derivatives. Nope, no points for these—but, darn, I love my accessories!

I don’t have a car, but don’t get excited. Most public transport in India runs on gas. Some metro trains run on electricity—but India produces almost all of that from coal. No points even if I travel alongside 70 people in a crowded small bus or hundreds in a train—both of which contain body material made from petroleum-derivatives.

Then came my work. Finally free from petroleum-derivatives? Nope. My Macbook Air would not have rolled out of the Apple factory without components manufactured in processes that involve fossil fuel. No points.

Yes, my desk was made out of pure wood, and so was my chair. But the ceiling fan and the lights in the room were made of fossil derivatives. More importantly, the electricity that runs them comes mostly from thermal plants heated by coal or nuclear energy.

Wind turbines contribute a bit, when there is wind. But turbine manufacturing involves fossil fuels. (Not to mention that turbines kill millions of birds each year.) So, even if my local wind turbine grid produced electricity continuously, it would still not be fossil fuel-free. No points for my work life.

Disappointed with the discovery of my high dependency on fossil-fuels, I decided to earn some points with my lunch and dinner. I picked a few bananas from the tree near my home and thought I scored two brilliant points.

Unfortunately, the tree was watered by a source that used an electric pump, so even it wasn’t fossil fuel-free.

I need not explain the rest. Almost all products of my daily life and yours—nearly 6,000 identified in this link—are made up of petroleum-derivatives or have indirectly used electricity sources.

I ended my day in utter disbelief.

How can people call for an end to fossil fuels unless they protest wearing clothes made of fossil fuels, placards and inks made of fossil fuels, expensive iPhones made of fossil fuels, and standing on roads made of fossil-fuels, eating foods grown using fertilizers and pesticides made from fossil fuels and transported using fossil fuels?

The hypocrisy has no end. Even the very last act of my day, sleeping on my bed, involved fossil fuel-based sheet and pillow materials.

A life without fossil fuels is impossible today. Anyone who claims otherwise will inform us through paper and ink or electronic communication devices, all dependent on fossil fuels. Practically everything comes to us courtesy of fossil fuels.

On the bright side, I had one point for my neem tree toothbrush, and I gave a pat to myself for my ingenuity.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Chennai, India.

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