Peak Oil and Healthcare

One of the better examinations of America’s addiction to cheap oil is Jim Kunstler’s blog — Clusterfuck Nation. Author of the book, “The Long Emergency,” Kunstler depressingly outlines the many ways in which American car-culture is doomed as oil becomes more scarce. He cautions that supposed techno-fixes like ethanol will only exacerbate our problems, and that any real solutions must begin with a total rethink of every aspect of American culture.

As Al Gore tried to point out during his run for the presidency (to a big media yawn), our society is now designed to burn oil at every stage: to get us to work and play; to grow, process and move our foods and products to market; to heat our 5,000 sq ft homes and fire up our Hummers; to jet us about the world; and, to run the largest military machine in history, which has as its main purpose — the whole reason we’re mucking up the Middle East — to secure cheap oil into the future.

Even Bush admitted to America’s addiction to oil, though he used the moment to push plant-based fuels, again, not a solution at all.

Now we can add another worry to the “peak oil” list: healthcare. As if there were not already ample problems with American healthcare, Dan Bednarz shows how our fossil fuel dependence is jeopardizing our healthcare system:

Petrochemicals are used to manufacture analgesics, antihistamines, antibiotics, antibacterials, rectal suppositories, cough syrups, lubricants, creams, ointments, salves, and many gels. Processed plastics made with oil are used in heart valves and other esoteric medical equipment.

Petrochemicals are used in radiological dyes and films, intravenous tubing, syringes, and oxygen masks. In all but rare instances, fossil fuels heat and cool buildings and supply electricity. Ambulances and helicopter “life flights” depend on petroleum, as do personnel who travel to and from medical workplaces in motor vehicles. Supplies and equipment are shipped — often from overseas — in petroleum-powered carriers. In addition there are the subtle consequences of fossil fuel reliance.

A recently retired doctor informs me, “In orthopedics we used to set fractures mostly by feel and knowing the mechanics of how the fractures were created. I doubt that many of the present orthopedists could do a good job if you took away their [energy-powered] fluoroscope or X-ray.”

However, just as the shift to more ecologically sound practices is only financially threatening to those too attached to the status quo to move on to something in all ways better, so removing the petrochemicals from our healthcare practices can ultimately result in a better system with better outcomes at a fraction of the cost:

We can avoid collapse, however, by reducing medicine’s present consumption of energy and creating a health-care system that reflects our actual relationship to resources. Ironically, peak oil can be a catalyst for creating a health-care system that is cost-effective, ecologically sustainable, and congruent with a democratic social ethos.

Michael Sky