"Big deal. If gas prices get high, I’ll just drive less. Why should I give a damn?"
Because petrochemicals are key components to much more than just the gas in your car. As geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer points out in his article entitled, "Eating Fossil Fuels," approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the US.
Pesticides are made from oil;
Food storage systems such as refrigerators are manufactured in oil-powered plants, distributed across oil-powered transportation networks and usually run on electricity, which most often comes from natural gas or coal;
According to the Organic Trade Association, the production of one pair of regular cotton jeans takes three-quarters of a pound of fertilizers and pesticides. (Source)
For more information, see:
"Are all forms of modern technology actually petroleum products?"
In addition to transportation, food, water, and modern medicine, mass quantities of oil are required for all plastics, all computers and all high-tech devices. Some specific examples may help illustrate the degree to which our technological base is dependent on fossil fuels:
It's also worth nothing that the construction of an average car consumes almost 120,000 gallons of fresh water, which is also rapidly depleting and happens to be crucial to the petroleum refining process. Source
The production of one gram of microchips consumes 630 grams of fossil fuels. According to the American Chemical Society, the construction of single 32 megabyte DRAM chip requires 3.5 pounds of fossil fuels in addition to 70.5 pounds of water. Source
The Environmental Literacy Council tells us that due to the "purity and sophistication of materials (needed for) a microchip, . . . the energy used in producing nine or ten computers is enough to produce an automobile." Source
The construction of the average desktop computer consumes ten times its weight in fossil fuels. Source
"What about alternative energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines? Are they also manufactured using petroleum and petroleum derived resources?"
When considering the role of oil in the production of modern technology, remember that most alternative systems of energy — including solar panels/solar-nanotechnology, windmills, hydrogen fuel cells, biodiesel production facilities, nuclear power plants, etc. — rely on sophisticated technology.
In fact, all electrical devices make use of silver, copper, and/or platinum, each of which is discovered, extracted, transported, and fashioned using oil-powered machinery. For instance, in his book, The Lean Years: Politics of Scarcity, author Richard J. Barnet writes:
To produce a ton of copper requires 112 million BTU's or the
equivalent of 17.8 barrels of oil. The energy cost component
of aluminum is twenty times higher.
Nuclear energy requires uranium, which is also discovered, extracted, and transported using oil-powered machinery.
For more information on metals shortages see:
Most of the feedstock (soybeans, corn) for biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol are grown using the high-tech, oil-powered industrial methods of agriculture described above.
In short, the so called "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil. Without an abundant and reliable supply of oil, we have no way of scaling these alternatives to the degree necessary to power the modern world.
(Note: alternatives to oil are discussed in depth on Page Two)
"Is the modern banking system entirely dependent on ever-increasing amounts of cheap oil?"
The global financial system is entirely dependent on a constantly increasing supply of oil and natural gas. The relationship between the supply of oil and natural gas and the workings of the global financial system is arguably the key issue to understanding and dealing with Peak Oil. In fact this relationship is far more important than alternative sources of energy, energy conservation, or the development of new energy technologies, all of which are discussed in detail on page two of this site.
Dr. Colin Campbell presents an understandable model of this complex (and often difficult to explain) relationship as follows: