The best use for petroleum

Is in automobiles. Hear me out. Not the current disaster of gridlocked commuting, or self-reinforcing consumption or laziness or greed, but for travel. We were handed the keys to utopia, and we shat in the pool.

Humans have always travelled; we're all over the planet for a reason. Most people may stay in one geographical area most of the time, out of necessity or laziness, but I think most of us have at least some wanderlust.

Wander lust is an erotic sensuality only partially satisfied by going. Wanderlust requires motion and like sexual eroticism, travel requires change, and novelty. Chronic travellers of any age and time always seem more open, more lusty than people who never move out of the town they grew up in.

Travel is not a state, it is a dynamic process. Travel equals motion.

Nonhumans like travel; birds travel by design and the first word our own dogs learned for themselves is *GO*. Dogs love travel.

The last century found us armpit deep in automobiles; be careful what you ask for. But a subset of us continue to use them for what I consider their ultimate function: road trips. Road trips can be the exquisite culmination of millenia of human wanderlust and technology. Close to home landscapes are often illegible messes of haywire construction, but most of the planet is covered with the thinnest web of secondary roads, some ancient, some new; all prime territory for leisurely travel.

In the desert, the true scale of the planet is manifest. One person in an automobile is a nearly harmless speck (it is many of us at once or over time that does harm) and you are instantly at the mercy of the actual planet. It is possible to blunder through unprepared, have a great time and have nothing go wrong, but eventually, without preparation, you will discover the limits of technology.

But automobiles, used humbly and with care, allow for a sort of travel unprecedented in human history; in corporate terms, a day's drive covers terrain it took humans months of deprivation to cross. But whatever utility might underlie a road trip ("I'm going to Santa Fe") a road trip is ultimately about the deep and fundamental pleasure of wanderlust.

There is a bodily part of travel that cannot be simulated or time-shifted in photographs or moving pictures of any kind. The visual appeal of travel is obvious, and who doesn't like a good picture? But even the simple-seeming act of standing in a remote spot and taking in the view can be a deeply profound, whole-body/whole-person experience that is impossible to convey second-hand. It can only be experienced.

Petroleum -- we've been handed a large but limited supply of spectacularly compact portable energy. The only truly unique thing about gasoline and it's ilk is it's compactness, it's energy density; you can easily carry enough energy within a self-contained (sort of) vehicle to take you hundreds of miles without even stopping. Never before in history -- and possibly never again -- has travel over the surface of our planet been so easy.

Burning petroleum as a routine energy for stationary applications (eg. home heating) is insanity. Imagine burning styrofoam or plastic to heat your house -- some poor people do -- and the insanity is more-clear. "Cost" considerations (over passive design, other low-system-impact heat and energy sources) are purely short term corporate profit problems; they are not the problems of a civilization devoted to the long term thriving of a population of people and animals (I wish I lived in one).

Like it or not, cars are part of a dynamic performance with many players, few of which have your interests in mind. It's possible to live outside of some of this 'economy', but that's not my concern here.

However we got here, here we are. Personal travel unique on a geological era time scale is trivially possible, now.

I'll see you on the road.

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