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“The Oil We Eat” by Richard Manning

Ecological issues and problems with environmental protection have been the point of vibrant debates since the 1960s. One of the prominent works that evaluate the extent to which natural resources are nowadays wasted is the article entitled “The oil we eat” by Richard Manning. The author’s main thesis can be formulated in the following way: natural resources are nowadays used unwisely given the modern agriculture with its artificial fertilizers and high reliance upon oil. The present paper argues that the article is persuasive, as the author uses pertinent evidence and his reasoning is logical and valid.

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First of all the author makes it clear that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can be only transformed, and the nature’s ecological chain suggests that plants are the primary source of energy, and plant energy can be wasted. This assumption is crucial to the thesis, as it defines the scope of the environmental problem and shows that it is highly important to optimize the current load on the natural world. The assumption is also true and valid, as it is based either directly or indirectly on certain objective laws of physics and real-life facts. The major point of evidence the author uses to defend this statement is plants’ capacity of turning solar energy into nutrients, which appear to be the only appropriate fuel for human body.

In addition, the author refers to the research article of the group from Stanford University, which suggests that humans consume about 40 percent of the planet’s primary productivity, or plants, and as a result extinction rate among plants has increased 1000 times after humans established their rule on the Earth. This evidence is representative and relevant, as it contains the facts about human energy consumption patterns and the statistics of human exploitation of the plant world. It is also sufficient to conclude that the “fuel” received from plants is so important that it cannot be misused, and human civilization is already responsible for the loss of valuable species from the “green world”. The evidence to great extent contributes to the formation of the conclusion stating the necessity of optimizing the existing agricultural system, as the facts directly point to the critical problems in natural resources allocation.

Furthermore, the author also assumes that farming improved neither human lives nor the situation with plant world preservation and enrichment. This claim is directly related to the core thesis of the article, since it implies the inefficiency of the existing patterns of agricultural management. In addition, this assumption is arguable, i.e. the author puts forth an idea that describes the objective reality rather than his subjective perception of this reality. The assumption is also logically synthesized from credible evidence, primarily with the historical roots of agriculture and its originally “catastrophic” nature. In particular, the author uses the fact that the edible annuals are the “colonizers” of soil, as they close the niche of the bare soil. At the same time, “Farming is the process of ripping that niche open again and again” (Manning, par.10). Moreover, “It is an annual artificial catastrophe, and it requires the equivalent of three or four tons of TNT per acre […]” (Manning, par.10).

However, the layer responsible for fertility is quickly depleted by these cultures; for instance, in medieval England famines as a result of poor crops took place once in a decade. In the context of human life, it is common archaeological knowledge that farmers were undernourished as compared to hunters and gatherers. The author also provides the fact that even after the “green revolution” of the 1960s, or the advent of nitrogen-containing fertilizers, the population has doubled, “adding virtually the entire increase of 3 billion to the world’s poorest classes” (Manning, par.27). The main part of the evidence the author considers is relevant and representative, given that the main errors and fallacies in both historical and contemporary models of farming are specified and tied to the facts which vary by type, i.e. both scientific and statistical. However, the evidence used to portray the relationship between the “green revolution” and boosting of global poverty is scarce and not fully representative. This fact implicitly points to the assumption that the development of the new agricultural technology is the main cause of poverty growth, but from the common-sense perspective, in societies where the influences of economic, political, social, cultural and other factors are mixed, poverty growth can not be tied to a single factor. Therefore, this implication can be categorized as a logical fallacy, to which the lack of objective and many-sided evidence contributes as well.

Finally, the author holds that contemporary fertilizers result in the excessive consumption of “raw energy” from grain, corn and oil. This idea elaborates the second part of the thesis, specifying the destructive influence of chemicals used for soil properties improvement. The assumption is also valid as it is derived from the broad scope of macro-level evidence. In particular, the author incorporates such facts as the necessity of “processing” the grain after its contact with the nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, which reduces its natural energy. Furthermore, edible (from human perspective) plants are used to feed the livestock, i.e. plants are turned into meat, and from 50 to 90 percent of their energy is lost during this conversion.

The processing of crops also requires huge amounts of oil, i.e. one calorie of food needs ten calories of oil. The evidence is fully representative and pertinent, as the author actually addresses the modern food industry which is too far from the agricultural sector, so in order to turn the products of farming into consumer’s goods, it is necessary to invest lots of energy and take a greater amount of “raw materials”, which are, however, edible for humans. Thus, the evidence supports the conclusion about the necessity of profound technological change of the agricultural sector, otherwise it is likely to result in the diminution of the non-renewable resources. The evidence is also sufficient to understand the real scale and scope of the issue.

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To sum up, the article directs attention to the problem of the misuse of natural resources and effectively proves the necessity of changing the existing principles of farming and crops distribution. Most of the assumptions either reflect a certain part of the thesis or elaborate it, whereas the evidence is relevant, compatible with the author’s claims and based upon scientific inquiries undertaken by other scholars.

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"“The Oil We Eat” by Richard Manning." StudyCorgi, 4 Nov. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "“The Oil We Eat” by Richard Manning." November 4, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "“The Oil We Eat” by Richard Manning." November 4, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“The Oil We Eat” by Richard Manning." November 4, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“The Oil We Eat” by Richard Manning'. 4 November.

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