Tapping the Fat of the Land

At the 2007 Gas and Oil Expo in Calgary, two keynote speakers introduced as representatives from ExxonMobil and the National Petroleum Council (NPC) addressed the specter of Peak Oil. "Without oil," NPC's Shepard Wolf warned, "at least four billion people would starve." In order to "keep the oil flowing," he suggested, "we need something infinitely more abundant than whales." Wolf's solution: It's time to consider transforming dying humans into biofuel.

"Some 150,000 people already die from climate-change-related effects every year," ExxonMobil's Florian Osenberg argued. "Those bodies could be turned into fuel for the rest of us." Wolf and Osenberg used a PowerPoint presentation to introduce VivoleumTM, a new Exxon product rendered from human fat. The attentive crowd of oil industry reps happily lit the complimentary Vivoleum candles placed on their luncheon tables.

Wolf and Osenberg were, in reality, The Yes Men, two anti-corporate tricksters on a mission to save the world "one prank at a time." But their Soylent-Green-Fuel stunt showed that Big Oil, as represented by these industry higher-ups, was open to the idea of harvesting one of the continent's greatest untapped assets -- the tons of excess fat being toted around by chubby masses of citizen-consumers.

In a world where federal corn subsidies, corporate fast foods, and petroleum-based fertilizers have transformed Americans into fat-bearing animals, it's no surprise that petroleum executives would see a kind of logic in harvesting human lard to produce an infinitely renewable resource to fuel America's economic engine.

America is literally collapsing under the strain of overweight citizens. Disneyland's Small World ride, designed in the 1960s (when the average male park visitor weighed 175 pounds) is now being re-built to haul passengers weighing more than 200 pounds. In 2004, a Baltimore water taxi built to carry 25 adults weighing an average of 140 pounds sank because the combined weight of the boat's 25 passengers was 700 pounds more than the vessel could handle.

Meanwhile, the fattening of America is fattening the coffers of Big Oil. The World Health Organization estimates that 38.8 million Americans are now "obese" -- i.e., 30 pounds or more overweight. That factors out to 583 thousand tons of excess body fat. Since a kilogram of human fat contains the 7,200 kilocalories of energy and a barrel of oil generates 1,410,579 kilocalories, Americans are hauling around (at minimum) the fat-equivalent of 2.92 million barrels of oil on their bodies. Talk about an untapped domestic resource.

If the concept of "flab gas" leaves you flabbergasted, prepare for a shock: researchers are already mining human fat for fuel. Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital reportedly has signed a deal to supply Norwegian entrepreneur Lauri Venoy with 3,000 gallons-per-week of liposuction leftovers harvested by its clinics. This biofat could produce 2,600 gallons of biodiesel, sufficient to fuel a Hummer for a year.

But it's all a joke, right? If the concept of "flab gas" leaves you flabbergasted, prepare for a shock: Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital has signed a deal to supply Norwegian entrepreneur Lauri Venoy with 3,000 gallons per week of liposuction leftovers. Venoy figures each 3,000 gallons of biofat will produce 2,600 gallons of biodiesel, sufficient to fuel a Hummer for a week.

And, on March 1, 2008, New Zealander Peter Bethune launched his latest attempt to break the around-the-world sailing record in his Earthrace eco-boat, a vessel partially powered by human fat. According to Bethune, "10 pounds of fat ... would drive a car about 50 miles, once converted." Bethune and two crew members personally donated 2.5 pounds of body fat to Earthrace's fuel tank -- enough to travel nine of the trip's 27,600 miles.

With liposuction already America's most popular cosmetic surgery (455,000 procedures in 2006 alone), the day may soon arrive when patriotic Americans can boost their health and the nation's oil reserves by volunteering to make donations to a Federal Liposuction Aggregation Bureau. FLAB's slogan could be: "A waist is a terrible thing to waste."

There is, of course, a simpler way of fighting Big Oil and the Big Bulge. In his latest book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," slow-food advocate Michael Pollan spells it out: Boycott corporate fast foods, eat local, and eat less.

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