The point Cobb makes is that oil molecules can be used for valuable resources by being transformed into substances with true value – clothing, medicines, building materials, carpet and myriad other products. In these applications, oil can be reused or recycled, but burning oil in internal combustion engines is a one-time event. It also has harmful side effects like greenhouse gases and pollutants.
There's always electricity for powering vehicles, as there was over 100 years ago during the early days of automobiles. Electric cars were common during that period, but by the 1930s, ICEs made up the majority and gasoline was plentiful and affordable, so electric vehicles went away.
Electric vehicles are much cleaner than ICEs, but they face the dilemma of being powered mostly by fossil fuel. Two-thirds of all electricity consumed in the world is generated by power plants using fossil fuel – coal and natural gas – and it's inefficient in its energy use. Only one-third of the heat energy from a power plant gets turned into electricity, Cobb wrote. While electric vehicles making their way to large numbers on our roads would reduce dependence on petroleum, the way that they're powered would not be reducing greenhouse gases.
Large-scale solutions are needed to change direction, he wrote. Fueling electricity by renewable energy sources and extending mass transit routes and ridership would make an obvious improvement, but we're still years away from seeing those solutions carry weight. The resources for changing over to renewable-powered electrification would be vast – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution; ending oil imports to the US and other countries; and economic benefits of dollars that used to be spent on imported oil being spent domestically. Electrified transportation offers a full platter of improvements, but for now, the Picasso paintings are still being burned.