Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

How to break the oil addiction

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Energy
Oil refinery in Saudi Arabia Oil refinery in Saudi Arabia Anekoho
01 Jun
Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This month, Marco Magrini looks at our oil dependency

A Saudi royal is predicting an end to the oil era and is preparing the realm’s economic shift to a post-fossil fuel age. It may sound like the subplot of a sci-fi novel set in a not-too distant apocalyptic future, but this is exactly what deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated was happening during an interview with Saudi TV channel Al Arabiya. ‘We have a case of addiction to oil in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’, said the 31-year-old. Since the Arab country’s budget is much too dependent on crude revenues, the economy has to be reformed. For different, yet coincidental reasons, it is what many other economies of the world are also having to do.

The Paris Agreement dictates a systemic energy revolution in order to hold ‘the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’. This translates into the bold actions needed to enter the post-oil era, well before the last drop of oil is gone. Not that we are completely off-track: according to the World Resources Institute, 21 countries – including the UK – have decoupled their economic growth from carbon emissions in the last decade and a half. It is good news, even though it is mostly due to the shrinking industrial sector’s share of its respective national economies. In the US, it was largely propelled by the shift from coal to shale gas in electricity generation.

If our economies were to price fossil fuels correctly, solar and wind energy would be competitive overnight

The Paris treaty’s ambitious climate goals demand radically new economic policies. While it’s indeed possible for the markets’ invisible hands to push clean-tech investments forward, the gateway to a post-oil era is made of laws, regulations and, well, common sense.

Since you can’t have your cake and eat it, why keep on subsidising the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $550billion a year, four times the money spent on sustaining renewables? If even Prince Mohammed vows to reduce subsidies, why is the US squandering $20billion a year in tax breaks and incentives to oil, coal and gas?

If humankind is serious about fighting climate change, why wait on putting a price on carbon emissions? Nowadays, oil is ultra-cheap as its price doesn’t include the collateral damages it provokes. If our economies were to price fossil fuels correctly, solar and wind energy would be competitive overnight.

This was published in the June 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The human game – tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...


Exciting news for wildlife and photography enthusiasts alike – the…


A new system of robotic aerial vehicles is revolutionising the…


Technology used in creating safe urban environments is now being…


Brazil’s shift to the right of the political spectrum could…


Laura Cole travels to Orkney to find out why numbers…


The unprecedented frequency of winter tick epidemics have resulted in…


Ocean debris, mostly composed of plastic, reaches remote Atlantic islands…


With motion detectors becoming ever more sophisticated, and clearer, crisper…


Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of…


The reason for the unusual location of Mount St Helens…


Most plants thicken their leaves in response to higher carbon…


Not just the preserve of flatulent cows, methane is causing…


As the United States’ Supreme Court delays a landmark climate…


Of Britain's 15 national parks, the New Forest is probably…


The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…


Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away


Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…


Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…


A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…


The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…