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
2016
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

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

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

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    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 true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

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...

Oceans

Tourism might be an economic pillar for many countries surrounding…

Wildlife

Brain sizes directly shown to correlate to survival rates among…

Wildlife

Celebrated author Professor Tim Birkhead provides a fascinating insight into…

Oceans

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle…

Oceans

Ocean conservation group urges world governments to step up action…

Climate

As climate conditions at the 100th meridian, the traditional United…

Climate

International shipping may be attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, but…

Geophoto

So much photographic theory is dedicated to image sharpness that…

Wildlife

Changing temperatures in East Africa are set to upset a delicate…

Climate

As the planet warms and tensions rise, Marco Magrini finds that…

Oceans

A deep-sea mission in the ocean around Bermuda confirms the…

Oceans

An oxygen-deprived ‘dead zone’ in the Arabian Sea is much…

Wildlife

Scientists working with new drone technology are hoping to reveal…

Oceans

A new virtual reality experience, ‘BBC Earth: Life in VR’,…

Nature

Faced with protecting a country more than 30 times the…

Oceans

As Chile’s president leaves office, the country designates large expanses…

Energy

More than two years after first being announced, the International…

Wildlife

The winner of the 2018 Whitley Gold Award is Pablo…

Polar

Celebrate World Penguin Day with this selection of penguin-related stories…

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…