Humanity may have passed another milestone. At the end of last year, planetary oil consumption was estimated at 99.3 million barrels per day which means that the infamous 100-million-barrels mark should have been crossed. If not, it will be a matter of weeks.
Each barrel holds 159 litres. It means that on any given day, on average, we burn 15,900,000,000 litres of oil, a non-renewable resource we use to produce energy as well as waxes and lubricants, paints and plastics, fertilisers and medicines. During the elapsed 20 seconds since you started reading this article, 3,680,000 litres of liquid fossil fuel were forever incinerated, with the notorious side-effect of warming the atmosphere.
Though the 100-million figure may be nothing more than a psychological threshold, it tells a hard truth: global oil consumption, long predicted to reach its peak, is still climbing. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) expects global oil demand to rise by around 1.45 million barrels per day in 2019. Of course, an economic slowdown in China and a feared global recession may reverse this course.
Oil companies and oil investors are certainly worried: the market is presently too well supplied and in the future any drop in consumption may hit crude prices. But it’s still a bit too soon for new transportation technologies to trigger that decline in demand. Last year, according to IHS Markit: ‘electric cars and light trucks, including hybrids, displaced only about 50,000 barrels a day.’ And there is more. According to the latest World Energy Outlook: ‘oil use for cars will peak in the mid-2020s, but petrochemicals, trucks, planes and ships will still keep overall oil demand on a rising trend.’
At the same time, petrol prices are too low. Fiscal or demagogic policies have ensured that a litre of petrol costs just £1.57 in Oslo, £0.63 in Washington and £0.11 in Tehran (October 2018 data). Because the oil price doesn’t take into account the nasty environmental effects produced by fossil fuel combustion we are damaging the destiny of future generations.
It may have taken you two minutes, to read these words. In the meantime, 22 million litres of oil disappeared into heat and nefarious gases.
This was published in the March 2019 edition of Geographical magazine
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