Saturday, August 27, 2005


(Cross-posted at Battlepanda)

(Part of a series. Previous posts: 1,2,3.)

A post about peak oil is coming up, but I'd like to explain why I wrote about the reserve/consumption figures so much. As is rightly pointed out by QuietStorm in comments, actual consumption is obviously going to be quite different from those numbers. So why bother? Only to show exactly how unsustainable the status quo is.

This is important, because a number of oil optimists (Michael Lynch and Daniel Yergin, to name two) have recently written very optimistic columns about the future of the oil economy. Yergin is perhaps more famous, but Lynch is more delusional - he refuses to even acknowledge the reality of peak production.

I'd like, if I may, to throw just a few more numbers at you to show how unsustainable the oil age is. Let's look at annual per person oil consumption for some of the larger economies out there.

United States: 7.1 Billion barrels per year/295 million people = 24.3 barrels per person per year.
EU: 5.3 Billion barrels per year/457 million people = 11.6 barrels per person per year.
Japan: 1.93 Billion barrels per year/127 million people = 15.2 barrels per person per year.

Now, Japan's per capita GDP is $29,500, whereas the EU's is $26,900, so we can actually say that on average the EU's oil-per-GDP is actually slightly better than Japan's, but I would say this is one of those areas where it's premature to start talking about the EU as a single entity - the variance from the mean in individual economies is likely to be too large to be useful. So here we have Japan which uses a bit more than 60% of the oil the US does per person, while getting about 75% of the GDP. (GDP could be the wrong measure to use - most of Japan's quality of life indicators are substantially better than the US.) Japan may very well be the most oil-efficient economy in the developed world.

But what if we have to allow for growth? What if China wants a standard of living equal to Japans - which they manifestly do? Well, we'd need to find an extra 20 billion barrels of oil per year. If India wants in, we need another 20. If we could bring every person on the planet to the level of Japan - including bringing the EU slightly up, and the US way down - we'd need almost 100 billion barrels of oil per year, or a production of 270 million barrels per day. This is more than triple what we currently consume.

There is simply no way - no physical way whatsoever - that the human race will ever make even half that much oil per year. If we could, it would deplete global reserves in 10 years, or 20 if we take the absurdly optimistic projection of 2 trillion recoverable barrels.

Oil is not, and cannot be, the basis for a growing global economy in the 21st century. Now, it gets even worse when we start talking about Peak Oil. And I swear that's actually coming next. But I've got a wedding to go to, so you'll all have to wait.

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