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444,000 semi-loads of food? Just another day on planet Earth


14 minute read

From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Terry Etam

At 100 million b/d, the world consumes a billion barrels of oil every ten days. Eleven billion barrels of recoverable reserves will meet the world’s needs for about 110 days, or just under four months. And global demand continues to grow.

The scope of this discussion goes far beyond oil demand. It is imperative that people understand energy demand, and particularly so on a global scale.

A friend of mine, always with a keen eye on interesting things, passed on an interesting quote from the CERA Week energy conference the other week. The head of the International Energy Forum mentioned a surprising statistic, as quoted by Javier Blas on Twitter: “Heathrow airport in London uses more energy than the whole African nation of Sierra Leone [population ~8.5 million].” Yikes!

Here’s another one that turned up randomly in the feed by a credible source: “If we keep growing our energy usage (2.9% CAGR last 350 years) we will use more energy in the next 25 years than in all prior human history. 3x in 39 years and 9x by the end of the century.”

Energy is an amazing topic, both sources and uses. The sheer scale of what we require for our present lifestyle is mind-blowing when placed in concrete contexts like above. In the abstract, the numbers don’t mean anything. The world consumes over 100 million barrels of oil per day. So what? Is that a lot? Sure it’s a big number but so is 8 billion people. Either stat is hard to wrap one’s head around.

Consider the following with respect to oil consumption/production: ExxonMobil made waves recently for a large oil discovery offshore Guyana, in an era when there aren’t that many discoveries being made (the flip side of the demand for oil/gas companies to return money to shareholders means exploration generally takes a back seat). Reuters picked up the story: ExxonMobil announced a new discovery, one of 30 since 2015, in a 6.6 million acre area that to date has been found to hold 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil, which also equals the country’s total. The results are significant, moving Guyana up to 17th on the world’s petroleum reserve rankings, similar to Norway, Brazil, or Algeria.

Now compare that number to consumption. At 100 million b/d, the world consumes a billion barrels of oil every ten days. Eleven billion barrels of recoverable reserves will meet the world’s needs for about 110 days, or just under four months. And global demand continues to grow.

The scope of this discussion goes far beyond oil demand. It is imperative that people understand energy demand, and particularly so on a global scale.

Look at this history of global energy consumption chart from Our World in Data:

It’s nuts. But it coincides very well with the rising standard of living attained by humanity, particularly in the west, an increase the rest of the world wants to emulate.

Consider the following statistics if you think that trajectory is going to slow down or reverse any time soon.

Africa has about 1.2 billion people, or roughly 15 percent of the earth’s population. Yet Africa accounts for 2 percent of global air traffic. By contrast, Europe has a population of about 740 million, and accounts for 31 percent of global air traffic.

What if Africans decide they want to live like Europeans, air-travel-wise, which is not just justified on moral grounds but actually more functionally logical, because Europe covers only 1/3 of Africa’s size of 30 million square kilometres?

What if the rest of the world wants to enjoy air conditioning to the extent the US does (and why on earth wouldn’t they)? According to the US Energy Information Agency, nearly 90 percent of US households use air conditioning, and virtually every office building does as well. The US has about 130 million households for 330 million people, or about 2.5 people per household. If Africa had a similar ratio, they would have 480,000,000 households, and if a similar proportion had AC there would be 430,000,000 households with AC. It’s safe to say that today in Africa the number of households with AC is far closer to zero than 90 percent. (Even communists/hardcore socialists support near-universal air conditioning, though they call it a ‘right’ by way of that fuzzy but firm ‘gimme that’ appropriation way of theirs.)

Now add in India, with another 1.4 billion people, and do the same math. A billion air conditioners  worth of global demand is not a ridiculous estimate, not when considering Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, parts of South America… in addition to Africa, India…

Consider even food, and the logistical magnum opus required to keep countries food-riot-free. A typical western website says that the average person consumes 3-4 pounds of food per day. Let’s say the rest of the world isn’t so lucky, and we’ll call it 2.5 pounds per day for a global average (each new cruise ship drags the world average up considerably). There are 8 billion of us schlepping around planet earth. A semi trailer can carry about 45,000 pounds of cargo. So every day, the equivalent of about 444,000 semis full of food are forklifted out of trucks and down the gullets of 8 billion upturned mouths. Every freaking day, without a break.

And that’s just food. What about IKEA. And Costco. And Home Depot. And Walmart. And all the other stuff in our world.

And billions more people are striving to fill up the SUV (yes, everywhere you go, SUV) at their local Costco/Home Depot/Walmart, as soon as one arrives in their community.

Ah hell, I give up. The scale of all this stuff is unfathomable. And yet it all gets where it needs to go, every day, as long as there’s energy.

Any singular household staple must be there, in abundance, or all hell breaks loose. Remember Covid > toilet paper? What happens as soon as there is even a rumour of a shortage? Social deviants, which are harder to eradicate than (and just as useful as) STDs, get into gear and begin hoarding in order to resell at a profit. It just happens, one of the unfortunate costs of living in a free society. (I’m not suggesting that those people should be found and beaten with a tire iron, but then again I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t.)

When we think of energy consumption, we tend to think of our hilariously comfortable lives in western nations, where supermarkets are perpetually full, where gasoline and heating fuels are available 24/7/365 at reasonable prices, where flying wherever and whenever we want, with minimal hassle, is one step away from being viewed as a human right. We are correct in that our energy consumption per capita in the west is very high. But on an outright total consumption basis, individual country statistics are pretty wild. And saddening, in some ways.

First the wild part: You would expect (or I did anyway) the US to be either at the top of the consumption pile or close; it is and has been an economic juggernaut for a century. But not even close: in 2022, the US consumed about 96 exajoules of energy, which is a lot – that number equals the consumption of India, Russia, Japan and Canada combined. But way out in front is China, with 2022 consumption of 159 exajoules. No one should be surprised China leads the world in renewables installation and coal fired power plant construction. They need it all.

Where it gets sad is to wander further down the list to the lowest consumers. The site linked above shows a graphic of the world, with each country colour-coded for total energy consumption. The lowest on the colour scale is a pale yellow representing 20 exajoules per year. The scale rises up through blues and towards a dark navy which represents China at the top of the heap.

Most African countries, and some South American ones, do not even warrant a definition in the legend at all, and are simply greyed out. They have so little energy consumption they hardly even make it onto the raw data table. Hundreds of millions of people live like that. But only as long as they have to.

It is very sobering to see how much of the world lives, and how very far they are from the West’s standard of living. The West’s leaders push the concept of ‘electrify everything’, a concept that only makes sense if one is looking no further than their backyard and has zero feel for the true global situation. In much of the world, they would just as happily get behind the slogan ‘electrify anything’.

It is hard to imagine this energy consumption trajectory falling; we’d be very lucky if it stayed flat. But that seems like an unrealistic hope. The developing world clearly has every incentive and right to advance towards the West’s standard of living, and if they get close global energy consumption will head off further into the stratosphere. Here in the West, we play cute little games like a forced switch to EVs, while ignoring almost totally any common sense commentary on the subject (For example, Toyota’s 1:6:90 rule which states that for the same amount of raw materials to manufacture one EV, Toyota can make six plug-in hybrids or 90 hybrids, and in doing so would achieve 37 times the emissions reduction of a single EV. Yet Toyota is scorned for such logic on the grounds that “Toyota’s reluctance to fully embrace EVs can hinder innovation in the EV industry.” Note that there is no challenge to the facts themselves, just a bruising of the ego of the think tanks.)

Anyone that provides energy of any kind should roll up their sleeves, there’s a lot of work to be done, and those who wish to hunt for energy villains will get run over, in due course.

Terry Etam is a columnist with the BOE Report, a leading energy industry newsletter based in Calgary.  He is the author of The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity.  You can watch his Policy on the Frontier session from May 5, 2022 here.

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Extreme Weather and Climate Change

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From the Fraser Insitute

By Kenneth P. Green

Contrary to claims by many climate activists and politicians, extreme weather events—including forest fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes—are not increasing in frequency or intensity, finds a new study published today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“Earth Day has become a time when extraordinary claims are made about extreme weather events, but before policymakers act on those extreme claims—often with harmful regulations—it’s important to study the actual evidence,” said Kenneth Green, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute and author of Extreme Weather and Climate Change.

The study finds that global temperatures have increased moderately since 1950 but there is no evidence that extreme weather events are on the rise, including:

• Drought: Data from the World Meteorological Organization Standardized Precipitation Index showed no statistically significant trends in drought duration or magnitude—with the exception of some small regions in Africa and South America—from 1900 to 2020.

• Flooding: Research in the Journal of Hydrology in 2017, analyzing 9,213 recording stations around the world, found there were more stations exhibiting significant decreasing trends (in flood risk) than increasing trends.

• Hurricanes: Research conducted for the World Meteorological Organization in 2019 (updated in 2023) found no long-term trends in hurricanes or major hurricanes recorded globally going back to 1980.

• Forest Fires: The Royal Society in London, in 2020, found that when considering the total area burned at the global level, there is no overall increase, but rather a decline over the last decades. In Canada, data from Canada’s Wildland Fire Information System show that the number of fires and the area burned in Canada have both been declining over the past 30 years.

“The evidence is clear—many of the claims that extreme weather events are increasing are simply not empirically true,” Green said.

“Before governments impose new regulations or enact new programs, they need to study the actual data and base their actions on facts, not unsubstantiated claims.”

  • Assertions are made claiming that weather extremes are increasing in frequency and severity, spurred on by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Based on such assertions, governments are enacting ever more restrictive regulations on Canadian consumers of energy products, and especially Canada’s energy sector. These regulations impose significant costs on the Canadian economy, and can exert downward pressure on Canadian’s standard of living.
  • According to the UN IPCC, evidence does suggest that some types of extreme weather have become more extreme, particularly those relating to temperature trends.
  • However, many types of extreme weather show no signs of increasing and in some cases are decreasing. Drought has shown no clear increasing trend, nor has flooding. Hurricane intensity and number show no increasing trend. Globally, wildfires have shown no clear trend in increasing number or intensity, while in Canada, wildfires have actually been decreasing in number and areas consumed from the 1950s to the present.
  • While media and political activists assert that the evidence for increasing harms from increasing extreme weather is iron-clad, it is anything but. In fact, it is quite limited, and of low reliability. Claims about extreme weather should not be used as the basis for committing to long-term regulatory regimes that will hurt current Canadian standards of living, and leave future generations worse off.

The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational
organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global
network of think-tanks in 87 countries. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Canadians,
their families and future generations by studying, measuring and broadly communicating the
effects of government policies, entrepreneurship and choice on their well-being. To protect the
Institute’s independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research.

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Federal government remains intransigent on emissions cap despite dire warnings of harm

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From the Fraser Institute

By Kenneth P. Green

In the face of heavy opposition from Canada’s premiers to Prime Minister Trudeau’s carbon tax, one might have hoped that the prime minister would moderate some of his government’s extreme climate policies. But alas, on a recent swing through Alberta, he threw cold water on any hope of moderation.

When asked in a meeting with a who’s who of Alberta’s energy sector if he might drop the forthcoming cap on greenhouse gas emissions specific to the oil and gas industry, Trudeau reportedly replied “not a chance.” That’s a shame, because it was an opportunity for Canada (and Alberta) to dodge another bullet aimed at its economic heart, and an opportunity to reduce some of the rancor between the West and Ottawa.

And in fact, there are many good reasons to drop the GHG cap.

In a recent report, the Conference Board of Canada estimated oil and gas production cuts due to the cap would lead to a permanent decline in Canada’s real GDP of between 0.9 per cent (the report’s most likely outcome) to 1.6 per cent (its least likely outcome) relative to the baseline in 2030. Which means a loss of $22.8 billion to $40.4 billion in 2012 dollars. In Alberta, real GDP by between 3.8 per cent and 6.7 per cent (or $16.3 billion to $28.5 billion). These are devastating impacts, hand-waved away by the prime minister.

Moreover, the report estimates total employment declines nationally by between 82,000 and 151,000 in 2030. A large part of this unemployment will land in Alberta where the report estimates total employment in the province would decline by between 54,000 and 91,500 jobs. And between 2030 and 2040, employment in Alberta will be between 66,300 and 102,600 lower per year (on average). Again, these are huge economic damages disregarded by the prime minister.

Lastly, as shown in a 2023 study published by the Fraser Institute, even if the proposed cap achieved the emissions reductions government predicts, the reduction would equal four-tenths of one per cent of global emissions, a reduction unlikely to have any impact on the climate in any detectable manner, and hence, to offer only equally undetectable environmental, health or safety benefits.

The Conference Board report, and other studies of the likely high costs and non-existent climate benefits of the pending cap on oil and gas emissions, would offer cover for the prime minister if he backed away from what’s clearly an ill-considered climate policy poised to wreak massive economic harms to Canada, particularly in the West. Apparently, however, he’s unwilling to acknowledge reality and change course.

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