According to the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration, US petroleum consumption remained essentially flat for the fourth consecutive year in 2007. If anything, our appetite for oil is shrinking—throttled, no doubt, by higher prices. Take a look at the first column of numbers, below, especially towards the bottom.
These are preliminary figures, of course. I imagine that we’ll get the final, official statistics in a year or so. Still, this is half-decent news for the climate. Total energy-related emissions went up a bit, but (according to EIA) mostly because of weather: nationwide, 2007 had a hot summer and a cold winter, compared with the previous year. But the trends in coal and natural gas have been pretty flat for the last few years, and it looks like petroleum’s joining the party.
Seen from another angle, though—gosh, that’s an awful lot of CO2 from fossil fuels. And with simultaneous price increases for oil, coal, and gas, that’s a lot of impact on our pocketbooks, let alone the climate. Sure, higher prices in 2008, coupled with a jittery economy, are probably spurring some additional conservation even as you read this. But it’s going to take a lot more than anxious energy markets to achieve real emissions reductions over the long haul.
I’ll take the good news where I can find it, though—and for emissions from petroleum, the news isn’t all that bad, especially if it recent trends convince our policymakers that, yes, in fact, our habits around oil consumption can change.
This drop was so shocking to me that I had to get more information. I found this nice graph showing not only the petroleum consumption since 1973, but also the price of a barrel in 2006 dollars.It also shows a plateau in the consumption over the last few years (and the right access only goes up to $80 a barrel). 2008 could be very interesting here.The other interesting thing to gleam from the figure is in the early 70s. There were huge yearly swings in consumption. Look at 1977. It ranges from 17,000,000 barrels a day to 21,000,000 barrels. In a single year. It took us from 1990 to 2005 to trace that same range. What was going on in the early 70s?You can see that there was also a lull in consumption in the early 90s, where there was also a price spike. This is the first Gulf War. It looks like when the price gets about $35 (in 2006 dollars) consumption goes flat.We shall see what $130 a barrel does to consumption.
I’m sorry, I don’t think the decrease looks very dramatic. Petroleum is the only category that went down from ’06 to ’07, and only by 3 million. That’s not nothing by any means, I just think we need to do much better. People need to speak out, constructively, every chance they get. I hope we are all doing that as much as we can, and that we find the strength to, real quick, if we’re not.
Oil was used far more for home heating and electricity generation in those days which would account for those large peaks. One interesting item in this graph: Electricity as a home heating source has been steadily climbing since the 50’s – despite the fact that other fuels are frequently less expensive. Hmmm… (Ducking to avoid inevitable Ground source heat pump/coal generated electricity vs. high efficiency natural gas boiler debate 😉