Oil is concentrated potential energy. Just one litre of oil is the equivalent of several weeks’ worth of human physical labour. With it, one can propel a ton of metal (a car) over dozens of kilometres. The downside of this concentration of energy is the release of greenhouse gases. Burning one litre of oil releases 2.7 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as other pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphates and particles.
Our society consumes a lot of energy and it has become dependent on fossil energy : oil, gas and coal represent 81% of our primary energy consumption. Almost all economic activity and all products that are made, exchanged and consumed in the world are based on them. Thus, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GEG emissions are now following the same upward curve. Lately, this relationship has changed slightly because of improved energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy.
The end of oil that is often talked about will not solve the problem. It could even make things worse. Indeed, even the little oil that is left is enough to dangerously warm up our atmosphere. But, above all else, coal could take over from oil. However, it is estimated that at the current rate of consumption, stocks will last for 150 years. In spite of its old-fashioned image, it is already widely used in power plants all over the world. In China, to name but one, a new coal-fired power plant opens every week! It is even possible to turn it into petrol. This process particularly used in South Africa and Nazi Germany produces a lot of pollution.
Coal releases more CO2 than gas or oil per unit of energy produced. It accounts for a quarter of world energy consumption but it is already responsible for 42% of energy-related CO2 emissions. And if current trends continue, demand could double before 2030…