Version 1.6 (23 January, 2007)

Chapter 1 – Oil, the Lifeblood of a Technological Civilization
By Robert Bériault

Why do you say oil is so valuable for you Earthlings?

 Why oil is so valuable:
Canadians use an enormous amount of energy.

In fact, Canadians are the world’s biggest users of energy

 Why oil is so valuable: Half of
Canada’s energy supply comes from oil.

Statistics Canada:

 Why oil is so valuable:
The average Canadian uses an amount of energy equivalent to what 200 men would expend -- working 24 hours a day.

Click here

The average modern human has 200 “energy slaves” working for him or her C.J.Campbell, December 2000

 Why oil is so valuable:

95% of transportation is fuelled by oil

 Why oil is so valuable:

Look around you…

 Why oil is so valuable:
Can you see any object here… … that has not been transported by vehicles… … fuelled by oil?

Even the walls, the floor and the ceiling would not be here without transportation fuelled by oil

 Think of the construction industry:

Cement plant Cement truck fuelled by diesel (oil) Delivers materials to construction site

Could anything be built without transportation?

 Think of manufacturing:

A flat-bed truck fuelled by diesel (oil)

Delivers materials to the factory

Could anything be manufactured without a reliable transportation system?

 Think of how items reach the store:

Factory Distributor Store

For goods to reach the retailer we depend on a complex distribution system…

…that simply could not work without an ample supply of easily available oil

 Think of the food you eat:

Processing plant Distributor Farm Plate

 Think of the food you eat:

Food travels an average of 2080 km from farm to plate

Food travels an average of 2080 km from farm to plate

The Party’s Over, Richard Heinberg

How would our food get into the cities without transportation fuelled by oil?

 Think of international trade

Grain carrier

Cargo plane Container ship

How would we ship billions of tons of goods without oil?

 Think of how we would get to work if it weren’t for oil…

Ski centre? Without gasoline, how would we get to…






 Think of how public transit also depends on oil:

 Think of services rendered by air:

Power line inspections

Crop spraying

All of these run on oil

Access to remote places

Forest fire fighting

 Think of energy hungry municipal

 Think of mineral extraction:
• Everything we buy depends on the mining industry, which is efficient because of cheap oil.

 Think of labour saving machinery :
All these use oil

 Even around the home we use
oil-consuming machines

 Think of the sports that could not exist without oil

 Tourism only exists because cheap oil is available

Our health care system needs oil for:




Disposable (plastic) supplies

Without oil, how could our hospitals run their:

Surgical rooms?

Diagnostic laboratories?

Teaching facilities?

Intensive care?

Calgary winter

Oil accounts for a large proportion of heating for houses and commercial buildings.

Oil is used for electrical generation in many parts of the world

Oil is so versatile…

The petrochemical industry can refine oil into many different fuels

Gas Naphtha Gasoline Kerosene Diesel Lubricants

 And it can be made into 1000s of
products including plastics, textiles, etc.

Modern, intensive agriculture depends on oil

 Fertilizers and pesticides are made from natural gas and oil

 Almost all farm machinery operates on oil

 Because of inexpensive oil …

…1 farmer can feed 100 people

Without agricultural chemicals and machinery how would we meet the world demand for food?

…everything depends on an ample supply of petroleum

 Why oil is so valuable:

Everything we do, our agriculture, our technology, the way we live, the cities we’ve built…

 Why oil is so valuable:


Boy! Oil enables you humans to make a lot of stuff!

Indeed! Lots of stuff!
 Not only has oil enabled us to make a lot of stuff, but the price of stuff has been going down, down and down.  I’ll give you an example…

Let’s look at the cost of a refrigerator

When I was a child in 1949 it cost my father 20% of his annual salary to buy the above refrigerator

When I got married in 1965 it cost me 10% of my salary to purchase this much superior refrigerator

Today the average person needs only spend 2 ½ % of their salary to buy the same thing*.

* Average salary: $40,000 vs. cost of fridge $1000

The reason why consumer goods are so cheap today is that we’ve put the energy from oil to work for us. If we can extract resources and build factories, automated assembly lines, and computer operated robots, it is thanks to having access to oil.

Oil is what feeds our economy.

Growth of TSX

I’m not the only one who says oil’s important to the economy:

The Energy Information Administration, Department of Commerce and Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S.A.:  “The availability of oil, natural gas, and coal is what made the United States’ rise to a global economic superpower possible. As energy consumption escalated, so did the nation’s economic output as measured by annual gross domestic product.”

This graph shows that GDP increases when oil production (energy) increases. In other words, economic growth requires growth of energy supply.

There’s lots you humans could do to save energy. Those energy savings would enhance the economy.

In other words, improving efficiency:
-- replacing a process or an item with one that uses less energy – right?

Two things are involved:
1) Creating the new process or item requires an input of energy

2) Often requires ditching the old item or assembly line (thus wasting the energy that went into making it)

Lets consider what happens when we switch to a more efficient technology:
1600 litres per year 800 litres per year

Internal combustion engine

Efficient Hybrid Technology

Savings: Click 800 L here

Savings: 800 L

800 litres are now available on the international market.

800 litres on the international market

Consequence 1:

Causes a DOWNWARD PUSH on the price of oil The lower price INCREASES DEMAND: Someone else uses the oil to make other goods

Consequence 2:

Energy is always needed to increase efficiency

Indeed there’s a lot we could do to increase efficiency. But there’s a limit to improvements in efficiency. And increasing efficiency doesn’t reduce the economy’s dependence on oil.
Read David Delaney’s “Why Energy Efficiency Won’t Reduce Consumption” See: “Further Reading” in the “Chapter Choice” page

In a nutshell, the endowment of oil that Nature has bequeathed us has led to today’s high standard of living -- and we need oil to maintain that standard.

IN a nutshell…

National Geographic, “End of Cheap Oil”, June 2004, published this picture of items made mostly from oil-based polymers, all found in a single home.

If you’ve wondered when we’re going to run out, go to Chapter 2

Chapter selection page