Global fossil fuel burn: the total energy consumed from burning fossil fuels each year, 1990-2016. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017. Graphic: Barry Saxifrage

By Barry Saxifrage
13 July 2017

(National Observer) – To address the twin threats of climate change and ocean acidification, nearly every nation has promised to reduce fossil fuel burning.

But so far, humanity keeps burning ever more. Last year we did it again, burning an all-time record amount.

That's according to data compiled from the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy. This annual report is one of the most widely used and referenced around the world. It's big and comprehensive with fifty pages, thirty-three spreadsheets and forty charts. The report highlights most of the important trends in global energy. Most. But one critical trend was nowhere to be found.

Conspicuously absent was the basic statistic on fossil fuels that I, as a climate reporter, was looking for: how much fuel is the world burning each year? Such a simple question, and the answer tells one of the most important stories in the world: are we finally turning the corner on our fossil fuel dependency?

To find that missing story, I needed to download and combine multiple BP data sheets, do the math, and then build my own charts to reveal the trends. Here (drumroll, please) are the "missing charts" and what they have to say to us…

The missing charts: how much carbon-polluting fuel is humanity burning?

I built three charts using the compiled BP fossil fuel data. This first chart shows the total energy consumed from burning fossil fuels each year [above].

As you can see, the amount we burn continues to rise. Last year humanity set another fossil fuel energy record of 11.4 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (Gtoe). A decade ago we were at 10 Gtoe of energy. In 2000, we were at 8 Gtoe.

There is certainly no sign in this chart of a turning point in our relationship to fossil fuels. […]

Fossil oil dependency rockets upwards

Global energy use, 2011-2016. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017. Graphic: Barry Saxifrage

My chart [above] shows the increase in global energy use over the last five years. Renewables are in green and oil is in black.

Notice any turning point?

To make matters worse from a climate perspective, an analysis by ARC Energy Institute shows that the oil-efficiency of the global economy has also been getting significantly worse in recent years. In other words, humanity has reversed course and is now burning more oil per dollar of GDP with each passing year.

They conclude: "Headlines around electric cars and carbon policy suggest our oil dependency is on a slippery downward slope. Recent data from 2016 suggests the opposite: our worldwide addiction is getting stronger."

With no sign yet of a turning point in oil burning, let's look at fossil gas. [more]

These 'missing charts' may change the way you think about fossil fuel addiction

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