A Cubic Mile of Oil: Realities and Options for Averting the Looming Global Energy Crisis

A Cubic Mile of Oil: Realities and Options for Averting the Looming Global Energy Crisis

A Cubic Mile of Oil: Realities and Options for Averting the Looming Global Energy Crisis

A Cubic Mile of Oil: Realities and Options for Averting the Looming Global Energy Crisis


One cubic mile of oil (CMO) corresponds very closely to the world's current total annual consumption of crude oil. The world's total annual energy consumption - from all energy sources- is currently 3.0 CMO. By the middle of this century the world will need between 6 and 9 CMO of energy per year to provide for its citizens. Adequate energy is needed remove the scourge of poverty and provide food, clothing, and shelter for the people around the world, and more will be needed for measures to mitigate the potential effects of climate change such as building dikes and desalinating water.

A Cubic Mile of Oildescribes the various energy sources and how we use them, projects their future contributions, and delineates what it would take to develop them to annually produce a CMO from each of them. The requirement for additional energy in the future is so daunting that we will need to use all resources. We also examine how improved efficiency and conservation measures can reduce future demand substantially, and help distinguish approaches that make a significant impact as opposed to merely making us feel good.

Use of CMO eliminates a multitude of units like tons of coal, gallons of oil, and cubic feet of gas; obviates the need for mind-numbing multipliers such as billions, trillions, and quadrillions; and replaces them with an easy-to-understand volumetric unit. It evokes a visceral response and allows experts, policy makers and the general public alike to form a mental picture of the magnitude of the challenge we face. In the absence of an appreciation of the scale of the problem, we risk squandering efforts and resources in pursuing options that will not meet tomorrow's global energy needs. We must make critical choices, and a common understandable language is essential for a sustained meaningful dialog.


History books and television series tend to give the impression that religions, emperors and kings, wars and treaties, invasions and rebellions, and pestilence and famine were the only truly important influences on the development of modern civilization. But it can also be argued that the availability of usable energy has been equally important, if not more so. Fire changed early man’s life in many ways, as did the use of animals and simple mechanical devices such as the wheel, lever, and pulley. More complex mechanisms followed, including the steam and internal combustion engines and modern electrical and electronic technologies. All of these innovations have allowed humankind to continually expand its use of energy, and with it to improve living conditions and attain prosperity.

The oil shortages and price shocks of the 1970s made the industrialized countries conscious of their profligate use of energy, and individuals became aware of the benefits of conservation. Nations initiated schemes to encourage conservation in industry, residential, and commercial activities, as well as in transportation. These efforts resulted in substantial gains in energy efficiency. When we began the predecessor to this book more than a decade ago, the price of oil—the dominant source of energy—was declining in inflationadjusted terms. Major oil producers, boasting of new oil and gas finds as well as improved extraction technologies, promised an assured supply of oil for 40 years.

With the decline in oil prices in the 1990s and the apparent “glut of oil,” energy concerns dropped off of the radar screen for most individuals. Perusing the Web site of the U.S. Energy Information Agency for the historical prices . . .

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