Question: Oil use per capita?

Tuesday the 3rd of June 2008
Qu: How much oil do the Chinese use per capita? How does this compare with USA and Europe? What is their projected increase oil use in the next decade?
Thanks for this – very relevant to the question that gives the blog it’s name. Before jumping straight to the answer it’s important to recognise that there are two different metrics for measuring a country’s oil consumption: by population or by the total consumed. The chosen metric is important in the global debate over oil consumption and it’s worth looking at both to get a better picture. 
Per capita energy consumption (Barrel/person/year)  
United States - 68.81
United Kingdom - 30.18
European Union - 29.7
World -  12.55
China -  4.96
Total oil consumption (10/3/barrel/day)
United States –  20,588
China - 7,274
United Kingdom - 1,816                  (Statistics from the EIA
In light of these statistics it’s easy to see why nations with large populations, such as China, tend to promote the use of population-based metrics, while nations with large economies such as the United States would tend to promote the total consumption metric. Compared to the rest of the world, China’s oil use per capita is still relatively low – especially when you look at the US’s whopping 68.81 barrels per person per year. But when you look at their consumption per year it is relatively high (second in line to the US in a study of 15 nations).
What about the projected increase? To get some perspective it’s useful to look at past growth in demand before looking to the future. The increase in Chinese oil consumption is mostly seen as a recent development, supposedly driven by the industrial development of China. In reality, the growth in Chinese oil consumption has been the same in the past two decades. Between 1990 and 1999 annual oil consumption growth in China was 6% on average. Between 2000 and 2006 the average annual oil consumption growth in China was 7%. Also the 2004 anomaly of 13% growth in a single year is nothing new. In 1993 Chinese oil consumption growth reached 10%.
oil use per captia
Figure 1 – Chinese oil consumption and production, source: EIA
Between 1990 and 1999, absolute growth was around 2 million barrels per day (mb/d), from 2.3 mb/d in 1990 to 4.4 mb/d in 1999. In the past seven years, absolute growth has been 3 mb/d per day according to preliminary figures, from 4.4 mb/d in 1999 to 7.36mb/d in 2006. If this present trend continues, the demand for oil (and other liquid fuels) in China will grow to 9.2 mb/d in 2010 and 12.4 mb/d in 2015.
oil growth
Figure 2 – Growth trend in Chinese oil consumption
Worryingly China’s own oil production increasingly falls short of the country’s needs. The global production of oil has been stable for a few years and will shortly be falling. This could result in conflict between nations for what remains, rising prices and economic recession or worse. It will also increase the incentive to use coal, which could be catastrophic for the climate. Predictions about China’s projected use of oil in the next decade therefore are subject to so many unknowns that they have an air of fantasy.

Question: Highs and lows of Carbon Trading…

Friday the 30th of May 2008

Q: What exactly is the purpose of carbon trading? It seems to me it legitimates the use of carbon in the name of saving it.

factory smokeCarbon or emission trading, sometimes known as cap and trade, is the name given to an administrative scheme used to control pollution by providing financial incentives to reduce CO2 emissions. Companies and other groups are given credits that represent the right to emit a specific amount, not exceeding a limit imposed by the government or central authority. If the company wants to emit more than their allowance they can buy credits from those who pollute less. (source)

So, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions by more than was needed. The idea is to give an economic incentive to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost to society.

Your scepticism about the scheme is shared by many experts who agree that trading emissions, as a solution to global warming is flawed with problems. Like you, some think that it is a way of allowing polluters in the developed world to shift the burden of making cuts onto factories in the developing world. As many of the companies receiving income from selling their credits then go on to spend it on expanding their factories, the emissions saving is cancelled out. Worse still, emissions trading may have set back the battle against climate change by diverting investment from long-term solutions such as renewable-energy technology.

In theory carbon trading presents real opportunities for new business approaches – an economic driver for a low carbon economy – but it’s a new field, market forces are yet to settle and there are problems with monitoring and enforcement.

As the director of Yale’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Dan Esty, says; “Carbon trading is a promising strategy for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but the current structures have serious flaws.” (source)

Given current appraisals of the scheme it is tempting to side with it’s detractors, who maintain that the only real winners in emissions trading have been polluting factory owners who can sell menial cuts for massive profits, and the brokers who pocket fees each time a company buys or sells credits.


What’s that got to do with the price of rice?

Wednesday the 28th of May 2008

With diesel topping 120p per litre and a further 2p rise in fuel tax planned for the coming months, many companies reliant on road mobility are up in arms. Lorry drivers staged a protest this week, blocking the M4 from London to Cardiff. MP’s too have been protesting, against Alastair Darling’s proposed vehicle tax on older, inefficient models.

traffic jam

It seems that owning and running a car is only going to get more expensive – an additional household cost that is predicted to hit poorer families, long-distance commuters and SUV owners hardest.

But is it really such a bad thing? The government has pledged to reduce CO2 from cars by a third by 2030 and these price increases are a strong incentive for people to rethink their long-term reliance on cars and for companies to invest in energy efficient technologies.

That said, the situation is by no means an entirely positive one. Worryingly, the increase in fuel is a major contributor to a global food shortage, which is causing food price inflation to rocket.

“The food price rises are a result of record oil prices, US farmers switching out of cereals to grow biofuel crops, extreme weather and growing demand from countries India and China, the UN said yesterday.” (source).

A combination of increased oil and fuel prices paints a grim picture for the economy; now, more than ever, it’s time to rethink your habits, if only for the sake of your bank balance. Leave the car in the garage and jump on your bike for a start Got lots of heavy bags? Change of clothes? Gym kit? A laptop? No excuse – invest in some panniers and get pedaling. As for food prices – try planting some veges in your own garden – salad leaves like rocket and spinach can be expensive in those ready to wash packets from the supermarket but are surprisingly easy to grow – especially at this time of year. Buy locally produced food and be aware of what you use every week so you can avoid wastage. Easy!


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Question: What About China?!?

Tuesday the 27th of May 2008

Q: What about China (and India and the USA?!) Why should we bother making sacrifices in the UK to cut our CO2 emissions when any reductions we make will be more than outweighed by emissions from these bigger countries?

Thanks for this…the very question which gives this blog its name! It comes up frequently which is why it’s the first question in the book ‘What About China?’ Seeing as the book isn’t out until July I can give you a sneaky preview with this abbreviated version of James Bruges answer but click here to register for a 40% discount when it’s published.

‘China is making a huge effort to raise the living standards of its people. With limited oil reserves, it is turning to coal for its energy. Clean coal technologies, where the carbon is sealed underground, are expensive, but China says it will pursue this option if wealthy western nations take the lead. So far none has done so. This attitude shows the importance of leading by example: China won’t do it unless our governments do it, and our governments won’t do it because “it will make our industry uncompetitive”.

We, the electorate, must show by example that we consider the fight against global warming to be more important than commerce. Each of us is at the beginning of a chain that could influence first our own reluctant governments and then global agreements.

On average each person in the world is responsible for 4.6 tonnes a year. In Britain each person is responsible for 12 tonnes. A Chinese citizen is below average at 4.2 tonnes and an Indian is well below average at only 1.4 tonnes. An American is responsible for a whopping 20.2 tonnes. It would be reasonable for China to claim that its emissions per person should be allowed to rise in order to lift it’s population out of poverty – particularly since the west has benefited historically from huge emissions over many years and is responsible for 80 per cent of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

China’s efforts to combat global warming put western governments to shame. China is phasing out incandescent light bulbs, it has banned plastic bags in major cities, it is putting immense research into renewable technologies and it is turning out thousands of graduates with expertise in these fields. C S Kiang, who advises the Chinese government says, “Humanity made a mistake 200 years ago and now east and west does not matter – everyone is involved. China’s problems are the problems of the world. If we do not solve them together the world is going to be in a bad shape.”‘

Got any more questions? Just let me know…


To bee or not to bee…

Friday the 23rd of May 2008

Sorry – couldn’t resist! But seriously… the recent decline, due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CDD), in the world’s bee population is nothing to joke about. Bees play vital part in ensuring the global food harvests are successful through their role as pollinators. Without bees many crops would fail; a sobering thought considering the rise in demand for food due to an expanding population and the transfer of much crop production into biofuels.

beesThe mysterious disease attacks colonies quickly; over the course of a week the majority of the bees will desert the infected hive go off to die elsewhere. The US is worst effected with CCD recorded in at least 24 states and concerned British Beekeepers are lobbying DEFRA to fund research into finding a cure.

The most worrying thing is that because no-one seems to know what is causing CCD, there is no way of tackling it. There are many theories on the cause; one is that the bees may be suffering from stress as beekeepers increasingly transport them around the country to carry out pollination contracts in commercial orchards.

Some researchers blame the increase of mobile phone towers, which are said to inhibit the bees navigation systems. Others think that bees are suffering from a poor diet; the growing use of chemical herbicides and pesticides and the low nutritional value of GM crops could both be responsible. Global warming is also a factor as it accelerates the growth rates of pathogens like fungi, viruses and mites, which are known to damage colonies.

US scientists found that infected hives were shunned by other bees and insects, indicating that there was something toxic in the colony itself. They also found that the few bees left behind in the hive were carrying “a tremendous number of pathogens” virtually every known bee virus, as well as fungal infections, suggesting that the bees’ immune systems were being suppressed in some way. (source)

It’s also worth noting that organically raised bees, which are not subjected to genetically modified crops and chemicals, are not experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder.

Question: Electricity: No flow no go?

Thursday the 22nd of May 2008

Q: “Does leaving electric switches on with nothing plugged in waste any electricity?”

empty plugAnother question about energy use in the home… The short answer is no; no electricity is being used because there is nothing completing the circuit in an empty socket – just as a lamp plugged in and switched off uses no energy.

It’s a different matter when switch is left on and there is an appliance on standby plugged into it. Research from the Energy Saving Trust found that 75% of people in the UK waste energy on a daily basis by leaving appliances on permanent standby and leaving chargeable appliances plugged in. Even leaving your phone charger plugged in, or any plug with an LED indicator, uses energy.

The same research tells us that one in seven people believe that turning appliances off uses more energy than leaving them on standby – wrong! If you’re one of them start turning things off – it’s always the best option.

As always I’d love to hear your comments, questions or alternative answers…


Question: What makes the ‘greenest’ tea?

Wednesday the 21st of May 2008

The ‘What About China?’ Blog has been asked it’s first climate change question: 

Q: ‘Which uses less energy (and is therefore greener) to boil the water for my cup of tea? Boiling the kettle (electric) for one cup, or putting the pre-filled cup in the microwave?’ from RG

electric kettle

Thanks RG; a classic brewers conundrum…

Various governmental advisory reports, like this one from Canada, indicate that the electric kettle is most energy efficient way to make your brew. An electric kettle converts about 80% of the electricity used into energy to heat the water, while the comparable figure for a microwave is about 55%.

Besides, have you ever tried a cuppa made from microwaved water? – Urgh! Tepid and weak; microwaved water doesn’t hold heat long enough to make a decent brew. Bear in mind that both options need electricity to start with; so, to get a true picture of how ‘green’ your tea is you need to go back a few steps. If the electricity powering your appliance has been produced by a fossil fuel fired power station it is a lot more costly in terms of energy than from renewable resources. Better still to install solar hot water and use the hot water heated free by the sun to start with and save time, cost and energy! 

Let me know if you have any alternative answers or comments, 


Who needs a Green Passport?

Monday the 19th of May 2008

Spurred on by the prediction that in 2020 there will be over 1.6 billion tourists, the UN have just launched a new eco travel website called ‘Green Passport’. The site aims to raise awareness about the implications of travel on global issues, focusing on climate change.

Great, but the site still assumes that the majority of people will be jetting off by plane for their break – a trend that is unsustainable given the current increase in air travel. At the moment air travel accounts for just over 3.5 percent of total CO2 emissions worldwide, which doesn’t sound that much until you consider that the IPCC estimates that by 2050 it will up to 15 percent (source). Not surprising when you consider that a family of four flying to the USA cause more emissions than their entire domestic energy use in a year!

The damage caused by flying is not just the resulting GHG emissions – the noise pollution of all those jet engines taking off is pretty horrific too. Just ask anyone who lives under the flight path at Heathrow! BA’s new flight 26 from Hong Kong is the first of 15 proposed flights legally scheduled to land before 6am. According to The Guardian’s Leo Hickman the new flight’s 5 am arrival could disturb the sleep of up to 2 million Londoners. If you think that’s bad, things are far worse in Paris where up to 150 flights per night are allowed to land at the Charles De Gaulle airport.

Go Slow EnglandFar better to ditch plane travel altogether! Why bother wasting time cuing at Heathrow when you can hop on your bike and explore your local area? Sawday’s ‘Go Slow England’ is a fantastic guide to special places to visit around England with an emphasis on ‘good food, artisan producers, craftsmanship, community, landscape and history’.

If you still feel the need to cross the channel go by ferry or take a train, The man in seat 61 is a good place to start if you’re looking for advice on slow travel.

If you need a bit more inspiration to travel slow check out these blogs: a woman who went cross-country to Australia for a wedding. A round the world trip without flying and a man who cycled to china and back for the hell of it!


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Organic meat: a climate hazard?

Friday the 16th of May 2008

cow fartingRadio 4’s Tom Heap’s recent comments on the high impact of a carnivorous diet on the environment are not groundbreaking news. The UN has calculated that livestock warms the planet more than transport and for years The Vegetarian Society have campaigned to raise awareness about the damaging effect to the climate of eating meat.

Cows and sheep burp, fart and even breathe methane – a gas with about 20 times the global warming power than carbon dioxide! Their manure is also heavy with nitrates, which pollute both water and air. What’s more, livestock are relatively inefficient at turning food into protein so feeding them involves clearing acres of land for crop production, leaving less room for climate friendly forests.

Fearing their carbon-heavy practices will be penalized; the meat industry has found low GHG solutions indoors. Once caged, the animals’ diets can be strictly controlled, they don’t ‘waste’ energy by running around and their manure can be burnt as fuel avoiding damaging evaporation and seepage into rivers.?

Peter Bradnock of the British Poultry Council says: “Organic poultry meat has about 45% more global warming potential than indoor-reared poultry meat.”

So, why not eat your pork pie and avoid global warming? All well and good for you, but what about the animals? In ‘What About China?’, The Soil Association’s Robin Maynard points out that the practice of battery farming leads to disease, mutilation, injury and even cannibalism amongst the cramped and frustrated animals.

If you’re still secretly swayed by the climate argument for battery farming, get this: because factory farmed animals are at higher risk of disease they are routinely fed growth-promoters and antibiotics, a practice which has been identified as promoting the development of MRSA and other super-bugs. Over 30 years ago the Swann Committee warned the meat industry about the consequences of feeding animals the same drugs used on humans but unfortunately, this didn’t persuade the meat industry to change their ways. The full consequences of this decision are still emerging; in 2007 a new strain of MRSA was found in intensively farmed pigs and super-bugs are increasingly found in hospitals across the UK.


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Standby for climate change….

Friday the 9th of May 2008


…and you could be standing for some time according to an article in the BBC’s Green Room. Ann Pettifor (Exc of Advocacy International) argues that it’s all very well to switch your appliances off, change your lightbulbs to EE and make sure you recycle but that’s all just a drop in the ocean considering the rate at which we’re heading towards runaway climate change.

In ‘What About China’ James Bruges uses this story to describe the same sentiment…

‘Father and daughter are watering the garden. Father is at the tap while the girl controls the hose. When they have finished the father says, “that’s enough now, stop all the holes in the spray head with matchsticks.” “Dad,” she replies, “are you mad? Turn the tap off!”‘

The father’s stupid approach is rather like present policies where we are urged to travel less and turn our heating down a few degrees. Meanwhile world leaders are encouraging the extraction of as much fossil fuel as possible. I don’t agree that our individual commitment is irrelevant – we each have a very real responsibility to examine our habits and change them for the greener – but I do think that just plugging away in a vacuum is a bit like sticking your head in the sand.

Once out of the ground fossil fuels will be burned. The key to emissions reduction is to stop extraction at source. Unfortunately it’s the politicians who control the government’s energy policies so it’s up to us to persuade them to change.

You can make a difference in the political arena. Use your vote. Urge your politicians to put a cap on the use of fossil fuels and join the transition movement where communities work together to find a post-carbon way of living. Click here to read ‘Operation Noah’s’ practical guide lobby your local MP.


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