Pardon my smugness — it comes from being raised in a land that uses the metric system. So this idea that’s been making the rounds — expressing energy content in “cubic miles of oil” — don’t impress me much. Why not cubic cubits?

Fortunately, someone’s done the heavy lifting of criticizing this idea a bit more thoroughly:

It seems to me that such a nomenclature makes people think of energy in terms of imperial units and in terms of petroleum products.

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And it makes everything else look like a lot – compared to the oil. It only takes one oil to make up 32,000 or so wind turbines (for 50 years) …

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From one point of view, the use of CMO is ‘simple’. From another point of view, the use of CMO is politically loaded and culturally specific.

Exactly. If you take a look at the picture, it makes it look like replacing oil would be an impossible task — nearly a hundred million solar panels to replace our oil use for just one year!

Worse still, the image obviously biases our thinking towards large, destructive, centralized production of energy and away from more sustainable options. It “only” takes four Three Gorges Dams, but tens of thousands of windmills! To the uninformed eye, the implication is clearly anti-renewable energy.

Worst of all, framing it in this fashion makes it look like the whole point is to replace all of the oil we use with renewable energy, on a joule-for-joule basis. That’s idiotic. The point is to reduce the number of joules we use first, then start replacing.

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