Oil: Oiling the wheels

In 1900, the motor car was a novelty and London streets were clogged with horse-drawn carriages. Emissions – growing piles of horse manure – were seen as a threat by some. As the century progressed, the novelty turned into a mass-produced article of necessity. Oil fuelled this remarkable growth in motorised transport and such has been its impact, in times of both war and peace, that the twentieth century can justifiably be described as the oil era.

The World Today Updated 28 October 2020 Published 1 August 2000 5 minute READ

Norman Selley

In 2000, the same London streets are congested with cars, and the average speed of travel in the inner city remains around ten miles per hour. We live with a new emissions threat: the global warming effect of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels like oil are burned.

We can only guess at the situation in 2100, but, if history repeats itself, our streets will still be crowded and the pace of travel relatively slow. The means of conveyance and the fuel used are likely to be completely different. As we enter this new century, it seems appropriate to address the changing context and developing contest for oil as the predominant transport fuel – in other words, to redefine oil.

Subscribe to read all issues

Articles from the current issue are free to read by all, the archive is exclusive to magazine subscribers and our members. Subscribe or become a member to view articles from the archive.