A Lifetime’s Consumption of Fossil Fuels, Visualized
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A Lifetime’s Consumption of Fossil Fuels, Visualized

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A Lifetime’s Consumption of Fossil Fuels, Visualized

Visualizing the Fossil Fuels we Consume in a Lifetime

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From burning natural gas to heat our homes to the petroleum-based materials found in everyday products like pharmaceuticals and plastics, we all consume fossil fuels in one form or another.

In 2021, the world consumed nearly 490 exajoules of fossil fuels, an unfathomable figure of epic proportions.

To put fossil fuel consumption into perspective on a more individual basis, this graphic visualizes the average person’s fossil fuel use over a lifetime of 80 years using data from the National Mining Association and BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.

How Many Fossil Fuels a Person Consumes Every Year

On a day-to-day basis, our fossil fuel consumption might seem minimal, however, in just a year the average American consumes more than 23 barrels of petroleum products like gasoline, propane, or jet fuel.

The cube of the average individual’s yearly petroleum product consumption reaches around 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall. When you consider varying transportation choices and lifestyles, from public transit to private jets, the yearly cube of petroleum product consumption for some people may easily overtake their height.

annual fossil fuel consumption

To calculate the volume needed to visualize the petroleum products and coal cubes (natural gas figures were already in volume format), we used the densities of bulk bituminous coal (833kg/m3) and petroleum products (800kg/m3) along with the weights of per capita consumption in the U.S. from the National Mining Association.

These figures are averages, and can differ per person depending on a region’s energy mix, transportation choices, and consumption habits, along with other factors.

Global Fossil Fuel Consumption Rebounds Post-Pandemic

When the global economy reopened post-pandemic, energy demand and consumption rebounded past 2019 levels with fossil fuels largely leading the way. While global primary energy demand grew 5.8% in 2021, coal consumption rose by 6% reaching highs not seen since 2014.

In 2021, renewables and hydroelectricity made up nearly 14% of the world’s primary energy use, with fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) accounting for 82% (down from 83% in 2020), and nuclear energy accounting for the remaining 4%.

Recent demand for fossil fuels has been underpinned by their reliability as generating energy from renewables in Germany has been inconsistent when it’s been needed most.

Now the country grapples with energy rations as it restarts coal-fired power plants in response to its overdependence on Russian fossil fuel energy as the potential permanence of the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline shutdown looms.

Growing Green Energy Amidst Geopolitical Instability

Domestic energy and material supply chain independence quickly became a top priority for many nations amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western trade sanctions, and increasingly unpredictable COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

Trade and energy dependence risks still remain a major concern as many nations transition towards renewable energy. For example, essential rare earth mineral production, and solar PV manufacturing supply chains remain dominated by China.

Despite looming storm clouds over global energy and materials trade, renewable energy’s green linings are growing on the global scale. The world’s renewable primary energy consumption reached an annual growth rate of 15%, outgrowing all other energy fuels as wind and solar provided a milestone 10% of global electricity in 2021.

If the global energy mix continues to get greener fast enough, the cubes of our personal fossil fuel consumption may manage to get smaller in the future.

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Visualizing the Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production

How much oil, coal, and natural gas do we extract each year? See the scale of annual fossil fuel production in perspective.

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The Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Fossil fuels have been our predominant source of energy for over a century, and the world still extracts and consumes a colossal amount of coal, oil, and gas every year.

This infographic visualizes the volume of global fossil fuel production in 2021 using data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.

The Facts on Fossil Fuels

In 2021, the world produced around 8 billion tonnes of coal, 4 billion tonnes of oil, and over 4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Most of the coal is used to generate electricity for our homes and offices and has a key role in steel production. Similarly, natural gas is a large source of electricity and heat for industries and buildings. Oil is primarily used by the transportation sector, in addition to petrochemical manufacturing, heating, and other end uses.

Here’s a full breakdown of coal, oil, and gas production by country in 2021.

Coal Production

If all the coal produced in 2021 were arranged in a cube, it would measure 2,141 meters (2.1km) on each side—more than 2.5 times the height of the world’s tallest building.

China produced 50% or more than four billion tonnes of the world’s coal in 2021. It’s also the largest consumer of coal, accounting for 54% of coal consumption in 2021.

Rank Country2021 Coal Production
(million tonnes)
% of Total
#1🇨🇳 China 4,126.050%
#2🇮🇳 India 811.310%
#3🇮🇩 Indonesia 614.08%
#4🇺🇸 U.S. 524.46%
#5🇦🇺 Australia 478.66%
#6🇷🇺 Russia 433.75%
#7🇿🇦 South Africa 234.53%
#8🇩🇪 Germany 126.02%
#9🇰🇿 Kazakhstan 115.71%
#10🇵🇱 Poland 107.61%
🌍 Other 600.97%
Total8,172.6100%

India is both the second largest producer and consumer of coal. Meanwhile, Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter, followed by Australia.

In the West, U.S. coal production was down 47% as compared to 2011 levels, and the descent is likely to continue with the clean energy transition.

Oil Production

In 2021, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were the three largest crude oil producers, respectively.

Rank Country2021 Oil Production
(million tonnes)
% of Total
#1🇺🇸 U.S. 711.117%
#2🇷🇺 Russia 536.413%
#3🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 515.012%
#4🇨🇦 Canada 267.16%
#5🇮🇶 Iraq 200.85%
#6🇨🇳 China 198.95%
#7🇮🇷 Iran 167.74%
#8🇦🇪 UAE 164.44%
#9 🇧🇷 Brazil156.84%
#10🇰🇼 Kuwait 131.13%
🌍 Other 1172.028%
Total4221.4100%

OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia, made up the largest share of production at 35% or 1.5 billion tonnes of oil.

U.S. oil production has seen significant growth since 2010. In 2021, the U.S. extracted 711 million tonnes of oil, more than double the 333 million tonnes produced in 2010.

Natural Gas Production

The world produced 4,036 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2021. The above graphic converts that into an equivalent of seven billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to visualize it on the same scale as oil and gas.

Here are the top 10 producers of natural gas in 2021:

Rank Country2021 Natural Gas Production
(billion m3)
% of Total
#1🇺🇸 U.S. 934.223%
#2🇷🇺 Russia 701.717%
#3🇮🇷 Iran 256.76%
#4🇨🇳 China 209.25%
#5🇶🇦 Qatar 177.04%
#6🇨🇦 Canada 172.34%
#7🇦🇺 Australia 147.24%
#8🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 117.33%
#9🇳🇴 Norway 114.33%
#10🇩🇿 Algeria 100.82%
🌍 Other 1106.327%
Total4,036.9100%

The U.S. was the largest producer, with Texas and Pennsylvania accounting for 47% of its gas production. The U.S. electric power and industrial sectors account for around one-third of domestic natural gas consumption.

Russia, the next-largest producer, was the biggest exporter of gas in 2021. It exported an estimated 210 billion cubic meters of natural gas via pipelines to Europe and China. Around 80% of Russian natural gas comes from operations in the Arctic region.

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