1950s boy and girl playing cars
PHOTOGRAPH BY H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/CLASSICSTOCK/GETTY

How Old My Child Will Be When The Planet Runs Out Of Oil

This one statistic made me rethink my whole attitude toward her plastic toys and our everyday energy consumption.

August 28, 2015

In 2010, when my first daughter was born, we brought her to visit an old family friend who lives deep in the woods in Vermont. “It’s like looking at the future,” he said after meeting her. “You know, she could live to see the next century.” 

I thought about his words the other day when I stumbled across the BBC’s Your Life On Earth interactive tool. You type in your age, gender, and height, and it calculates the sort of changes (many of them environmental) a person will see in his or her lifetime. For instance, I learned that my heart, at 38, has already taken about 1 billion beats, that Saturn has only circled the solar system once, and that there have been 187 major volcanic eruptions and 392 major earthquakes since I was born. Neat!

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Then I started reading some more disturbing facts. Since I was born in 1977, we’ve lost more than 1 million square miles of Arctic summer sea ice, and the sea has risen 4 inches. And then there’s the ozone hole over the Antarctic, which has increased by 20 million square kilometers. Didn’t we solve that when we stopped using hair spray? I guess not.

But the one that really stopped me in my tracks was this: How old I’ll be when the earth’s energy resources run out. Oil: 90. Coal: 92. Gas: 150 (if I’m lucky).

Then I went back and entered my oldest daughter’s information. Her sweet little heart has beat 2014 million times. She’s lived through 73 major earthquakes (2011 was a rough year). There have been 11 solar eclipses. And there it is: She’ll be 57 when the world runs out of oil in 2067.  

Doing a little more research, it turns out the information comes from British Petroleum’s statistical review of world energy resources and consumption. In June 2014, they had calculated that oil would run out in 2067. Specifically, November 2067. 

Obviously, this is just an estimate, and it doesn’t (can’t) take into account all kinds of variables. But it seems pretty clear: We’ll witness the end of oil within our lifetime. Or within my daughter’s, at least. And if she has children, they could be about my age now when it happens. And, of course, we’ll be feeling the impact of the dwindling supply long, long before then. 

After reading that, I thought about my friend in Vermont, and the future he was staring at when he first met my daughter as an infant. I thought about my fuel-efficient car and the paltry 32 miles per gallon that it gets. I thought about my neighbor firing up his snowblower to clear the sidewalk last winter. I looked around at all the things in my home that are made of plastic—from the eco-friendly soap bottle on my kitchen sink, to the bath toys my daughter likes to play with, to the computer keys I’m currently pecking at to write this. Our transition to a world without oil may be gradual or it may be sudden. But what’s clear is that the clock is ticking.