PetroFiction: How Much Energy Do I Use?

In this weeks seminar we are looking at Petrofiction , literature that focuses on issues of production and consumption of oil. As part of this weeks task we were asked to keep an energy diary and to think about the energy that we use throughout the week. Naively I assumed that mine would be very low , because I do not drive a car, however I was surprised to find that petrol is used in many ways In my everyday life that I had not considered before. For example I get the bus to and from university on average five days per week. As part of my research to see how mush energy I consumed I used the WWF carbon footprint calculator. Even though I don’t drive, I recycle, I am vegan and generally very conscious of my environmental impact, my carbon footprint was still within the high range. The main reason for this was travel, 78% of the energy I use is on travel; on trains , buses and planes. I found this really surprising as I assumed being a non-driver this wouldn’t be such an issue for me, however I have taken several international flights this year which completely outweigh the good I am doing by not driving. This has certainly given me something to think about.

As part of the reading for this week we looked at three examples of Petrofiction in relation to five set themes : depletion, variety, inequality/unevenness, production and invisibility. As part of my reading I looked at the short story ‘The Petrol Pump’ in relation to these themes which I will discuss in further detail.

The narrative voice within the short story is from the first person , creating an introspective tone throughout , which acts to demonstrate the the feelings of guilt that the speaker feels. For example the speaker states that they ‘put things off’  convincing them self that there is still a bountiful reserve of petrol to use up and reflecting on ‘the days when petrol still seemed as plentiful as the air itself’ (Calvino, 2017). Such sentiments highlight the theme of depletion within the story , that unlike in the past ‘plentiful’era ,petrol is running out. further more the notion of putting ‘things off’ combined with the first person narration suggests a sense of guilt , that the speaker is too late in their realization that the world is running out of petrol. Later in the story the speaker proclaims that ‘this state of affairs wasn’t permanent I was always aware, in theory’ (Calvino,2017), as if to say that the depletion of petrol resources was inevitable yet they did not try to find an alternative. Such ideas culminate throughout the story resulting in a distopian world where petrol has run out , whereby a ‘deep silence’ (Calvino,2017) has fallen upon the world, because we cease to be able to run our transport systems. This distopian projection alongside themes of guilt suggests a cautionary element to the story , unnerving , suggesting that our future could result in the complete depletion of oil reserves if as a human species we continue to ‘put things off’ (Calvinio,2017). Within our seminar groups we looked at the term Anthropocene, an era that describes a period in time where humans are the main force of  geological change. This short story is the perfect example of the dangers of this time period and the irreparable damage that the human race could cause to the geographical landscape that took millions of years to evolve.



Calvino, Italo (2017) ‘The Petrol Pump’, Energy Humanities and Anthology ed. Imre Szeman and Dominic Boyer , Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp.82-86.

WWF (2017) ‘WWF Footprint Calculator’ (Online) Available at: [Accessed 15 November 2017].



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