I hate the phrase “Innocent until proven guilty.” When serial killer Ted Bundy killed his first victim, he wasn’t innocent just because a court had yet to convict him. The correct phrasing — which practically nobody uses — is “Presumed innocent until proven guilty.” Yet nearly everyone says that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Most people know what is meant when someone says this, but there is the potential for confusion.
Language is important. The way we write and say things is important. I can’t count the number of times I have seen a news headline that would lead most people to conclude something entirely different than what the data actually suggested.
Take the recent release of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013. There are a number of key takeaways from the report, and I will be delving deeper into the data in upcoming articles. Some of the important points were:
Consumption growth of all forms of fossil energy grew by 1.8% year-over-year, below the 10-year average of 2.6%
The US recorded the largest oil and natural gas production increases in the world, and the largest oil production gain in US history
Coal remained the fastest-growing fossil fuel, with China consuming half of the world’s coal for the first time
China and India alone accounted for nearly 90% of the net increase in global energy consumption
- Global nuclear power output had the largest decline ever
I have seen the first point above misreported as “Global Fossil Fuel Energy Consumption Slows.” I have seen others write about the reduced demand for oil. That’s about as accurate as “Innocent until proven guilty.” For instance, in 2011 global oil consumption was 88.9 million barrels per day (bpd). If global oil consumption slowed in 2012 — as some sources have written — what would consumption need to be relative to 2011? Less than 88.9 million bpd. But according to the BP report, in 2012 oil consumption was 900,000 bpd higher than in 2011 — a new all-time record.
What is correct is that growth in oil consumption slowed in 2012. From 2009 to 2010 global oil consumption increased by 2.8 million bpd. From 2010 to 2011, consumption increased by another 1 million bpd. But in failing to note that it is the growth in oil consumption that fell, and not actual oil consumption — many are left with a false impression that perhaps the world is beginning to wean itself off of oil. To the contrary, this is an accurate headline: “Global Oil Consumption in 2012 at New All-Time High.”