Even though oil is the next most polluting fuel after coal, it is not possible for the modern way of life to be maintained without it.
There are practically no products or services that could function without the energy from oil – buildings, roads, cars, ships, trains, aeroplanes – food, clothing, detergents, insulation, packaging, paints, medicines, - etc. etc.
On the other hand the burning of oil for heat and internal combustion contributes about 50% of international CO2 emissions, which must be considerably reduced if catastrophic global warming is not to occur.
Also worldwide oil production is declining at approximately 4.5% per year. This means each year the world has to bring on line the equivalent of another Nigeria plus another Indonesia, just to keep production flat. Therefore there is a need to find alternatives to fossil fuel oil if there is to be a sustainable future.
Development, sustainable or otherwise, is dependent for the foreseeable future of access to oil for the production and transport of alternative technologies.
The dichotomy for mankind is how to achieve sustainable development without foregoing all the benefits that fossil fuels, in particular oil, have provided. Also how can a world economy based on continuous consumption of fossil fuels survive the change to an economy based on self-sufficiency in energy, and not trade in it? The fuel and power industries are not willing to co-operate in such a diminution in their trade. They have been accused of resisting alterative energy developments
Apart from the economic pressure there are other political problems in reliance on oil, in particular security of supply from the few oil producing countries to the majority of oil consuming countries. The OPEC politically motivated reduction in supply in the 1970s being a foretaste of things to come.
Those Countries endowed with suitable resources have welcomed the recent development of fracking technology to release gas and oil from underground shale there are perceived risks that may restrict its use.
In terms of global warming however even if shale gas is burnt in efficient gas power stations, its greenhouse-gas footprint is still worse than coal or oil for timescales of less than fifty years, because of the methane that is also released in the fracking process.