Petrol is the real name for gasoline, which is a fraction of crude oil. It is a thin, clear liquid that smells oh-so-good in small quantities (the amount in the air near a petrol station) and makes you want to split your head open with an axe just to relieve the pain in higher concentrations. This liquid has a very high energy density (30-35 MJ/kg) and a low flash point of about -45 Celcius. This correct technical term for these properties is that it burns like a bitch.
Many people own devices that take this substance and burn in in a small (or large, if you are American) metal box, with lots of moving bits, fans, belts and sparks. The tiny fraction of useful power extracted from the burning of petrol in this way is then tranfered to a set of wheels, or if you have a petrol-powered tank, treads.
This is generally considered to be a bad idea, as not only does burning petrol as fuel produce a LOT of CO2, along with particulates (can I hear a YAY! for asthma?) and other undesirables, but it can make you poor pretty much instantly. Americans may not think so, as they pay around $2 per gallon. However, in the civilised world, we can expect to pay about £1 per litre. Since a US gallon is 3.79 litres, and the dollar is only worth £0.54, we can expect to pay around $7 per gallon. And yet Americans still complain. Oh well.
It is also used to set yourself alight either in protest against some council (rare)/government/military junta/higher authority (but it is usually unnecessary to do yourself it in protest at your own god. If you ask a rival religion nicely they may do it for you, and even pay for the petrol). It is also used by the tankerful to burn the American flag. Usually by the parents/relatives/friends, etc of the newly killed Iraqi/Afghan/other recent military quagmire children who were caught in an airstrike on a house suspected to contain rebels, etc, but actually only containing orphans from the last one, food, medical supplies, a couple of Red Cross workers and a camel. This kind of anti-American gesture is also a bad idea, because it just is not worth the cost unless you do it there - and this will get you arrested or lynched because free speech is only allowed if it is the right kind of free speech.
Because of these common uses and many more, petrol is in extremely high demand, and as such, the trade in it is worth billions of dollars a year (as most it is traded in US dollars (and lives), I won't say "billions of pounds"). This rich seam of capitalist venture provides many things:
I do not personally dislike many American people, but the rest of them, along with their government really piss me off. Also I am painfully aware the the UK is in Iraq and Afghanistan now, and yes we are also screwing it up. Also it IS called petrol. Gasoline is petrol (derived from petroleum spirits - you don't call anything gasoleum spirits, do you?), but with a name that it usually shortened to "gas" which usually is defined as something rather different to a liquid.
- A crutch for most Western economies, usually by making the price of petrol 70% tax, or by owning it all. (I'm looking at you, UK and US)
- A good reason for a nice little war (I haven't looked away yet)
- A way for people you really wouldn't want in power to be in power, possibly as a president, although I really don't know of any country where that has happened. Honestly. Really, I don't. Why are you looking at me like that?
- A way to ensure that the entire economy collapses spectacularly when it runs out
In response to some negative views on this admittedly bitchy-but-partly-true (go on, deny it), I wish to attach the following disclaimer:
- I have been informed by The Custodian that the American people can expect to pay the heady sum of $2.68 per gallon, which would put the price of petrol at about 38% of the UK price. You poor bastards - you pay more than a third of our prices. However do you manage?
- I am not saying that the UK has not supremely fucked up by following America into Afghanistan or Iraq. We have, and we know it. In fact, getting out is probably the biggest issue in the country right now.
- I am also aware that the UK has similar problems with free speech because the nannying wannabe totalitarian government of this country cannot admit that it has made a bit of a boo-boo.
- If you think this writeup is insulting or inflamatory, then have an "A" for observation. I am trying to make a point here. I am not, however, excluding myself, the UK or anyone else from this point. We're all guilty. Some of us just don't know it.
- Some people have claimed that this is not factual. It partly is factual and partly is just (snide and cynical) observation. However, it is all to do with petrol.