World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts

Figure 1 shows the huge increase in world energy consumption that has taken place in roughly the last 200 years. This rise in energy consumption is primarily from increased fossil fuel use.

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent

With energy consumption rising as rapidly as shown in Figure 1, it is hard to see what is happening when viewed at the level of the individual. To get a different view, Figure 2 shows average consumption per person, using world population estimates by Angus Maddison.

Figure 2. Per capita world energy consumption, calculated by dividing world energy consumption shown in Figure 1 by population estimates, based on Angus Maddison data.

On a per capita basis, there is a huge spurt of growth between World War II and 1970. There is also a small spurt about the time of World War I, and a new spurt in growth recently, as a result of growing coal usage in Asia.

In this post, I provide additional charts showing long-term changes in energy supply, together with some observations regarding implications. One such implication is how  economists can be misled by past patterns, if they do not realize that past patterns reflect very different energy growth patterns than we will likely see in the future.

World per Capita Energy Consumption

Let’s look first at Figure 2. Prior to 1900, energy per capita did not rise very much with the addition of coal energy, suggesting that the early use of coal mostly offset other fuel uses, or permitted larger families. There was a small increase in energy consumption per capita during World War I, but a dip during the depression prior to World War II.

Between World War II and 1970, there was a huge ramp-up in energy consumption per capita.  There are several reasons why this might happen:

  • During this period, European countries and Japan were rebuilding after World War II.
  • There was a need to find jobs for returning US soldiers, so that the country would not fall back into the recession it was in prior to World War II.
  • The US had a large oil industry that it wanted to develop, in order to provide jobs and tax revenue.
  • Major infrastructure development projects were put into place during this period, including the Eisenhower Interstate System and substantial improvements to the electrical transmission system.
  • To facilitate purchases both by companies and by consumers, the government encouraged the use of debt to pay for the new goods. Figure 3, below, from my post, The United States’ 65-Year Debt Bubble, shows that non-governmental debt did indeed rise during this period.

Figure 3. US Non-Governmental Debt, Divided by GDP, based on US Federal Reserve and US Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

World population also expanded greatly during the period from 1820 to 2010:

Figure 4. World Population, based primarily Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

Figure 4 shows that there is a distinct “bend” in the graph about 1950, when population started rising faster, at the same time that energy consumption started rising more quickly.

If we look at 10-year percentage changes in world population and energy use, this is the pattern we see:

Figure 5. Decade percentage increases in energy use compared to population growth, using amounts from Figures 2 and 4.

Figure 5 shows that a significant increase in the use of energy first occurred about the time of World War I. A second spurt in energy use started about the time of World War II. Population increased a bit with the first spurt in energy use, but did not really take off until the second spurt. Part of the population rise after World War II may be related to the invention of antibiotics–Penicillin (1942), Streptomycin (1943), and Tetracycline (1955). Use of energy to upgrade water and sewer services, and to sterilize milk and to refrigerate meat, may have made a difference as well. Life expectancy in the US grew from 49 in 1900 to 70 in 1960, contributing to population growth.

Since 1970, the rate of increase in world population has declined. One reason for this decline may be the use of oral contraceptives. These were first approved for use in the United States in 1960. Other reasons might include more education for women, and more women entering into the paid work force.

A person can see that in the most recent decade (2000 to 2010), per capita energy use is again rising rapidly. Let’s look at some detail, to see better what is happening.

Detail Underlying Growth in World Energy

Figure 2 above shows energy from the various fuels “stacked” on top of each other. It is easier to see what is happening with individual fuels if we look at them separately, as in Figure 6, below. In Figure 6, I also make a change in the biofuel definition. I omit broadly defined biofuels (which would include animal feed and whale oil, among other things) used in Figure 2, and instead show a grouping of modern energy sources from BP statistical data. What I show as “BP-Other” includes ethanol and other modern biofuels, wind, geothermal, and solar.

Figure 6. Per capita consumption of various fuels, separately, rather than stacked, as in Figure 2.

We can see from Figure 6 that per capita consumption of oil peaked in the 1970 to 1980 time period, and has since been declining. The fuel that has primarily risen to take its place is natural gas, and to a lesser extent, nuclear. Substitution was made in several areas including home heating and electricity generation.

Coal consumption per capita stayed pretty much flat (meaning that coal consumption rose about fast as population growth) until the last decade, namely the period after 2000. In the period since 2000, there has been a huge rise in coal consumption in China and in other developing nations, particularly in Asia. This increase in coal consumption seems to be related to the increase in manufacturing in Asia following the liberalization of world trade that began with the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995, and the addition of China to the organization in 2001.

If we look at per capita energy consumption since 1965 by country based on BP data, we find very different patterns:

Figure 7. Per capita energy consumption for selected countries, based on BP Statistical Data energy consumption and Angus Maddison population estimates. FSU refers to the Former Soviet Union. Europe refers to a list of 12 large countries.

Figure 7 shows that since the 1970s, energy patterns have patterns have varied. US energy consumption per capita has declined, while Europe’s energy consumption per capita has tended to remain relatively flat. China’s energy consumption per capita has greatly increased in recent years. The passage of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 may have contributed to rising Asian coal consumption because it encouraged countries to reduce their own CO2 emissions, but did not discourage countries from importing goods made in countries using coal as their primary fuel for electricity.

Correlations with Employment

If we look at the United States line on Figure 7,  we can see that the most recent peak in US per capita consumption of energy was in the year 2000. It is striking that the percentage of the US population with jobs also peaked in 2000 (Figure 8).

Figure 8. US number of people employed divided by population. Two series are shown: One is for non-farm employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the other is from the Social Security administration.

A person would expect energy consumption to be correlated with the number of jobs for a couple of reasons. First, jobs often involve using vehicles or machines that require fuels of some sort, so the jobs themselves require energy. In addition, people with jobs have the income to buy goods that require energy. Thus, the fact that people in the US have jobs raises the demand for goods and services requiring energy.

If we look at US median wages through 2010 from the Social Security administration, we see a flattening since 2000, and an actual decrease in inflation adjusted wages since 2007 (Figure 9):

Figure 9. US Median Wages based on Social Security data.

If changes in international trade caused US wage earners to be more in direct competition with wage earners from other countries, it would not be surprising if a smaller percentage of the US population has jobs, and that median wages dropped in real terms between 2007 and 2010.

Annual per Capita Increases in World Energy Consumption 

Figure 10 (below) shows world per capita energy consumption on a year-by-year basis, similar to Figure 7.

Figure 10. Year by year per capita energy consumption, based on BP statistical data, converted to joules.

Figure 10 shows that world per capita energy consumption was increasing until the late 70s, hitting a peak in 1977. There was a fairly long period until about 2000 where per-capita energy consumption was on a plateau. This was a period where consumers were shifting from oil to electricity where possible, a process that was typically more efficient. It was only in the last decade when production goods of many sorts started shifting to Asia and living standards in Asia starting rising that world energy consumption per capita has again begun increasing.

CO2 Emissions per Capita

I wrote a couple of posts earlier about why CO2 emissions seem to be rising as fast as GDP  since 2000 (Is it really possible to decouple GDP growth from CO2 emissions growth? and Thoughts on why energy use and CO2 emissions are rising as fast as GDP), and the increase in per capita consumption would seem to be related. One of the graphs from the second post is shown below as Figure 11.

Figure 11. Carbon dioxide emissions by the three major areas described (Southeast Asia, Middle East, Remainder), based on BP Statistical Data

These emissions are not on a per-capita basis, but the graph illustrates what happens when the production of goods and services is increasingly outsourced to Asia, where coal is used as the primary fuel. Emissions tend to rise there, even if they remain flat in other countries.

If we compare the growth of CO2 emissions and the growth of energy use, both on a per capita basis (Figure 12), we see that the CO2 emissions grew more slowly than energy consumption in the 1970 to 1990 period, so the lines increasingly diverged.

Figure 12. Per capita energy consumption and CO2 emissions, based on BP statistical data.

This divergence appears to result from the changing fuel mix (more nuclear and more natural gas, relative to coal) during the period.  Since 2000, the two lines are approximately parallel, indicating no further CO2 savings given the greater use of coal again. Wind and solar contributions are not large enough to make an appreciable difference in CO2 levels.

How an Economist Might Be Misled

If an economist views the period between World War II and 1970 as “normal” in terms of what to expect in the future, he/she is likely to be misled. The period of rapid energy growth following World War II is not likely to be repeated. The rapid energy growth allowed much manual work to be performed by machine (for example, using a back hoe instead of digging ditches by hand). Thus, there appeared to be considerable growth in human efficiency, but such growth is not likely to be repeated in the future. Also, the rate of GDP growth was likely higher than could be expected in the future.

Even the period between 1980 and 2000 may be misleading for predicting future patterns because this period occurred before the huge increase in international trade. Once international trade with less developed nations increases, we can expect these nations will want to increase their energy consumption in any way that is possible, including using more coal.

Another false inference might be that per capita oil consumption has declined in the past (Figure 6), so future declines should not be a problem. For one thing, the past drop in oil availability may very well have contributed to the employment issues noted above during the 2000 to 2010 period in the United States. For another, oil issues may very well have contributed to the Iraq war, and even to World War II. Furthermore, there may be Liebig’s Law of the Minimum issues, because most vehicles use gasoline or diesel for fuel and cannot run without it. Figure 2 also illustrates that a transition from one fuel to another takes many, many years–we have not at this point transitioned away from coal, and nuclear is still only a small percentage of world energy consumption.

The small amounts of new renewables to date should be of concern to economists if they are counting on these for the future. For one thing, ramping up new renewables to amounts which can be expected to make a significant contribution is likely to take many years. For another, new renewables require fossil fuels for their creation, so they are very much tied to the current system.

The fact that things haven’t fallen apart so far doesn’t give the assurance that things never will fall apart. Individual countries behave very differently. While some countries may continue to grow using coal, other countries will flounder when hit by high oil and natural gas prices. It is quite possible that some countries will encounter major difficulties in the years ahead, even though they have so far been untouched. The precarious debt situations of a number of countries leave them vulnerable to disruptions.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to inadequate supply.
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137 Responses to World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts

  1. Justin Nigh says:

    Those flocks of white swans turn black when they fly through your clouds of coal ash.

    • pjc says:

      Yep coal’s dirty. I’m glad I don’t live near a coal plant.

      That said, it’s been pretty useful for spreading industrialization for the last 200+ years, and I’m betting it has at least another 20 years left or so before it becomes obsolete.

      • Justin Nigh says:

        As long as its not in your backyard or within your lifetime then screw everyone and everything else to hell!

        • pjc says:

          No, that’s not my opinion.

          If I was living with a really child mortality rate (like Kenya) I would probably think a nearby coal plant was a reasonable trade off.

          I suspect that coal’s growth in the third world simply reflects that this trade-off is acceptable to a great many people, and not some sinister conspiracy to make money.

          I’m guessing coal has 20 more years, give or take, and then the current coal-enthusiasts will be transitioning from coal to gas or renewables or nuclear or coal gasification (or perhaps something more exotic).

          • Justin Nigh says:

            Again you fail to see the big picture. You see empire and industrialization as the solution rather than the problem. It is a solution that spawns never ending problems and is not sustainable. Prior to the influences of empire and industrialization, Kenyan’s were just fine. Our culture is one of many and not the best there ever was. You subscribe to the cultural story that it is superior and must spread to the exclusion of all others. This view is arrogant and destructive.

            • pjc says:

              “Kenyan’s were just fine” … if one out of every 10 births resulting in the baby not surviving until his tenth birthday being “just fine”. (And lots not even got started on the mortality rate of the birthing mother, whose death leaves orphaned children behind).

            • Justin Nigh says:

              I fully understand the logic of your focus on infant mortality rates. Where we disagree is on long term vs short term benefits. First off I take issue with you selecting data that has been unduly skewed by the meddling and influence of imperial forces. Most regions with high mortality rates are the result of dominator cultures coming in and destroying the local culture. I would argue that your example has been distorted upward by this mechanism.

              Where you see reducing infant mortality rates as a beneficial and necessary goal, I view it as beneficial short term but detrimental long term. Infant mortality is a natural corrective process that keeps population levels in balance with available resources. This can be observed not only in humans but in all other species. I suggest that mortality levels would be far less horrific in pre-agrarian cultures than the ones you cite. By increasing food availability and surpluses, this natural mechanism is diminished allowing population levels to rise to levels that cannot be sustained long term. If this results in a die off in the billions, as there is precedence for in other species, the horror will be much worse than it is if the natural mechanism is allowed to function as nature intended.

              I understand your support for lowering mortality rates as a majority accepted goal. However, majority support does not automatically infer it is correct or useful long term. There are plenty of historical examples of commonly held beliefs and understanding that was later overturned. I don’t think I need to provide such examples in support of this claim because you’re an intelligent guy and can find them or think of a few yourself.

              At any rate, I think arguing this issue isn’t very useful because at the end of the day it will largely be out of our control and any illusions of control are just that, illusions. Nature will correct the situation and reversion to the mean will be achieved as it always must due to fixed laws beyond human control. We simply leverage our capability over the short term.

            • pjc says:

              ” I suggest that mortality levels would be far less horrific in pre-agrarian cultures than the ones you cite.”

              You might suggest 2+2 = 5 if you like, but that doesn’t make it true. There is a mountain of evidence that high mortality rates is mother natures method of controlling population.

              “Nature will correct the situation and reversion to the mean will be achieved as it always must due to fixed laws beyond human control.”

              Not any time soon, son. You might as well be standing on the street corner with a big sign saying “Jesus is Coming”. Your prediction is in defiance of the actual mortality rate data we are seeing.

              Moreover, it must be sort of sad and twisted to be rooting for Death. You would perhaps feel differently had you personal experience with infant or childhood mortality.

            • Justin Nigh says:

              “You might suggest 2+2 = 5 if you like, but that doesn’t make it true. There is a mountain of evidence that high mortality rates is mother natures method of controlling population.”

              Thanks for supporting my argument that we wouldn’t see the spike in population we have seen through our efforts to limit the effects of this natural mechanism. The end result is when those efforts fail, and they must, there is a huge die off. This is well documented in studies of other species that overshoot. Again, man’s efforts to usurp the laws of nature don’t come at zero cost, there is always a trade off. The trade off you suggest is in my opinion not worth it and may lead to the extinction of the species altogether. I’m not sure how you fail to understand this concept. Steady death rates due to natural infant mortality vs a massive die off is the point of comparison and I’d happily take the former over the latter.

              “Not any time soon, son. You might as well be standing on the street corner with a big sign saying “Jesus is Coming”. Your prediction is in defiance of the actual mortality rate data we are seeing.”

              I didn’t give a timeframe and I’m looking at the big picture spanning thousands of years. Your claim of “not any time soon” and condescending addition of “son” is no more true just because you say it is. Comparing this to the return of a long dead historical figure is absurd. I’m talking about well documented study of overshoot and collapse while you try to suggest I’m correlating it to unscientific dogma.

              “Moreover, it must be sort of sad and twisted to be rooting for Death. You would perhaps feel differently had you personal experience with infant or childhood mortality.”

              Again you expose your fear of death, a necessary part of life we will all experience. On the contrary, being comfortable with one’s fate is a great relief rather than living in constant fear of it. You might want to address this fear before you have to face it, kicking and screaming into the great unknown. While you are correct I haven’t had first hand experience with infant mortality, my partner has had this experience; her brother died at childbirth. While the experience was of course immensely sad and unfortunate, she grieved and moved on, as one must. Cultures that recognise this is a part of our experience and necessary to maintain population balance to avoid destroying the Earth that supports us through overpopulation creates a framework that makes dealing with this in a mature way possible and easier to handle. Compare this with our culture which obscenely rejects the concept of death, and therefore our very nature. While you are correct that we have abstracted ourselves from nature in a way that has created a reality of decreasing infant mortality, I do not see this as a sustainable arrangement.

            • Justin Nigh says:

              I’m not sure that furthering this discussion will bear any fruit for either of us. I question your intention at having any genuine debate of the issues given your prior expression of seeking to ‘defeat doomers’ by discrediting any factual basis through marginalisation by demanding predictions of when outcomes might occur. I’m not in the business of predicting when and even if I were, failure of such predictions wouldn’t necessarily negate the bulk of my argument that humanity is on an unsustainble path which would make it prudent to acknowledge and plan for rather than seeking to delay the inevitable.

              On that note I’m going to trot out the ‘lets agree to disagree’ simply because I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

            • pjc says:

              Just so you know, I’m not looking to “defeat doomers”.

              What irks me is that some people, especially young people just starting out, take this “die off is coming” stuff quite seriously.

              While Gail’s career is basically over (and she’s actually making so money from “doomer porn”) there are young adults that think this things are inevitable and imminent. As a result, they handicap their careers and personal lives (by not marrying, or not having children, or not taking a big-city job, etc) based, at least in part on the what is essentially science fiction. This is sad, and I think a counterpoint is worthwhile.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            I’m replying here to your most recent comment because there’s no reply button on it.

            I am pleased to read that you are not seeking to defeat doomers and instead your efforts come from a positive place. I do hope this is genuine.

            I wonder though, have you considered that if you turn out to be wrong you could be doing more harm than good? After all, you can’t be sure no more than anyone else what the future might hold, though we can observe patterns and data that might point to likely outcomes.

            In my experience, I have been down the path of the big city job but found it to be unsatisfying. For more and more people, the existing popular narrative of our culture no longer rings true but hollow. There are many examples like OWS, Transition Towns, interest in traditional tribal cultures that demonstrate people are looking for a new narrative that delivers more than just seeking to improve ones own wellbeing but also that of others through recognition of our interdependence and interconnectedness rather than separation and competition. Collapse is not just a economic or physical resource depletion phenomenon but also a social and consciousness one. Your attempt to steer people away from stories of collapse is based on an assum

          • Justin Nigh says:

            I’m replying here to your most recent comment because there’s no reply button on it.

            I am pleased to read that you are not seeking to defeat doomers and instead your efforts come from a positive place. I do hope this is genuine.

            I wonder though, have you considered that if you turn out to be wrong you could be doing more harm than good? After all, you can’t be sure no more than anyone else what the future might hold, though we can observe patterns and data that might point to likely outcomes.

            In my experience, I have been down the path of the big city job but found it to be unsatisfying. For more and more people, the existing popular narrative of our culture no longer rings true but hollow. There are many examples like OWS, Transition Towns, interest in traditional tribal cultures that demonstrate people are looking for a new narrative that delivers more than just seeking to improve ones own wellbeing but also that of others through recognition of our interdependence and interconnectedness rather than separation and competition. Collapse is not just a economic or physical resource depletion phenomenon but also a social and consciousness one. Your attempt to steer people away from stories of collapse is based on an assumption that the popular narrative is the only one of value or worth pursuing. This is a matter of opinion. Popular opinion is shifting. We are at a crossroads in more way than one on multiple levels. We may just find the new world the youth create is better than the one you seek to preserve.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            I might also add that there is no shortage of counterpoint to the conclusions made on this and other “doomer” or collapse analysis sites, the mainstream media does a fine job of that. I would also say that while the popular opinion still supports the growth model, the growing awareness of its lack of sustainability is creating the new narrative I mentioned. If and when a collapse of some form does occur, as I believe is more likely than not, it will only serve to drive such opinion further into the mainstream.

            The times, they are a changin’

          • pjc says:

            “I wonder though, have you considered that if you turn out to be wrong you could be doing more harm than good?”

            That criticism is true of both the doomers and the techno-optimists. The difference is that these “doomer-resource-shortage” stories have been circulating since the dawn of industrialization, and the techno-optimists have been discovering tricks to escape this narrative since the very beginning.

            You only need to go back to Gail’s first posts here to see how poorly some of this stuff stands up to the test of time.

            “Natural gas supply is likely to decline in the next few years, because most of the larger, more productive sites have already been tapped.”, “We are expecting a decline in petroleum and natural gas production.”, etc. etc.

            Since then, the production of natural gas and oil in this country has absolutely skyrocketed, while oil consumption has declined. This country is undoubtedly moving closer towards having a “zero energy trade balance” (once we include coal exports), something that is discarded as absurd from Gail’s old post. My cousin, who could have easily listened to Gail in ’07 and started farming chickens in Tenn, is instead fracking OH and Penn and loving it. Thank goodness he didn’t buy into this peak energy stuff.

            At any rate, if going “back to the land” is something you want to do to enjoy yourself then have at it. But this idea that it’s something we all **have to do** because peak energy is unavoidable is basically science fiction. Interesting to think about, but not a serious prediction of the future.

            • robertheinlein says:

              If you had a trading system which was 99% accurate, would you bet the ranch on every turn? No, of course not, because you know that 1% will be your doom. The human race cannot afford to bet the ranch that it will always win.

          • pjc says:

            “If you had a trading system which was 99% accurate, would you bet the ranch on every turn? ”

            You mean there should be some sort of insurance policy? Some hardy minority of civilization that prepares for the 1% black swan? It seems like we have that base pretty much covered.

            At any rate, you get a “power down is a 1% possibility” vibe from cites like this? It seems like these cites describe “power down” as 99% probable, and “new energy source” as the 1% glimmer.

            But if you want me to concede there is a 1% probability of “power down”, then sure. I’ve got some side bets on this possibility (I live in a temperate place that doesn’t require much heating or cooling, gets lots of water, and is very near quality farmland). But most of my chips are riding on “new energy source”. since, like you say, it seems like a 99% probablity.

  2. pjc says:

    Doesn’t Figure 2 simply show a 30+ year trend of society shifting energy consumption from oil to coal and gas? And since there is a lot of coal and gas, why is this trend likely to stop within the next 20 years or so?

    • pjc says:

      I meant to say Figure 6 … although they show the same data, but it’s easier to see this “oil to coal+gas” shift in Figure 6.

    • There is a minimum amount of oil needed. Some uses can be changed over easily–those are what we have been working on. I have been saying that an oil shortfall is a “Liebig’s Las of the Minimum” issue, because it means that our current built infrastructure cannot operate as planned. Also, the high prices directly affect the economy, as this happens.

      • Justin Nigh says:

        Gail your patience with those of shallow perception of the circumstances is impressive. While we talk about building a boat to survive the rising tide, pjc argues about how long before we run out of higher land to retreat to. Until the crisis hits him over the head he won’t get it. By ‘get it’ I mean the very circumstances of industrial civilization and culture of control.

        • pjc says:

          “about how long before we run out of higher land to retreat to”

          Exactly – the trend for the last 30 years has been oil replaced with coal+gas.

          Now, when gas was very expensive, the idea that the end of this trend was imminent. It now seems gas will remain abundant for another 20 or 30 years, so it seems reasonable that the trend will continue for at least that long.

          Simply saying “oil is used in all sorts of things” doesn’t seem very compelling, as that was more true 30 years ago. It seems oil can be phased out, so long as you have coal and gas.

          If you want to argue that “a very bad energy crunch event is likely 20 -30 years down the road” (or even 10 years down the road) I wouldn’t sqwuak about it. But the largest economy in the world is enjoying reasonably priced energy right now. For the US economy as a whole, cheap gas and electricity is offsetting expensive oil. This doesn’t seem consistent with a near term energy crunch.

          • Gustava says:

            pjc, I don’t really agree with your statements, but I do appreciate having a contrary position here. I’ve been reading lots about Peak Energy over the last few years, and I’ve yet to find a convincing and articulate argument that there’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps you could post some links to some things? (FWIW, I don’t find Daniel Yergin and his ilk convincing!)

            Pjc, what concerns me is several things:
            1) the rate of extraction problem. It’s not the amount left in the ground, but the rate at which we can get it that matters
            2) the portabliity/infrastructure/retooling problem. Our infrastructure is tooled for oil. Performing significant CTL and GTL is expensive and slow. Building new infrastructure to run on electricity, hydrogen, etc is even more expensive and slower
            3) other energy sources, even fossil fuels, rely on oil for their extraction, hence increasing prices for oil will also drive up their prices

            I’d be interested to hear your thoughts here.


          • Gustava says:

            Just further to this:
            “If you want to argue that “a very bad energy crunch event is likely [in] 10 years I wouldn’t sqwuak about it … This doesn’t seem consistent with a near term energy crunch.”

            I don’t understand this at all. What is your definition of “near-term”? 10 years is not much when we’re talking about rebuilding a society’s infrastructure!
            Perhaps you could say, specifically, when you expect energy constraints to really start to affect the economy? Based on your above post, you seem to imply 20 years as a (rough) estimate. Again, referring to a “very bad energy crunch” in _only_ 20 years to me implies the necessity of putting the economy on a war footing to mitigate the crunch (ie. allocating 40-50% of our available production into sustainable* energy/transport/storage).

            *by “sustainable” I don’t mean bunny rabbits and butterflies (although I think environmental protection is very important), but energy production that we can indefinitely sustain in the face of depleting fossilised energy sources.

          • pjc says:

            Hi Gustava

            I think “Our infrastructure is tooled for oil. ” is the key issue. It really isn’t. Oil isn’t the majority energy delivery system in the US, nor is it the majorirty in the world. Again, Fig 6 tells the whole story – coal+gas is much more important than oil, and the history of the last 30 years or so is oil being replaced by coal+gas.

            There is plenty of coal left in the world, of that there is doubt. Huge quantities in the ground, and it’s EROI doesn’t get changed much when it is shipped via barge, train, or boat.

            Gas was a big source of concern 5 years ago. No longer. The US is experiencing one of it’s most profund “gas gluts” in history. We might run out of places to put the gas and have to give it away for free this summer.

            Moreover, the US didn’t generate this gas through some “one-off lucky strike”. It generated it through superior drilling techniques on a formation that is fairly common, both in the US and worldwide. So our current situation is sort of similar to the 1910s, when the Hughes drill-bit was perfected and created a long oil boom for both the US and the world. Except now it will be a long shale-gas-and-oil boom, and, because the global economy is more dynamic and energy hungry, it won’t be quite as long. But still, gas, for the next decade in the the US, and probably the next 20 years globally, is no problem. Shales are common, shale gas is economic, the shales will be fracked.

            (I know, the enviornmentalists are screaming about this. But the environmentalists scream about lots of stuff. I expect shale fracking will be, in the worst case, like GMOs – globally ubiqutous, with a few holdouts in Western Europe).

            So that carries us through the next 10 years mininum. After that? Who knows – maybe there will be an “energy crunch/power down” in 10 years. I doubt it – I suspect there will be something that is just a glimmer now will rise to prominence in that time (just like shale gas, North Sea oil, etc, etc.).

            As to GTL plants – some of those are already underway. There are other, better ways to use gas instead of oil (like natural gas/gasoline hybrid engines, that can use both fuels and those require only marginal infrastructure changes to have a big impact).

            But the economy seems to be good at substituting gas+coal for oil. It’s been doing it very efficiently for the last 30 years, and so, so long as gas+coal is available, I expect it will keep doing it for 10 more years easy.

            You can decide for yourself whether we need to adopt drastic measures because there might be an energy crunch 10 years from now. I would say not. But lets be clear – for the next 10 years – there will be gas (and coal) to keep the current trend alive.

          • Gustava says:

            I appreciate your comments, pjc. A couple of thoughts:

            Infrastructure is not globally homogeneous: some of this “retooling from oil to coal/gas” that is occurring is actually China’s massive investment in coal power, not the OECD retooling.

            I understand that, in principle, technology can reduce the cost to extract resources, allowing the economic extraction of previously uneconomic deposits. I’ve read (here and elsewhere) that the current CSG gas boom is uneconomic at current gas prices, and needs prices of more like 3 to 4 times current prices. Some speculate that this is more than the economy can pay for energy without hardship. I guess this relates back to the “10 of the US’s 11 last recessions were caused by high oil prices” and “when the US spends more than 5% GDP on energy it tends to go into recession”.

            Do you have an opinion about this?


          • pjc says:

            What price do we need for shale gas?

            Wildcatter above thinks $6 per btu. This is less than 3X the current (super-cheap) natural gas price in the states. Even better, it’s less than half the NG price in Europe and Asia.

            Moreover at $6 per btu, natural gas would a $ per BTU equivalent to about oil at $36 bl. Oil historically trades at a premium of around 1.5 to 2, so call it $50-$70 oil.

            So if the global price of gas were $6 per btu, it would be not represent expensive energy.

            Moreover, does shale gas really need $6 per btu? Probably not. That’s what Wildcatter is saying no. 5 years ago, people were saying 8 or 12. The number is clearly dropping. The technology is just now entering the stage were it becomes widespread, with many, many research dollars chasing the next incremental improvement. There is probably 100X as much industry research being done right now on shale gas than there was during the 20 years when George P. Mitchell was considered the “weird hippie” of the oil industry by playing with shale. (George P. Mitchell is a whole nother story. Shale fracking was invented by a left-leaning Soros-billionaire type to create cleaner domestic fuel).

            At any rate, I’m not calling for $70 oil anytime soon. The next 5 years I’m guessing expensive international oil, expensive (but dropping) ex-US gas, cheap US gas. This is good, since the US has the best infrastructure for using gas. I think a large portion of the Pickens plan will come to pass, massive outbound US coal exports, reindustrialization of the rust belt, and lots more US farming and food exports. That’s 5 years. After that, probably global fracking starts to drive down international gas prices, and then things get more interesting.

            CO2 – not gonna get solved in the next 20 years. I’m not optimistic about everything. But there will be gas, there will be coal, there will be energy.


          • Gustava says:

            Many thanks for taking the time to reply, pjc.

          • Owen says:

            I just completed a computation based on an informal discussion of LNG in Drumbeat in which I did not participate.

            Here’s the problem with imagining natural gas to be the salvation of 7 billion.

            The CH4 chains have a certain amount of BTUs in them to release on breakage. Crude is made of complex mixes of paraffins, naphthenes blah blah with molecules of 5-20 carbon atoms and rather a lot of hydrogen atoms, all chained together with those chains waiting to release energy, and a lot more of it than the few chains in the CH4.

            The result is one barrel of volume of natural gas has 1/1000th the BTUs of 1 barrel of crude oil. That’s at Standard Temperature and Pressure. It’s not really a fair comparison because a gas is just flat out going to be less dense than liquid. But on a volume basis (and remember nat gas is measured in cubic feet, i.e., volume) that’s the way it is. 1/1000th the BTUs.

            And so, suppose we get a barrel of LNG to make things fair. The result is substantial. A barrel of LNG has 40% fewer BTUs in it than a barrel of crude, which is a lot better than 1/1000th.

            However, freezing CH4 to make LNG is not a zero energy activity. The discussion seemed to coalesce on an approximate number of 30% of the gas will be used up generating energy for the refrigeration(with a few % loss from heating in transport) to create LNG.

            Result: To get the energy of a barrel of crude (5.6 million BTUs), you will need to extract 3.1X the equivalent nat gas energy from the ground translated to cubic feet. You can do your own calculation of how many cubic feet that is. The overall point is even through the magic of LNG, you are down a factor of 3.1.

            Sashay over to the Honda Civic website and study very carefully the convention Civic vs the CNG Civic. You will find that the range of the nat gas Civic is a fraction of the conventional Civic, but you will be willing to shrug on that just to be able to go a few hundred miles.

            But look more carefully. Look VERY carefully at photos. The nat gas civic has no trunk. That few hundred miles of range, less than the conventional Civic, is achieved by loss of cargo space in order to hold the pressurized fuel tank.

            Think about that when you imagine you’re going to haul food from Omaha to NYC with that energy source.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            Gustava, we don’t just have an energy problem, we have a problem with the basic premise of our civilization. You asked for a sustainable energy option and I didn’t hear an answer from pjc. All I heard was “don’t worry, this is someone elses problem, no need to take responsibility for it and adjust your behaviour, there’s still life left in this dominator culture yet, party on dude!”

            Scaling down, adopting permaculture practices that focus on efficiency and use of waste as an input for other processes, halting the conversion of every social and environmental capital into a monetised good or service, reducing reliance on complex technology and powered equipment and machinery. These are just some of the sustainable options we have that can be used today, before it becomes a crisis. You know, it might just be prudent to plan for further than 10 or 20 years ahead, but that takes effort, requires people to change and be less selfish. Most people only change in a crisis, and I’m afraid that’s what it’s going to take.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            I believe the following sums up the underlying predicament.

            When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
            ~ Cree Prophecy

            If you aren’t familiar with the Cree, they are a native American people. I think their understanding reflected in the prophecy above, expresses a wisdom rarely found in our culture. We have so much knowledge and information, yet we do so much damage to ourselves and other creatures. These honourable and wise people had their land stolen, were savagely killed using despicable methods like gifting them blankets infected with smallpox, and their culture systematically destroyed and marginalised. This is the legacy from which we (Americans, both north and south) come, so is it any wonder we find ourselves where we are today?

            So here we are asking, if the question is asked at all, “what are we going to do about peak fossil fuel?” when in fact the real question we ask is, “how can we keep living this greedy destructive lifestyle in the face of fossil fuel depletion?”

          • Gustava says:


            Thanks for your reply. I essentially agree with what you’ve said. I think that, in terms of time, we are close to the limits of growth (in the overshoot sense, we have probably already passed it). I am working hard in a local permaculture community to try and build resilience, and I try to minimise my use of non-renewable energy and resources.

            But, to be honest, I am not hopeful that society as a whole will adopt these practices and make the significant changes that are necessary to avert powerdown/overshoot. In the absence of a significant new technology for sustainably producing energy, I think that society will use up the available resources as quickly as possible, without heed to efficiency, and then scale back from there. I don’t think it will be doomsday, but I think it will cause a lot of hardship and suffering.
            The perspective I was trying to get from pjc was not “is this going to happen”, but “when is it going to happen” (ie, will it happen in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 40 years?).

            I don’t think pjc was advocating “don’t worry about this for now — let our kids deal with it” — I think they were simply saying what they thought would happen. To be honest, I agree with them in their assessment of what is likely. Collectively, we _will_ exploit these resources/ecosystems without heed for future generations, who will suffer the consequences. It’s awful, and immoral, but I think that’s the way it will probably be.

          • pjc says:

            @Owen – I’m not sure why you’re so worried about the units involved with natural gas versus oil.

            At any rate, the correct natural gas vehicle is probably the Siena Tetra Fuel by Fiat. It can run on gasoline, ethanol, or natural gas. It has a “normal” range. The natural gas can reduce significanlty the gasoline consumption, but it doesn’t remove it completely. It’s also an inexpensive car – less than 20K,

            Right now the Tetra Fuel isn’t available in the US. I suspect that will change, particularly if the Pickens plan passes. But if it never comes to the US, it’s still seems likely to be a big deal internationally, if the American gas glut spreads overseas.

            Natural gas isn’t a perfect fuel, but i has lots of great properties. People are comfortable with it being piped into their homes (unlike oil). It doesn’t need to be refined.

            LNG transport will just be the means by which natural gas price is internationalized. Shales are all over the world, on every major continent. Shale gas is around 30% of US production, and it’s created an undisputed gas abundance. So I suspect some good production from Poland, Romania and China will be earthshaking. Also, I suspect France will eventually frack their shales, once they become desperate enough economically (perhaps in 5 or 10 years). They will test very, very carefully, but they will choose fracking over bankruptcy and chaos.

            Re: “let our kids deal with it” – yep thats basically my opinion. I think the technologicial tools 20 years from now will make our current tech look silly in lots of ways. In particular, I think solar will be much better, and intermittant power storage (i.e. batteries) will be much better.

            I don’t think our kids will deal with a paradise, but this whole “running out of oil” thing will look silly to them. They’ll be worrying about some other sort of problem, possibly some new global catastrophe possibly global climate change. But it won’t be peak oil/peak energy.


          • Justin Nigh says:

            PJC no more pulling punches, I’m just going to go ahead and call you for the smug asshole you are. There are solutions to this problem that involve some immediate sacrifices but all you care about is numero uno, your shortsighted comfort and money, money, money. Climate change is here and now, not 20 yrs away. Our kids won’t be ‘dealing’ with it they’ll be suffering from the very inaction you cheer on like the hypercapitalist pig you are. Go F yourself pal.

          • pjc says:

            Wow, that’s totally rude and mean-spirited.

            I don’t think that type of language will win you any friends (or any elections) that’s for sure.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            No I don’t think it’s any more rude than your thinly-veiled smarmy attitude. You aren’t kidding anyone, I’ve just been more blunt about it because I’m done playing your childish games. Grow a spine and suck it up.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            Furthermore, I neither need nor want friends like you. As for votes, it doesn’t surprise me you think they still matter since you’re an obvious shill for the status quo business as usual crowd. There is no more democracy, it’s a corporatocracy and only those with blinders on don’t understand this.

          • Owen says:

            I do not think you understand the mathematics.

            The units define the issue because numbers define the issue. 85 million barrels of oil per day equates to XXXXXX BTUs. If you wish to replace that oil with nat gas, you have to have that many BTUs from the nat gas every day.

            Let me put it another way. You need 400 horsepower engines to push a tractor around and plow 10,000 acre fields fast enough to get seeds in the ground and growing before growing season ends. You can’t get that field plowed before August if you’re having to stop to refill your tank every 10 minutes.

            This is a physics problem. It’s not politics. It’s not economics. It’s not left wing envirowackoism. It’s not right wing uber capitalism. It’s physics and math. Neither physics nor math care who you voted for. They are going to be equal opportunity killers of 85% of the population and they won’t discriminate by party.

            Go on back and look at the math I laid out. CNG trucks running around 10-15 mile routes picking up trash is not indicative of anything other than a 15 mile range. You can’t plow fields for 7 billion like that, and you can’t transport food for 7 billion like that. You want more range, make the tank bigger. You make the tank bigger, you have no room for payload.

          • pjc says:


            I think you are just doing your math wrong when you say it is impossible to get a decent payload and a decent range with natural gas vehicles. T

            You can see a NG truck here. It runs on diesel and LNG, and can go 250 miles with a fairly decent payload. (GCWR = 80,000 lbs).

            Some us LNG and some CNG. There are tradeoffs, but they both work with high efficiency. NG vehicles require more energy input to “load the tank”, but the engines run cleanly with very high efficiency, and the fuel doensn’t need refinement.

            At any rate, there is no point in going into a long debate about. This isn’t a prototyping argument, as NG vehicles are in use around the world, so it can be done.

          • pjc says:

            Here is a NG vehicle.


            Remember, we don’t need to switch everything to NG or electricity (or efficiency) – just enough to continue to insure that the “oil replaced by natural gas + coal” trend continues.

          • Owen says:

            I’m pretty much unable to trace down Reply buttons any longer and it’s too much bother to work around. I won’t try anymore.

            I have seen the offered pdf before. I have looked at it carefully. Step number 1 is to ignore any sentence talking about how clean it is. Not relevant. Then one tries to extract the precise verbage about actual performance — and one finds there is no information provided.

            38 garbage trucks pick up trash, drive 3 miles to the dump and dump it. This is not “long haul”. There is no mention of how many 3 mile trips they make before they refuel. They quote 2200 tons carried by 14 trucks per day. That’s 157 tons per truck. That Is Nothing.

            Look, there’s no point in looking for examples. Pick up your calculator and do your own math. I did. Show me the computational error. You can’t dodge the reality of CH4 carbon chains being fewer than the 20 in crude. That’s just the way it is.

            • The reason you are not finding the reply button is that I lowered the number of reply levels to five, because someone complained that the replies were getting hard to read when I use 10 reply levels–the column became too narrow. Sorry about that. I don’t know that there is a good solution.

          • Owen says:

            There’s no solution, Gail. Comment threads are a world where people talk to hear themselves. We accomplish nothing and we don’t care. There’s a timeless aspect to it. I once had a CO who said “When all is said and done, a lot more will be said than done.”

            Beyond that, my opinion is that which is inevitable is that which is inevitable so I don’t self delude about doing noble work informing anyone about anything. I’m just wasting time because I have it to waste.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            Brilliant comment Owen. I got a good chuckle. Many find themselves in this position of “I defy you, and you defy me” ad infinitum. It’s pretty silly when it breaks down into a non-discussion of these sorts. I need to do less of this myself.

        • Gustava says:

          Hi Justin,

          I’d strongly encourage you to always maintain civility in these sorts of discussions. You are very unlikely to convince anyone of your arguments by becoming angry and aggressive or using insults or swearing. I suggest a much more productive approach is to try to understand the other person’s thinking, and where their a priori assumptions differ from yours.


          • Justin Nigh says:

            Hi Gustava,

            I agree with you in general, and believe I’ve been quite civil to date. At some point you realise it’s a lost cause, and just call a spade a spade. You can’t convince the dogmatic, and I suspect PJC would make the same comment about our point of view. That sort of impasse isn’t worth trying to overcome.

            Thanks for your efforts to build resiliency in your community. It’s good to see some people are taking responsibility for how we leave the earth to our children, unlike others who have no sense of responsibility and think it’s up to those who come after us to pay for our sins.

          • Justin Nigh says:

            I’d also add that being nice or civil has not worked to date. The machine keeps rolling on it’s destructive path and has in fact accellerated as technology allows for faster exploitation of the earth’s natural resources. You only have to look at recent bills passed in the US that seek to further erode civil liberties. Asking Stalin to please stop killing people might not be the most effective strategy.

          • pjc says:


            I am pro-energy, pro-people. I want to see people live long healthy lives and die in old age. I don’t want them to be orphanded, or watch their children die (at least not with the frequency this would happen in a “low energy” world).

            My comments on this are here if you are more interested.


            But lets be clear – I don’t think corporations should kill people for profit. I am interested in peak-energy because the peak-energy folks inevitably saw we should accomodate a “die-off”. I disagree. I think we should strive to avoid a die-off, and let the population stabilize by giving people modern fertility options.

  3. Take away. Remove oil and nat gas from the equation and the year 1900 is where we land.
    One big problem with that. There were one billion people on the planet in 1900, not seven billion and counting as the rabbits hop and skip to my lou.

    Peak oil is a symptom of expansionism, a keynesian delusion. Overpopulation is the problem- more free labor on the family “farm.”

    Farm means a lot of things to a lot of people, but sowing and reaping puts it in the barn.

    Nothing is going in the barn anymore because surplus is consumed by growth and expansion to pay the seed bill. increased volume thins the margin in competitive herd environments.

    simple. obvious. ignored. symptoms.

  4. Pingback: World energy consumption since 1820 in charts

  5. Geoff Mosley says:

    There is a better way. It is called the steady state economy (see People around the world are affected by two serious diseases: imagination deficit and vision impairment.

  6. From Peru says:

    From where you found the energy data needed to make those graphics in EXCEL?

  7. Pingback: NuVatsia › Gail: globaali energiankäyttö vuoden 1820 jälkeen.

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