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:

Per capita energy consumption by country to 2010

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 financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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137 Responses to World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts

    • pjc says:

      Well, global warming issues didn’t impede the recent growth in coal, and they’re even less likely to slow down the growth of natural gas.

      I thought this was a “peak energy” site, not a global warming site. The latter issue has “jumped the shark” in terms of effecting public policy. Do you see global warming playing a policy role outside of a few European countries? I don’t.

      • Bob Carver says:

        Global warming and energy are intimately related. If we choose to continue pumping heat into the atmostphere faster than it can be radiated into space, we are doomed to a global catastrophe at least as bad as running out of energy, so I don’t see how anyone can make a distinction between the two issues.

        • pjc says:

          I’m not sure you understand the global warming premise, which is based man-made CO2, not man-made heat.

          At any rate, global warming is something that people are generally ignoring, and will continue to ignore for at least another decade. Peak energy is something that perhaps would have occurred, were it not for the emergence of shale extraction technqiues, and the perfection of tar sands extraction techniques.

          Whether or not there will be a global warming based catastrophe in this century is an entirely seperate issue from whether or not there will be a peak-energy catastrophe in the next few decades. As to the latter, shale gas (and shale oil, and the oil sands) make the possibility seem very, very remote to my eyes.

          • gus says:

            Manmade CO2 (and CH4, whether directly manmade or released due to CO2 warming is irrelevant; it’s still our responsibility) are what’s CAUSING the heat, and since both are byproducts of our energy use, Bob Carver’s right. If we keep pursuing shale oil/gas, oil sands or any of the more expensive and energy-intensive fossil fuels, we might have enough energy to keep running without a decent ecosystem to do it in, so it’s a moot point. The vast numbers stated for such resources CANNOT be tapped without destroying our ecosystem, and while Nature WILL undoubtedly recover, if the damage is serious enough, we might not be here to see it.

            • pjc says:

              Shale gas and shale oil aren’t particularly energy intensive to frack – the EROI’s are ballpark 40:1 to 80:1, and improving.

              Yes, some people will think that these drilling operations will “destroy the ecosystem”, but they represent an impotent minority opinion. This process is accelerating nationally and globally, with just a few holdouts. Honestly, pro-fracking is one of the few planks that the Democrats and Republicans share…. perhaps the only one. I don’t see it slowing here, or in China, India, Poland, Romania, Argentina, etc.

              I’m not trying to argue whether or not it’s a good thing – I’m just saying it’s a sure thing.

            • gus says:

              Then we’re screwed, because that “impotent minority opinion” happens to reflect (and is often strongly influenced by) the way nature works. Nature doesn’t care what the mainstream view is; the laws of ecology are not democratic. With fossil fuels and technology, we can (and have) pushed the envelope of what’s possible within those laws far wider than almost anyone expected, but that has made our future pretty fragile in the long-term.
              That’s the problem — we tend to do things just because we can, or because we can’t imagine anything different, or because it’s immensely profitable, regardless of the long-term impact or the “collateral damage.” (In fracking’s case, aquifer pollution and quakes, for example.) Todays’ world NEEDS long-term thinking (decades and centuries) for the world as a whole, but our political and economic systems are designed to strongly favor very short-term gain (a few years at most, on the personal and national scale).
              If we want to have anything resembling a healthy ecosystem, we MUST to start making the case that it’s our responsibility to plan long term, that future generations and other species matter, and that we have to live within limits. I believe we have the intelligence and foresight to make such choices (we DID evolve such talents, after all), but I’m under no illusion they’ll be easy, in part because they run against the grain of our experience for so long. Our chances aren’t good, but doing nothing guarantees a bad outcome.

            • Justin Nigh says:

              Nature bats last.

            • pjc says:

              “Then we’re screwed, because that “impotent minority opinion” happens to reflect (and is often strongly influenced by) the way nature works. ”

              We shall see. I’m certainly not predicting CO2 levels to stabilize anytime soon, that’s for sure.

              But, to paraphrase my favorite movie “There will be gas”.

              Peak energy – not happening.

              (At lets not even get started with coal — there is tons and tons of coal left to burn. That’s my big bet right now – coal is going to rock the next 10 years, until international fracking get going).

            • With a big reduction in international trade, the existing system for getting coal out of the ground would get “gummed up” pretty quickly. There are many weak links. One is the banking system, which is needed for paying employees of coal mines. Another is the transports system for moving coal to utilities that burn it for electricity. This transport system depends on oil. An interruption in supply could be a problem. Another weak link is the financial failure of businesses important for electricity transmission. Another is buying replacement parts for coal-maining machinery from abroad, if there is a reduction in international trade. There are probably many others as well.

              There are a few areas where coal can be removed and transported without modern methods, but these are a fraction of the total. Ugo Bardi talked about how it was very difficult to transport coal, except when it happened to be located next to waterways, in the post The dark side of coal – some historical insights on energy and the economy.

            • pjc says:

              The efficient and economic transport of coal isn’t a theory, it’s a reality.

              The US has the best train freight system in the world. It has the best barge freight system in the world. (By best I mean “ton-miles of freight moved per capita”).

              This is because the US transports so much coal.

              The next wave here is putting coal on international freighters. This is now a booming business in the US.

              I understand that if everything shuts down, then coal transport will also shut down. But $120 bl isn’t going to shut down coal transport. Coal exports from the US have been growing during this recent run up in oil prices.

              At some point you have to stop predicting all the black swans that could happen, at look at the massive flock of white swans in front of your eyes.

              Coal is a huge and growing internationally traded commodity. It is a great product for globalization, precisely because it doesn’t “age”. You can take your time, and move it slowly on fully loaded trains, barges and ships.

              Again, I wouldn’t bet against coal on the 10 year horizon. But feel free to make your own bets.

  1. Jerry McManus says:

    Gail, excellent post! Thanks for all of your work.

    Regarding fig. 2 “World per Capita Energy Consumption”, the sharp rise in oil and nat. gas after WWII really jumped out at me. This is even clearer in fig 6 “Per Capita Consumption of Various Fuels”.

    In your list of possible reasons you touched on the interstate highway system, but I was wondering if there is a more explicit reason: the rise of automobiles and electric appliances. Seems like a good bet that there is a strong correlation there. Is that one of the charts that ended up on the “cutting room floor”?

    I’m reminded of the recent images of Earth from space at night with the large networks of brilliant electric lights tracing the roads and cities of the industrialized world. Even just a few decades ago those images would look very different.

    Another comparison I find very useful in the context of this discussion is the percent of work done by various energy sources. Prior to about 100 years ago it was mostly muscle power (both human and draft animal) and biofuel (wood), with a small percentage provided by minerals (fossil fuels) and solar (wind and water). In the decades since that ratio has reversed, with minerals providing the bulk of our power.

    Not hard to see the inflection point we currently face, where that ratio will reverse again and we return to a world of muscle, wind, and wood. How rapidly that unfolds, and how capable we are to adapt, remains to be seen.

    • I am sure the rise in use of automobiles contributed to the rise in use in oil. I am not sure about appliances–they tended to use electricity, and even back then, oil wasn’t the major fuel for electricity. Adding interstates certainly made auto use more convenient.

      I think that home heating with oil was more likely an issue than appliances. I know that heating with oil was very common, fairly early on, but I am not sure when it was adopted. People had heated with wood or coal, and changed to oil, because it was more convenient and not as dirty as coal. When prices rose in the 1970s, most of these oil furnaces were switched to natural gas or something else.

      • Jerry McManus says:

        Yes, you’re right, space heating and I would add cooking, in addition to automobiles, probably account for a large portion of the rise in consumption of natural gas and oil, respectively.

  2. gus says:

    Hi, Jerry,
    While you right that cars and appliances played some role, I was surprised Gail didn’t mention the obvious factor: the vast increase of oil use in industrialized agriculture. It goes into the machinery, the fertilizers, the pesticides, the transport fuels, the processing equipment, the packaging, etc. With that massive infusion of energy after WW2, the food supply EXPLODED on a global scale, despite having several local and regional famines/shortages. Population of ANY species will grow to meet whatever the available food supply is (that’s a basic law of ecology), and human food supply has been growing exponentially when seen from a worldwide perspective. The fact we even see population growth in regions plagued by periodic famine is evidence of this fact, made possible by our capacity to transport food from places thousands of miles away.
    That’s the big reason why your reversal to “muscle, wind and wood” is likely to be incredibly traumatic for human society — we cannot support 7 billion people on those energy sources. Just as with any other species maxing out its food supply (which, biologically speaking, is energy), ours will probably drop severely before stabilizing again at a new carrying capacity. What that new capacity is largely depends on how that drop actually happens and how long we delay making hard choices (for example, do we do it with widespread contraception, voluntary zero- and one-child families, and “death with dignity” practices, or do we fight WW3?) …

    • That is a good point about using more oil in agriculture and in food processing. There were related innovations as well–cake mixes became popular in the late 1940s, and there were many kinds of cereals.

      Once food was plentiful and cheap, it was easy to decide to have a big family–especially in the days before contraceptives.

      • pjc says:

        Most the things gary is worrying about here are made from natural gas, not oil.

        Certainly fertilizer is gas bound. I don’t think oil has ever played a big role in ammonia production.

    • Jerry McManus says:

      Hi gus,
      Do you have a link to data that supports your point about agriculture? I’m just curious what the actual numbers are. It’s difficult to find data that breaks out agriculture, the sectors are typically residential, industrial, commercial, etc.

      I did find this link:
      http://www.postcarbon.org/article/273686-beyond-food-miles
      In which agriculture is shown as about 15% of energy use in the US.

      I think you’re right that transport is probably the most immediate problem when it comes to feeding people, our just-in-time inventory systems only keeps about 3 days supply of food on the shelf of the local supermarket at any given time. If the trucks stop rolling for any reason whatsoever, even just for a few days, there will surely be panic buying and chaos in the streets.

      • Bob Carver says:

        This reminds me of what the government itself does. Under the city of Los Alamos is enough stored food to feed the city for an entire year. Back in the Sixties, I went down in the tunnels underneath Los Alamos and confirmed what I had only been told before. There were mountains of canisters with labels on them describing their contents. Every city should have a similar food depot in case of emergency.

  3. Brent Ragsdale says:

    Gail,
    Thank you very much for your thoughtful research and analysis. My first awareness of humanity’s predicament came from reading about Richard Duncan‘s Olduvai Theory. Several posts ago you presented world per capita energy uses (Duncan’s main metric) and I noted that it has gone up since the last update I’ve seen from Duncan. I suppose the peak in that number will only be apparent in hind sight, even for people who understand and are looking for it. Seeing your figure 2 breakdown today was very interesting. Guessing probably goes against an actuary’s nature but it I for one would like to see you extrapolate figure 2 out another 100 years.

  4. Richard Duncan covered per capita Oil consumption issues overa decade ago. Besides that, all these graphs have appeared 1000 times over on the pages of TOD and Peak Oil. Apparently, no matter how many times the material is republished, the vast majority of the population doesn’t care and its not in the interest of the Political Class to do anything to rock the boat that keeps them in power.

    Gail, you explicitly state here in the comments that you don’t explore the consequences of these problems in your articles because if you do, FT or Biz Week won’t republish.

    “I agree that oil was the primary reason behind the war. I felt that if various other sites were copying the post over, I shouldn’t be too adamant on the subject, since some may object.”-Gail

    Can’t be too Doomerish, gotta just pitch out the Graphs and sound Academic.and Numerically savvy. Sadly however, although Banksters, Economistas, Accountants and Actuaries got us INTO this mess, all the Graphs in the World will not get us OUT of it. Most of the world doesn’t even pay attention to Graphs anyhow, they don’t understand them. Another Tactic is obviously necessary here. You gotta grab the people by the Cojones and SQUEEZE, or they will never wake up.

    RE
    http://doomsteaddiner.org

    • THis article is getting thousands of “reads”, thanks in part to the Financial Times “alphaville”. This post is listed at this link. Perhaps I should have said more about war in Iraq, but since that was not the main point of my article, I didn’t see a point to beat on it. If the MSM has not already paved the way, I don’t need to “win every battle” at one time. It is easier to get people to read something that presents a smallish dose of reality, that they can accept at one time.

      I have seen a graph similar to Figure 1 elsewhere, but the other graphs are mostly new. You need to look at them a little more closely. I agree that graphs won’t get us out of this, but they do help explain to some who are new to this.

      • Lucinda Lunkins says:

        Nothing is going to get us out of this. To me, the very worst thing would be the government coming in and dictating “fairness” as they’ve botched the last 100 years or longer. We’ve never had any event like this in human history. Only the now dead and forgotten folks on Easter Island have experienced anything close to it.

        Call me a misanthrope, but I don’t see much hope for humanity, at least in the short run. I think the best we can hope for is getting as many WORTHWHILE people (sorry, but when I cruise around the Bay Area I see a lot of unworthy…and yes…I am judging them) to the next thing…which is likely and agrarian existence. I would not call myself or my husband “gun nuts” but we did just buy an AR15…because, like I said, there are a lot of terrible people out there that just needs an excuse like PO to unleash their true nastiness…and I for one don’t intend to be caught in their wrath without a fight.

      • Page Hits don’t translate to reads. Most people hit a page and scan, then move on. Even of the people who actually read an article, few read for comprehension.

        I still think you should be more hard hitting in your articles, more honest like you are here in the comments.

        RE

        • Some articles are more hard hitting than others. I have to make a decision on each individual post.

          One of the issues is that a lot of people simply cannot deal with all of these problems at once. I figure that readers who take the time to go to the comments can deal with more than casual readers.

  5. scott dulin says:

    Excellent work, Gail! It helps answer something that has been puzzling me for a long time- the consistent rise in US productivity in the post-2000 era.
    I was in the workforce in the ’90’s when IT was introduced in a mass way and could personally see productivity rise as computers were introduced. My understanding is that basically, in a mature economy, growth = productivity gains.
    But that would seem to be a one-off event. For example, after even the waitress at Dennys has a hand-held device, we can expect she may jump from 6 customers per hour to 10, but we can’t expect a better device to enable her to go to 15.
    Peak oil theory would seem to imply that falling EROEI would result in falling, not rising productivity, first in the energy sector, but eventually infecting the entire economy.
    So how those numbers have maintained their growth has been somewhat of a mystery. Of course, as we have offshored production and Asian energy use per capita continues to rise, we are reaping some benefit. From your figure 6, why can’t per capita use of coal continue its upward rise, do we have any good reason to anticipate an imminent downturn?
    If not, and this is a contributor to US productivity gains, perhaps the US economy still has some time left before growth stalls?

    • I am not as familiar with how these productivity numbers are calculated as I should be. I am under the impression that imports of goods made in Asia can distort the calculation, to make productivity look better than it really is, but haven’t seen the numbers.

      A big part of the economy today is services, and I don’t know how these are calculated either. The university where my husband teaches has added more and more administrators, relative to faculty. How does this improve productivity? I would think it would go downhill.

      When I was a child, I walked to piano lessons. When my daughter was in high school, I had to drive her several miles to a place that taught guitar lessons. Both lessons were half and hour. The piano lessons were in the piano teacher’s living room. The guitar lessons were in a building that is used only for lessons of various types, so the lesson costs had to include the cost of heating and maintaining the special building. There was a layer of administration plus teachers who worked as contractors. I am sure all of these people had to drive to the center to do their work as well. The cost of the guitar lessons was a lot higher than the piano lessons, but a lot of the cost went for things that had nothing to do with teaching piano or guitar.

      It seems to me what has happened is that of the fees going to a university, or going into teaching music lessons, a much smaller portion is now going to the person actually doing the teaching, and much more is going for energy costs and for all kinds of peripheral stuff. I don’t know if someone is calling this “productivity”. In my view, it is pretty much the opposite.

      • David F Collins says:

        When she was little, my stepdaughter would play Beethoven’s «Für Elise» on her upright piano; it took a few minutes to play the version in her music book. She now has a really nice baby grand piano (Schaff), but in spite of the huge increase in invested capital, it takes her every bit as long to play it, so there has been no productivity growth whatever, in spite of investment in capital and training.

  6. Freude Bud says:

    I think that perhaps you used primary energy in figure 1 and secondary energy in figure 2 … or how does biofuels use in figure 1 continue on upward trend in last few decades while it falls in figure 2?

    • Figure 1 and Figure 2 use exactly the same energy numbers. The difference is that in Figure 2, I am figuring out how much is available, per person. The number of people has gone up greatly, but the amount of biomass hasn’t because they aren’t making more acres of land (although more fertilizer and more irrigation does help). When I divide biomass, which is going up only a little, by the number of people, which is going up a lot, the numbers come out as they do in Figure 2.

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  9. Justin Nigh says:

    I needed some comedy relief today, thanks PJC!

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