Where are we going?


In the previous post I showed some global maps with the countries’ size scaled according to their population, GDP and GHG emissions. GHG emissions scale very strongly with GDP, and as Tom Fuller noted

That is the dilemma. It is not the number of people, it is their developmental status and desire to live a modern life.

As a follow-up, look at these maps, where countries are scaled according to their GDP, with a sneek preview to what the future may have in stock:

These projections show world GDP growing over the course of the century, with the most pronounced growth in developing nations. The 2100 map resembles the area weighted “normal” map much more than the 1990 map does, signifying a more equitable distribution of global GDP. I regard that as more fair than the current distribution. (After all, why would some people have more right to the world’s riches than others?)

But if you take into account the strong relation between GDP and CO2 emissions (and other environmental impacts), the scale of the challenge becomes clear:

  • Either the emissions per GDP have to dramatically decrease by using less energy (reduced energy intensity of GDP) or by using sustainable energy (reduced carbon intensity of energy).
  • Or GDP can not grow in the way projected in these figures (at least not without creating huge problems with natural resources, climate and -as a consequence- geopolitics).
  • Or we let it run its course and let future generations deal with the consequences of our (in-)actions (as described just above).

To me these options are ordered in decreasing order of preference. Paraphrasing John Holdren in a different context: We’ll probably do all three; the question is what the mix is going to be.

The last option also underscores that “the problem is that it’s not our problem”.

Those who caused the problem are not the same as those who will carry the burden.

Figures from Naki Nakicenovic via a thought provoking presentation by Ken Caldeira.

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47 Responses to “Where are we going?”

  1. Jeff Id Says:

    Unless you’re planning a war in Africa, I don’t think they’re going to make it.

  2. Tom Fuller Says:

    Once again, this deserves a longer comment than I can make at present–and once again, I don’t agree with Jeff, as I’ll explain when I get to it.

    Bart, is this your chart? Could you do the same using bbtu’s as a metric?

  3. Tom Fuller Says:

    I mean bbtu per capita… It tells a different story, in some cases more alarming, in some cases less so.

  4. Bart Says:

    Hi Tom,

    No, I didn’t make these charts, but rather got them from a ppt by Ken Caldeira (link in the post), who got them from Naki Nakicenovic (who did a lot of scenario work).

  5. Tom Fuller Says:

    The world is growing to grow richer. A lot richer. This will certainly have an effect on energy usage.

    I need to use 2007 statistics as that’s the only complete dataset I have. It comes from the U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration. It shows the U.S. as consuming 337 billion btus’s per person in 2007. (It has since dropped to about 323 bbtu’s.)

    The U.S. does not lead in this category, although it’s way up there. Norway and Canada both use more energy per capita, almost certainly because of the ready availability of hydroelectricity. However, most of those ahead of the U.S. are islands that import fuel oil to power their electricity, such as Gibraltar and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Gibraltar uses 10 times as much energy per capita as New Zealand.

    Once you get past the first tier of countries, most fall within 100 and 250 bbtu’s per capita. Bringing up the rear are the very poor countries. Africa as a continent used 16 bbtu’s per person in 2007, astonishingly low. GDP and energy use are clearly correlated very strongly.

    Price Waterhouse Coopers has projected GDP growth to 2050 for major economies. For the U.S., they predict per capita growth in GDP from $40,339 in 2005 to $88,443 in 2050. Most of the very well developed countries show the same level of growth–a bit better than doubling.

    Let’s look at two emerging major economies.

    Turkey had per capita GDP of $4,369 in 2005. Wish it were the same year, but in 2007, their per capita energy usage was 57.5 bbtu’s.

    In 2050, their projected GDP per capita will be $35,861. That’s quite a bit better than doubling… Would anyone care to estimate what their per capita energy usage will be?

    Indonesia had per capita GDP of $1,249 in 2005. Their energy usage was 20.8 bbtu’s per capita in 2007. In 2050, their per capita GDP is projected to be $23,097, almost twenty times their 2005 level. Would you like to estimate how much energy they will consume?

    And of course there’s China. Their 2005 GDP per capita was $1,664 and their energy usage per capita was 58.8 bbtu’s. Their 2050 GDP per capita is projected to be $23,534. Again, how much energy will they use?

    Two points to ponder: First, that’s a lot of capitas in that grouping. These are not small countries. Second, it’s a bit of a circular argument. They will need large amounts of energy to actually achieve these numbers. They don’t get a toaster or a washing machine as a reward. They will need the energy to actually develop. Then they will use the energy to improve their lifestyles.

    Which is why I part company with the DOE and the UN when estimating energy requirements for the future. Instead of the roughly 700 quadrillion btu’s they think we’ll be producing in 2035, if you just maintain development, population and consumption trends to that time, you get the much scarier figure of roughly 2,000 quads in total energy requirements.

    We will have interesting times in front of us.

  6. Bart Says:


    That’s quite a difference between your back of the envelop calculation and DOE’s numbers. DO I understand it correctly that the difference comes from you extrapolating the same GDP-energy ratio to the projected future GDP growth, and the DOE apparently counting on a decreased energy intensity of GDP? If not, what causes the difference?

  7. sod Says:

    Hans Rosling has another really great presentation on the subject:


  8. Leonard Weinstein Says:

    You start off with the assumption that CO2 is a problem. You also make an assumption that it’s not fair for some countries to be more successful than others. If you make wrong assumptions you can come to any conclusion you want, but that is not necessarily meaningful. The best evidence seems to support the fact that CO2 is not a major problem. In addition, limited amounts of oil and other fossil fuel reserves will require that alternate energy methods be developed. At the present, only nuclear is a practical choice, but new developments may change that in the future. This means that if nothing is done to deliberately cut CO2 production, it still will be reduced in the future anyway. Also the example of China demonstrates that it is the economic model, not political structure, or fairness, that determines a countries economic success. China is politically Communist, but has accepted a market driven economy (which is actually a basic contradiction, but they make it work). The actions of the US and other successful economies are not due to their taking anything from others, but due to incompetent governments in those countries.

  9. Tom Fuller Says:

    Hi all,

    Bart, I haven’t spoken with the DOE about this. I am assuming that they follow the standard practice of calculating CAGR percentage and estimating increases in supply using a model. I don’t think they look at demand. The reason I believe this is because of their fairly dramatic adjustment of energy consumption for 2010, which they lowered from 508 quads to 500 based on what happened in 2009. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe they look too closely at demand trends.

    And I should clarify, as quads are very large figures, that the DOE estimate for 2035 is 685 quads, while the UN’s figure is 703. I just talk about 700 as sort of a convenient resting point in conversation.

    This year China will use roughly 100 quads, pretty much the same as the US. (We should all leave plenty of wiggle room in estimates of energy usage and remember that these figures do not come from reading a national meter somewhere, or even adding up the results from a lot of meters everywhere.) Their population is stabilizing over the course of the first half of this century, so we can actually look at demand as a result of development fairly easily.

    If they make the same supply and consumption choices over the next 25 years, and PWC’s GDP estimates are fairly close to the mark, China alone will consume more energy than the DOE and UN estimate by quite a considerable margin.

    China doubled their energy consumption over the past 10 years. The conventional way of estimating future use gives another doubling over the next 20 years, which would put them at a bit over 200 quads at 2035.

    But looking at it through the other end of the telescope, questions arise. Why would people think China’s rate of energy increase would slow down? That doesn’t accord with what the same people believe about their economic growth, either at the national or individual level. Nor does it match China’s planned expansion of their energy infrastructure–they’re building as if growth will continue at current rates at least. They are spending their money and committing resources in a manner that suggests that they think their energy needs will double by 2020, not 2035.

    Look at it another way. The developed world of about 1.2 billion now consumes about 250 quads per year, about half the total. China will have about the same number of people in 2035, living at a level of energy consumption that is more dynamic than that found in the developed world today.

    If you were to assume (and I’m not) that there is a straight line correlation between GDP per capita and energy consumption per capita, you could make the case that China may consume more energy than the current world does today. I think the calculations need to be a bit more involved.

    But I think you get a very different total if you look at demand than you do if you focus on supply. I hesitate to write this, but China alone could require something on the order of 500 quads–the total used today worldwide–by 2035 or shortly thereafter.

    And 70% of their supply is coal.

  10. Tom Fuller Says:

    There’s another way to get an estimate of China’s energy requirements. The PWC study referred to above estimated their GDP per capita at $23,534 for 2050. Spain has about that level of GDP per capita today.

    Spain currently uses 164 bbtu’s per capita per year. China currently uses 59 bbtu’s. So it is not absurd to estimate that China in 2050 will be using 164 bbtu’s x 1.2 billion people in 2050. But you really won’t like the results–1,968 quads from China alone in 2050. So estimating 1,000 quads from China for 2035 is not absurd.

    And I’ll repeat the scariest corollary to that. If energy planners worldwide are using the same methodology as the DOE and UN to create their statistics, there is no chance of getting the right mix of energy efficient or renewable sources in place in time to meet demand. Which means more coal.

  11. Tom Fuller Says:

    Hiya Bart,

    I think I suffered a Sunday morning math attack above and overinflated China’s total energy consumption for 2050. Just a bit, though… I think we should anticipate 196.8 quads from China, as opposed to 1,968…

    But that’s if they develop like Spain. If they use energy like America, it’s about 400 quads…

    But nowhere near like 2,000–sorry about that, folks.

  12. Tom Fuller Says:

    Arrgh. Somebody help me. 164 billion btu’s per person per year times 1.2 billion people equals how many quadrillion btu’s? Gotta get a calculator I can read…

  13. Marco Says:

    Tom, easy simplification: 200*10^9 * 1*10^9 = 2*10^20
    (1.64*1.2 is pretty close to 2).

    Which tells me you made a mistake somewhere, as that would be 200,000 quadrillion…

    I think the per capita energy use of Spain is closer to 164 million btu’s (which would also be closer to my source that notes 6.5 quadrillion btu for Spain, with a population of 40 million makes less than a billion btu per capita).

  14. sod Says:

    I need to use 2007 statistics as that’s the only complete dataset I have. It comes from the U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration. It shows the U.S. as consuming 337 billion btus’s per person in 2007. (It has since dropped to about 323 bbtu’s.)

    jepp. all the calculations that fuller claims to have made, are complete garbage. americans don t use billions, but only millions of btu per year.

    9 billion people * 300 million btu (US per capita use) gives 2700 quadrillion btu (15 additional zeros)

    Tom Fuller transported the growth of population from 2050 to 2035 and then multiplied it with something very close to the US use per capita, to get his plain out stupid estimate.

  15. Tom Fuller Says:

    Sod, go away unless you’re willing to read the whole thing. Americans do use 323 million, not billion btu’s per person per year. And Spain’s is 164 million btu’s not billion. Thank you both for the correction.

    I haven’t been at my home computer today so I don’t have my normal tools at hand, and my nephew’s handheld calculator doesn’t show the right number of zeros.

    Sod’s number for quads is in fact close to the straightline projection I have made elsewhere for 9.1 billion people using American levels of energy consumption (323 million btu’s per person). I came up with 3,000 quads by 2075. When I get back home I’ll redo the numbers.

    At any rate, 1.2 billion Chinese using energy at Spain’s level of consumption (in 2007) gets us to about 200 quads, or twice the total of what Americans used this year (100 quads).

    Sorry I inflicted my Sunday morning confusion on you all.

  16. Scott Mandia Says:

    I suggest reading Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded if you wish to learn more about this topic.

  17. Tom Fuller Says:

    I’d rather have his house.

  18. sod Says:

    I haven’t been at my home computer today so I don’t have my normal tools at hand, and my nephew’s handheld calculator doesn’t show the right number of zeros.

    a pathetic excuse, if i ever read one. the google calculator does it just fine.

    again, watch the Hans Rosling calculation. to get the numbers calculated by Fuller, the 4 billion poorest “boxes” have to move into the plane category by 2035, 15 years before the projection by Rosling moves them into the bike/car region.

  19. Länkar 2010-08-30 Says:

    […] Apropå diskussionen om överbefolkning och familjepolitik som jag kommenterade i lördags (http://emretsson.net/2010/08/28/inte-barnafodande-men-barn/) tar Klotet ett rejält grepp på frågan. Intressant. Kolla också in Barts diskussion om kopplingen till bnp och utvecklingsnivå (https://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/where-are-we-going/) […]

  20. dhogaza Says:

    the google calculator does it just fine.

    So does pencil and paper, and Fuller’s old enough to remember what they look like, and how they’re used.

  21. Scott Mandia Says:


    That was a good one. You made me chuckle. :)

    Having said that, “The pen is mightier than the house.”

    (Do I need to elaborate?)

  22. Tom Fuller Says:

    Glad I could make someone smile. Especially since you and I have gotten off on the wrong foot on several occasions.

    I’m actually going to contact DOE and ask for an interview regarding this. Does anyone have other questions they would like to have posed to them?

    My current questions are regarding how they build their model for future projections of energy demand and consumption and their level of confidence in those models.

  23. Hans Says:

    Hi Bart,

    Ken Caldeira’s presentation (dated 2007) has been overtaken by reality. The presentation dates from the pre-peakoil-era and can be considered obsolete.
    A lot has changed since July 2008 and GDP has concracted instead of grown. Limits to growth are real, Ken Caldeira’s extrapolations are erroneous.

    Better catch up with reality, before reality catches up with you.

  24. Eli Rabett Says:

    Spain’s energy use per person is about half of the US (not getting into the million billion business, but billion, depending on where you are is either 10^12 or 10^9 which may account for some of this)

    US energy use in 2009 was 95 quads (10^15 btus)

  25. harry Says:

    @Eli Rabett

    And Spain is broke due to its energy schemes. It was based on a massive fraud, with solar companies supplying solar energy after sunset with large diesel generators fuelled with green olive oil.

    The biggest scam after the CO2 induced global warming.

  26. Eli Rabett Says:

    UK 161 MBTU/person
    Spain 161 MBTU/person
    Gernany177 MBTU/person
    France 180 MBTU/person
    Italy 139 MBTU/person
    US 330 MBTU/person

    Right harry, we’ve heard your nonsense before. The story is the same for the largest countries in Europe, about half US energy use.BTW, the Netherlands is at 250. Wanna tell us why??

  27. Tom Fuller Says:

    One reason is the US uses a lot of their energy for air conditioning. Europe’s A/C is an asterisk.

    More conventionally, American drivers clock about twice as many miles on their cars as Europeans.

    Europeans are also better at insulating homes.

    I’m sure there are other reasons as well.

  28. Bart Says:

    Other reasons I can think of for the large difference in per capita energy use between the US (and Canada) and the EU:

    – North American cities are built for cars; European cities are built for walking (and adapted to cycling in some cases). This is a logical result of when they were being built. It is apparent already from the airplane. I remember when first landing in Toronto: Blocks of equidistant roads, as if I landed in a science fiction movie.

    – In North America more energy is waisted. Eg as Tom said in private homes, but also citywide. In summer it’s freaking cold in the Toronto subway and buses (you need a coat with you even though it’s 35 deg C outisde), and in winter it’s boiling hot (you don’t know how fast you need to take your down parka off and even then you’re still sweating). Same idea in office buildings.

  29. Beaker Says:

    @ Harry:
    “And Spain is broke due to its energy schemes.”
    Eli was talking about energy usage, not supply.

    And saying that Spain is broke due to it’s energy schemes is quite an overstatement. There’s a lot of things wrong with Spain’s economy that cause it to fail. Pointing to one and going “That caused it!” is stupid.

  30. Eli Rabett Says:

    Eli explains it all:

    Energy is more expensive in Europe.

    If you want a bit more, because the cost more accurately reflects externalities through taxation.

    The reason energy use pc is high in the Netherlands is because North Sea gas is provided cheaply to agricultural interests among other things (those tomatoes don’t grow in the sun bubby)


  31. Eli Rabett Says:

    And oh yes, from bitter cold experience, in most of Europe insulation is a joke. Ms. Rabett spent a winter parked on the storage heater in England. She was not pleased.

  32. cassandraclub Says:

    @Eli Rabett: what will the the Dutch use for warming their greenhouses and their wifes 15 yrs from now… when the Slochteren Gas-field is running empty ?

  33. harry Says:


    I presume you have heard enough of my nonsense? Who do you think you are to call what I mention is nonsense? Have you looked into the mirror recently?

    You can prepare yourself to hear a lot more of my nonsense.

  34. harry Says:


    Insulation in the Netherlands is fixed by law. I am not up with current regulations, but 10 years ago you could not get a building permit unless the entire house would have a heat loss resistance of at least 2.5 m^2K/W. By now it is probably 3. Which means that you do not have to waste a lot of energy on heating. My house exceeds this standard by far. I am greener than you are!

  35. harry Says:


    Ok, Spain did not get broke yet on their support for alternative energy. But they were close, and are even getting closer with the decreasing yields of solar and wind (Due to the switching off of the diesels).

    It is a scam, you want to pay for it?

    I do not, I have taken my precautions.

  36. harry Says:


    As for the greenhouses, do not worry. I think the Dutch greenhouse branche is much more doing for energy innovation than all shovel ready projects of our president together. They have all sorts of energy (both hot and cold) storage in aquifers, geothermal with very low temperature systems using low boiling point intermediates, solar, reflecting, PV, whatever.

    We will grow bell peppers even when the ice bears are dancing outside of our greenhouses.

  37. Marco Says:

    Harry, Spain went broke due to its real estate bubble, which happened to collide with a massive price hike of fossil fuels (which was the most important factor in inflation at the time). People also forget that Spain went from bottom feeder in the EU to rapidly approaching Germany in terms of GDP per capita, within ten years.

    Note that the Spanish regions are quite autonomous in many aspects, including energy supply, and that there is large difference in ‘alternative energy’ use in the various regions. There is, however, no correlation between this ‘alternative energy’ use for a region and its economical status. Some regions get well over 60% of their energy from renewable sources, others less than 5%.

  38. Beaker Says:

    @Harry: “Ok, Spain did not get broke yet on their support for alternative energy. But they were close, and are even getting closer with the decreasing yields of solar and wind (Due to the switching off of the diesels).”
    What Marco said. What do you think to gain by spouting overhyped rubbish like you do here?

    “It is a scam, you want to pay for it?”
    For the Spanish energy schemes? What do you even mean here?

    “I do not, I have taken my precautions.”
    Against paying for the Spanish energy schemes? You’re not making any sense.

  39. harry Says:


    What is overhyped rubbish in what I mentioned? There was a big fraud in Spain with “renewable” (choke) energy. They paid too much for their electricity due to the massive feed-in of “renewable”(choke) electricity. The “green jobs”(choke) costed more in subsidies to create than the wages over 10 years. You like to call this overhyped rubbish? I agree.

    It was all paid with funding from the EC, to which I (and you also) contribute. So I am paying for the electricity in Spain (And Germany, with its PV hysteria). I call that a scam. What would you suggest?

    My precautions are the following: I try to go grid independant, so the energy taxes, which are used to pay this “renewable”(choke) madness, will go without my contribution. That is where my diesel generator comes in.

  40. Eli Rabett Says:

    Doubt it Harry, living in the middle of a row of townhouses provides a lot of insulation

  41. Beaker Says:

    “What is overhyped rubbish in what I mentioned?”
    The overhyped rubbish is your assertion that went broke due to it’s energy scheme. Why make such statements?
    “There was a big fraud in Spain with “renewable” (choke) energy. They paid too much for their electricity due to the massive feed-in of “renewable”(choke) electricity. “The “green jobs”(choke) costed more in subsidies to create than the wages over 10 years. You like to call this overhyped rubbish? I agree.

    It was all paid with funding from the EC, to which I (and you also) contribute. So I am paying for the electricity in Spain (And Germany, with its PV hysteria). I call that a scam. What would you suggest?”
    Call it what you like. Fact is that Spain energy usage (which was the point of the discussion in the first place) would not be affected by this, given that these things were government subsidized (so the public using the energy would not have a higher electricity bill because of this) and that Spain’s financial problems now have very little to do with its energy scheme.

    Here lies the rub. You may be completely correct in your assertion that Spain’s energy plan is a failure. The problem is that you make this assertion in the midst of so many basic errors, that I have trouble taking you seriously on that assertion. Of course, it is your prerogative not to care about that.

    “My precautions are the following: I try to go grid independant, so the energy taxes, which are used to pay this “renewable”(choke) madness, will go without my contribution. That is where my diesel generator comes in.”
    Because you don’t pay taxes on diesel, right? Whichever way you turn it, you pay taxes in the Netherlands and part of those taxes goes into the funding of European projects. Do you seriously believe that by not paying taxes for electricity, you won’t be contributing to European energy plans that you may not agree with?

  42. harry Says:


    Do the maths. You are talking nonsense. Sorry.

  43. harry Says:


    I am growing my own rapeseed, pressing it for oil and feeding it into my Diesel. No tax, except for land use. I think I can even get (EC, Dutch) subsidies for the growing of the rapeseed for biodiesel.

    One hectare of rapeseed will provide me with 6000 liters of oil.

    And as for taxes, I am optimizing the yield of the various subsidies available. There are many, as you probably are aware of. You only have to find them and read the small print.

  44. harry Says:


    And I forgot: please show where my so many basic errors are. You do not have to take me serious. At least not more than you take yourself serious.

    I do not pretend to have the last word on energy conservation. What I am doing is trying to avoid excessive costs inflicted on my family due to ever changing CO2 induced nonsense in the ruling and rules. But I do not give a damn on the CO2 content of the atmosphere, since I think the science on this topic is completely bunk, garbage, whatever you would not like to call it.

    Being an engineer, I can think of many solutions, and have tried many. 20 years ago, I designed a wood fired floor heating system, which I build and operated for more than 10 years. It cut our natural gas consumption so drastically, that I had three inspections from the gas company to ascertain that I was not tapping illegally or had been tampering with the meter.

    And there is lots more.

  45. Beaker Says:

    @ Harry: “And I forgot: please show where my so many basic errors are.”
    I already did in my post.

    “And there is lots more.”

  46. harry Says:


    Thanks for your congrats, I needed them. But please try to react to some of my statements. I give you a lot of information to think about, please do so and comment on them. They were meant to initiate new thinking, not to confirm your opinion.

  47. Mike Lorrey Says:

    the fallacy of your thinking here is that the emissions production numbers are calculated based on GDP, and not actual emissions, so of course the countries are going to increase in size with GDP on your projection. There are a number of studies showing that emissions per dollar GDP peaks at around $10,000 per capita and drops thereafter as wealthier middle classes demand higher quality of life.

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