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How Much Energy Do We Need?

Researchers have calculated minimum levels of energy use needed to live a decent life, but what about maximum levels?

azuri technologies

Image: Azuri Technologies

Because energy fuels both human development and environmental damage, policies that encourage energy demand reduction can run counter to policies for alleviating poverty, and the other way around. Achieving both objectives can only happen if energy use is spread more equally across societies.

However, while it’s widely acknowledged that part of the global population is living in ‘energy poverty’, there’s little attention given to the opposite condition, namely ‘energy excess’ or ‘energy decadence’. Researchers have calculated minimum levels of energy use needed to live a decent life, but what about maximum levels?

Energy Use Per Capita

Humanity needs to reduce its energy use radically if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, the exhaustion of non-renewable resources, and the destruction of the natural environment upon which our survival depends. 1 Targets for reductions in carbon emissions and energy use are usually framed in terms of national and international percentage reductions, but the energy use per head of the human population varies enormously between and within countries, no matter how it is calculated. 2

If we divide total primary energy use per country by population, we see that the average North American uses more than twice the energy of the average European (6,881 kgoe versus 3,207 kgoe, meaning kg of oil equivalent. Within Europe, the average Norwegian (5,818 kgoe) uses almost three times more energy than the average Greek (2,182 kgoe). The latter uses three to five times more energy than the average Angolan (545 kgoe), Cambodian (417 kgoe) or Nicaraguan (609 kgoe), who uses two to three times the energy of the average Bangladeshi (222 kgoe). 3

These figures include not only the energy used directly in households, but also energy used in transportation, manufacturing, power production and other sectors. Such a calculation makes more sense than looking at household energy consumption alone, because people consume much more energy outside their homes, for example through the products that they buy. 4

Average energy use per capita per year 2014 worldwide

Such a ‘production-based’ calculation is not perfect, because countries with high energy use per capita often import a lot of manufactured goods from countries with lower energy use per capita. The energy used in the production of these goods is attributed to the exporting countries – meaning that the energy use per capita in the most ‘developed’ countries is an underestimation.

Finding out about the distribution of energy use within countries requires data with higher spatial resolution. For example, an analysis of variations in household energy consumption (electricity + gas) and energy use in private transportation in the UK shows that the average energy use per capita can differ fivefold depending on the area. 2 Taking into account both differences between and within countries, as well as the outsourcing of manufacturing (a ‘consumption-based’ calculation), the highest energy users worldwide can contribute 1,000 times as much carbon emissions as the lowest energy users. 5

Inequality not only concerns the quantity of energy, but also its quality. People in industrialised countries have access to a reliable, clean and (seemingly) endless supply of electricity and gas. On the other hand, two in every five people worldwide (3 billion people) rely on wood, charcoal or animal waste to cook their food, and 1.5 billion of them don’t have electric lighting. 6 These fuels cause indoor air pollution, and can be time- and labour-intensive to obtain. If modern fuels are available in these countries, they’re often expensive and/or less reliable.

Beyond Energy Poverty: Energy Decadence

It’s now widely acknowledged that these 3 billion people in the developing world are living in ‘energy poverty’. 78 In 2011, the United Nations and the World Bank launched the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative, which aims to “ensure universal access to modern energy services” by 2030. Energy poverty has also gained attention in developed countries, where it is mainly focused on inadequate space heating. A 2015 study found that up to 54 million Europeans are not able to adequately heat their homes in winter. 9 The European Commission launched the Energy Poverty Observatory in 2017, which will conduct research and provide guidelines to national governments for setting up measures to address fuel poverty. 8

Bringing the rest of the world up to the living standards and energy use of rich countries is not compatible with the environmental problems we face.

However, while it’s recognised that part of the global population is using not enough energy, there is not the same discussion of people who are using too much energy. 2 10 11 Nevertheless, solving the tension between demand reduction and energy poverty can only happen if those who use ‘too much’ reduce their energy use. Bringing the rest of the world up to the living standards and energy use of rich countries – the implicit aim of ‘human development’ – would solve the problem of inequality, but it’s not compatible with the environmental problems we face.

The Panos Network

Image: The Panos Network

Based on the figures given above, if every human on Earth would use as much energy as the average Western European or North American, total world energy use and carbon emissions would be at least two to four times higher than they are today. This is an underestimation, because to achieve the same living standards developing countries first need to build an infrastructure – roads, electricity grids, etcetera – to make this possible, which also requires a lot of energy. 12

Consequently, whilst much work has been done around fuel poverty, there is a parallel debate to be had about ‘energy decadence’ or ‘energy excess’. 2 The quest for ‘energy sufficiency’ – a level of energy use that is both fair and sustainable – should involve not only ‘floors’ (enough for a necessary purpose) but also ‘ceilings’ (too much for safety and welfare, in the short or long term). 13 Otherwise, we would be mortgaging the health of future generations to realise development gains in the present. 14

Calculating Floors and Ceilings

How do we define energy decadence? How much is ‘too much’ energy use? To a large extent, we can build upon decades of research into energy poverty, which has measured the components of a minimum acceptable standard of living. 14 For example, the Millenium Project of the UN Development Program establishes a minimum level of 500 kgoe per person per year – an amount of energy that is almost four times below the world average. 15

Some researchers have addressed energy decadence in a similar way, calculating a maximum acceptable standard of living. For example, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology proposed the 2,000 watt society, which implies a worldwide energy use per capita of per 1,500 kgoe per year, while the Global Commons Institute’s Contraction and Convergence proposal limits energy use to 1,255 kgoe per person per year. 101316 These levels of energy use per capita correspond to a reduction of 20-35% below the world average today.

average energy use per capita per year including sufficiency scenarios

Because energy poverty research only investigates ‘floors’ and not ‘ceilings’ of energy use, minimum energy levels are calculated from the bottom-up. Researchers investigate how much energy is required to live a decent life, based on a set of goods and services that are considered essential.

On the other hand, maximum energy levels – above which energy use is considered to be excessive and unsustainable – are calculated from the top down. Researchers determine a ‘safe’ level of global energy use based on some indicator of the carrying capacity of the planet – such as a level of carbon emissions that is thought to keep global warming within certain limits – and divide it by the world population.

Between the upper boundary set by the carrying capacity of the planet, and a lower boundary set by decent levels of wellbeing for all lies a band of sustainable energy use, situated somewhere between energy poverty and energy decadence. 14 These boundaries not only imply that the rich lower their energy use, but also that the poor don’t increase their energy use too much. However, there is no guarantee that the maximum levels are in fact higher than the minimum levels.

Between the upper boundary set by the carrying capacity of the planet, and a lower boundary set by decent levels of wellbeing for all lies a band of sustainable energy use.

When a minimum level of energy use is calculated from the bottom-up, it remains to be seen if this level can be maintained without destroying the environment. On the other hand, if a maximum level of energy use per capita is calculated from the top down, it remains to be seen if this ‘safe’ level of energy use is sufficient to live a decent life. If the ‘floor’ is higher than the ‘ceiling’, the conclusion would be that sustainable wellbeing for all is simply impossible.

To make matters worse, defining minimum and maximum levels is fraught with difficulty. On the one hand, when calculating from the top down, there’s no agreement about the carrying capacity of the planet, whether it concerns a safe concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, the remaining fossil fuel reserves, the measurements of ecological damage, or the impact of renewable energy, advances in energy efficiency, and population growth. On the other hand, for those taking a bottom-up approach, defining what constitutes a ‘decent’ life is just as debatable.

Needs and Wants

The minimum and maximum levels of energy use mentioned above are meant to be universal: every world citizen is entitled to the same amount of energy. However, although distributing energy use equally across the global population may sound fair, in fact the opposite is true. The amount of energy that people ‘need’ is not only up to them. It also depends on the climate (people living in cold climates will require more energy for heating than those living in warm climates), the culture (the use of air conditioning in the US versus the siesta in Southern Europe), and the infrastructure (cities that lack public transport and cycling facilities force people into cars).

Differences in energy efficiency can also have a significant impact on the “need” for energy. For example, a traditional three-stone cooking fire is less energy efficient than a modern gas cooking stove, meaning that the use of the latter requires less energy to cook a similar meal. It’s not only the appliances that determine how much energy is needed, but also the infrastructure: if electricity production and transmission have relatively poor efficiency, people need more primary energy, even if they use the same amount of electricity at home.

off-grid-electric

Image: Off-Grid Electric

To account for all these differences, most researchers approach the diagnosis of energy poverty by focusing on ‘energy services’, not on a particular level of energy use. 17 People do not demand energy or fuel perse – what they need are the services that energy provides. For example, when it comes to lighting, people do not need a particular amount of energy but an adequate level of light depending on what they are doing.

An example of this service-based approach is NGO Practical Action’s Total Energy Access (TEA) indicator, which was launched in 2010. 1718 The TEA measures households in developing countries against prescribed minimum services standards for lighting, cooking and water heating, space heating, space and food cooling, and information and communication services. For example, the minimum level for lighting in households is 300 lumens, and Practical Action provides similar standards for other energy services, not only in households but also in work environments and community buildings.

Needs are universal, objective, non-substitutable, cross-generational, and satiable. Wants are subjective, evolving over time, individual, substitutable and insatiable.

Some energy poverty indicators go one step further still. They don’t specify energy services, but basic human needs or capabilities (depending on the theory). In these modes, basic needs or capabilities are considered to be universal, but the means to achieve them are considered geographically and culturally specific. 10 17 The focus of these needs-based indicators is on measuring the conditions of human well-being, rather than on specifying the requirements for achieving these outcomes. 19 Examples of human basic needs are clean water and nutrition, shelter, thermal comfort, a non-threatening environment, significant relationships, education and healthcare.

Basic needs are considered to be universal, objective, non-substitutable (for example, insufficient food intake cannot be solved by increasing dwelling space, or the other way around), cross-generational (the basic needs of future generations of humans will be the same as those of present generations), and satiable (the contribution of water, calories, or dwelling space to basic needs can be satiated). This means that thresholds can be conceived where serious harm is avoided. ‘Needs’ can be distinguished from ‘wants’, which are subjective, evolving over time, individual, substitutable and insatiable. Focusing on basic needs in this way makes it possible to distinguish between ‘necessities’ and ‘luxuries’, and to argue that human needs, present and future, trump present and future ‘wants’. 1417

Change over Time: Increasing Dependency on Energy

Focusing on energy services or basic needs can help to specify maximum levels of energy use. Instead of defining minimum energy service levels (such as 300 lumens of light per household), we could define maximum energy services levels (say 2,000 lumens of light per household). These energy service levels could then be combined to calculate maximum energy use levels per capita or household. However, these would be valid only in specific geographical and cultural contexts, such as countries, cities, or neighbourhoods – and not universally applicable. Likewise, we could define basic needs and then calculate the energy that is required to meet them in a specific context.

However, the focus on energy services or basic needs also reveals a fundamental problem. If the goods and services necessary for a decent life free from poverty are seen not as universally applicable, but as relative to the prevailing standards and customs of a particular society, it becomes clear that such standards evolve over time as technology and customary ways of life change. 11 Change over time, especially since the twentieth century, reveals an escalation in conventions and standards that result in increasing energy consumption. The ‘need satisfiers’ have become more and more energy-intensive, which has made meeting basic needs as problematic as fulfilling ‘wants’.

average energy use per capita historical

Energy poverty research in industrial countries shows that the minimum energy level required to meet basic needs is constantly on the rise. 112021 What is sufficient today is not necessarily sufficient tomorrow. For example, several consumer goods which did not exist in the 1980s, such as mobile phones, personal computers, and internet access, were seen as absolute necessities by 40-41% of the UK public in 2012. 20

These days in the industrial world, even the energy poor are living above the carrying capacity of the planet.

Other technologies that are now considered to be minimal requirements have gone through a similar evolution. For example, central heating and daily hot showers are only a few decades old, but these technologies are now considered to be an essential need by a majority of people in industrialised countries. 22

In fact, these days in the industrial world, even the energy poor are living above the carrying capacity of the planet. For example, if the entire UK population were to live according to the minimum energy budget that has been determined in workshops with members of the public, then (consumption-based) emissions per capita would only decrease from 11.8 to 7.3 tonnes per person, while the UN Development Program’s target to limit the increase in average world temperature is less than two tonnes of carbon per person per year. 14 In short, the ‘floor’ is three times higher than the ‘ceiling’.

Challenging Needs and Wants

“By equating what is ‘required’ with what is ‘normal’”, write UK energy poverty researchers, “we actively support escalating expectations of need, which runs counter to objectives like those of reducing energy demand… To achieve demand reduction entails challenging embedded norms rather than following them.” 11 In other words, we can only solve energy poverty and energy decadence if we manage to decouple human need satisfaction from energy intensive ‘need satisfiers’. 21

One way to do that is by increasing energy efficiency. In a 1985 paper called Basic needs and much more with one kilowatt per capita, researchers argue that the amount of energy needed to avoid energy poverty will decline thanks to continuing improvements in energy efficiency – from 750 kgoe per capita per year in 1985 to only 570 kgoe in 2030. 23

In reality, this is not what is happening, because efficiency gains are continually matched by more energy-intensive ways of life. However, if this trend could be halted or even reversed, advances in energy efficiency would allow us to live increasingly low energy lives. For example, to produce the 300 lumens that Practical Action considers the minimum level for lighting, a LED-light requires six times less electricity than an incandescent light bulb.

chinese family owns little

Image: Huang Qinjun

More importantly, basic needs can be met with different means, and the relative necessity of some energy services could and should be questioned. This approach can be labeled ‘sufficiency’. Energy services could be reduced (smaller TVs or lighter and slower cars, or less TV watching and car driving) or replaced by less energy-intensive ones (using a bicycle instead of a car, buying more fresh instead of frozen food, playing boardgames instead of watching television).

Substitution can also involve community services. In principle, public service delivery could bring economies of scale and thus reduce the energy involved in providing many household services: public transport, public bathing houses, community kitchens, laundrettes, libraries, internet cafés, public telephone boxes, and home delivery services are just some examples. 24 25

Combining sufficiency with efficiency measures, German researchers calculated that the typical electricity use of a two-person household could be lowered by 75%, without reverting to drastic lifestyle changes such as washing clothes by hand or generating power with excercise machines. 25 Although this only concerns a part of total energy demand, reducing electricity use in the household also leads to reductions in energy use for manufacturing and transportation.

If we assume that similar reductions are possible in other domains, then the German households considered here could do with roughly 800 kgoe per capita per year, four times below the average energy use per head in Europe. This suggests that a modern life is compatible with much lower energy demand, at least when we assume that a reduction of 75% in energy use would be enough to stay within the carrying capacity of the planet.

Kris De Decker

This article was originally written for The DEMAND Centre

Comments

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Bob Bollen

This is a very clear and helpful article. I wonder if you’ve seen the 2010 study “An Exploration into the Carbon Footprint of UK Households” which attempts to break down the average energy usage (or rather CO2 equivalent emissions) per capita by activity? see http://resolve.sustainablelifestyles.ac.uk/sites/default/files/RESOLVE_WP_02-10.pdf

Do you know of more recent studies?

An interesting and useful exercise would be to examine each of the big ticket uses, set reduction targets for each, brainstorm ways to hit the target, and then examine their feasibility and impact in detail.

We might then find new lifestyle/ technology balances emerging. These could potentially be very motivating, if for example, we could find a mix with less stress, less commuting, significantly shorter working hours, more physical work and less reliance on technology with high energy content. (Or am I a naive dreamer?)

I’m keen to be plugged into groups working in this area. Thanks for any help you can give.

Jack Santa Barbara

Excellent article. The idea of “energy excess” needs to be taken very seriously.

With respect to an energy ceiling - the work of Vaclav Smil is relevant. In “Energy at the Crossroads” he summaries some research showing that the relationship btw several empirical measures of well being (access to nutritious food, female mortality, educational level; infant survival) and per capita energy consumption are linear at low levels, but quickly asymptote - much like the relationship between subjective reports of happiness and income.

My recollection is that increases in energy use above about 70 to 110 gigajoules per person, there is little if any improvement in any of these indices across countries. North American levels were in the 300+ gigajoules per capita range - signifying huge amounts of waste in terms of well being.

As to whether the ceiling might be lower than the minimum level of energy available, I am reminded of the IPAT equation. The total Impact on the environment is a function of Population, Affluence (consumption) and Technology. If we cannot obtain gains from efficiency, then we have to either reduce our consumption, or population or both.

AI is promising significant increases in efficiency (see the notion of reverse computing among others). Even if such efficiency is realized, Jevon’s Paradox may occur - increased efficiency may lead to overall increased use. I think it is critical that this issue of energy excess, and indeed, consumption excess in general, gets more attention as the world plunges into a new era stimulated by innovation in AI - which appears inevitable whether we want it or not.

Nikolay Ivankov

@Jack Santa Barbara

Sometimes economy means economy. I am working as a data scientist, developing AI solutions for the industry. One of our recent project was to optimize the performance of a power plant. In other words, to get just as much energy for less fuel. And that’s what we did.

In a short run, fossil fuel consumption is decreased. In a long run, this may of course mean that, on a spared penny, one builds a new plant and in effect burns the same amount of fossils, producing the same amount of energy.

Nikolay Ivankov

More importantly, basic needs can be met with different means, and the relative necessity of some energy services could and should be questioned. This approach can be labeled ‘sufficiency’. Energy services could be reduced (smaller TVs or lighter and slower cars, or less TV watching and car driving) or replaced by less energy-intensive ones (using a bicycle instead of a car, buying more fresh instead of frozen food, playing boardgames instead of watching television). When reading this and the previous articles, I’ve had a feeling that this ‘sufficiency’ thing sounds too familiar. In fact, I was born and lived first years of my life in an economy that was designed to be ‘sufficient’ - the perestroyka-time USSR. And was lacking to fulfill the promise. If there is a word to describe the economics of USSR form the 60s on, the best word is ‘deficient’.

The word ‘deficit’ in the vocabulary of a soviet citizen used to mean ‘anything you can only take hold of if you are from X Yvich’. This X Yvich (Za Wyevna for a feminine version) was someone that had something to do with support. In fact, a night man in of a local grocery would do.

Did this mean that less food went rotten? Of course not, quite the opposite. There have been multiple reasons for that. Say, once a ‘deficit’ food arrived somewhere, the market workers have been ‘stashing it under the counter’ - and that’s why you basically had to have somebody working at the market to ‘get hold of it’ (here and in brackets are closest translations of the epoch’s set phrases). For instance, tangerines were ‘deficit’ - but you can’t stash them for a long time, especially when they come seasonally in the mid-winter and are stored at temperatures of about -10°C and below. Sometimes, when ‘deficit’ was at a brink of rotting, it was ‘thrown onto the counter’ - and actually, everything but perhaps the very basic food, like bread, milk and eggs - but not meat, cheese and butter - was periodically ‘thrown’ in 70s and 80s.

Speaking meat, it could be stored in the fridge. And it was - for in a ‘sufficient’ economy needs to have reserves for the case of emergency, and USSR this was always the case. Thus, much of meat went to the fridge and was kept there. For decades. Literally. And then, when it could not be kept there any more, it was ‘thrown’. Fresh meat was seldom - but it could have been there, if one simply brought it to the market directly!

That is the most astonishing thing - at least for those who always lived in the west. Actually, all the ‘deficit’ was mostly there. It was spectacular how the markets transformed just in few months after USSR’s collapse. At this time, it was money that most of us lacked. But before, there was money, but nothing on the counters.

My goal here is not to scorn the soviet economy, for its story is too complex to be told in comments. It is also not specific to soviet union. In S9 Ep54 of Modern Marvels “Garbage”, an archaeologist who used to teach students excavations on NY landfill has been telling that, in the layer attributed to the beef crisis, he and his students were expecting to find less remains of beef. Yet they found more. For each time people could have buy beef, they’ve been buying it excessively.

I am no economist, I don’t have numbers at hand. But my impression was that, though this article makes an honest attempt to show that the difference between haves and havenots is not just a scale, it still doesn’t grasp the whole complexity of the problem. It still - so my impression - bases on premise of the abundance economy - that you still can have what you need when you really need it. And if if not, then the people will still have some decent share, even if disproportional.

What I am arguing about here, that the line between sufficiency and insufficiency/deficiency is thin and blurring. And when - then the cost of inefficiency may be higher due to quite other an other side of human factor.

Bob Fearn

Does the amount of energy we use really matter if it is all solar energy? As you know the energy we need is already over 99% solar. Less than 1% to go. It is possible. If we can rush into a war that costs trillions and killed 60 million we can certainly power our societies with solar energy.

Jim Baerg

Bob Fearn has a point. There is wide variation in the amount of CO2 emitted for the amount of energy used. In the case of electricity see this website. https://www.electricitymap.org/ Note that the energy source doesn’t have to be solar to be low carbon. The OP noted factors that change how much energy is needed to do a task. See the table here for the difference HOW you move stuff makes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_efficiency_in_transport#US_Freight_transport See this for details on how to minimize energy used for transport. http://www.withouthotair.com/c20/page_118.shtml I recommend the entire Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air for anyone interested in Energy & Climate Change issues.

kris de decker

@ Jim Baerg & Bob Fearn

Does the amount of energy we use really matter if it is all solar energy?”

Yes, it does. All technologies that convert renewable energies into electricity require fossil fuels for their manufacture, transport, installation, maintenance, and replacement.

In the case of a clothesline, this only concerns a line. In the case of a solar panel or a wind turbine, however, it implies the use of sophisticated factories, fossil fuels and many other resources. This is even more so when you take into account the need for energy storage and transmission.

Of course you are correct to state that there is a variation in the amount of CO2 that different energy technologies emit. But I wouldn’t call it a “wide” variation, at least not when your comments apply to solar panels, wind turbines, and the like: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2017/09/how-to-run-modern-society-on-solar-and-wind-powe.html

Furthermore, renewable energy today is almost completely focused on electricity, which only comprises a small part of total energy demand. I agree that renewable energy should be encouraged, but it’s not the panacea that people are hoping for.

Mario Stoltz

Kris’ article - brilliant as always - uses the term “carrying capacity of the planet” a few times. I believe there is a difficulty in the definition of this term.

To some degree, it seems related to physical resources of the planet that humans consume faster than they are deposited. This limitation of exploitable resources is the problem that the Club of Rome first brought up in the 1970s.

The Earth / Nature does not care about this aspect. A number of events that do regularly occur - though on geological scales, not historical - are stronger than any changes we humans can produce, even assuming worst intentions.

So, when we say “carrying capacity of the planet” what we should rather think of is the sustained ability of the planet to continue carrying humans, and the environmental conditions that our species requires. Life will go on also without us.

The dilemma we face is that making the necessary changes requires thinking in historical dimensions - decades and centuries. Our political deciders are incentivized to make decisions and changes that show visible results within a single legislative period, or best case in the next (if they are very sure that they will be re-elected). Also our political deciders will have a spectacularly hard time selling anything to their voters that even smells like a reduction in lifestyle.

Most people, alienated from nature and brainwashed by media bombing them with ephemeral “news” will hardly bother about anything that comes after them. They may say they care about their children, but really as lip service, nothing more. Vox populi, vox bovi will dig future generations’ graves.

Dr Hugh Owens

Excellent article on a subject familiar and near and dear to me.

My single and tiny cavil is the use of energy units which among most authors is variable and inconsistent not to mention confusing. I plead for authors to stick with one unit. The Joule is that unit. It is small enough to be useful and multiples like kilo, mega, giga exa are easily added. JOULES PER UNIT TIME(power) IS THE WATT. Please no more KGOE or MTOE, or BTU or whatever. I have read that the average American uses 100 watts of power CONTINUOUSLY. Compare this the avg European which is about half. Another useful factoid is is Exajoule. One exajoule is the amount of energy consumed as FOOD energy by America.That is 10 to the eighteeneth. Doing the math of 100 watts/US citizen, 300 million of us use 100 exajoules/year or 100 times what we need to eat and survive(Source: Patzek, Tainter., et al).

Nope.avi

Does the amount of energy we use really matter if it is all solar energy? “

If you think we can replace the current amount of energy used by industrial civilization with solar energy, you need to stop reading science fiction. (Popular Science magazine articles that are more about wishful thinking than anything empirical).

Making enough solar panels to accomplish this task would require more steel, copper, and other commodities than are currently being used by the world. Where are the materials to build that many solar panels going to come from? Where is the energy to build this infrastructure going to come from?

It’s not going to come from renewables, it’s going to come from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the world can’t ramp up increased consumption of fossil fuels to do that—because there aren’t additional fossil fuels that can be burned. The low-quality unconventional sources of fossil fuels can’t really be used without extremely high prices—so they might as well not exist. Without the materials being available, financing is out of the question.

War, a zero-sum game, is actually much more cheaper than building out and maintain very expensive renewable energy infrastructure that provides very little energy because of intermittency.

Nope.avi

Can any of you point to anything that runs on solar power or wind 24/7?

Any examples of people in extremely cold places being kept warm by machines that run on wind power or solar panels only?

You guys seem like the folks who go around telling the people in your lives that Tesla Motor’s autopilot d feature on its cars is 100% autonomous.

It seems like you’re all privy to some secret scientific information that no one else is privy to. Is that the case?

SanMiguel

Kris, here you go from efficiency to sufficiency. This is a no-no. While efficiency, at least in part, is a term in the real world, sufficiency is not. Sufficiency is idealistic, unreal, but this idea can not leave the ivory tower:

Bad message 1: The vast majority of people (the voters, unfortunately) are unable to understand one single word here (“What’s that, bro?”, and worse). They want fun, luxury and leisure, and more of it every day. Our society depends on them/us, worse, we are the society! + Greed is our all natural driving force, it’s in our blood, from child to President.

Bad message 2: Those who understand and are leaders immediately realize the imminent danger of that idea for our society, because sufficiency implies no more growth - And that would be suicide, the end of the world, not only economically. Ceiling? Reduction? Really? - It’s a race, we can’t stop it without disaster!

No one has the guts to question never ending growth, even authoritarian leaders have to respect the ever growing demand of the plebs (good EU example: GDR) because of globalization (information).

Sufficiency may fill scientific pages but does not push growth / business.

If we like it or not: To keep growth AND to survive we need a purge in capita. Very soon!

How to decide how many are (and who is exactly) not entitled to western abundance and luxury? We only can hope that nature will decide before us (Katla, Yellowstone, …). Some will pay the price, but generally the future is bright, as always. … However, your site provides valuable facts (!) and extraordinary food for thoughts, I’m reading and reading … Thank you!

Kris Kaul

These are exactly the kinds of comparisons and numbers I have been seeking, both in the changes we are making as a household and as data to wield in arguing for community and larger scale energy and resource reduction. Thank you for all the work you’ve done in amassing the background research and presenting the numbers in ways that can be used immediately.

Paul Brendemuhl

Good article and necessary points for educating people. That I think is key. Then hopefully many will choose to reduce our use of energy. Anyone who has seriously considered alternative energies knows it is much easier and cost effective to reduce usage, than to attempt to build a system to produce what we are currently using.

But, interesting how this discussion always leads to limits, which is just a generic word for control, which the narcissists among us love. And of course, that also leads to limits or controls on population. Those among us that want to reduce the population should the first to volunteer.

References:


  1. Encouraging renewable energy sources alone cannot reduce carbon emissions, for two reasons. First, energy demand rises faster than the share of renewable energy, meaning that solar and wind power plants are not replacing fossil fuels, but accommodating part of a growing demand for energy. Secondly, renewable energy systems are highly dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, especially when we count on an infrastructure that aims to match supply to demand at all times. Energy efficiency is not getting us anywhere either, because advances in more efficient technology often result in new or more energy-intensive products and services, and because energy efficiency makes unsustainable practices non-negotiable. 

  2. Chatterton, Tim, et al. “Energy justice? A spatial analysis of variations in household direct energy consumption in the UK.” eceee, 2015. http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/28337/1/Chatterton%20Barnes%20Yeboah%20Anable%202015%20Energy%20Justice%20-%20ECEEE%20Conference%20Paper.pdf 

  3. Energy use (kilogram of oil equivalent per capita), 1960-2014. World Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.PCAP.KG.OE?locations=BD-GR-NL&year_low_desc=true 

  4. Consumption of energy, Eurostat, 2017. http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Consumption_of_energy 

  5. Piketty, Thomas. “Carbon and inequality: from Kyoto to Paris.” Trends in the Global Inequality of Carbon Emissions (1998-2013) and Prospects for An Equitable Adaptation Fund. Paris: Paris School of Economics (2015). http://www.ledevoir.com/documents/pdf/chancelpiketty2015.pdf 

  6. Poor people’s energy outlook 2010, Practical Action. https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/energy/poor-peoples-energy-outlook/poor-peoples-energy-outlook-2010. For later versions, see: https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/energy/poor-peoples-energy-outlook. 

  7. Sustainable Energy For All, United Nations & World Bank. http://www.se4all.org/ 

  8. Thomson, Harriet, Stefan Bouzarovski, and Carolyn Snell. “Rethinking the measurement of energy poverty in Europe: A critical analysis of indicators and data.” Indoor and Built Environment (2017): 1420326X17699260. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1420326X17699260 

  9. Team, Authoring, and Claire Baffert. “Energy poverty and vulnerable consumers in the energy sector across the EU: analysis of policies and measures.” Policy 2 (2015). https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/news/energy-poverty-may-affect-nearly-11-eu-population 

  10. Steinberger, Julia K., and J. Timmons Roberts. “From constraint to sufficiency: The decoupling of energy and carbon from human needs, 1975–2005.” Ecological Economics 70.2 (2010): 425-433. http://julias.promessage.com/Projects/Articles/EE_SteinbergerRoberts_2010_DecouplingEnergyCarbonHumanNeeds_v2.pdf 

  11. Walker, Gordon, Neil Simcock, and Rosie Day. “Necessary energy uses and a minimum standard of living in the United Kingdom: energy justice or escalating expectations?.” Energy Research & Social Science 18 (2016): 129-138. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629616300184 

  12. Lamb, William F., and Narasimha D. Rao. “Human development in a climate-constrained world: what the past says about the future.” Global Environmental Change 33 (2015): 14-22. http://decentlivingenergy.org/publications/Lamb-Rao-HDinClimConstrainedWorld.pdf 

  13. Darby, Sarah. “Enough is as good as a feast–sufficiency as policy.” Proceedings, European Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. La Colle sur Loup, 2007. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8e68/c68ace130104ef6fc0f736339ff34b253509.pdf 

  14. Gough, Ian. “Heat, Greed and Human Need.” Books (2017). http://www.e-elgar.com/shop/heat-greed-and-human-need 

  15. Energy for a sustainable future, Report and Recommendations, The Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change (AGECC), 28 April 2010, New York. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/AGECCsummaryreport[1].pdf 

  16. Bretschger, Lucas, Roger Ramer, and Florentine Schwark. 2000 Watt Society?.” https://www.mtec.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/mtec/cer-eth/resource-econ-dam/documents/people/lbretschger/Brochure_2kW.pdf 

  17. Day, Rosie, Gordon Walker, and Neil Simcock. “Conceptualising energy use and energy poverty using a capabilities framework.” Energy Policy 93 (2016): 255-264. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421516301227 

  18. Total Energy Access, Practical Action. https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/energy/total-energy-access 

  19. Rao, Narasimha D., and Jihoon Min. “Decent living standards: material prerequisites for human wellbeing.” Social Indicators Research (2017): 1-20. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11205-017-1650-0 

  20. Mack, Joanna, et al. “Attitudes to necessities in the PSE 2012 survey: are minimum standards becoming less generous?.” PSE-UK Working Paper Analysis Series 4 (2013). http://poverty.ac.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/PSE%20wp%20analysis%20No.%204%20-%20Attitudes%20to%20necessities%20in%20the%202012%20survey%20(Mack,%20Lansley,%20Nandy,%20Patazis)%20Oct_2013.pdf 

  21. Mattioli, Giulio. “Transport needs in a climate-constrained world. A novel framework to reconcile social and environmental sustainability in transport.” Energy Research & Social Science 18 (2016): 118-128. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629616300536 

  22. Hand, Martin, Elizabeth Shove, and Dale Southerton. “Explaining showering: A discussion of the material, conventional, and temporal dimensions of practice.” Sociological Research Online 10.2 (2005). http://www.socresonline.org.uk/10/2/hand.html 

  23. Goldemberg, Jose, et al. “Basic needs and much more with one kilowatt per capita.” Ambio (1985): 190-200. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4313148?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents 

  24. Thomas, Stefan, et al. Energy sufficiency policy: an evolution of energy efficiency policy or radically new approaches?. Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie, 2015. https://epub.wupperinst.org/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/5922/file/5922_Thomas.pdf 

  25. Brischke, Lars-Arvid, et al. Energy sufficiency in private households enabled by adequate appliances. Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie, 2015. https://epub.wupperinst.org/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/5932/file/5932_Brischke.pdf 

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