Global Energy Challenge

First, let me start off by saying Happy New Year to all the Greenbacker’s out there.  I apologize for the wait in between posts but it has been a crazy couple of weeks.  Anyway, a few months back BP published their annual BP Review of World Energy 2012.  Below are some key charts created by Jeff Tollefson & Richard Monastersky and published in Nature.com.

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This chart shows the largest energy users as well as the relative breakdown of their energy supply.  Two spikes are clearly noticeable – the US and China.  Notice that the US is reliant on coal, oil, and natural gas for a majority of its energy needs while China is heavily dependent on coal, with oil coming in second.  The recent boom (no pun intended) of natural gas supply in the US has not only dropped the price of natural gas domestically, but also explains the price decrease of coal.  Economics proves if the price of x falls, the price of a substitute of x will also fall in order to keep demand steady.  In effect, the benefits of cleaner burning natural gas are offset by increased use of coal in other countries.

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The above graph simply illustrates world energy use in million tons of oil equivalent.  The final scenario shows what energy consumption would look like if we were to keep the 450ppm limit on carbon emissions.

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This last graph shows several interesting figures – the most interesting in my opinion is that China alone accounts for 49% of global coal consumption.  However, China’s rise these past three decades has been simply amazing.  Already there are more than 170 cities in China with populations over a million.  Fueling this rapid expansion will require significant increases in coal, oil, natural gas, and renewable energy.  By leveraging the power of new technologies and global markets, renewable energy can compete with fossil fuels.  Lets hope that renewable energy plays an even greater role in mankind’s future than current trends predict.

How Much is Climate Change Costing Us?

“One degree Celsius rise in temperature is associated with 10% productivity loss in farming. For us, it means losing about four million metric tonnes of food grain, amounting to about US$ 2.5 billion. That is about 2% of our GDP. Adding up the damages to property and other losses, we are faced with a total loss of about 3-4% of GDP. Without these losses, we could have easily secured much higher growth.”

   -Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh

Most people think the biggest costs associated with climate change are in trying to avoid it by reducing carbon emissions.  However, a new study (Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2nd Ed) by DARA concludes that climate change is already costing us $1.2 trillion in foregone prosperity.  Yes, that is trillion with a T.  This is roughly 1.6% of global GDP.  By 2030 the effects of climate change could amount to 3.2% of global GDP with most of the pain being felt by developing nations.  Here are some more stats:

• Climate change and a carbon-intensive economy considered a leading global cause of death today, responsible for 5 million deaths each year – 400,000 due to hunger and communicable diseases aggravated by climate change and 4.5 million carbon economy deaths due mainly to air pollution

• Losses for lower-income countries are already extreme: 11% of GDP on average for Least Developed Countries already by 2030

• Major economies are heavily hit: in less than 20 years China will incur the greatest share of all losses at over 1.2 trillion dollars; the US economy will be held back by more 2% of GDP; India, over 5% of its GDP

However, the future doesn’t have to be so doom and gloom.  The report concludes that much of these costs can be avoided by emissions reduction investments of just 0.5% of GDP and $150 billion per year in support to mitigate the effects in the countries most vulnerable.

World Wide Electricty Use

Have you ever seen a picture of the world at night? Take a look at the picture below and then try to comprehend the numbers – USA has a population of 300 million, North America and South America combined have about 800 million inhabitants.  Now look across the Atlantic and take a look at Africa – you don’t see many lights for the more than 1 billion people living on the continent.  Then take a look at Asia, which sports a population of 4 billion.  Now if all these areas had the same electricity usage of the USA, think about much energy we would need.  Think about the air quality in the cities, the reduced cropland from the pollution, the destruction caused by mining and drilling, the traffic on the highways, etc.  That is why we need cleaner sources of energy.  Energy production runs hand in hand with economic development and will bring billions of people out of poverty.  Further innovations in renewable technologies combined with a scale-up in production can drop the cost of clean energy and light up this map without the negative externalities associated with fossil fuel.  Now that is something to think about! 

I would just like to say a quick thank you to Professor John Zindar for teaching a great class on carbon constrained economies and to Chip, Dipa, Iana, Pedro, Terence, and Thiago for making each class fun and interesting.  I learned a lot from each of you and wish you the best in all that you do. The Earth at Night

In His Own Words . . .

Near the polar cap, waterways are opening that we could not have imagined a few years ago, rewriting the geopolitical map of the world.  Rising sea levels could lead to mass migrations similar to what we have seen in Pakistan’s recent flooding.  Climate shifts could drastically reduce the arable land [available that is] needed to feed a burgeoning population as we have seen in parts of Africa.  As glaciers melt and shrink at a faster rate, crucial water supplies may diminish further in parts of Asia.  This impending scarcity of resources compounded by an influx of refugees if coastal lands disappear not only could produce a humanitarian crisis, but also could generate conditions that could lead to failed states and make populations more vulnerable to radicalization.  These troubling challenges highlight the systemic implications – and multiple-order effects – inherent in energy security and climate change.

Admiral Mike Mullen
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Forces Quarterly, January 2011

7 Billion

It is official, or almost official, but sometime around Monday, October 31st, 2011, the world population will reach 7 billion inhabitants!  While I don’t agree with some of the experts interviewed in the MSNBC article, others make very good points.  The main point here is that if we want to continue living the standards that we have now, we need to focus on being more sustainable.  This includes reducing our carbon emissions, developing a comprehensive energy plan, and striving to conserve our natural resources.  Technology, innovation, and improved education can all help to put us on a sustainable path, so lets start using them.  The alternative is not pretty, see my first post here.