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Friday, 26 February 2016

Energy 2050 Apocalypse - The Road to Exhaustion (Part 7)

Energy 2050 Apocalypse

World Energy to 2050
  Forty Years of Decline
Effects and Conclusion
Part 7

The Effect of Energy Decline on the World's Population

World Population Estimate

In order to assess the impact of declining energy supplies on the world's future population, we first need to establish what that population will be.

In the past I have argued that a drastic reduction in the world's population was likely over the course of the coming century.  That expectation was based on my estimate of the impact of energy shortages, fresh water depletion, soil fertility depletion, the decimation of oceanic fish stocks, pollution, biodiversity loss, climate change and economic disruption.  It is very hard to make that case, however - not because the problems I list aren't apparent, but because the causal links to human population decline are very difficult to establish conclusively.

Accordingly, for this analysis I have adopted the generally accepted population projection published by the United Nations: a decreasing rate of growth to a population of about 9 billion in 2050. This projection is known as the Medium Fertility Case.  As you can see from the graph in Figure 15 it matches perfectly with the projected trend of actual population growth over the last 20 years.

Figure 15: Actual and projected World Population Growth, 1985  to 2050

The Effect on Average Per Capita Energy

One of the interesting, though very high-level, ways to measure of global wealth is to calculate the average energy available to each person on earth.  While the resulting per capita average doesn't reflect the disparity between rich and poor individuals or nations or let us know what sorts of things people might do with their energy endowments, it can give us a general feeling for how "energy-wealthy" the average global citizen is, especially compared to other times.
Fortunately, the energy analysis we have just completed gives us the tool we need to establish this measure.  By simply dividing the total energy available in each year by that year's population we can construct the graph shown in Figure 16.

Figure 16: Global Average Per Capita Energy Consumption, 1965 to 2050

As you can see, the rising population and falling energy supply combine to produce a falling per capita energy curve.  In fact, if these models of energy and population are correct, we can expect to see a drop of almost 50%  in average per capita energy by 2050, from 1.7 toe/person to 0.9 toe/person.  Each person alive in 2050 will have available, on average, only half the energy they would have today.

The Effect on Countries

Unfortunately the world is not a uniform place, and measures like "average per capita energy" don't really tell us much about how the world might look in 2050.  To gain a bit more insight it is helpful to think of the world as being composed of rich and poor nations, where their wealth is characterized by their total energy consumption and whose population growth is expressed in their Total Fertility Rate.

An interesting insight appears when you sort the world's nations by their per capita energy consumption.  The nations and regions at the bottom of the consumption scale (Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Peru, Indonesia and much of Southeast Asia) all have very high fertility rates, well over the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.  In fact, when normalized for population size, the average TFR of the poor nations is 3.0.  In contrast, the group containing all the other nations is well below the replacement fertility rate at around 1.8.

The implication is that poor nations are going to face double jeopardy.  Their populations will increase even as their already low energy consumption drops further.  In addition, as per capita energy consumption drops world-wide, some nations that are not currently considered "energy-poor" will be impoverished enough to join the group at the bottom, thereby swelling its ranks even further.

The Growing Divide Between Rich and Poor

In order to get some idea of the magnitude of this effect, I have associated each of the 63 countries or regional groupings in this analysis with their current population, total current energy consumption and their population in 2050.  I have arbitrarily decided that a per capita consumption of 0.75 toe/yr is the dividing line between between poverty and wealth.  0.75 toe/yr is a bit less than half the present world average, and only one tenth of the energy consumed by an average American.

The countries and regions that currently fall below that poverty line include Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan, India, Peru, Indonesia, Ecuador, Colombia, Egypt, much of Africa, many Asian Pacific nations and some Eurasian countries.  Altogether they have a  population of about 3 billion people.  The rest of the world's nations, from Algeria to Kuwait, are in the rich half of 3.5 billion people.

In order to assess the effect of declining average per capita income, I decided to spread the pain evenly.  The assumption is that most countries will see a similar drop in their level of energy consumption.  While that expectation may not be completely realistic, it seems close enough for the purpose of this exercise.  The result is that countries with a per capita consumption between 0.75 and 1.5 toe/person will lose enough energy to be counted in the group of poor nations.
The countries and regions that drop from rich to poor status include Algeria, Turkey, Mexico, Thailand, much of Central and South America, the non-oil-producing nations of the Middle East, and - most significantly - China.

When we add up the populations in 2050 of the rich nations that are left, it comes out to only 1.6 billion.  Remember, their populations fell due to lower fertility, there are fewer of them and they lost China to the ranks of the poor.

The population of the poor nations is where the shock comes.  Their total population in 2050 adds up to over 7 billion people.  That number is more than the total population of the Earth today, all living at an energy level somewhere between Bangladesh and Egypt.

Figure 17: World Population at low and high energy consumption levels, today and 2050


How many ways are there to say the world is heading for hard times?  Losing most of our oil is bad enough, and losing most of our gas as well borders on the catastrophic. Combining these losses with the exponential growth of those nations that can least afford it is nothing short of cataclysmic.  The ramifications spread out like ripples on a pond.  There will be 7 billion people who will need fertilizer and irrigation water to survive, but would be too poor to buy it even at today's prices.  Given the probable escalation in the costs of fertilizer and the diesel fuel or electricity for their water pumps, it isn't hard to understand why the spread of famine in energy-poor regions of the world seems virtually inevitable.

In normal times the poor would appeal to the rest of the world for food aid.  However, these times may be anything but normal.  Even the shrinking population of the rich world will see its wealth eroded by the drop in energy supplies and the increasing cost of producing the energy they do have. This decline in their wealth will in turn erode any surpluses they might otherwise have donated to international aid.  In any event, there will be over twice as many hungry mouths crying for that aid, with less and less of it available.

This assessment doesn't even consider the converging and amplifying impacts of the other problems I mentioned above: the loss of soil fertility and fresh water, the death of the oceans, rising pollution, spreading extinctions and accelerating climate change.

The solution to this dilemma, if solution there may be, does not seem to lie in some Deus ex Machina or in a technological revision of the parable of the loaves and fishes.  If the dark visions outlined in this article come true, we will be faced with a world in which the only way forward is to accept that Mother Nature does not negotiate.  We must use our considerable intelligence to figure out ways to live within the ecological budget we have been allotted.  More than that, we must change our values away from our current paradigm of growth, competition and exploitation to one of sustainability, cooperation and nurturing.  The longer and tighter we cling to our present ways, the more damage we will ultimately inflict on ourselves and the world we live in.  For many, the time for such a change has already passed.  For a fortunate few there may yet be enough time to move toward the new ways of living and being that will be required in this brave new world.

The End.

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