The Immutable Algebra of Global Energy and Population Trends
Compassion for a child in distress is automatic. You do everything you can for that child. You use all the resources you can muster. But what if an entire continent is in distress? What if billions of children are in distress?
This is the question for which there are no easy answers. Because across the developing world, billions of people still endure political violence and extreme poverty. The most afflicted nations are almost always the nations experiencing rapid population increase. And the solutions being proposed, mass immigration and rapid transition to renewable clean energy, require authoritarian, global governance that will rob the people of the developed world of their freedom and prosperity, at the same time as it does little or nothing to help the people living in the developing world. But it is the path of least resistance.
The reason for pursuing flawed solutions has more to do with where the global elites mean to apply authoritarian pressure than with whether or not more lives will be improved, or the planet’s climate will be preserved.
Before exploring alternative solutions, the scope of the challenge should be quantified. The best way to do this is by reviewing trends in global population and energy consumption. The figures to be presented draw on two sources, the World Bank Population Estimates and Projections, and the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
GLOBAL POPULATION TRENDS
The two pie charts below depict projected global population by region in 2020, and 30 years hence, in 2050. They are sliced by region, with the categories as defined by British Petroleum in their annual energy review. The “Russosphere” refers to the nations of the former Soviet Union that have not joined NATO. The other categories are fairly self explanatory.
As can be seen, more than half of the world’s 7.7 billion people—4.2 billion—live in the Asia/Pacific region, including the demographic heavyweights of China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. As can be seen, five of the other six regions have between 0.3 and 0.5 billion people each. The exception is Africa, with a projected 2020 population of 1.3 billion.
What happens between 2020 and 2050 is extremely significant. First, note the diameter of the second pie chart. The increase in area is exactly proportional to the projected increase in global population between 2020 and 2050. As can be seen, in terms of people inhabiting planet earth, the footprint doesn’t get all that much larger. The world’s population will grow by 25 percent. But where will this growth occur?
The projected population in the Asia/Pacific region will grow by a half-billion, and the population of the six other regions excluding Africa will increase from a total of 2.2 billion in 2020 to 2.5 billion in 2050. Africa, by contrast, will roughly double in population, from 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion. That is, over the three decades between 2020 and 2050, Africa will add 1.2 billion people to its population, whereas the rest of the world combined will add another 0.8 billion.
If projected population growth were spread evenly among nations over the next 30 years, that would pose a different set of challenges. But the problem we face is that between now and 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population growth will occur on the most undeveloped, poverty-stricken continent on earth.
GLOBAL ENERGY TRENDS
To understand just how inadequate current globalist policies are with respect to immigration and energy, especially when facing an exploding population among the most undeveloped nations on earth, global energy trends offer clarity. The next chart shows per capita energy use by region last year. To make the data as intelligible as possible, all energy use—from wood burning to nuclear power—is normalized and expressed in terms of gallons of oil. The differences between regions are profound.
As shown, the average North American—that includes citizens of Canada and Mexico, along with the United States—consumed energy last year equivalent to 1,662 gallons of oil. That’s nearly twice that of the other relatively heavy energy consumers in Europe, the Russosphere, and the Middle East, and it’s nearly four times more than in Central or South America, or in the Asia-Pacific. But take a look at Africa.
The per capita energy consumption by Africans in 2017 was equivalent to 101 gallons of oil. Less than one-sixteenth the amount of energy North Americans consume.
The next chart shows projected global energy use by region in 2020. It is derived from the data shown on the previous pie chart depicting global population by region in 2020, multiplied by per capita energy use by region. The units expressed are “billion tons of oil equivalents,” that is, they depict how much all worldwide energy use would be, if the energy used were exclusively oil.
By the way, for the uninitiated, this is a common practice among energy economists in order to show the relative proportions of energy production and consumption in normalized units. A gallon of gas contains within it 120,429 British Thermal Units, or BTUs, of energy; one kilowatt-hour contains 3,412 BTUs. You can convert all types of energy to, to name a few common examples, BTUs, or joules, or metric tons of oil. Take your pick.
It is obvious from looking at this chart that North America and Europe use far more energy than the global average. Equally obvious is just how small Africa’s slice of global energy consumption is currently, only 3.3 percent of the total despite representing 17.4 percent of global population.
So how will this same chart look in 2050?
GLOBAL ENERGY PRODUCTION NEEDS TO DOUBLE
Below is a pie chart showing one scenario for global energy consumption by region in 2050. First consider the area of the chart, which is exactly twice that of the pie chart for 2020. For the purposes of this analysis, imagine that total energy consumption worldwide will double by 2050. Further suppose that the per capita consumption of energy worldwide will be allocated equally to every human on earth. The implications of these assumptions provide useful insights.
For starters, if energy were consumed equally everywhere, and the total amount consumed were doubled, that would require North Americans to reduce their per capita energy use by 50 percent. In reality, Americans, who consume more energy per capita than Canadians or Mexicans, would have to reduce their per capita energy use by morethan 50 percent.
This bears repeating: If global energy consumption doubled, the per capita energy available worldwide would be less than half of what Americans currently consume.
This isn’t a value judgement. It’s just basic algebra.
Next, note the African slice of this energy consumption pie for 2050. At the energy equivalent of 6.9 billion tons of oil, for the Africans in 2050 to enjoy less than half as much energy as Americans currently enjoy, they would consume a quantity of energy equal to half of all energy consumed worldwide today. And to accomplish this by 2050, energy consumption in Africa would have to increase by a factor of 36. These are mind-boggling statistics. Yet they perfectly illustrate the magnitude of the development challenge facing Africa, insofar as access to affordable energy is one of the prerequisites to reducing poverty.
RENEWABLES VS ALL OF THE ABOVE
It is into the granite face of these immutable demographic and economic facts that the agenda of the renewables lobby collides. Global population and energy trends indicate that the production of energy will need roughly to double in the next 30 years in order to better assure a peaceful evolution of the most economically and politically fragile regions in the world.
The next pie chart, resized down to the 2020 projected total global energy consumption equivalent to 14.4 billion tons of oil, depicts renewables as producing a 0.8 billion-ton-oil equivalent of the total, or 5.6 percent. This 2020 projection, by the way, relies on continued rapid growth of renewables over the next few years, based on the increase of 16.6 percent between 2016 and 2017. In 2017, renewables only provided 3.6 percent of total global energy. These 2020 projections are a best case scenario.
Now imagine this pie chart again doubled in size. Imagine renewables providing 100 percent of this total—the equivalent of 26.7 billion tons of oil. Does that sound ridiculous? Maybe it does, but going “100 percent carbon free” by 2045 is the goal of recent legislation in California. To do this worldwide between 2020 and 2050 would require renewables to increase by a factor of 34 (from 2017 levels, 55).
Imagine wherever you see one windmill, there are 50. Imagine wherever you see a stretch of open space covered with photovoltaics, you see 50 times that much area so covered. Imagine the footprint of these devices, their cradle-to-grave environmental impact. Their contribution to the heat-island effect. Their contribution to avian slaughter, their consumption of land and air. Imagine the ecological impact of producing, maintaining, and reprocessing batteries capable of storing tens of thousands of gigawatts, all over the world. Imagine the cost.
Fact is, we are not going to run out of fossil fuels. At current rates of consumption, proven reserves of oil will last another 179 years; natural gas, 54 years; coal, 505 years. Over the past several years, these reserve ratios, reported on the basis of proven, economically recoverable reserves of fossil fuel resources, have been increasing, not decreasing. “Proven” reserves of conventional fossil fuel will continue to increase into the foreseeable future, without even accounting for vast deposits of so-called unconventional reserves such as methane hydrates. Doubling energy production worldwide within 30 years is a daunting challenge. It is impossible quickly to achieve that goal without fossil fuel, and concern about running out is unfounded.
NO SOLUTIONS ARE EASY
It goes beyond the scope of this analysis thoroughly to assess the cost and environmental impact of installing wind and solar systems, along with grid upgrades and mega-storage. Suffice here to say their environmental impact, their scalability, their sustainability, their practicality, and their cost are all problematic.
Similarly, it goes beyond the scope of this analysis properly to debunk the climate hysteria that is used as cover for this astonishingly flawed approach to delivering adequate energy worldwide. But given the incendiary nature of any flirtation with climate change “denial,” here are links to a few noteworthy climate contrarians: Jo Nova, Judith Curry, Roger Pielke Jr., Marc Morano, the Heritage Foundation’s Environment website, JunkScience.com, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Watts Up With That, and Bjorn Lomborg. Please note: these websites range from blatantly insouciant to eminently measured, but all of them offer valuable information.
It is necessary, however, to connect climate alarmism not only to flawed energy policies, but also to futile immigration policies.
The argument goes something like this: Because imperialist Western nations rapaciously exploited resources in the developing world, they impoverished these nations. At the same time, the Western nations burned fossil fuel, which created droughts and extreme weather in the developing nations, which further worsened their plight. For these reasons, Western nations must admit refugees from developing nations, because if the West had left these countries alone and if the West had not ruined their climates, these nations would be thriving. At the same time, and for the same reasons, Western nations must pay reparations to developing nations, in order for them to recover from the damage caused by the West.
There are two mind-numbingly obvious flaws to this argument, even if you agree with its premises. First, the West cannot possibly absorb hundreds of millions of immigrants. Second, “reparations” in the form of foreign aid, at least to-date, are the real reason the populations in these nations continues to explode. But to propose alternatives, an uncomfortable fact has to be confronted. Africa is a welfare continent, and welfare for Africa has failed.
AFRICA – THE WELFARE CONTINENT
Most evidence gathered over the past 60 years suggests that Africa is a welfare continent in some of the worst connotations of that term. For example, the average number of children in Somalia in 1960 was 7.3, but by the year 2000 that average had actually climbed to 7.6, suggesting that Western food aid and Western medicine lowered the death rate, and lowered infant mortality, but accomplished little in terms of female emancipation, or nurturing indigenous prosperity that correlates with lower birthrates. Somalia is typical.
Burgeoning Nigeria, a nation projected to have 410 million citizens by 2050, saw average fertility decline only slightly, from 6.4 in 1960 to 6.1 in 2000. Fertility in Ethiopia, destined to have nearly 200 million inhabitants by 2050, went from 6.9 in 1960 to 6.5 in 2000. Average fertility in tiny Uganda, where more than 105 million people are expected to reside by 2050, went from 7.0 in 1960 to 6.9 in 2000. Estimates for 2020 are just that: estimates. There is no hard evidence that the population rate of increase in sub-Saharan Africa will slow sufficiently for Africa’s projected population in 2050 to “only” reach 2.5 billion.
The ironic reality is that Africa quite likely would have been better off if no foreign aid, at least as it was formulated, had reached its shores after 1960. Not only did foreign aid play a vital role in enabling Africa’s population to have already more than quintupled since then and now, but to the extent that foreign aid was feeding people in nations that should have been developing their own rich agricultural potential, or providing medical treatment to people in nations that as a consequence had less incentive to train their own doctors, the aid instead went into the pockets of corrupt dictators who had no interest to invest in a brighter future for their nations.
RETHINKING FOREIGN AID, FOREIGN INVESTMENT, AND ENERGY POLICIES
The hard choice comes down to how the powerful Western nations want to apply their wealth and influence to help humanity and heal the planet.
The path we’re on requires shoveling billions in food aid and medical aid to developing nations, with the utterly unsustainable result being exploding populations in societies that don’t evolve and advance internally, because they don’t have to.
The path we’re on requires a parallel campaign to import as many refugees as possible from these developing nations, with the only result being increasing economic burdens on the host nations, and increasing political and cultural conflict in the host nations, with negligible quantitative impact on the destitute and expanding populations of the source nations.
The path we’re on demands a preposterous renunciation of fossil fuel, despite fossil fuel currently providing 85 percent of all global energy, despite the fact that fossil fuel will remain cheap and abundant for at least another generation, if not much longer, and despite the fact that global energy production needs to double in the next 30 years, and nobody has any idea how else that can be accomplished.
Globalism, which underlies these supranational strategies, especially in the context of climate change and immigration, has become a particularly malevolent version of imperialism turned inward. It is an authoritarian response to challenges that are indeed existential—exploding populations of destitute nations, an insatiable global appetite for more energy, and environmental degradation. But it is precisely the wrong response. What happened?
The reason globalism has turned against the populations of developed nations is because that is the path of least resistance. To intervene in Africa, or Honduras, for that matter, with solutions that would work, would revive accusations of imperialism, while simultaneously enraging environmentalists. It is easier for Western elites to blame their own societies for the misery in the developing world. It is easier to import people from the developing world, saturating them with anti-West, redistributionist propaganda, and to bring enough of them in to change the political equation in those nations forever. This strategy is the easiest path towards granting the Western elites carte blanche to continue down the path we’re on. But it’s the wrong path.
The effect of these policies, already well underway, is to exploit the populations of the developed nations, artificially inflating the prices they pay for everything; energy, water, transportation, housing, land, in the name of social equity and saving the planet. The benefit to the elites who own the artificially constrained productive assets is more profit—as costs remain flat and competitive supplies are restricted, profits go up. That is happening today.
The entire scheme is dangerously untenable. Eventually people in the developed nations will rebel—both against the engineered scarcity and against each other in a needlessly fractured culture. And eventually people in developing nations will starve by the millions, if not billions, as Western food and medical aid cannot keep pace with rampant population growth.
Those worried about the climate consequences of the alternative strategy—competitive abundance—should ask themselves what’s worse: a climate that may warm incrementally, possibly due in part to burning of fossil fuel, or another 2 billion people, desperate and destitute, stripping the rainforests for fuel, and wiping out the last great remnants of wild game for the protein.
Western elites must support responsible but competitive and accelerated development of all natural resources, instead of pretending that scarcity will further the goals of social equity and environmentalism. The prosperity that ensues will lead to lower birthrates and urbanization, taking pressure off wildernesses. The increased wealth will fund environmental mitigation.
Western elites must accept the inaccurate but virulent moral opprobrium that will accompany actually investing in places like Africa, as opposed to merely sending food and medical aid. They must embrace compassionate nationalism. They must accept alternatives to the de facto nihilism of mass immigration.
Throughout the developing world, and especially in Africa, Western elites must invest in clean fossil fuel, electricity grids, nuclear power, hydroelectric power, inter-basin water transfers, heavy industry, aquaculture, mega-cities, and universities. To protect their investments, they may have to negotiate charter cities or charter regions with the host nations, where Western laws will be enforceable by Western nations. Achieving stability in these areas won’t be easy. It will invite accusations of imperialism. It may also enable a bright future for not millions, but billions of children.
And maybe it won’t work. But it’s better than the path we’re on.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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