Markers for the Global Energy Transition

Last week I talked about Dieter Helm’s book, where he portrayed a future in which oil companies are going broke and fossil fuel prices are collapsing due to their practically infinite supply (via fracking and horizontal drilling). Growing awareness of climate change has led to strong public pressure to reduce our carbon footprints and we are experiencing major shifts in how we source and use energy. This includes the growing conversion to electric power. The energy industry was (and is still) structured to accommodate the now-outdated perception that energy supply is finite and shrinking and electrical distribution continues to rely on archaic structures. Helm presents a rosy future for the US because we can adapt to this post-peak-oil reality. But his prediction does not factor in our election of President Trump, who is bent on returning us to the yester-world in terms of our treatment of the physical environment.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I agree with some of Helm’s observations and disagree with others. I do feel, however, that it is easy to make predictions about a far future that many of us will not live to see (nor will we be held accountable for our predictions). Helm’s book suffers from that sort of glib certainty and I am aware that I have to some extent shared in the same practice throughout the five years I have been writing this blog.

Helm’s book triggered in me a strong desire to change my ways so I will be starting a series about the recent past. My jumping-off point is the IPAT identity that I have repeatedly referenced here (the first reference was from November 26, 2012). Below is a much more recent mention of this important identity:

There is a useful identity that correlates the environmental impacts (greenhouse gases, in Governor’s Romney statement) with the other indicators. The equation is known as the IPAT equation (or I=PAT), which stands for Impact Population Affluence Technology. The equation was proposed independently by two research teams; one consists of Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren (now President Obama’s Science Adviser), while the other is led by Barry Commoner (P.R. Ehrlich and J.P. Holdren; Bulletin of Atmospheric Science 28:16 (1972). B. Commoner; Bulletin of Atmospheric Science 28:42 (1972).)

The identity takes the following form:

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Almost all of the future scenarios for climate change make separate estimates of the indicators in this equation. The difference factor of 15 in GDP/Person (measure of affluence), between the average Chinese and average American makes it clear that the Chinese and the rest of the developing world will do everything they can to try to “even the score” with the developed world. The global challenge is how to do this while at the same time minimizing the environmental impact.

The Population and Affluence terms are self-explanatory. The Impact term in this case refers to emissions of carbon dioxide. The Technology term consists of the three terms combined below:

Technology = (Energy/GDP)x(Fossil/Energy)x(CO2/Fossil)

The first term in this equation refers to Energy Intensity – how much energy we need to generate a unit of GDP (Gross Domestic Product, used here as an Affluence metric). The second term represents the fraction of the total energy that is being generated from fossil fuels. The last term specifies the kind of fossil fuel that is being used (coal, natural gas or oil).

The actual decomposition of global CO2 emissions is shown in Figure 2, which clearly demonstrates that for at least the last decade, Affluence has been the dominant contributor to emissions.

What I referred to in that blog as Figure 2 I am reposting here as Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Decomposition of the change in total global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion by decade (January 24, 2017 blog) (IPCC report analyzing the IPAT identity)

In past blogs I referred to the various indicators in the identity in global terms. Here, and in the next few blogs I will instead cite individual countries. There are two main reasons for doing so. First, our global system is made up of sovereign countries, each of which can (for the most part) enforce actions only within its own borders. The second reason is that once I focus on individual countries I can emphasize those that are more/less successful at transitioning their energy away from carbon-based sources.

Table 1 includes population and GDP/Capita in current US$ for 12 countries. As Figure 1 shows, these are the two main indicators that drive carbon dioxide emissions. The population information came from the United Nations population review and the GDP/Capita came from the World Bank data case.

The sum total of the current population of the 10 most populous countries amounts to more than half of the global total so it is a fair indicator of the whole number.

Table 1 – Population and GDP/Capita of the twelve countries that I will use to analyze the global energy transition (in order of current population)

I have added Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo because the UN is projecting that given their current growth rates they will be among the 10 most populous countries by 2050. According to World Bank classification, this table includes one high-income (the US), three low-income (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and DR Congo), four lower-middle income (India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Nigeria) and four upper-middle income economies (China, Brazil, Russia, and Mexico). In other words, it represents the full range of global income distribution.

The table includes each of the twelve countries’ current GDP/Capita, growth rate, and population as well as their projected populations for 2030 and 2050.

Next week I will focus on trends in primary energy use, emphasizing alternative energy and the resulting change in carbon footprints that these newly diversified economies generate. I will follow it with a compilation of electricity use and the drivers being used to collect the electricity.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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2 Responses to Markers for the Global Energy Transition

  1. Issa says:

    Climate change: Team #2

    What can we do to save the world:

    Chaowen Zhang
    Being a part of the world, we all have the responsibility to protect the planet. We can do something minimal that can make a significant change to the environment. For example, do not spend much time taking a shower, we are wasting gallons of water while taking a shower. Another way to save energy is to turn off power when we are not using it. Often people nowadays like to left their computer and television when they were out of their houses. Also, we can replace the light bulb with an energy saving light bulbs. All these methods are used to save the world, please take a step and give your children and grandson a better place to live.

    Issa O.

    The use of cars.
    Driving is nowadays part of our daily life, and studies show that 1 gallon of gas produces 20 pounds of c02. On average, a car emits about six-tons of Co2 / year, and we all know the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that blocks the Radiation which contributes to worm the temperature of the atmosphere then Global warming.
    Leave your car at home is a naïve solution, but If we can stay off the road just two days a week; We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,590 pounds (721 kilograms) per year. According to US EPA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency Combine your errands — hit the post office, grocery store and shoe repair place in one trip. It will save you gas and time. Walk or ride your bike to work, school and anywhere you can. You can reduce greenhouse gases while burning some calories and improving your health. If you can’t walk or ride, use public transit, even carpooling is an option. Saving at least two days of driving will help us have a better environment for the future generation.

    Anthony Payne-Smith

    Climate has a considerable influence on the way we live. For example, it affects the crops we can grow and the diseases we might encounter in particular locations. It also determines the physical infrastructure we need to build to survive comfortably in the face of extremes of heat, cold, drought and flood. I’m proposing a plan to recycle all plastic materials or and a plastic recovery program that can help companies use plastic as a raw material.

    According to a BBC report. In the Pacific Ocean halfway between California and Hawaii lies what’s become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive jumble of fishing nets, bottles, bags, and other plastic items as well as tiny bits of plastic debris. “It’s a vast plastic soup,” says Kahi Pacarro, executive director of Honolulu-based Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

    We’ve known about the existence of the patch since the mid-1980s but weren’t quite sure about its size until a study published last March showed that it holds at least 79,000 tons of plastic and covers an area three times the size of France. We can reduce the used of plastic in the ocean by putting a place a program to utilize plastic waste as a resource to create other materials. There are companies like BIONIC YARN and UNIQLO that are working on this program to recover plastic from the ocean and turning them into raw material for their garments. However, we need worldwide support to increase the impact of a program that can potentially save our environment.

    “Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time.”

    Milouse Lamy

    We can save the world by using less electricity. Coal and natural gas are the most common of energy that gets turned into electricity. The burning of these substances is a major factor in world air pollution. Reducing your reliance on electricity is a great way to play a part in saving the planet. Here’s what we can do:
    Use solar power for home and water
    Shut off electrical equipment in the when you leave work.
    If you have central air conditioning, do not close vents in unused rooms.
    Lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120.
    Turn down or shut off your water heater when you will be away for extended periods.
    Turn off unneeded lights even when leaving a room for a short time.
    Set your refrigerator temperature at 36 to 38 and your freezer at 0-5.
    When using an oven, minimize door open while it is in use; it reduces oven temperature by 25-30 every time you open the door.
    Clean the lint filter in your dryer after every load so that it uses less energy.
    Wash clothes with warm or cold water instead of hot.
    Turn off lights, computers and other appliances when not in use.
    Use compact fluorescents light bulbs to save money and energy.
    Plants trees to shade your house.
    Replace old windows with energy efficient ones.
    Keep your thermostat higher in summer and winter when you’re away.
    Insulate your home as best as you can.

    Zachary Kaplan

    Climate change is past the point of a prediction, it has now reached the point of a definite threat. Part of solving any problem is raising awareness, I feel that not only do we have the power to change the way we act individually but we also have the opportunity to influence others through media. I am a TV and Film major and feel that one major benefit of that is that I have resources to educate and inform others on what we can do to help the planet without straining ourselves so much. Most people have the mentality that combating climate change is a very complicated process, it’s really more of a lot of people doing a small part to make a big change. I’d like to use media (i.e. Documentaries and Streaming outlets) to inform other people on the best ways to combat issues such as climate change.

    Latisha Johns

    There are many simple ways we can save the world, but we choose not to. If people were to cut down on the things they throw away by recycling and reusing natural resources, the world would be a better place. You can also save the world by building trees, this can have a huge impact by providing food and oxygen. Trees help save energy, cleans the air and it helps with climate change preventing Global warming. We have all over-used the planet, resulting in too much CO2 in the atmosphere which leads to Global Warming. So the climate needs fixing. Stated by our former president Barack Obama, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it”, and I agree, climate change may become irreversible if we do not act fast and on a big scale. We need to work together to build the support needed to build a community that together can make a difference in this crazy world.

    Joelle Gibson

    There are many ways in which we can slow down climate change. Gone are the days of wondering if it is actually happening when there is scientific proof of it. The first but hardest step would be to convince the climate deniers by any means possible. Explain to them what the excess and unnecessary consumption is doing to the world. Even though that may be difficult, for those of us who actually believe that it is happening we too need to make changes and not just talk about it.
    One of the biggest offenses I see are with people who don’t recycle, especially in the United States. During my time spent in Europe, there was rarely a plastic bag that was used at a supermarket if at all. If you didn’t come in with your own shopping bags, you’d walk out with you items in your hands. Most people would carry recyclable bags that were made out of canvas or stretchy material.
    Another big offense is the use of plastic bottles. There are a few states that now charge people $0.05 per bottle but rarely do people return them for their change. One of the countries I’ve traveled to in the West Indies puts such a high tax that you’ll have no choice but to bring it back to get your money back. I believe this could a helpful resolution but it’ll have to take the people to want to make an impact. Like French president Emmanuel Macron stated “ By polluting the oceans, not mitigating co2 emissions, and destroying our biodiversity we’re killing our planet. Let us face it, there’s no Planet B.”

  2. Evan Biegel says:

    Hi Professor Tomkiewicz,

    Below is a link to the manuscript concerning the electoral method of county apportionment I mentioned in our conversation earlier today. I will also provide a link to my general profile on Medium with all of my articles.

    Thanks for the invitation to comment with the manuscript on your blog!
    Evan Biegel

    Manuscript link:

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