Help! Colossus has taken over the planet

We need to talk about energy and population

I was listening to the latest Radio Ecoshock show, featuring Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, when I realized that I haven’t really mentioned the population problem as much as I should in this blog. Indeed, the topic is problematic because people don’t like to talk about it and most environmental scientists have even given up speaking about it since most feel that “there is nothing we can do about it”. To some extent that’s correct, we cannot force people to have fewer kids (or we don't want to do that).

However, by voluntarily lowering energy use per capita it could lead to fewer kids, and it's better to plan for such a future than to be forced into lowering ones energy usage by “other means” (poverty, famine, war etc.). Throughout history, the expansion of the human population resulted from a steadily growing energy supply. But this increase came from finite fossil energy, that have (2006) or is about to peak, globally (2015-2020). My contention is that an average human living a western lifestyle, of massive over consumption, could lower his/her energy use and still have a perfectly okay life.

From Ape to Colossus

According to William R. Catton (2009) calculations the 3 million humans around 35,000 B.C. only used enough energy (food and wood for fire) to be equivalent to Common Dolphins.
Credit: Chris_huh (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

In 8,000 B.C., when there were an estimated 8 million people who made some use of animal power, wind, and river currents each human was on average equivalent to a somewhat larger Atlantic Humpbacked Dolphin.

By 1500 A.D. there were 350 million humans, each the average energy equivalent to the still larger Risso’s Dolphin.
Credit: Chris_huh (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

In 1800 A.D., as the Industrial Revolution was just beginning to exploit fossil energy there were almost 1 billion humans, each on average now the energy-converting equivalent to a Beluga Whale.

From this point on many of the world’s people, especially the rich, would as fossil fuel users become “colossal” in terms of energy use. By 2000 A.D. the human population reached 6 billion with an average per capita energy use of more than a dozen times that of our old ancestors. By this time, an average American were using as much energy as a full grown Sperm Whale. Only there were 300 million of them.

Credit: Kurzon (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

And finally, by 2009 A.D, Catton estimated that an average American used as much energy as a 41 ton heavy dinosaur. Turiasauris is among the largest dinosaurs known at 36-39 m in length and with a weight of 40-48 tonnes.

Credit: Matthew Martyniuk (CC-BY-SA 4.0)


Out of the ashes into the fire

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing !
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