Will we not make a difference?

Energy in Nature and Society is a book by Vaclav Smil on general energetic of complex systems, and at the end of the chapter on environmental consequences, he stated:

“that future limits on human energy use may arise, not from the resource shortage but from the necessity to keep these cycles compatible with the long-term habitability of the biosphere.”

From his book, I learned that the earth could provide us plenty fossil fuels to support our current lifestyle comfortably through out the 21st century, but if we continue the way we are polluting the atmosphere, the climate may not make it.

It seems like that more people are realizing this; with the growing effort in reducing carbon emission world wide, one would only expect that the trend would show the same.  More people are cutting their energy consumption, supporting renewable energies, and improving their car & appliance efficiencies.  Even big events such as Super Bowl and Winter Olympic are also putting in effort to reduce their carbon emission.  However, the latest forecast from EIA doesn’t seem to match this trend. Its forecast on energy consumption up to 2035 remains steady growth similar to the growth since 1980, and carbon emission remains to grow.

As we can see that there is a drastic drop in energy consumption around 2008, and corresponding to this, the US carbon emission dropped 6.3% in 2009.  The poor economy was the main explanation for this drop, but a growing effort to reduce fuel consumption nation wide could also have caused this drop. It’s strange that the EIA forecast does not follow this down slope but predicts the consumption to go back up and continue increase at similar rate as the past 30 years. Then, how will this impact the climate be if the forecast is accurate? Will we not make a difference? Or, is this a way to encourage the consumer continue their previous lifestyle and consume more energy?

The report did mention a rapid growth in sales of unconventional vehicle  technologies, but somehow it doesn’t seem to change the transportation consumption forecast much.

” such as flex-fuel, hybrid, and diesel vehicles, as well as slower growth in sales of new light trucks. Sales of hybrid vehicles, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), increase from 2.6 percent of new LDV sales in 2008 to 24.6 percent in 2035. PHEV sales grow rapidly as a result of the EIEA2008 tax credits, increasing to about 90,000 vehicles annually in 2015. In 2035, PHEVs account for 2.6 percent of new LDV sales and 1.7 percent of the total LDV stock.”

The effort to help reduce energy consumption by the current administration is very strong.  I have linked a conference video of Secretary Chu addressing the loan from the US government to Nissan to build electrical cars, and the US EPA & DOE are working together on energy efficiency program the State Energy Efficiency (SEE) Action Network.

Secretary Chu lays out a roadmap for how the U.S. can lead the world in making the clean vehicles we need at the 2010 Washington Auto Show. He also announced that the Department of Energy had closed on a $1.4 billion loan to Nissan to build the all-electric LEAF in Tennessee and create up to 1,300 American jobs.”

I’m no energy expert, but I found EIA’s latest forecast report misleading. Even though we are not running out of fossil fuels any time soon, we have passed the limit for long-term habitability of the biosphere. So much effort and money have been contributed to starting a new sustainable future, and the old fossil fuel based economy will eventually be supported by renewable energies. I’m looking forward to see an energy and carbon emission forecast that shows this trend.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Will we not make a difference?

  1. bhgully

    First off, reading Smil is a great step on your way to really understanding and accurately interpreting the energy challenges of our society – and doing so with a diligent lack of bias or sensationalism – and I think the questions you are considering reflect this fact.

    What possible reasons do you think there are for the continuing rise in consumption and emissions? Population, affluence? That is indeed very interesting as I think it is safe to say we haven’t exactly ‘recovered’ from the economic situation that they attribute to those changes in 2008.

    Also, why do you think we have passed the habitability of the biosphere? Do you think it is a well defined limit we have crossed? Although I think the focus on CO2 (specifically) is a bit unfortunate I am glad for the amount of research “global warming” has developed focusing on atmospheric dynamics, particularly chemical cycles and weather patterns.

    Great thinking, I’m just trying to throw fuel on the fire, keep it up.

    • mkbloger

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m thinking that population growth with the same current consumption rate will result the positive slope in the energy forecast. But our overall efficiency increases over time as well, and with most of the manufacturing site moving to over sea now, it just did seem right that the forecast continue to go up. This may have something to do with the dependancy of the US economy on increasing consumption, and our common sense is that nothing can grow infinitely, right?

      I may have confused sustainability with habitability, and global warming is a sign for human caused biosphere changes. The planet is habitable right now, but it may not be in the future if we continue as the EIA forecast shows.

      IPCC report on global emission forecast has shown declining trend for couple of scenarios.
      http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/spm/sres-en.pdf

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