View Full Version : World Energy and Population - Trends to 2100

10-18-07, 09:10 PM
World Energy and Population
Trends to 2100 (http://www.paulchefurka.ca/WEAP/WEAP.html)


Throughout history, the expansion of human population has been supported by a steady growth in our use of high-quality exosomatic energy. The operation of our present industrial civilization is wholly dependent on access to a very large amount of energy of various types. If the availability of this energy were to decline significantly it could have serious repercussions for civilization and the human population it supports. This paper constructs production models for the various energy sources we use and projects their likely supply evolution out to the year 2100. The full energy picture that emerges is then translated into a population model based on an estimate of changing average per-capita energy consumption over the century. Finally, the impact of ecological damage is added to the model to arrive at a final population estimate.

This model, known as the "World Energy and Population" model, or WEAP, suggests that the world's population will decline significantly over the course of the century.

Decline Rates



Short Term and Regional Effects

These effects will result primarily from Peak Oil and the coming net export crisis. As the effects of declining exports are felt, the market price of oil will escalate very rapidly.

Some oil producing countries will choose to sell much of their product on the international market for the money it will bring. Such actions may result in a deprived and discontented population, giving rise to fuel riots and even the threat of revolution. Other producers may decide to keep their oil at home to preferentially supply their own citizens' needs. This will result in a wave of nationalization of oil resources so that governments can direct its distribution and control the local price.

Oil importing nations will face a choice similar to the poor nations described in the previous section. They will need to reallocate their discretionary money toward the purchase of oil. If that cannot buy enough to satisfy their needs they will be forced to reduce their consumption. If they are unwilling to do either, and have the means available, they may decide to secure their oil supply by force of arms. Nearby producing nations that are keeping (or thought to be keeping) their oil off the world market will be at special risk of becoming targets in a resource war. Some aspects of this geopolitical energy calculus may have already come into play in the American invasion of Iraq.

The net oil export crisis may well be the defining geopolitical event of the next decade.



Net result:


Jim Nickerson
10-19-07, 12:02 AM
This model, known as the "World Energy and Population" model, or WEAP, suggests that the world's population will decline significantly over the course of the century.

Good, this definitely needs to happen regardless of what it takes to get there.

10-19-07, 02:02 AM
Good, this definitely needs to happen regardless of what it takes to get there.

Hmmm. So who's gonna use all the infrastructure furiously being constructed in the developing worldl? And fill all those seats on the A380's, now that Airbus finally has it flying? Can you just imagine it...half empty airports in India and China (or Heathrow for that matter).

Seriously though, if this does happen it would seem to have very serious implications on our "pay-as-you-go" entitlement programs that depend on an ever expanding economy & workforce to keep the scheme going. Jim, I can't remember if it was you or someone else that posted, a while back, an item about Japan's aging population as a precursor to this same thing happening across the developed economies...

10-19-07, 02:05 PM
The population decline model is a silly model, it assumes that the rest of the world lives like America. You can live in Asia and not need to drive a car, take the tube or just cycle to work.

Population will probably decline in the suburbs and people move towards city centers to cut down on transport cost.

People riding bicycle in China:


10-19-07, 02:43 PM
The population decline model is a silly model,

Actually it is not, and has nothing to do with commuting and using bicycles. The major linkage comes in food and water production, transport and spoilage. When you do the arithmetic, large metros become unsustainable with high energy costs. This is the major reason for example why if you look at the population of India, it fluctuated between 250 million to 400 million historically until the advent of the era of cheap energy. In fact the assumptions made in the model are quite conservative.

And the population predicted by the model is actually the world population of the mid 1950's, and not much lower than that.

10-19-07, 03:34 PM
By 2095, we'll be converting water into energy. :D

But i also won't discount the sharp population decline especially if countries start nuking each other. :eek:

10-19-07, 03:59 PM
You may want to read Catton's book - Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (http://books.google.com/books?id=_e-Q56mT6k4C)

An excerpt (http://dieoff.org/page15.htm)

Unrecognized Preview

The Industrial Revolution made us precariously dependent on nature's dwindling legacy of non-renewable resources, even though we did not at first recognize this fact. Many major events of modern history were unforeseen results of actions taken with inadequate awareness of ecological mechanisms. Peoples and governments never intended some of the outcomes their actions would incur.

To see where we are now headed, when our destiny has departed so radically from our aspirations, we must examine some historic indices that point to the conclusion that even the concept of succession (as explored in previous chapters) understates the ultimate consequences of our own exuberance. We can begin by taking a fresh look at the Great Depression of the 1930s, an episode people saw largely in the shallower terms of economics and politics when they were living through it. [1] From an ecologically informed perspective, what else can we now see in it?

The Great Depression, looked at ecologically, was a preview of the fate toward which mankind has been drawn by the kinds of progress that have depended on consuming exhaustible resources. We need to see why it was not recognized for the preview it was; this will help us to grasp at last the meaning missed earlier.

We did not know we were watching a preview because, when the world economy fell apart in 1929-32, it was not from exhaustion of essential fuels or materials. From the very definition of carrying capacity—the maximum indefinitely supportable ecological load—we can now see that non-renewable resources provide no real carrying capacity; they provide only phantom carrying capacity. If coming to depend on phantom carrying capacity is a Faustian bargain that mortgages the future of Homo colossus as the price of an exuberant present, that mortgage was not yet being foreclosed in the Great Depression. Even so, much of the suffering that befell so much of mankind in the 1930s does need to be seen as the result of a carrying capacity deficit. The fact that the deficit did not stem from resource exhaustion in that instance makes it no less indicative of the kinds of grief entailed by resource depletion. Accordingly, we need to understand what did bring on a carrying capacity deficit in the 1930s.

See also "Tracking the ecological overshoot of the human economy (http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/99/14/9266)"


Sustainability requires living within the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. In an attempt to measure the extent to which humanity satisfies this requirement, we use existing data to translate human demand on the environment into the area required for the production of food and other goods, together with the absorption of wastes. Our accounts indicate that human demand may well have exceeded the biosphere's regenerative capacity since the 1980s. According to this preliminary and exploratory assessment, humanity's load corresponded to 70% of the capacity of the global biosphere in 1961, and grew to 120% in 1999.

10-19-07, 10:12 PM
Further relevant elaborations from Catton

Carrying Capacity and Liebig's Law

To attain such an understanding we need to step outside the usual economic or political frames of thought, go back two-thirds of a century before the 1929 crash, and reexamine for its profound human relevance a principle of agricultural chemistry formulated in 1863 by a German scientist, Justus von Liebig. [2] That principle set forth with great clarity the concept of the "limiting factor" briefly mentioned in Chapter 8. Carrying capacity is, as we saw there, limited not just by food supply, but potentially by any substance or circumstance that is indispensable but inadequate. The fundamental principle is this: whatever necessity is least abundantly available (relative to per capita requirements) sets an environment's carrying capacity.

While there is no way to repeal this principle, which is known as "the law of the minimum," or Liebig's law, there is a way to make its application less restrictive. People living in an environment where carrying capacity is limited by a shortage of one essential resource can develop exchange relationships with residents of another area that happens to be blessed with a surplus of that resource but happens to lack some other resource that is plentiful where the first one was scarce.

Trade does not repeal Liebig's law. Only by knowing Liebig's law, however, can we see clearly what trade does do, in ecological terms. Trade enlarges the scope of application of the law of the minimum. The composite carrying capacity of two or more areas with different resource configurations can be greater than the sum of their separate carrying capacities. Call this the principle of scope enlargement; it can be expressed in mathematical notation as follows:

CC (A + B) > CCA + CCB

The combined environment (A + B) still has finite carrying capacity, and that carrying capacity is still set by the necessary resource available in least (composite) abundance. But if the two environments are truly joined, by trade, then scarcities that are local to A or B no longer have to be limiting.

A good many of the events of human history need to be seen as efforts to implement the principle of scope enlargement. Most such events came about as results of decisions and activities by men who never heard of Liebig or his law of the minimum. Now, however, knowing the law, and understanding also the scope-enlargement principle, we can see important processes of history in a new light. Progress in transport technology, together with advancements in the organization of commerce, often achieved only after conquest or political consolidation, have had the effect of enlarging the world's human carrying capacity by enabling more and more local populations (or their lifestyles) to be limited not by local scarcity, but by abundance at a distance.
In America in the 1920s, after a brief post-war depression, a period of neo-exuberance set in, leading in the later years of the decade to such an expectation of perpetual progress and prosperity that some people found they could prosper from the expectation itself. "Speculation" in the stock market became the expected way to get rich. [5] Inhibitions against speculation were relaxed; people supposed the American prototype democracy, having enabled the Allies finally to triumph over Kaiser Germany, had made the world safe for getting rich and had established the right of everyone to try to do so.

The essential contrast between speculation and genuine investment is this: speculators buy stock not for the purpose of acquiring claims on future dividends from the business in which they acquire shares, but for the purpose of profiting from the expected escalation in their stock's resale value. When nearly all buyers are speculators, then virtually the only value of their shares is the resale value. Stock prices continue to escalate under such circumstances only as long as virtually everyone expects resale values to continue rising, and are thus willing to buy. The fact that prices may already grossly exaggerate a stock's intrinsic (dividend-paying) worth simply ceases to concern the speculator during the time when price escalation is confidently expected to continue. Breakdown of that faith, however, turns the process around. Anticipation of inexorable enrichment gives way to fear of ruin as self-induced price escalation turns into self-induced price decline. Panic, in the stock market sense, means the competitive drive to sell before falling prices fall farther—which drives prices down.

What connected the 1929 Wall Street crash to Liebig's law was the fact that so much speculative buying had been done with borrowed money. Collapse in the "value" of stocks thus led to an epidemic of bank failures, because the banks were unable to retrieve the funds they had lent to the speculators. Stock certificates taken in by the banks as security from borrowers were worth much less money after the crash than the number of dollars borrowed on them before the crash. When banks failed, depositors with accounts in those banks suddenly found themselves shorn of the purchasing power formerly signified by their bankbook entries. As depositors went broke, they ceased being able to buy goods or hire employees. Sellers of whatever they would have bought, or workers they would have employed, were therefore also suddenly bereft of revenue sources. In a society with elaborate division of labor and a money economy, a "revenue source" is the magic key that provides access to carrying capacity. Collapse of fiscal webs thus confronted millions of people with loss of access to carrying capacity, as truly as if purchasable resources had actually ceased to exist. Nations whose citizens had increasingly become masters of one trade apiece and jacks of few others found themselves suddenly unable to rely on composite carrying capacity drawn from a nonlocal environment. What I have called the "medium of mutualism" was no longer functioning, so the scope of application of Liebig's law of the minimum was being constricted once again to local (or personal) resources.

There was not in those days any Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to back up the solvency of an individual bank when it suffered a "run" by its depositors. The failure of bank after bank in a time when banks had no institutionalized way of pooling their assets for mutual protection can thus be seen as a fiscal instance of the hazards of scope reduction. Had bankers understood that an ecological principle formulated by an agricultural chemist could apply to the world of finance, perhaps something like the FDIC would have been invented sooner.

The fiscal collapse had an even more important implication than this for our ecological understanding of the human predicament. That implication appears in the generalized Depression that followed. Consider the farm population in America. Like almost everyone else, farm families were compelled, by the repercussions of bank failures and the ramifications of general panic, to cut their consumer expenditures. Farmers also often had to allow their land, their buildings, and their equipment to deteriorate for lack of money to pay for maintenance and repairs. Many farms were encumbered by mortgages—mortgages which were foreclosed by banks that now desperately needed the payments farmers could not afford to make. (Bank failures were even more common in rural regions than in major cities.) In spite of all these difficulties, however, the farm population in America ceased declining (as it had been doing) and increased between 1929 and 1933 by more than a million. The long-term trend of movement out of farm niches and into urban niches was reversed during the Great Depression. [6]

Niches everywhere were being constricted by the Depression. However, the urbanizing trend that had been occurring as a result of industrial growth in the cities and from elimination of farm niches by mechanization of agriculture was disrupted by this economic breakdown. At the heart of the reversal was a simple fact: the nature of' farming in the 1930s was still such that, whatever else they had to give up, there was still truth in the cliche that "the farm family can always eat." Other (non-flood-producing) occupational groups that now had to fall back (like the farmers) on carrying capacities of reduced scope could find themselves in much more dire straits.

If we read it rightly, then, we can see the differential impact of the Depression upon farm versus non-farm populations as a cogent indicator of the dependence of the total population on previously achieved enlargements of the scope of application of' Liebig's law With breakdown of the mechanisms of exchange, various segments of a modern nation had to revert as best they could to living on carrying capacities again limited by locally least abundant resources, rather than extended by access to less scarce resources from elsewhere. Although scope reduction hurt everyone, rural folk had local resources to fall back upon; urban people, in contrast, had so detached themselves as to have almost ceased to recognize the indispensability of those resources. For reasons we shall examine in a moment, economic hard times hit the farms sooner than they hit the cities, but in the final scope-reducing crunch the farmers turned out to have an advantage sufficient to interrupt a clear trend of urbanization.

10-20-07, 12:38 AM
Actually it is not, and has nothing to do with commuting and using bicycles. The major linkage comes in food and water production, transport and spoilage. When you do the arithmetic, large metros become unsustainable with high energy costs. This is the major reason for example why if you look at the population of India, it fluctuated between 250 million to 400 million historically until the advent of the era of cheap energy. In fact the assumptions made in the model are quite conservative.

And the population predicted by the model is actually the world population of the mid 1950's, and not much lower than that.

Touchring -

In my view, Rajiv is entirely correct on this - even understated. To imagine that hydrocarbons only will influence the way in which people move about is innocent to the point of naive on the extent to which a petroleum civilization has caused the global population to expand far beyond it's allowable limits without this fuel.

If you even weaken the fuel supply growth as world population soars to 7 billion and beyond, you will see a terrible attrition from the secular population overshoot that's already occurred in the past 100 years.

In such a circumstance, you will see a very large and harsh pressure descend upon the ability of the poorest parts of the earth to even survive. They are too many now, for the arable land (and the water).

Those of us who surmise that a potential 'culling' of 1/3 of the earth's population must be a desirable thing are curiously distancing themselves emotionally from the human element involved in such a die-off. Try re-examining the sentiment if you were suddenly transported to a marginal existence in the southern Sudan, and the prospect then becomes one affecting one's own ability to even keep living. When it's 'me' and not 'them' the level of alarm changes considerably

I am continually amazed at the self-centric view that Westerners have of how events will play out on people who subsist on one or two dollars a day. There is a massive conceit at work in the dissociated assumptions that oil depletion will happen 'out there' and 'to them' but not 'to me' or 'to us'.

When this thing slams in and we start reading of soaring food inflation and crop yields shrinking due to the soaring cost of petrochemical fertilizers, even our coddled world in the US and EU will begin to seem a lot bleaker.

Make no mistake, this trend is barrelling towards the entire world and we'll feel it like a furnace blast upon hopes for a 'better future' in the next two decades. We are conditioned to think of the world we live in as governed by increasing standards of living as the decades pass. That is about to change.

Rajiv is collecting some excellent documentation on this - and few seem to be taking in the full implications.

10-21-07, 03:36 PM
The time remaining for serious action on energy is short

10/18/2007 7:14:07 AM

<!-- <script type="text/javascript"> digg_url = 'http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=12&a=311956'; </script> <script src="http://digg.com/tools/diggthis.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
-->By Norm Erickson

Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., just hosted its 43rd Nobel Conference. The theme this year was "Heating up the energy debate."
Here are some highlights.

The conference lectures began with Dr. Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab and 1997 Nobel Prize winner. Chu said climate changes are occurring much faster than predicted just a few years ago. Forty percent of British Columbia's pine forests are already dead and most of the rest will be gone by 2013 due to warming that allows predatory beetles to survive winters in the pine forests.

Tibetan glacial ice provides summer runoff that supplies water to one-third of the population of the world. Tibetan glaciers are rapidly melting and dependent streams will seasonally run dry as the glaciers disappear.
Chu said free markets alone fail if there is a "common problem" such as air pollution, water pollution, or global warming.

He gave this example of the power of a free market system to improve products, given the proper incentives: In 1975, refrigerators selling for about the same price had an energy efficiency range of 4-1. Since they sold for about the same price it was obvious that efficiency was not an expensive attribute.

Energy efficiency standards and ratings were established and by 2004 refrigerators had increased in size by 25 percent while the cost dropped by 50 percent and the energy use dropped by 80 percent.

Chu said biofuels will be an important but inadequate replacement for CO2-emitting fossil fuels. We also need great improvements in energy conservation, efficiency and clean energy supplies such as solar and wind energy.

Ken Deffeyes, geologist and a professor of geosciences, emeritus at Princeton University, discussed the rapid depletion of crude oil. The global discovery of conventional crude oil peaked in 1964 and production peaked in 2005, according to Deffeyes. The upward trend in oil prices we are now experiencing is a natural outcome of growing global demand and depleting reserves.

Competition to secure access to the remaining reserves on is underway between large consuming nations such as Russia, India, the U.S., Canada, Japan and the European Union.

The rapid loss of Arctic ice has led nations to lay claims to possible energy reserves under the thinning polar ice cap. Deffeyes said more than 100 deep-sea holes have been drilled elsewhere and no oil has been found. A set of special conditions are all required to produce oil and natural gas reserves and most of the planet never had all of them. There may be no significant reserves beneath the Arctic ocean

Deffeyes noted that the time remaining for serious action on energy is relatively short, perhaps five years. The path we have been on will likely lead to war and famine, but, we still have choices in that regard.

Lynd is a biology professor at Dartmouth College. He said "plant biomass is the only foreseeable sustainable source of organic fuels, chemicals and materials." Crude oil and natural gas were formed from deposits of algae in ancient shallow sea beds 90 to 150 million years ago. Those fuels have been referred to as "ancient sunlight." Lynd's biofuels are powered by "current budget sunlight."

Much of Lynd's research is focused on converting cellulosic plant materials into fuels. He is optimistic about the viability of biomass for the production of fuels. However, he said we are going to have to reinvent agriculture to integrate food and biomass production because the amount of arable land is limited so we cannot displace land used for food production to make fuels.

We are now moving from an era of abundant energy and labor constraints to an era of energy constraints and plentiful labor. Everything is going to change.

While he estimated that a biomass fuel processing plant would service an area with a radius of about 50 miles and may produce up to 50 million gallons of fuel per year, his opinion is that biomass fuels will not solve our sustainability problems.

The audience was urged to contact their elected officials and relate their concerns and willingness to pay higher energy costs for climate change mitigation and fuel conservation. Failing to act decisively now will become far more costly in the years ahead.

Norm Erickson of Rochester is a retired IBM technical educator who has spent years studying the world's fuel supplies.


iTulip now has the unenviable task of informing Prof. Emeritus Deffeyes that his soaring oil price is merely a manifestation of an imprudent monetary policy. Or, we can read this as the interesting point where iTulip's thesis of monetarily driven energy price rises will cede the driver's seat to Deffeyes' depletion call, upon further oil prices. Take your pick.

10-21-07, 03:52 PM
iTulip now has the unenviable task of informing Prof. Emeritus Deffeyes that his soaring oil price is merely a manifestation of an imprudent monetary policy. Or, we can read this as the interesting point where iTulip's thesis of monetarily driven energy price rises will cede the driver's seat to Deffeyes' depletion call, upon further oil prices. Take your pick.

I think both go hand in hand, and may mutually reinforce each other!