Subject: Population dynamics and Energy use ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Comments: Mass-media society has a bias: acute problems get all the focus, while chronic problems get swept under the rug. This seems particularly true for social/political problems. We take immediate note of a "coup d'etat" in the Soviet Union - or even an upstart Middle East dictator's attempt to expand his dominion over oil - but pay little attention to the chronic problems of unbridled population growth. This, even though the latter are the root cause of the world's most pressing environmental problems. THE ROAD TO SUSTAINABILITY, this week's Eco-Watch focus, challenges us to become active in the population debate and do more to conserve energy. Three pages follow. Dve. -------========X========------- Eco-Watch 8/20/91 "If we want a United States with a clear maximum population ceiling, we must plan for it now. We must announce that curtailed immigration and population policy are not taboo subjects for public debate. Otherwise we cannot object if our politicians deliver us to a future we deplore." B. Meredith Burke, San Jose Mercury News THE ROAD TO SUSTAINABILITY Residents of the U.S. are tremendous wasters of energy: Our population of over 250 million represents 5% of the world total, yet accounts for 25% of the world's annual energy use. For years, we environmentalists have worked to reduce that level of consumption, pointing to the environmental and economic consequences of irresponsible resource use. Recently, the goal of reducing resource consumption has been tied to the concept of "sustainability" -- managing resources in a way that will provide access to energy and food over the long term. Unfortunately, many of the people who use this term misapply it because they fail to consider the effect of a growing population. In this country, our per capita levels of resource consumption are high, primarily the result of poor planning and inefficiency. Consequently, some argue that long-term reductions in resource consumption can be achieved by using our resources more frugally. While this argument is alluring, it does not acknowledge that total resource consumption is determined not only by how much each individual consumes, but by how many individuals are doing the consuming. When the impact of population growth is introduced into the equations, even the most optimistic estimates of energy efficiency fall short of assuring a truly sustainable future. High-Efficiency Technologies Readily Available How much energy does the United States waste? The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) estimates that simply by employing today's best available technologies in transportation, buildings and industry, the U.S. could reduce oil consumption by 80%. In fact, according to RMI, just by conserving the heat lost through U.S. windows, we could save the equivalent of all the oil that flows through the Alaskan pipeline every two years (about 1360 billion barrels). We are also wasteful in our methods of transportation: The 140 million cars on the road in the U.S. average just 19 miles per gallon (mpg), while our newer domestic models average 28 mpg. These numbers are remarkably low in comparison to the most fuel-efficient cars produced. U.S. and foreign manufacturers have built prototype vehicles achieving fuel economies of 60 to 138 mpg, but have brought few of these vehicles to market because they say there is little economic incentive to do so. With energy saving technologies of such magnitude currently available, isn't it correct to suggest that increases in efficiency will provide all the energy we will need for a long time to come? No, not when you consider the effects of a growing population. The oil-efficiency estimates mentioned above rely on static comparisons. That is, if we could become substantially more efficient tomorrow, we would save 80% of our current level of oil consumption. The comparison does not address the amount of oil we would be using next year as a result of population growth. Increased Efficiency vs Increased Growth Consider the potential energy savings of a compact fluorescent bulb. An 18-watt compact fluorescent can replace a 75-watt incandescent bulb, producing the same amount of light but using only 24% of the energy. If each of the 92 million households in America were to replace three incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, the U.S. would save 157 billion kilowatt hours (KWHs) of electricity over the seven-year lifetime of the bulbs. This annual energy savings of 22 billion KWHs -- the result of doing no more than changing light bulbs -- is equal to approximately 1% of the total annual electricity budget for the whole country! During the same seven-year period, however, the U.S. would add at least 20 million people to its population (assuming current rates of population growth), all of whom will consume energy. If these individuals were to install compact fluorescents in their households, they would use, on average, a cumulative 193 billion KWHs of electricity over the seven years. The net result: an increase in consumption of 36 billion KWHs over the lifetime of the bulbs. It is precisely because growing populations have the potential to consume such vast amounts of energy that the U.S. should pursue energy efficiency. Without increased efficiency, the effects of growth will be even greater. Indeed, in the previous example were the compact fluorescent bulbs not installed, the seven-year period would show an increase in energy consumption of 205 billion KWHs -- nearly six times the amount that would be consumed were the bulbs installed. Of course, one shortcoming of the previous example is that it pits the energy-efficiency gains of only one action (changing lightbulbs) against all human consumption of the resource (in this case, electricity). Hypothetically, were all best available forms of technology implemented tomorrow the increased consumption caused by population growth would defeat those gains only in the distant future. If we miraculously succeeded in reducing our oil consumption by 80% tomorrow, our growing population would have increased its total consumption over the next 35 years only marginally -- we would still be using 75% less oil than we do now. The savings associated with best-efficiency figures lead some to argue that efficiency gains puts so far off into the future the depletion of resources that we would have sufficient time to locate alternative energy supplies. Such an argument is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, efficiency improvements occur over time, so gains are incremental rather than immediate. When incremental gains are offset by a growing population, the resulting levels of consumption are much higher than in the previous oil-efficiency example, markedly reducing the amount of time available to move away from a fossil fuel economy. In fact, efficiency studies incorporated into the National energy Strategy that call for a 43% reduction in per capita energy consumption by 2030 still project an increase in total energy consumption of 12% -- all a result of population growth. Second, a continually growing population guarantees an increase in net consumption; technology does not guarantee an infinitely increasing supply. In the article "Population and the Energy Problem" (Population and Environment, Spring 1991), Dr. John Holdren vividly defines the relationship between population growth and energy consumption. In the period between 1973 and 1986, the United States instituted efficiency measures that reduced per capita energy consumption each year. Between 1970 and 1990, however, total energy use grew by 1.14% a year. Population growth accounted for 93% of our increase in energy consumption during that 20-year period. If not for population growth, the U.S. could be well on its way to reducing its annual energy consumption. There's no doubt that increased U.S. energy efficiency is crucial for the health of all our planet's inhabitants. If you have not already done so, take an important step and replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. Not only will the bulbs' 300% increase in efficiency help reduce U.S. energy consumption, their success will encourage U.S. industries to produce efficient technologies in other areas as well. Even Hunter Lovins, efficiency advocate and President of RMI, admits, however, that efficiency technologies are merely transitional measures on the road to truly sustainable approaches. (E Magazine, May/June 1991). "Particularly when it comes to population," Lovins says. "Two billion Chinese driving clean, efficient cars is not a sustainable future." From: Balance Report, August 1991 Population-Environment Balance 1325 G Street, N.W., Suite 1003 Washington, DC 20005 Population-Environment Balance is a grassroots membership organization dedicated to public education of the adverse effects of continued population growth on the environment. "Balance" advocated measures that would encourage population stabilization in the United States; encourages a responsible immigration policy for the U.S.; and promotes increased funding for contraception research and availability.