Subject: Population dynamics and Energy use

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.



       "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

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.