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January 26th, 2010
12:14 PM ET

Jobs and population: Too many people for the planet

Editor's Note: This article continues our series excerpted from AC360°'s contributor David Gewirtz's upcoming book, How To Save Jobs, which will be available this month. Over the next few months, we'll be excerpting the first section of the book, which answers the question, "How did we get here?". Last time, we looked at offshoring as a national security risk? This time, we begin our look at jobs and population. To learn more about the book, follow David on Twitter @DavidGewirtz.

David Gewirtz | BIO
AC360° Contributor
Director, U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute

As more and more workers in countries like China and India aggressively enter what we’d consider the middle class, availability of scarce resources like energy and even food may become a problem for all of us.

People in China and India are doing everything they can to move their populations into the middle class, so their populations reflect more of the relative economic strength evident in America and Europe. In exploring the relationship between jobs, “middle-classing” of developing nations, and population, I was curious what the world would look like if a newly “middle-classed” China and India consumed resources like America and Europe do.

Energy consumption

I decided to take my computer science degree out for a spin and build an economic model. I based the first phase of the model on energy consumption, because energy is a finite resource. Courtesy of the International Energy Agency, I learned that about 13 billion tons of oil equivalent (oil and other resources that make energy) is consumed worldwide.

Today, the United States consumes about 2.3 billion tons of that, or about 18.3 percent of the world’s total supply.

China consumes slightly more than we do, at about 2.6 billion tons of go-juice. What makes China particularly interesting is that it's consuming more and more each year. While our demand increases only 0.34 percent annually, China’s demand is increasing at 8.68 percent. Even the rate of increase is increasing. Back in 2000, China’s demand only increased by 2.46 percent.

China and India alone would use almost 1.5 times the world’s energy supply.

So they’re using more and more energy and the rate of their use is increasing more and more each year.

India’s usage is also measurable, but nothing like that of China. India consumes only about 626 million tons of oil equivalent. Their rate of increase is 4.8 percent and has been relatively steady since the late 1990s.

But while America’s demand for power is growing at less than 1 percent per year, China’s demand is growing at 8.68 percent and India’s at 4.8 percent. It seems clear that China’s and India’s need for the world’s scarce energy resources will become increasingly extreme.

Here’s where my model made me realize this ain’t our Daddies’ planet anymore. Today, the U.S. consumes 18.3 percent of the world’s total energy resources - but we have only 4.6 percent of the world’s population.

What if China and India consumed energy at the rate we do?

On a per capita basis, every man, woman, and child in the United States consumes about 7.5 tons of energy per year.

What if, as more and more Chinese and Indian citizens enter the middle class, they consume energy at the same rate as we do, here in the U.S.?

If everyone in China used energy at the same rate we do here, China would consume 10.1 billion tons of oil equivalent per year, or 78 percent of the world’s total output. And if every one of India’s 1.2 billion people used energy at the same rate we do here, they’d consume an additional 9.1 billion tons of oil equivalent, or 70 percent of the world’s total supply.

Are you seeing it? Took me a few minutes to really grasp the implications. Here it comes...

This isn’t politics or even ideology. This is simple math.

If citizens in China and citizens in India were to live like citizens in America (and they want to, they want to oh-so-very much), China and India alone would use almost 1.5 times the world’s energy supply.

They’d use it up and then use it up half again. And that’s not counting the energy used by America, Europe, or the rest of the world.

Put simply, something’s gotta change. If developing countries reach a point where their citizens are well-fed and happily productive, Earth is going to run out of energy. It’s not fair, though, to hold back huge masses of humanity simply because we Americans want to power yet another TiVo. Instead, we’re going to have to find ways to generate more energy, become more energy efficient, and become less of a drain on the planet.

This isn’t politics or even ideology. This is simple math.

Follow David on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz.

Author's Note: The book is done! It went to the printer this week and should be available in a few weeks.

Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the ZATZ magazines. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.


Filed under: David Gewirtz • Economy • Energy • Environmental issues • Oil • Technology
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Clayton Surratt

    The premise is false. Energy is not a finite resource. Available fossil fuels are finite. Energy is abundant.

    January 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  2. sonya Sharpe

    Thats a strange Topic ! I was just saying that I really think we are at war to depopulate,because the countries that we are at war with don't want government and when we live there they will continue living ungovern. Just sayin !

    January 26, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  3. Courtney

    Thank you for this! Good job! The answer is alternative sources of sustainable energy, and better green building. I'm working on getting into a Masters program for architecture at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago- so I'm working on it!

    January 26, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  4. Jim

    Too Many People – Ok Then lets get rid of The Fat Cats that Drive the big cars,Fly the big jets,waste the most resources, That rob the poor of their land, money & dignity. Actually we have the capability of supporting the population it is that Governments & the fat Cats want poor slaves so they can maintain their standard of living. Check You tube on the depopulation plans.

    January 26, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  5. kieraChang

    Clearly we need another planet to live in. Pandora anyone?!?!

    January 26, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  6. C. Ibeth Angulo. Sugar Land, TX

    The author makes a very interesting and measured analysis of where the world is heading if the we keep using energy at the rate we currently are. However, some questions still remain, how do we decrease the rate of energy consumption.? How can we become more energy efficient without depleting even more our planet resources? Should every country control more efficiently their population growth?

    January 26, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  7. Tim Gibson

    Yet, our own national leaders have been a barrier to development and use of renewable and clean energy. Why is that?

    January 26, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  8. Elizabeth

    The premise of your article – that Americans and other consume too much should have been the title. As it is, this title seems gross and obtuse to it's timing after the devastation in Haiti.

    January 26, 2010 at 10:46 am |