Citizen Action Monitor

The amount of energy our global civilization of 7.5 billion consumes daily is 18,000,000,000,000 Watts

18 TRILLION! That’s huge. Beyond comprehension. What’s more astonishing is that in just 30 years we’ll double that rate of energy consumption.

No 2387 Posted by fw, October 24, 2018

NOTE — To access my other posts related to Dr. Garrett’s research on a global economic/civilization collapse by the end of this century, click on the Tab in the top left margin, titled Civilization/Economic Collapse ~ Links to All Posts By or About Dr. Tim Garrett’s Research

“I think one thing I find really quite amazing is just how fast the changes may come upon us. If we think about where civilization has come from, it seems like something that’s developed over really quite a long time period. … perhaps close to 10,000 years ago. And since then we’ve built up cities and nations, a transportation and communication networks that enable us to engage in all our activities, today supporting all seven and a half billion of us. And all of this requires a huge [daily] consumption of energy. If I put a number on it, it would be 18 Terawatts. That’s just a number, but it’s a very large amount of energy that is consumed day after day after day continually in order to sustain all our activities. … Now what is astonishing is that we are not consuming energy just to maintain these activities, but some of this energy is going into enabling us to extract raw materials from our environment in order to enable us to grow. So we are constructing new aspects of civilization, new communication networks, new roads, planes, even people – which are made of matter – in order to continue to growing our humanity.”Tim Garrett, Foresight Analysis Nexus

In 2017 Tim Garrett gave a presentation for the Foresight Analysis Nexus workshop on Energy and the Economy in Crans, Switzerland. His contribution included a 4:16-minute video talk, embedded below, and a paper titled Growth leads to collapse? which he subsequently published in 2018 on his website at the University of Utah under a slightly different title, Will growth transition to collapse? I reposted this piece on my blog under the title: Sustaining economic growth now means more potentially catastrophic global climate change later.

Before getting to the video, a clarification and a couple of points of emphasis. Garrett uses the term ‘Terawatt’ in his talk. A Terawatt is a unit of power equivalent to a trillion Watts. ‘Power’ is defined as the rate of doing work, measured in Watts. Garrett claims that, in support of the daily activities of our global civilization’s 7.5 billion people, 18 Terawatts of energy is consumed. To be clear, that’s a rate of 18 trillion Watts per day. Expressed numerically, 18 trillion can be written as 18,000,000,000,000 Watts, or 18 x (1012 ) Watts. Absent a context, a number that large, and the units of measure, Watts and Terawatts, are, I suggest, meaningless to most of us. Garrett doesn’t explain how he arrived at the number 18 trillion Terawatts, but I will take him as his word that it is correct.

The other thing I want to emphasize is that the measure refers to the rate of energy consumption by our global civilization as a whole, in the performance of “activities”, such as “constructing new aspects of civilization, new communication networks, new roads, planes, even people – which are made of matter – in order to continue to growing our humanity.” Moreover, this is the rate of energy consumption day after day after day, continually.

At the end of his short talk, Garrett explains why this level of energy consumption, doubling every 30 years, has potentially catastrophic consequences.

To illustrate Garrett’s point about the amazing rate of growth of energy consumption, be sure to watch the short video at the end of this post about China’s trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade. (So far the video has had 3,124,046 views).

Below is an embedded video of Garrett’s short talk along with my transcript of the talk.

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In Simple Terms, Video talk by Timothy Garrett, Foresight Analysis Nexus, 2017 (4:16-minutes)

TRANSCRIPT

I think one thing I find really quite amazing is just how fast the changes may come upon us. If we think about where civilization has come from, it seems like something that’s developed over really quite a long time period. Maybe we would start at some time after the Last Ice age when we developed agriculture, perhaps close to 10,000 years ago. And since then we’ve built up cities and nations, a transportation and communication networks that enable us to engage in all our activities, today supporting all seven and a half billion of us.

And all of this requires a huge [daily] consumption of energy. If I put a number on it, it would be 18 Terawatts. That’s just a number, but it’s a very large amount of energy that is consumed day after day after day continually in order to sustain all our activities.

Now what is astonishing is that we are not consuming energy just to maintain these activities, but some of this energy is going into enabling us to extract raw materials from our environment in order to enable us to grow. So we are constructing new aspects of civilization, new communication networks, new roads, planes, even people – which are made of matter – in order to continue to growing our humanity.

And there it is surprising, because our current growth rate – it may seem small, just 2.3% per year thereabouts for our rates of energy consumption growth – but that translates to a doubling in our consumption rate in just 30 years. Now that’s incredible, because if you think that it took us 10,000 years to get to our current consumption rate, and that we will double this again in just 30 years, then we’re thinking about a change in civilization that in our very lifetimes will reproduce everything that has happened over centuries, millennia.

And that brings to us, I think, a very basic question – How will this happen? Can we sustain a doubling of our daily energy consumption rate, and all the raw materials that go along with it? Do those raw materials exist? Perhaps they do. Perhaps we can figure out ways to extract sufficient resources from our environment to maintain a doubling of our civilization in the next 30 years. And then in the next 30 years beyond that, which would be four times as large. Perhaps we can do that. Perhaps the resources are out there. Or perhaps they aren’t. And if they aren’t, then I think naturally we would think that all the activities of civilization will somehow have to slow.

And then we can start thinking about well, what does that mean for civilization to start slowing? What does it mean for the economy if we can no longer sustain all the activities with the energy that’s required? Or, if we can’t sustain the activities, what does it mean to have all the accumulating waste products, that are produced by the consumption, accumulating in, for example, our atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide?

A planet that is 5 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today will not be the same place. And we have to think seriously about what that implies for the ability of civilization to continue to grow. Somehow, something will have to give.   

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SEE ALSO

China’s trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade by Vox Atlas, April 5, 2018 (6 minutes)

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is the most ambitious infrastructure project in modern history. It spans over 60 countries and will cost over a trillion dollars. The plan is to make it easier for the world to trade with China, by funding roads, railways, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa. China is loaning trillions of dollars to any country that’s willing to participate and it’s been a big hit with the less democratic countries in the region. This makes the BRI a risky plan as well. But China is pushing forward because its goals are not strictly economic, they’re also geopolitical.

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