Forget the argument about whether climate change is being caused by humans or not, it’s perfectly clear that we humans are very greedy and wasteful. This is what has to stop. Let’s acknowledge how greedy and wasteful we are, and then let’s start trying to address it. We don’t need any other reason than the fact that greed leading to lots of waste can’t be good for anything.

Some time ago I was researching about the amount of energy we use. It’s no surprise that the world is using exponentially more energy as time passes. The counter argument goes that there are more and more people on the planet too, so maybe the extra energy usage is just natural. However, I wasn’t expecting to find what I found.

Growth of energy usage

Can I say first that humans are the only organisms on the planet that use supplemental energy? All other organisms only use the energy they get from digesting their food, breathing air and absorbing sunlight. Humans use electricity, oil, gas, coal, uranium, solar, wind, water, etc. to create supplemental energy for our benefit.

I found this graph (from Our World in Data) that shows the growth of energy consumption over the past 200 years.

global energy usage

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This is quite a scary graph as it shows a clear exponential curve with about a 15 times increase in energy consumption since the year 1900. Wow!

Also notice that coal, oil and gas make up the bulk of the energy usage. Coal usage is dropping off a bit now but, since 2000, it has grown quite a lot.

It’s also interesting to see that there was no oil and gas usage before 1900 and no coal usage before about 1850. So this explosion of burning fossil fuels for energy has only happened in the latest 100 to 150 years of history.

Growth of the population

Ok, so we need to see how the population growth has gone over the last 200 years, and we can see that in the following graph (again, the source is “Our World in Data”).

growth of the world population

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It’s also an exponential growth curve, but this time the growth since 1900 is only about 5 times. Most of the growth has come from Asia and we see that Africa is also growing. Let’s overlay these two exponential curves to see what’s really going on.

Comparing energy usage and population growth

I manually adjusted the scales of the two graphs above to create this roughly fair comparison.

we are just greedy and wasteful

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Now we can see that the population growth does not account for the rapid energy usage increase. Compared to 200 years ago, every person is using about 4 times more energy today.

 

4 times!

 

Every one of the “conveniences” we have today that we didn’t have in the past is using more energy. Washing machines, clothes dryers, microwave ovens, TV’s, lights, heating, air-conditioning, cars, planes, shipping foods around the world, computers, mobile phones, the internet, cloud services – they all need energy. In general, we’re burning lots of fossil fuels to have these things. Are we aware of that?

We are just greedy and wasteful

Without even knowing it, we’ve become very greedy and wasteful. We think of modern conveniences as things that are necessary and our right to have, but forget that we have to burn fossil fuels (behind the scenes) in order to have them. The irony is that most of these modern conveniences aren’t even necessary.

 

We just need to start using less.

 

Some of the things we can do immediately are;

  • drive less
  • drive more slowly
  • fly less
  • dry clothes in the air
  • use heating and air-conditioning less
  • watch TV less (and turn off the TV)
  • get solar panels for our homes
  • cancel cloud subscription services we don’t really use – there are all sorts of streaming services now and they all burn fossil fuels behind the scenes
  • buy local foods
  • buy from local companies

Are we able to stem the tide on our energy usage and become less greedy and wasteful? If so, we need to do it quickly because the exponential curves we’re currently following do not end up any place nice.

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