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We know that there is a close connection between energy use (and in fact oil use) and economic growth in recent years. Thus, if we want to keep the economy functioning, we need an ever-rising supply of cheap energy products of the appropriate types for our built infrastructure.
1000 to 1500 – Early use of peat moss for heat energy for industrialization, particularly in Netherlands, leading to increased trade. 1500 to 1820 – European empire expansion to the New World and to colonies in Africa, allowing world population to grow. 1940 to 1970 – Post war rebuilding of Europe and Japan and US baby boom led to hugely expanded use of fossil fuels. 1970 to 2000 – 1970 was the beginning of the great “oops,” when US oil production started to decline, and oil prices spiked. 2000 to 2014 – Another big “oops,” as oil prices spiked upward, when North Sea and Mexican oil began to decline. Growth in GDP in Figure 2 generally follows the pattern we would expect, if fossil fuels and earlier predecessor fuels raised GDP and the great “oopses” during the 1970-2000 and 2000-2014 periods reduced economic growth. GDP growth is composed of two different types of growth: (1) population growth and (2) rise in the standard of living (or per capita GDP growth). If we compare the population growth pattern in Figure 3 with the total GDP growth pattern shown in Figure 2, we notice some differences. If we look at world per capita GDP growth by time-period (Figure 4), we see practically no growth until the time of fossil fuels–in other words, 1820 and succeeding periods. I earlier showed how world per capita energy consumption has grown since 1820, based on the work of Vaclav Smil (Figure 5). While this increase in population holds for the world in total, analyzing population growth by country or country grouping yields very erratic results. Part of what happens is that economic collapses (or famines or epidemics) set population back by very significant amounts in local areas. Per capita GDP for Italy dropped by half over this period, from about double that of most other countries to about equivalent to that of other countries. If we look at the trend in population shown on Figure 7, we see that the semi-arid, temperate areas seemed to predominate in population in the Year 1. Each part of the world has its own challenges, from Africa’s problems with tropical diseases to the Middle East’s challenges with water. One point that many people miss is that Japan’s low growth in GDP in recent years is to a significant extent the result of low population growth. As noted above, the big increase in per capita energy use shown in Figure 5 came in the 1940 to 1970 period.
Growth in oil production “hit a wall” in 1970, when US oil production unexpectedly stopped growing and started declining.
Oil prices were brought down, but not to the $20 per barrel level that had been available prior to 1970. In the 2007-2008 period, oil prices spiked again, leading to a major recession, especially among the countries that used very much oil in their energy mix. The high oil prices–around $100 per barrel–continued until United States QE was tapered down and stopped in 2014. If a person looks back at Figure 9, it is clear that high oil prices brought oil consumption down in the early 1980s, and again for a very brief period in late 2008-early 2009. The low prices we are now encountering are a message from our networked economy, saying, “No, the economy cannot really afford oil at this high a price level.
There have been recent reports that the factory portion of the Chinese economy may now be contracting.
Gail TverbergGail Tverberg is a casualty actuary whose prior work involved forecasting and modeling in the insurance industry. The wealth is not of the type that it puts food on the table for people, or magically transports them to work. Much like old world astronomers determined the Earth orbited the Sun at their peril, solar photo-chemistry of protons might offer some good physics. I hit upon an interesting graph, while researching upon the consumption of energy amongst developed and emerging countries.
Although, these figures are not the latest ones, but it will give you a fair Idea about India’s energy consumption per capita in comparison with other developed and emerging economies.
Primary energy use (before transformation to other end-use fuels) in kilograms of oil equivalent, per capita. I dont think dat removing the below poverty line people is goin to solve d power shortage issue. Hey Guys, I dnt know much about that India is doing justice with power consumption or not.
Hi Rahul, That is an interesting comment and good take on numbers if you look only at middle class. It may come as no surprise that large, energy-rich countries like the United States use the most energy, but how much per person? This map includes energy consumption data from the International Energy Agency and includes electricity, as well as fossil and gathered fuels.


Comparison of three-year average growth in world real GDP (based on USDA values in 2005$), oil supply and energy supply. We will also see that economies that can leverage their human energy with inexpensive supplemental energy gain an advantage over other economies. With cheap fuels, it is possible to leverage the expensive energy that humans can create from eating foods (examples: ability to dig ditches, do math problems), so as to produce more goods and services with the same number of workers. The problem we are encountering now is that this isn’t happening–more energy supply may be available, but it is expensive-to-produce supply. The British Economist Angus Maddison made GDP and population estimates for a number of dates between 1 C. E., it appears that the annual growth rate in inflation-adjusted GDP peaked in the 1940 to 1970 period, and has been falling ever since. This set off a major push toward efficiency (smaller cars, better mileage) and shifts to other fuels, including nuclear.
Average annual increase in world population, based on work of Angus Maddison through 2000; USDA population figures used for 2000 to 2014.
Doing so seems to have allowed greater population and more building of cities, but it didn’t raise the standard of living of most of the population by very much. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent divided by population estimates by Angus Maddison. Share of world population from Year 1 to 2014, based primarily on estimates of Angus Maddison. For example, Maddison shows the population of Italy as 8,000,000 in the Year 1, but only 5,000,ooo in the Year 1000, hundreds of years after the fall of the Roman Empire.
As peat moss and fossil fuels were added, population of some of the colder areas of the world could grow. In the published GDP figures we see, no distinction is made between the portion that is due to population growth and the portion that is due to rise in the standard of living (that is, rise in GDP per capita). No breakdown by country is available, but this period includes rebuilding period after World War II for Europe and Japan, and the period with a huge increase in consumer debt in the United States.
Average increase in per capita GDP for the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, based on work of Angus Maddison for 2000 and prior, and USDA real GDP and population data subsequent to that date. If we look at long-term world oil production versus price (Figure 9), we see that growth in consumption was rising rapidly until about 1970.
Most of the infrastructure (roads, pipelines, electrical transmission lines, schools) in the USA, Europe, and Japan had been built with oil at a $20 per barrel level. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011 for selected groups, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.
The combination of low interest rates and high prices encouraged oil production from shale formations, helping to keep world oil production rising, despite a drop in oil production in the North Sea, Alaska and Mexico. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.
But since 2009, oil consumption has continued to rise, thanks to high prices and the additional oil from US shale.
It looked like it could for a while, thanks to all of the financial manipulation, but this is not really the case.” Meanwhile, we see in Figure 8 that for the combination of the EU, USA, and Japan, growth in per capita GDP has been very low in the period since 2000, reflecting the influence of high oil prices on these economies.
Average growth in per-capita GDP for selected economies, based on work of Angus Maddison for Year 1 to 2000, and based on USDA real GDP figures in 2010 US$ for 2000 to 2014. Other factors in the slowdown include the impact pollution is having on the Chinese people, the slowdown in the European and Japanese economies, and the fact that the Chinese market for condominiums and factories is rapidly becoming “saturated”. Chart by Lauri Myllyvirta showing a preliminary estimate of 2014 coal consumption in China. The design of the system is such that the economy can only grow; shrinkage tends to cause collapse. They tend to be high cost when indirect costs, such as the cost of long distance transmission and the cost of mitigating intermittency, are considered. Starting in 2005-2006, she decided to apply her skills to the question of how oil and other limits would affect the world. An addtional factor; part of such consumption takes time from the citizens, which implies they cannot spend money on other things. Those inexpensive PCs and TVs and solar panels made by inexpensive Chinese labor will get less expensive as China becomes the robotics capital of the world. I expected that India’s energy consumption will be low, but I did not expect that it would be one of the lowest in the world. Take the example of China, they too have many poor people, but there footprint is still much higher than what it is in India. If this energy becomes high cost, we will see that countries lose their advantage over other countries, and their economic growth rate slows. Workers find that their wages go farther, allowing them to buy more goods, in addition to the ones that they otherwise would have purchased. The situation might also be considered increasing productivity of workers, because the normal abilities of workers are leveraged through the additional tools made possible by cheap energy products.
Our networked economy sends back strange signals–namely inadequate demand and low prices–when the cost of energy products is too high relative to wages.


So the long-term downward trend in world GDP growth has lasted at least 44 years at this point.
Coal allowed many types of new technology including hydroelectric dams, trains, and steam powered boats.
My discussion earlier about cheap energy having a favorable impact on the amount of goods an economy could create relates primarily to the second kind of growth (rise in the standard of living).
Compared to the period before fossil fuels (generally before 1820), the population growth rate is still exceedingly high. If we look at the earliest periods, (Years 1 to 1000; 1000 to 1500, and even most places in 1500 to 1820), the average per capita income seems to have been equivalent to about $1 or $2 per day, today.
If we look at percentages of world population at various points in time for selected countries and country groups, we get the distribution shown in Figure 7. None of the economies were at a very high level, so most workers, if they survived a collapse, could find work at their same occupation (generally farming), if they could find another group that would provide protection from attacks by outsiders.
These colder areas soon “maxed out” in population, so population growth had to slow down greatly or stop. If the work-around is cheap (immunization for a tropical disease, for example), population may be able to expand with only a small amount of additional energy consumption.
Changing to a higher price level is very difficult, because repair costs are much higher and because an economy that uses very much high-priced oil in its energy mix is not competitive with countries using a cheaper fuel mix. Thus, for a while, the conflict between high prices and the ability of economies to pay for these high prices was resolved in favor of high prices. Both of these factors, as well as the long-term adverse impact of $100 per barrel oil prices on the economy, brought oil price down to its current level, which is around $50 per barrel (Figure 10). This is a chart by one analyst showing the apparent recent decrease in coal consumption.
If my view of the situation is correct, then we need an ever-rising amount of  inexpensive energy to keep the system going. It is hard to create large enough quantities of new renewables: China has been rapidly adding wind capacity, but the impact of these additions can barely can be seen at the top of Figure 14. But China will also be developing military strength along with economic strength, and we will still have no energy. Rather than competing with US per capita consumption and mess up the environment, it is prudent to pay attention to the marginalized poor and assimilate them into the national mainstream. These low prices are also a signal that we are reaching other limits of a networked economy, such as too much debt and taxes that are too high for workers to pay.
There would be a carry-over to population growth as well, because parents who have more adequate resources can afford more children.
The alternative to population growth was emigration, with the “New World” growing in its share of the world’s population and the “Old World” contracting. In fact, we see very large increases in per capita GDP for these countries, as fossil fuels were added, particularly oil.
The situation was more or less resolved by making a number of changes to the economy (switching electricity production from oil to other fuels wherever possible; building smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles), as well as ramping up oil production in places such as the North Sea, Alaska, and Mexico. When we looked at the impact of the recession, the countries with the highest percentage of oil consumption in 2004 had the worst economic growth rates in the period 2005 to 2011. The $50 per barrel price is still very high relative to the cost of oil when our infrastructure was built, but low relative to the current cost of oil production. We have gone from trying to grow the world economy on oil, to trying to grow the world economy on coal. Part of the high cost is the cost of the change-over in infrastructure, including huge amounts of new natural gas pipeline and new natural gas powered vehicles. Without supporting systems, such as roads and electricity transmission lines (which depend on oil), we cannot operate the electric systems that these devices are part of for the long term, either. If the part-time minimum wage person needs to feed herself and one or two others, it is a problem. Physicists created a new medium, engineers a new design, manufacturers a new product, society a new growth opportunity.
And in order to do that governments have to reach them and generate income sources where they mostly are — in the villages. Canadian Energy Researcher Vaclav Smil gives historical energy consumption estimates back to 1800 in his book Energy Transitions – History, Requirements and Prospects. If we say 30-40% of the nation qualifies as middle class that implies that our energy consumption is mostly due to 300 – 400 million people. There are other low-income countries that might increase industrial production, such as in Africa, but they are lacking coal or other cheap fuels to fuel their production. Rahul pointed out, if we need to give better quality of life to the below poverty line ppl, we will have to increase our energy consumption.



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