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Galloping populations and energy consumption

May 28, 2008

A long time ago, or rather I should say not so long ago the world was not too populated. That was in the year 1600 A.D. Gradually the world started to fill up, faster and faster and faster . The population in South America, Australia and even North America was negligible at the time although Europe had significant numbers…and the population in India and China was sizable.

By 2005 the world had become a crowded place. I found some maps to illustrate this change…you can view them here in the slideshow…. Watch how the maps change as the years roll by… (if the slideshow ends and you want to view it again, simply press the cross at the top right hand corner)

From 1600 A.D to 1700 A.D. there isn’t much change, but by 1800 there is a startling jump in China’s population. The populations of India and Russia also increase significantly and the population of the United States seems to double…

By 1900 there is a huge spurt in human population all over the world and this change seems to start in the first quarter of the 19th century, somewhere around 1820. All islands off the east coast of Australia become populated. There is a significant increase in Africa’s population too and by 1950 the global population has grown further despite 2 world wars! We humans are quite resilient.

By 2000 the population of China and India increases alarmingly. True, the population of the United States also grows (partly due to increasing immigration) but it was never that large to begin with. Where Europe is concerned, population growth is slowing down. Even the population of Russia is showing slower growth and as for India, we are fast catching up with China.

India’s population gets bigger than that of China by 2030. On the other hand, Japan’s population decreases and Europe’s remains static.Petrol station

Energy consumption and population growth
When it comes to energy consumption India and China are heading for big trouble. However it is not just the increase in population (and the resultant increase in energy requirements) that’s critical here. There are two additional aspects to be taken into consideration.

One, it’s not just all Indian families owning cars that will push up energy consumption…but the fact that families will start to own more than one car (normal in the United States), a trend that has already started amongst the well-to-do here. And the Tata Nano is sure to fuel this trend once it’s out.

Two, changing lifestyles is something that we need to ponder on as this will impact energy consumption in a big way. For this we need to look at the consumption patterns in the United States. I came across some statistics which might give us an idea as to what the future could hold for us. America’s population increased by 50 percent in the last 39 years, but the number of households grew by a 100 percent in the corresponding period! And the number of vehicles more than doubled…and hear this… the miles driven in those vehicles nearly tripled!!

And this has happened because people are increasingly living alone and in smaller units. The average household size in the United States has shrunk from 3.3 people to 2.6 people, and single person households have increased from about 15 percent to about 27 percent. It says here:

The natural resource base that is required to support each person keeps rising…we are heating and cooling more space, and the housing units are more spread out than ever before.”

America is certainly worried about consumption as gas prices are rising steadily and are likely increase further in the years to come. As of now we in India may only consume only 2.5 million barrels of oil a day (one third that of China and one eighth that of the US), but this situation is fast changing.

(Photograph of the petrol station is by me)

Related Reading: India’s population to rise to 2 billion in a century
A profitable way to dispose of garbage
Organic food can save the world
India’s per capita food consumption is still low
About two sustainable bio-gas projects in India
Food consumption growing globally

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2008 8:55 am

    Nice article and slide show, Nita.

    I think population growth automatically slows down once a country becomes developed. The population of the developed countries of the world(except the U.S.A.) is about to stabilise or has stabilised(average fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman) or is actually decreasing. Even Russia’s population seems to be falling, so they bring in immigrants from the former Soviet Republics. But we(in India and China) are headed for big trouble 😦

    I wholeheartedly welcome more people owning cars, especially compact fuel-efficient cars. It brings down the fatalities in road accidents and forces the governments to implement good public transportation systems and tax private transport and parking to encourage public transport.

    I am shocked by the despicable double standards of “world leaders” and their stooges who advocate that India should discourage the ownership of cars. I want them to travel for just a day on Indian roads. Their countries have been using fuel-guzzling, fume-spewing vehicles for a century and now they want to prevent us from using our fuel-efficient, environment friendly cars!

    It is good that the government has decided to make India a hub for small car production. Small, fuel-efficient, eco-friendly, spacious, safe and comfortable cars like the Tata Nano are the way forward! Tata is eyeing the European, Latin American and African markets as well with slightly modified versions of the Nano to suit the tastes of each continent. There is a mad scramble by international car companies to come out with their own ‘nano’cars. I just have one request for Tata-they should give priority to those who do not own cars when they launch the Nano. Those who already own a car(or cars) can wait.

  2. May 28, 2008 9:34 am

    i feel that as time passes by, we will find better and smarter ways to get the job done…. and hence the per capita consumption of energy will never exceed the supply…
    or worst case, we will find newer sources of energy… like nuclear fusion.

  3. May 28, 2008 11:21 am

    I feel the same way as Ankur, I hope we find better and less harmful energy sources.

  4. May 28, 2008 11:24 am

    Yes, It is time to get vehicle that runs on other forms of energy. This should become reality in one day as my MASTER’s MASTER said…

  5. May 28, 2008 1:45 pm

    electric and hybrid cars could be the future. if the technology develops that could store energy is small cheap batteries (now the size of the battery is a concern) there would be a revolution.
    Well we would never know coz the mobile phones now are faster and efficient than the huge computers manufactured 20 years ago.
    We had a communications and Information revolution. Now we need an energy revolution. it could change the future.

  6. May 28, 2008 2:36 pm

    If government concentrates on development of public transportation and integrate rail and road links, use of private vehicles will reduce. With increasing oil prices, all countries are now looking more for alternative energy sources like wind energy, tidal power and solar energy. Public awareness has to increase to use energy saving appliances like compact fluorescent lamps,star rated air conditioners, energy efficient motors etc. Energy wastage has to be reduced.

  7. May 28, 2008 3:46 pm

    What countries like India and China really want right now is a robust public transport in places where the population is heavily concentrated.
    What advantage would I have if I replace my car which works on petrol with the one which works on some new mindblowing technology, if I have no place to park it?

  8. May 28, 2008 4:24 pm

    An interesting topic to be written about supplemented by enough research and statistics. Contrary to some comments above, the energy consumption is higher in developed nations despite their fraction of population as compared to India. Infact, if you look at the 2003 report by Energy Information Administration (EIA) – – which clearly shows the emission of CO2 emission in tons to be 20 times higher than that of an Indian for an American. Taking the population into account, it is still 5 times more.

    Ofcourse, that doesn’t undermine the fact that it’s ok for India to have a population growing at such an alarming rate. Unless, the government takes some radical steps like China did, it would be impossible to contain it through education.

  9. May 28, 2008 8:04 pm

    Hi Nita,

    I posted something similar that puts energy into an historical perspective. We will all need to change, especially in America, no matter what crude oil goes to. Energy is not free and control of energy is what leads to prosperity. Imagine India with electric power all the time and at a rate that would allow sustainable growth. The country that develops inexpensive renewable energy will be the next country to lead the world.



  10. armoredfish permalink
    May 28, 2008 9:51 pm

    Read, study and analyze

  11. May 28, 2008 10:09 pm

    Raj, Ankur, Suda, Saravanan, Xylene, thanks. As you say, our world needs fuel efficiency, and ofcourse alternative sources of energy.

    OldSailor, Amit, now that’s the solution and I think our planners are working towards it. the problem is that everything is happening so slowly! We have to wait till 2010 for something to start on the mumbai metro.

    Lakshmi, thanks for the link. Actually that’s worrying me too. our illiteracy. how in the world are we going to teach the masses to conserve energy when its so difficult to convince even educated people?Also I have seen that when people come into money in the first generation (something happening a lot in India) they don’t want to conserve.

    goesdownbitter, thanks. will check it out. 🙂

    armoredfish, a belated welcome to you. 🙂 I know you left a comment yesterdya but haven’t got down to answering it yet. thanks for the link.

  12. May 29, 2008 1:16 am

    Its in human nature to innovate. so i think humans will find better solutions when need arises , but it does take time

    i share suda and ankurs views.
    worst case as india is a consumer economy we have always got the bullock cart way of doing things

    i think close knit family education and religion is also play a role in population growth , No wonder indians chinese and muslim countries moreso are breeding

  13. oemar permalink
    May 29, 2008 4:01 am

    A very good sum up of the whole scenario… the best thing right now would be to invest in hybrid cars… I am walking to office nowadays anyway 🙂

  14. oemar permalink
    May 29, 2008 4:06 am

    Btw, did you know that citizens in Brazil are not very much worried with gas price rises. Because of the 70’s oil crisis in Brazil, they started researching and switching to ethanol-run cars. As of now, more than 70% cars in Brazil run on ethanol. They are saving billions of dollars in oil import reductions. Not to mention jobs that ve been created due to large scale ethanol production.

  15. Yogesh permalink
    May 29, 2008 8:11 am

    Amongst many books and academic work on this topic, related website and research project to note is – . Also, Vasant Gowarikar (?), I think wrote a book on India’s population growth, and our experiments to control it.

    Curious to see what we want “our government” to do from the comments and replies. “our government” on the other hand wants private sector to participate in infrastructure – which is a good way to do it with incentives and safeguards. Maintenance and operations becomes easy to finance as well.

    Same kind of metro system in the western world probably will take longer to build if we follow all the environmental compliance processes and acts excluding any public approvals. It takes years to build infrastructure along with long term vision. Maharashtra (excluding Mumbai), has six to eight hours of life without electricity in majority of its cities and towns in 2008 – which is really unacceptable. Power will come sometime in the future provided we have a clean energy plan now.

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