From 20 tons to 1 ton of CO2 per year, per capita in the next 40 years: it’s a great challenge for all of us!
But what does this really mean?
The most popular response to this claim is: “It’s impossible!” or “It will lower our quality of life!” Such responses may be a good way to generate fear, but not the right rational response at all.
Let’s start with the question, “Where are we in energy consumption?” … because nothing lives without energy!
If one divides the total energy use of the U.S. by the total population, we use energy about equal to over 2,880 gallons of gasoline per capita per year or 12,000-Watts of continuous energy. Another way to put it: that’s 120 100-watt light bulbs burning for each one of us 24/7, forever.
The second question that often comes up is, “Where could we be?”
But I believe the right question is: “How much energy do we need to retain our quality of live with technology available to us today?” (I actually didn’t come up with this question, it stems from a question asked and explored by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.)
Their answer is: “2000 watts of continuous energy per person” which resulted in the 2000-Watt Society vision. This is like 20 100-watt light bulbs burning continually, equal to about 480 gallon of gasoline per capita per year. (Click here for a great brochure called: Download smarter_living_novatlantis.pdf)
I believe this would lead to the argument that TODAY, we have energy efficiency potential of 10,000 watts or over 80%, meaning we are very resource inefficient while maybe being very cost effective.
Let’s look at our energy supply picture.
On the supply side, we use about 85% fossil-based energy sources contributing directly to the climate change issue and 15% of other energy sources including nuclear, hydro and other alternative energy sources according to the US Department of Energy.
And finally, let’s close the circle to the CO2 challenge question.
The last fact to understand is that about 500 watts of continuous fossil fuel-based energy equals 1 ton of CO2. If we apply this ratio to our 12,000-watt continuous consumption argument above, wouldn’t that mean we have almost enough of a non-fossil energy supply already in place to meet the 2000-Watt Society goal? And does that not also mean the answers to the challenge of energy and climate change would be more on the demand side than a supply side? I think so.
One last question then: What’s holding us back?