The ‘Social Cost of Carbon’ (SCC) has dominated most Climate Change policy developments. International agreements often exclude potential impacts of aggressively reducing future fossil fuels consumption. Even though fossil fuels’ can impact future weather patterns and cause some level of SCC, unreasonably constraining this primary source of current world energy supplies can have major negative impacts on most Countries and their Populations.
To limit future global warming to about 2 degrees Celsius, many climate models estimate that total world 1990 level carbon emissions should be reduced by about 80%, mid-century. This requires replacing the vast majority of fossil fuels with alternative renewables and nuclear power energy sources. Not only will achieving this substantial reduction in current fossil fuels consumption be extremely challenging, the lost hydrocarbon fuels’ benefits could possibly be greater than current SCC estimates.
Reasonable new climate policy developments should compare total costs, including lost benefits of displaced fossil fuels, to the total environmental + clean energy benefits. In addition, all cost-benefit analyses should include the impacts on most nations’ economies and their populations. Unfortunately, reasonably thorough and accurate costs-benefits analyses of substantially reducing fossil fuels energy consumption by 2050 are generally not covered in most governments’ developing climate policies.
Due to the inaccurate assumptions that fossil fuels are only costly sources of high carbon energy that can readily be replaced by renewables, the full impacts of rapidly reducing world fossil fuels supplied are generally omitted from current policy’s analyses. To avoid ineffective and possibly wasteful climate change policies based only on SCC estimates, the benefits of fossil fuels, or ‘Social Benefits of Carbon’ (SBC), should be included in major developing policies.
To better understand the significance of historic and current fossil fuels technologies, energy supplies and their benefits, I completed a summary analysis of major energy technologies and developments over the past two centuries, and the overall impacts on World Economies and Populations.
History of World Civilizations, Energy Sources and Technology Developments – Prior to the mid-Centuries AD (or CE), the world’s evolving and growing civilizations relied on 100% renewable energy supplies and technologies. These included biomass heating fuels (primarily wood), wind (sail boats & windmills), hydropower (water wheels and mills) and manual labor (hunting and gathering, animal transport and row boats).
The world’s human population grew fairly slowly prior to 1st Century AD due to limited availabilities of clean water, food supplies, biomass fuels, and other resources needed by developing Civilizations. Another factor that became increasingly problematic was the development of a few more powerful Empires and growing competition for limited natural resources. These factors constrained total world population to less than about 200 million prior to the 1st Century AD. This pattern of limited natural resources and very slow population growth continued though the 17th Century AD. Refer to Figure 1.
Primary Data – UN sources.
This very slow population growth trend changed dramatically by the 19th Century. More rapid population growth was initially due to a combination of various empires’ and/or civilizations’ developing some early technologies and increasingly accessing required natural resources. One early major development event that increased access to natural resources was the ‘Age of Exploration or Discovery’. Major European nations began discovering and accessing new global resources during the 15th -18th Centuries. This largely involved sailing cross-oceans to access added natural resources in newly discovered continents such as the Americas.
Besides colonizing new lands around the world, basic technology advancements helped facilitated major developing nations’ abilities to begin growing their populations at increasing rates. These earlier technology advancements were based primarily on renewable energy powered equipment, supplies, and manual labor. Technology upgrades included increased water sources (expanding supplies infrastructures such as canals, water well windmills & storage reservoirs), increased food supplies (expanded domestic agriculture), and transportation improvements (larger, more efficient sail ships & horse-drawn transportation).
The next very major civilizations’ development events and technology advancements occurred during the ‘Industrial Revolutions’. As a result of the Industrial Revolutions major developments in new production technologies enabled increased availability of needed goods and food supplies for growing nations’ populations. Major advancements included textiles, steels, machinery, cements, and mining. These and other major improvements substantially increased the abilities of major developing nations to grow and prosper at increasing rates. As a result of the Industrial Revolutions technology advancements, the most developed and many developing countries’ economies began to grow quite substantially. Refer to Figure 2a.
Primary Data Source – The World Bank; 2000 $ basis.
Advancements in the technologies and the production of needed goods and supplies began to grow increasingly during the 19th and first half of the 20th Centuries; as measured by total world ‘gross domestic product’ (GDP). Following World War II (WWII), most developed countries’ economy’s growth rates began substantially accelerating. This was due to major developments in the ability of many Countries’ Commercial and Industrial Sectors to make the switch from limited capacity-efficiency manual labor and renewable energy powered technologies, to newly developing fossil fuels powered technologies. These developments also contributed to growing world trade between the most developed and major developing countries.
Another major benefit of the rapid growth in world GDP following WWII was the overall impact on populations’ average incomes and standards-of-living. Refer to Figure 2b.
Data Sources – Figures 1 & 2a.
World per capita GDP began increasing slowly during the last quarter of the 19th Century and then much more rapidly following WWII. Since WWII average per capita GDP’s have increased by almost 4-fold. Why is this data important? The obvious answer is that it represents a (proportional) measure of average world populous incomes and associated standards-of-living. Yes, developed countries average incomes are currently about 5-times that of average developing countries. However, despite this apparent difference in economic performances, the world’s overall populations have benefited and experienced very large increases in average standards-of-living over the past 70 years.
Impacts of Developing Fossil Fuels Powered Technologies – One major innovation that enabled rapidly increasing development of many countries’ economies during and following the Industrial Revolutions was the evolving (external combustion) ‘steam engine’ technology. Over the past two centuries, steam engine applications grew substantially and displaced most alternative power systems including manual laborers and work animals. Steam powered engines also replaced most state-of-art sail ships, and facilitated railroads transportation development. The initial locomotive steam engines that were fueled by wood were rapidly switched to more efficient coal.
Another major advancement supported by coal fueled steam engines during the early 19th Century was the development of electric powered technologies. Centralized power generation was initially supplied by hydropower, and increasingly by coal power plants. While developing electric motors displaced many (stationary) manufacturing steam engines over time, most larger Industrial scale equipment motors were based on steam engine technologies until post-WWII. As the demand for electricity increased in most sectors (industrial, commercial and residential) throughout the developed and most the developing countries, coal fired plants rapidly became the most dominate source of electric power generation.
The next major technology developments, following the Industrial Revolution’s increased coal fueled machinery & engines and electric power generation, began during the ‘Age of Oil’. The development of the ‘internal combustion engines’ (ICE) became a major game changer for most developed and many developing countries. Coal fueled railroad engines were replaced by diesel ICE locomotives. Development of ‘horseless carriages’ (automobiles and trucks) led to a very rapid growth in petroleum (motor fuels) consumption during the 20th Century. Besides advancing automotive and locomotive ICE engine technologies, marine ships also continued transitioning from sails to steam and eventually many ICE powered vessels. Post WWII witnessed the development and rapid growth of commercial airlines, which supported expansion of world commerce and tourism. Power plants also began ‘fuels switching’ from coal-to-fuel oil; due to competitively priced oil.
All of these mobile and stationary ICE motor application developments led to substantial increases of petroleum consumption during the 2nd half of the 20th Century. In addition to ‘piston driven’ ICE technology advancements, the development of petroleum turbines and jet engines further increased the demand for petroleum oil fuels, and increased major efficiency-capability improvements of stationary equipment and Airline transportation technologies.
Natural gas demand initially began during the 19th Century as an illumination fuel, which was rapidly replaced electric lights. During the 20th Century natural gas became a growing source of heating fuels; in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors. With time natural gas began displacing petroleum and coal heating fuels, particularly following the development of ‘gas turbine’ technologies and power generation. Natural gas increasingly became a dominate source of heating fuels and power generation fuels during the 2nd half of the 20th Century; particularly as growing supplies and developing environmental regulations increasingly limited coal consumption in the developed countries’ industrial and power sectors.
The growing demand for all fossil fuels, in addition to renewable energy technologies, and growing economies and populations, led to a very rapid growth in world total ‘primary energy’ demand and consumption. Refer to Figure 3a.
Primary Data Sources – C2ES and DOE/EIA. Note: Nuclear Power began making up an increasing percentage of ‘non-fossil fuels’ energy supplies in the 1970’s and up to about 1/3rd of total non-fossil fuels in 2015.
Total world ‘primary’ energy consumption initially grew fairly slowly until the early 20th Century. During, and prior to, the 19th Century, non-fossil fuel (renewables; initially dominated by biofuels, hydro & wind), clearly dominated world primary energy supplies. Beginning the 20th Century, total fossil fuels began exceeding total renewable energy supplies and consumption. And, following WWII the consumption of fossil fuels began growing rapidly and became the most important and dominate source of world primary energy supplied. For example: total world primary energy mix in 2015 was about 13% renewables (including approximately 1/4th from hydropower), 5% nuclear, and 82% fossil fuels.
As fossil fuels technologies have developed and advanced, and energy consumption increased over the past century, so has the fossil fuels supplied mix changed. Refer to Figure 3b.
Primary Data Sources – C2ES and DOE/EIA.
Coal was the dominate fossil fuel energy supplied until the early 1960’s. The combination of increased transportation, and the industrial and the power sectors’ fuels switching, led to petroleum oils becoming the dominate source of the world’s fossil fuels supplied. Overall, total fossil fuels consumption has grown at substantial (>10%/yr.) rates since WWII.
World Fossil Fuels Carbon Emissions Growth – Fossil fuels consumption has been the largest source of man-made carbon emissions over the past two centuries. As developed and developing countries have grown, so have world fossil fuels carbon emissions. Refer to Figure 4a.
Primary Data Sources – C2ES and DOE/EIA. Note: carbon (dioxide) emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels makes up about 2/3rds of total World 2015 carbon ‘equivalent’ greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon emissions from fossil fuels consumption increased slowly from 1800 to 1945, then began increasing at substantially higher rates. From 1800-1945 the total world fossil fuels carbon emissions increased by about 4,200 million metric tons per year (MMT/yr.), and during 1945-2015 carbon emissions increased by an additional 29,200 MMT/yr. This very large carbon emission increase was due to rapidly increasing energy demand from rapidly growing developed and developing countries’ economies, populations and their overall living standards. These factors also resulted in per capita carbon emissions increases. Refer to Figure 4b.
Data Sources – Figures 1 & 4a.
World per capita carbon emissions from fossil fuels grew rapidly during the mid-19th to the early 20th Centuries and then nearly flatten out through WWII. The reasons for this flattening of per capita carbon emissions was due to multiple factors. These included the significant influences of WWI & WWII, the 1930’s Great Depression, technology efficiency improvements, and due to world oil demand beginning to exceed initially available supplies; or increasing fuel costs. Limited oil supplies began developing during the 1930’s – 1940’s as originally developed ‘conventional’ on-shore oil reserves became increasingly depleted and early oil companies failed to sustain and grow their proven reserves with increasing demand. Following WWII, the development of the huge Middle East (OPEC) crude oil reserves, and advancements in oil production technologies around most the world enabled substantial oil production growth worldwide.
The combination of growing environment problems (London Fog, LA Smog, etc.) and the energy crises of the 1970’s (due to the OPEC Arab Oil Embargo) resulted in reduced and increasingly controlled carbon-emissions from fossil fuels in the mid-1970’s through the 1990’s. New and definitely needed environmental regulations substantially reduced the earlier most harmful fossil fuels pollution (PM, SOX, NOX, VOC’s, etc.) by requiring newly developed stationary source environmental control technologies (furnace/boiler burner controls advancements, stack precipitators and scrubbers, etc.). Fuels switching to cleaner fuels such as lower sulfur petroleum and natural gas also reduced stationary sources’ pollution. Mobile vehicle tailpipe pollution was rapidly reduced by cleaning up petroleum motor fuels (lower sulfur-cleaner diesels and gasolines, no-leaded gasoline, oxygenates blending, etc.) and building cleaner ICE’s (engine combustion controls advancements, catalytic converters, etc.).
The risks of future energy shortages (such as another OPEC embargo) and vehicle carbon emissions were reduced by requiring increased vehicle and equipment energy efficiencies, and increasingly supporting alternatives to petroleum motor fuels, such as biofuels. These and other government regulations significantly cleaned up and reduced the need for per capita fossil fuels-carbon emissions; primarily in developed countries.
Social Benefits of Carbon – Most developed and developing countries have benefited substantially from fossil fuels’ technologies and available energy supplies since the early 20th Century. Over the past 70 years, fossil fuels have rapidly become the major and growing source of heating, power and transportation fuels. This has enabled the residential, commercial, industrial, transportation and power sectors to meet the rapidly increasing energy demands of nearly all countries and their growing populations. During this post WWII period the world population has tripled (increased from 2.4 to 7.3 Billion), the total developed and developing countries’ GDP’s have grown by almost 11-fold ($7 to $74 trillion/yr.), and average world populous standards-of-living are many times greater than pre-WWII. Besides substantially reducing the need for manual labor and increasing most countries’ economies and populations living standards, cost effective fossil fuels energy benefits have helped facilitate the development of many other modern technologies. Advancements in machinery and equipment power trains’ designs and operating controls have substantially increased energy efficiencies and consumers’ value-added benefits. Mankind would not have been able to take off into outer space and land on the moon without rockets fueled by petroleum; initially JP-4 jet + liquid O2.
The world is poised to continue to grow its populations, economies and average living standards at similar rates through mid-century. This, of course, assumes that the required resources, including energy technologies and supplies, continue to be available at the increasing levels required to support future developed and developing countries growing populations and economies.
Achieving the 2 Degree C Target – The world faces a major challenge in sustaining recent healthy developed and developing countries’ evolving technologies and growing economies and populations. Substantially reducing future world total carbon emissions from fossil fuels with renewable and nuclear power technologies and energy sources, and possibly carbon capture and sequester technologies, can be far more difficult than recent UNFCCC negotiators apparently assume. From 1990-2015 total world fossil fuels primary energy supplies increased by 4-times the amount than non-fossil fuels (primarily renewables) grew; equivalent Btu basis. Even though major developed countries have implemented many green energy policies over the past 10 years, fossil fuels energy supplies still grew at almost 3-times the rate of renewables. Despite this less than favorable fossil fuels energy consumption growth trend, the real question for the UNFCCC and individual countries’ government’s climate change policy developments is: “What are the feasible and reasonable timeframes needed to actually reduce world total fossil fuels consumption and associated carbon emissions towards the 80% goal from the 1990 baseline level?”. In other words, how are developed and developing countries going to feasibly reduce their current total fossil fuels carbon emissions of 33,500 Million Metric Tons per year (MMT/yr.) in 2015 down towards 4,300 MMT/yr. (1990 80% reduction) by 2050? These questions will be addressed in a future article: “Social Benefits of Carbon – Part 2: Feasible Alternative Energies, Technologies and Strategies”.