OK, so this isn’t an official World Energy report just released by some international energy organization or research institute, but it is a fun infographic created by some friends of ours over at MyEnergy.com that helps to visualize and convey some key energy facts.
One of the most striking points (visualized with the Big Macs) is how much more energy per person the U.S. and other developed nations use compared to India, China, or the world as a whole. Here’s a good quote from the World Watch Institute on that (from State of the World 2008: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy):
“Clearly, Western Nations have been the key driver of climate change so far. Between 1950 and 2000, the United States was responsible for 212 gigatons of carbon dioxide, whereas India was responsible for less than 10 percent as much. So it is clear that the richest people on the planet are appropriating more than their fair share of ‘environmental space.’ Yet their lifestyle is increasingly what the rest of the world aspires to.”
How Do We Respond?
Two key ways to respond to this would be increasing our energy efficiency (and there’s a ton of potential for that) and, of course, powering more of our country (or world) with clean energy, like wind and solar.
The next part of the infographic shows that the U.S. is doing quite well (comparatively speaking) at installing wind power. However, on the solar power front, it shows that we still have a long way to go.
Germany is a clear leader in both solar and wind. A number of other European countries not on the infographic are also at the top of the charts for these clean energy solutions. But I think the biggest eye catcher is something we’ve written about numerous times here on CleanTechnica (but not much recently)….
China Leading the Way
China, while still having a low amount of per person energy use, is charging forward on wind and solar power fast (and can expect it to have a ton more of those wind turbines and solar panels on that infographic in a few years — it’s 2015 solar power target is 10 GW, 6.5 GW more than what’s on this infographic, and it’s expected to go from nearly 23 GW of wind power in 2010 to 69 GW in 2015. It recently announced that it is looking to invest $313 billion in cleantech by 2015.
Of course, with over a billion people and a growing economy, China is a larger and larger total user of energy (it became the world’s largest total energy user in 2009, as indicated by a 2010 International Energy Agency report). But it’s clear that the country is steaming ahead on clean energy faster than anyone on the planet. By the time it hits the average per person energy use that the U.S. is at now, it will have several times more clean power than we have.
Taking a Closer Look at the U.S.
To put China’s clean energy investment into a bit more perspective, it led the world last year with $54.4 billion invested, while the U.S. fell to third ($34 billion invested). The U.S. was leading the world for awhile on wind energy, but it is being stifled by a largely anti-clean-energy party, the Republican Party, while China is able to plow forward with clean energy at a faster and faster clip. It is even planning to implement a market-based cap-and-trade program, somewhat like the one our capitalistic U.S., ironically, hasn’t been able to implement.
Basically, unless something changes fast in U.S. politics, I think we can expect that the gap between China’s clean energy investment and U.S. clean energy investment is only going to grow for the next year or more. (And, of course, this means they are going to lead us in an industry expected to power the global economy in the coming decades.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. is clearly consuming more than its fair share of dirty energy (and, I would say, not moving fast enough to cut its energy use). Here’s more on that from my friend Kate over at MyEnergy:
What would the world look like if everyone lived like an average American? Although we only comprise 5% of the global population, Americans consume 30% of the world’s material resources and 40% of the world’s gasoline supply, which leads to 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, for one, we would need at least five more planets to provide the necessary resources and absorb the waste.
It’s difficult to see how our daily consumption decisions impact the air or water quality on a local level. And it’s even harder to conceive of how our decisions affect the rest of the world. It may help to know that every time you, as an average American, spend a dollar, the energy equivalent of a cup of oil is used to produce what that dollar buys.
So in true American spirit, allow your competitive side to kick in. Imagine if you consumed four times more gasoline than your neighbors… or four times more food… producing four times more garbage. Who wants to be that guy? So when it comes to spending that next dollar, and the dollar after that, think twice. Try to beat your neighbors. Even if they are located halfway around the world; that doesn’t make them any less real.
While we face big challenges, I think we all can and need to do a few things:
- Look into our own clean energy options.
- Cut our energy use by using energy efficient technology, making our homes more energy efficient, not using technology when we don’t need it, and using clean transportation. (All of this saves us money, too!)
- Supporting politicians who support clean energy and getting involved in politics enough that we help to hold our representatives accountable.
I think we can use the infographic above as an inspiration for all these things.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours?
I'm the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular clean energy website in the world, and Planetsave, a leading green and science news site. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, bicycling, and wind energy for the past few years. You can also find my work on Scientific American, Reuters, Think Progress, GE's ecomagination site, several sites in the Important Media network, & many other places. To connect on some of your favorite social networks, go to zacharyshahan.com or click on some of the links below.