40. A YANGTSE DAM EVERY MONTH
The doomers like to blow future demand way out of proportion to make the problem look impossible. Here's a classic example:
Richard Smalley has estimated that the world will need approximately 10 TerraWatts of energy by 2050 due to population growth and hydrocarbon energy depletion. That means we need to complete an energy project the size of the Yangtse Dam in China (the largest power plant in the world) at 18.2 GigaWatts once EVERY MONTH from now until 2050... and we will still come up just shy of the mark.
I did the conversion*, and Smalley is claiming we will need 7.5 times more energy in 2050 than we used in 2001. What will we use all that energy for?
The U.S. population is projected to rise from about 300 million in 2003 to about 400 million in 2050, and that's a rise of only 33%. Why would we need to boost energy production by 650% to service population growth of 33%?
Furthermore, world population in 2003 was 6.3 billion, and the United Nations Population Fund estimates it will be 8.9 billion in 2050. That's a 41% increase, worldwide. So why do we need to boost energy production by 650% to service population growth of 41%?
One thing's for sure: No developed country will need to build a Yangste dam every month to meet its energy needs for 2050.
The answer to all these riddles is that Smalley is putting forth the figure we'll need to electrify the entire world up to U.S. standards of living AND fuel all our cars with electricity. We may not be able to do these things, but that does not mean we are doomed. Rural people in undeveloped countries may continue to live without electricity, and first-worlders may not be driving so much. So what? That's not a catastrophe.
*) Total world energy consumption in 2001 = 400 quadrillion btu = 4 x 10^17 btu (EIA stats)
10 terawatts x 1 year = 10^13 watt-years = 10^10 kilowatt-years = (10^10)(365)(24) kilowatt-hours = 8.8 x 10^14 kilowatt-hours
1 kilowatt-hour = 3412 btu, so 8.8x10^14 kilowatt-hours = 3x10^18 btu
(3x10^18 btu)/(4x10^17 btu) = 7.5