Global Energy Challenge in Legos and Beans

Hans Rosling cuts a big problem down to size and clarifies the target: A western quality of life for ten billion people with zero carbon footprint.

chat Posted Sep 13, 2014 by Rezwan | Category : Obstacles Quality of Life Vision
Comment Below

Legos represent a billion people,  white beads are infant mortality and black beads are carbon emissions.

Vision of the modern world

Despite the numbers, Dr. Rosling practices deliberate optimism.

This is how the world will look by the end of this century. See here - this is the old western world, and they will just be the foundation of the modern world.

This is an excellent outcome to strive for.  And quite a challenge to achieve!

Their [Western] fossil fuel consumption has to be on a level that can be shared by the rest of the world.

Quantifying the Challenge

In the video, at present, global greenhouse gas emissions are represented by 12 black beads. 

6 are used by the billion people of the Western World (6 beads per billion = 6bpb).  6 by the other 6 billion people in the world (1 bead per billon).  Three billion more people are about to show up.  The challenge is to raise the the standard of living of all ten billion people to a Western standard of living.  Without damaging the environment.  Tall order!  Just how tall? 

Let’s do the Math

At present:  6 beads per billion x 1 billion people in the Western World + 1 bead per billion x the other 6 billion people =  12 beads + massive inequality.

And don’t forget - 3 billion more people will show up.  There will be 10 billion people to serve. The good news is it will level off at ten.  The bad news is…wow!  That’s a lot of people to satisfy.

With full population, and equality: In order for everyone to have the same standard of living as population levels off -  with no change in energy efficiency, we’ll need: 6 beads/billion x 10 billion people =  60 beads = 5x today’s energy and carbon output.

Full population plus efficiencies: 
But wait!  We can decarbonize!  We can reduce carbon emissions per GDP by increasing energy and carbon intensity.  We can even find more spiritual ways to measure GDP - which can be counted as a GDP efficiency thing.

Let’s say we get to a 50% efficiency in the Western standard of living.  That’s pretty good, no? 

No.  50% of 6 beads is 3 beads.  3 beads x 10 = 30 beads worth of GHG’s, = 2.5 times today’s output.  That is still going in the wrong direction.

How about 80% efficiency?  Which is 20% carbon generation.  20% x 6 beads/billion x 10 (billion folks) = 12 beads.  That’s equal to today’s consumption.  Aren’t we supposed to be using less than today? 

That means we need to get to at least 90% efficiency in our Western way of life.  90% would get the whole world a Western quality of life at half the green house gas rate of today.  6 beads. 

Does that seem feasible to you?  It seems unlikely to me.  And still not enough.  I was under the impression that we are already past the point of madness with our carbon emissions.  Don’t we, in fact, want to eliminate those black beads - get them down to zero?  100% efficiency.

A western quality of life for ten billion people with zero carbon footprint.

That’s the problem we are here to solve.  What would it take?  Everything. 

A flat out push to practically eliminate fossil fuel use.  Conservation, negawatts, wind, solar, nuclear.  The works.  Race to net zero carbon, with fairness and great quality of life for all.  If we can make it in the western world, we can make it anywhere.  Now, who will get there first?

Read the beads.


Hans Rosling is a founder of Gapminder, “Fighting devastating ignorance with fact-based worldviews everyone can understand.” 

Follow him on twitter @HansRosling

Visuaize achieving a Western quality of life for ten billion people with zero carbon footprint. .  What does that look like?  (Drawing a blank? Try reading Year Zero.)

Discuss the vision, commit to achieving it, and get on with the Race to Zero Carbon!

Nuclear Pride and Prejudice
To Serve Ten Billion People

Comments chat

comments powered by Disqus