The debate about future growth in energy consumption is obviously informed by, if not centered on, the spectacular growth in China.
China’s economy took off in 1978 and it is still growing:
China’s growth since 2005 has been just as spectacular, averaging about 10% per year.
But looking ahead towards 2030, 2050 and 2075 (which is the purpose of this weblog), we run into a dreamy, ‘yeah but’ quality in discussions about China. If you Google the phrase ‘Can China Sustain Growth’, you get more than 5 million search returns, and a lot of the links go to reasoned arguments making the case that China cannot, in fact, keep growing at the same rate.
And maybe they can’t. I note that people have been pessimistic about China’s growth for twenty years without being right yet, but if their thinking is sound, it may just mean that they were premature in their bearishness. And that happens a lot.
I’m not competent to evaluate the real future of China’s economy. I suspect that they’ll continue to grow robustly but have periods where growth slows dramatically. That’s sort of what happens to countries after they pass a certain point in development.
But in terms of energy consumption, I’m not really sure that the state of a country’s economy at any given point is the most important metric. Although energy use slowed during the most recent recession, and actually declined for a couple of years in the U.S. and some European countries, if you look at the history of American energy use, you’ll note one thing:
Our energy use climbed dramatically from 1900 to 1975. That period included the Great Depression, two world wars and several recessions. I think once a developing country gets a taste for energy, it’s tough to let go.