Saturday, October 29, 2011

Population of people and vehicles

By the end of this month (October 2011) the world’s population of humans will reach 7 billion souls. I have often opined that the population explosion is the single largest factor we can control to make life on the planet more enjoyable and greener for all of humanity. The population of vehicles has grown as well. After world war two there were perhaps some 50 million privately owned vehicles and now there are over 800 million such private vehicles. This is a 16 fold increase. The human population has increased approximately 3 fold since world war two. Private vehicle ownership in Asia and South America is booming. Perhaps as many as 20 million vehicles are being added to streets of Asia each year.

Pundits predicted that the Tata Nano, a small car produced in India, was going to become the largest seller in that country. Alas many cars are being sold and Indian consumers have pretty much rejected the Nano for larger, more powerful, and better quality cars. The Maruti Alto and the Maruti Wagon are the top sellers, followed by the Tata Indica, the Maruti Swift, the Hyundai i10 and then the Hyundai Santro. The Santro weighs 1,879 pounds, the i10 weighs 2,094 pounds, the Swift weighs 2,156 pounds, the Indica weighs 2,783 pounds, the Wagon weighs 1,819 pounds, and the Alto 1,587 pounds. The average mass of these top six sellers in India is 2,053 pounds. By contrast the less than successful Tata Nano has a mass of 1,350 pounds. You can see that Indian motorists want safer, larger, more powerful, and more status driven cars than the simple Nano.

To be fair to Indian motorists they are still far more eco-friendly than Americans who purchased private vehicles with an average mass of 4,144 pounds in 2007 and this was pretty much the same for 2009. In 1980 the US motorists bought vehicles with an average curb weight of 2,970 pounds. If the mass of the vehicle is halved the vehicle will typically use 70% of the fuel as other factors such as aerodynamic drag also affect fuel efficiency. The average Indian motorist purchased vehicle that was half as heavy as their American counterpart’s vehicle. Assuming the average motorist in the US uses approximately 1.8 gallons of gasoline per day then the average Indian motorist driving the same distance will use 1.25 gallons per day. I think the Average Indian motorist is doing their share to drive more efficient vehicles and the notion that they should all drive Nanos was crazy. The US needs to slim down on the mass of the vehicles we purchase and we can certainly return to average we had in 1980 without any sacrifice in comfort or safety.

Globally, approximately 84 million barrels a day of crude oil are refined and approximately 60 million barrels a day winds up as transportation fuel (diesel and gasoline). Let’s assume the average barrel of transportation fuel has a lower heating value of 5.25 million BTUs. This equals 1.323 million kilo calories. The 60 million barrels a day equals 79.38 trillion kilo calories a day of energy. If each human is fortunate enough to receive a 2,000 kilo calorie recommended diet, the 7 billion inhabitants of the planet would use 14 trillion kilo calories of food energy. Hence our vehicle fleet has an energy “diet” equal to 5.7 times that of a population of 7 billion well fed human beings. This is approximately 40 billion extra mouths to feed each day on our overtaxed planet. Of course a portion of the refined oil is used for food cultivation, harvesting, transportation, processing, packaging, and refrigeration. But our 800 million internal combustion engines are hungry mouths to feed.


  1. I think the problem of consumption is more important matter to address than just the population explosion. The chatter I'm hearing is that 'it’s not about us consuming, but it’s about those brown people reproducing', right? Wrong. Blame the poor for the environmental crisis by attributing it to population growth. This however, should not be the singular, decisive factor. I understand the global average number of children each woman bears has fallen from 6 to 2.5.

    I mean what about all the consumption behavior of these white men who probably each consume much of the world’s resources in a short period of time in a day, than the average African consumes in a lifetime? I think we need to check ourselves in a VERY BAD way in the West.

  2. Kim that the Western lifestyle is taking over East was a major point of the blog. Of course White Men Can't Jump or Walk, we wastefully drive 4,000 pound chariots while we expect the South Asians to salivate by owning a Nano. We have to share the worlds resources by conservation. But in turn if you take Yemen as an example. In forty years that country's population increased 5 fold and there is simply no food, water, fuel, and land to go around. Since WW 2 perhaps some 25 million people have been killed in wars (mainly civil wars) yet many hundreds of millions perhaps a billion children under the age of 2 have died from lack of food, clean water and adequate health-care. An educated smaller global population may one day inhabit the earth. For now the planet is filled with white men who can't jump and others who can hump but this is perhaps just a bump in the road of evolution or maybe a wrong fork in unintelligent design?

  3. Ja, I figured as much that you get the bigger pix gist. Sad thing is, I fear we're going to require a great 'sanitizing' because of the manner in which the carrying capacity of our ecosystem is already so compromised. The positive feedback loop is already in full effect, says me. Just wondering what you think a reasonable, educated smaller population would be reasonable? I'm just not sure downsizing is the answer--it's not like we've even learned from the past. happened before in societies that collapsed, it's going to happen again, I'm afraid. I speak of the Hohokam in AZ in 3BC who, in spite of not raising domesticated animals and only used wood modestly, a life 'apparently' based on sustainability, with the increase in population food became scarce, environmental changes, imposition of irrigation strategies/over-farming and social responses, er 'ceremonial activities' weakened their system's resilience and made their system vulnerable to the climate extremes. And the Norse society in Greenland in the 1720s sticking to established patterns, elaborating on its churches and 'ideological conditioning' of the population instead of its hunting skills. And so it goes today...

    Consumerism will be the bane of humanity and all its hubris.

  4. In times of old it was common to forgive debt. In modern times this is likewise. The debt of nations will be forgiven and the debt of individuals will be forgiven. The Chinese have bought homes that are now not worth the price paid. Us Americans have done the same. We will get inflation and we will muddle our way forward. I think the planet can sustain about 5 billion people who live like New Yorkers and have apartments and take public transport. The planet can sustain 2 billion who live like Hustonians who drive Escalades and live in large suburban houses. The 7 billion will have about 3 billion now who are living below poverty and we are depleting natural resources so that in 30 years 5 billion will be below poverty. In the end wars, disease, starvation, and suicide will decide who continues to dwell on the planet. I only write about thermodynamics not about who will prevail. I hope we get to collectively have 5 billion people on earth who can live like New Yorkers. As far as their education goes I hope they get and education like kids in Princeton get

  5. Well maybe it's all a wash. Per capita energy use correlates with per capita GDP, which is anticorrelative with fertility rate. Is that really the case- the more energy we use, the fewer children we have? So here are two extremes: a large, fertile population of low (per capita) energy users, or a smaller, much less fertile population of high per capita energy users.

    The thought is that we can develop ourselves out of the population problem, and that's been shown in many developing, now quite developed, nations. But having done better on birth control and female empowerment, we're still having problems with energy use.

    So if know that using lots of energy is generally a bad thing, is having more children necessarily always a good thing?

    In the end, it seems to me the issue is the rate of change. No one living today really mourns the loss of megafauna stalking the plains of North America. There's always ecological change, the unending evolution of how humans interact with the environment. The crisis we perceive is that this evolution is now happening at a rate that we can observe. The tragedy is one of memory and experience. If in our lifetimes we experience a mortally huge change in living standards, we call it a holocaust of sorts. Though theirs is a lesson worth learning, only a few remember the Hohokam; the rest of us get on with our lives without knowing any better.

    Five billion people who all live like New Yorkers? The thought makes me tired. I suppose it's more tenable than 5 billion gatherer-hunter Hazdabe.

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  7. Hey TS 5 billion living like New Yorkers would only mean 700 New Yorks and the rest of the earth can be green. The carbon footprint of a New Yorker is about 30% of the average American. So it is about 30 pounds per day or about 5 metric tons a year. This means we will have 25 billion metric tons a year of CO2 emissions. In 2010 the world emitted 30.6 billion metric tons. Wow now we save just over 5 billion tons a year of CO2 emission. The department of entropy has been paying $1,000 per ton of avoided CO2 so we can add 5 trillion dollars to the global economy for education

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