The world has almost doubled its energy consumption since 1980. While renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power are getting cheaper to build, much of that demand growth has come from the use of fossil fuels. In fact, half of all carbon emissions from fossil-fuel operations in modern history have come in just the last three decades, putting the Earth on a climate precipice.
The rise in energy demand is essentially a story of economic and population growth. Primary energy consumption—which encompasses virtually all demand, right down to the losses of energy as it travels across transmission and distribution lines—has boomed in developing parts of the world, even as it levelled off, or even fell, in industrialized countries.
As a result, the global balance of energy demand has shifted dramatically since 1980. Back then, the U.S. consumed over a quarter of the world’s energy—more than any other country. Today, it’s China that uses the most. (The U.S. is still a close second.) Other large, emerging economies like India and Indonesia are consuming four, five, and in some cases, even six times the primary energy they did in 1980—most of it coming from fossil fuels spewing the carbon-dioxide emissions now threatening the earth’s climate.