Energy is central to our economies, our lifestyles, and our health. It powers industrial production, transportation, and increasingly, agricultural production. It provides services such as heating, refrigeration, and lighting, which raise the quality of life and provide tangible health benefits such as unspoiled food and relief from the stresses of heat or cold.
Global energy use has climbed steadily over the years as industrial economies have expanded; this rapid rise is expected to continue over the next several decades. According to one model, energy use could increase roughly 40 percent between 1993 and 2010 (230). Even if anticipated gains in energy efficiency from the adoption of new technology are factored in, energy use is likely to continue to surge beyond 2010 as well (231). (Of course, aggressive steps to reduce energy use could change the course of these trends.)
|Global Energy Use is Expected to Climb|
|Projected Growth in Global Energy Use, 1995-2010|
|Source: International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook (Organisationf or Economic Co-Operation and Development, Paris, 1996), pp. 237-285.
Note: Assumes currrent energy use patterns continue to dominate future consumption.
Today, developed nations consume nearly three quarters of all commercial energy; however, much of the additional energy demand in the next few decades will come from developing nations. Indeed, developing nations are expected to increase their share of world energy use to almost 40 percent by 2010 (232), reflecting rapid economic expansion, high population growth, and the substitution of fossil fuels for traditional biomass fuels. (See Global Energy Use is Expected to Climb.) Growth will be particularly dramatic in East and South Asia (exclusive of Japan).
The health implications of rising energy use are profound. To the extent that rising energy use contributes to services such as heating or refrigeration, to a more stable food supply, or to greater per capita income through economic expansion, it could bring considerable health benefits, especially in developing nations. However, it will undoubtedly bring about substantial health risks as well, since it will involve a major increase in the use of fossil fuels, despite some anticipated growth in the use of less-polluting forms of renewable energy (233).
The most direct impact of higher fossil fuel use could be an increase in air pollution levels, especially in urban areas. At the same time, rapid urbanization in the developing world will be exposing greater numbers of people to dirty urban air. Without greater attention to pollution control, some cities in the developing world could see as much as a doubling of their current air pollution levels in the next decade or so (234).
Greater coal use and a rapidly expanding fleet of cars and trucks worldwide are the two most serious threats to air quality as fossil fuel consumption rises. Coal, as a potent source of sulfur dioxide and particulates, is notorious for its impact on air quality. Global coal use over the next two decades is expected to rise more than 50 percent, mostly in the developing world and especially in Asia (235). Meanwhile, the vehicle fleet will continue to grow, particularly in areas like China, India, and Thailand, where vehicle density is still relatively low and per capita income and consumer appetites are on the rise. The energy used for transportation of all types is predicted to rise about 50 percent from 1993 to 2010, an average rise of a little more than 2 percent per year. By comparison, transport-related energy will grow twice that fast in the developing world as a whole, and three times that fast in south Asia (236).
Increasing energy use will not necessarily result in a one-for-one increase in pollution levels, because attention to pollution control will likely increase as well. Much is possible through the adoption of new technologies to clean up power plant emissions, auto exhaust, and other pollution sources, or a switch to cleaner fuels. But in areas like Asia, the growth in energy use is likely to outpace efforts at pollution control. In China, for instance, the government has achieved some success in reducing residential coal use and thus indoor air pollution, but increased auto traffic on congested roadways offers a new and growing threat to air quality. Even in industrialized countries, where air quality standards may well get stricter in light of concerns over health effects, trends toward higher energy use and greater traffic congestion will make it hard to meet national air quality goals.
Looking beyond immediate impacts on air quality, rising fossil fuel use will produce higher greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the threat of global warming. Without a major global effort to curtail carbon dioxide emissions, they are expected to double from pre-industrial levels before 2100 (237). In response, the Earth’s average surface temperature is expected to warm by 1.0