energy in numbers
Our global system of energy production and consumption faces systemic challenges that have been centuries in the making—and that no one technology or fantastic new resource will solve. As the figures on this page illustrate, we face major obstacles to continuing our recent energy bonanza through the twenty-first century and beyond.
The global economy requires a massive, uninterrupted flow of energy every single day, the vast majority in the form of fossil fuels. These nonrenewable energy resources are constantly depleting, so we must continually find and successfully exploit new sources so that tomorrow we can meet the same demand as we did today—plus additional resources for the world’s growing population and economies.
But the transition to new sources will be far from seamless: The physical infrastructure of modern society is designed to run primarily on cheap, powerful conventional fossil fuels. Unconventional fossil fuels come with greater economic and environmental costs, significantly reducing their energy benefit, while renewables fall short at matching many of the characteristics we so value in fossil fuels. An analysis of the available energy resources shows that there are no easy answers.
These images are part of the chapter, The Landscape of Energy.