Here’s some news that should jazz environmentalists (but probably won’t): around the world, economies are growing with fewer energy inputs than they ever have. As the EIA reports, global energy intensity—a measure of the amount of economic growth achieved per unit of energy consumed—is steadily decreasing:
Worldwide energy intensity, measured as energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), decreased by nearly one-third between 1990 and 2015. Energy intensity has decreased in nearly all regions of the world, with reductions in energy intensity occurring both in the more developed economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and in the emerging nations of the non-OECD. […]
Between 1990 and 2015, China experienced the largest increase in energy productivity (133%) as a large increase in economic output was more than double the increase in energy consumption. During the same time period, U.S. energy productivity rose by 58%, with improvements in every sector.
Much of modern environmentalism seems to rest on the maxim that growth and sustainability are somehow mutually exclusive, and that line of thinking is borne out by the fact that most of their solutions to the myriad environmental problems they see in the world are the policy equivalent of donning the hair shirt.
That way of thinking doesn’t just handcuff green thinking, it also loses public support for these activists that purport to care about our place on this planet. Most egregiously, though, is that it’s patently false. We can grow green, and the EIA data is showing that we already are. Technological advancements are helping facilitate rising energy intensity, but so too is the changing nature of the global economy. Economic growth dependent on services and the manipulation of information is inherently going to be less energy intensive than, say, heavy industry. That’s good news for businesses—cutting down on energy costs can help boost profits—but it’s also good news for Gaia. This is green news worth cheering.