A factor 4, 10 or 20?

Ghandi: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.

Sustainability is about equality. Equality for future generations as well as equality of peoples around our globe. When we take the prosperity of the current EU as a norm, sustainability also requires more eco-efficiency.
How much must the environmental efficiency improve to give everybody the prosperity of Western Europe and still become sustainable in terms of the total environmental burden? What is our challenge?

The following equation is used to express the environmental burden caused by human activity:

‘total Environmental Burden’ = ‘size world Population’ x ‘ Wealth per capita’ x ‘EcoEfficiency’
in short:
EB = P x W x EE

1990 is taken as reference year:
1 = 1 x 1 x 1

Originally, the goal was defined as “being twice as productive (to cope with a growing population in the world), with half the resources (materials and energy), leading to a factor 4 improvement in efficiency”:
1/2 = 2 x 1 x 1/4

Then it was realised that this was not enough. The goal was redefined as “being ten times as productive with half the resources (materials and energy): a factor 10 improvement in efficiency”:
1/2 = 2 x 2,5 x 1/10

Or even better (to cope with a fair share of the wealth in the 3rd world):
1/2 = 2 x 5 x 1/20

Estimation of what the factor should be:

The estimation is based on the CO2 emissions from fossil fuels of the year 2004. See Wikipedia, CO2 emissions and Wikipedia, CO2 emissions per capita.
Note: there are not enough detailed data (on a reasonable level of accuracy) available for the year 1990 to base the calculation on.

The general consensus is that the world population will grow from 6.400 million in 2004 to just above 9.300 million in 2050 (it has stabilised then). See Wikipedia, world population. This leads to P = 1,45.

The calculation of W is provided in Excel file “efficiency factor“. The following assumptions have been made:
– allocate to e everybody in the world an equal share of 8,5 ton/year CO2 emission per capita (8,5 is the current level of West European countries)
– this allows a fare share of wealth for everybody (Best Practices in production are assumed in all countries)
– the wealth is stabilised at the current level of the West European countries (there is no extra growth of wealth in Western Europe)
Under these assumptions W = 2,0 (note that this factor is caused by the fact that more people share the same wealth)

The assumption that 60% CO2 reduction (compared to the level in 2004) is sufficient to stop global warming, results in EB = 1/2,5.

The resulting efficiency EE follows from:
1/2,5 = 1,45 x 2 x 1/7,25

This means that the eco-efficiency should be improved by a Factor 7,25 on a world wide basis
Note that this factor is different for every country (see the Excel file “efficiency factor”)




Is such a factor achievable?

A few remarks:
– the eco-eficiency of Western Europe is much better than in a lot of other, energy consuming, countries. Those countries should be able to achieve the European effciciency without much problems.
– the reduction of the EB (factor 2,5) is rather urgent: global warming is getting out of control. The reduction can only be achieved by rapid and full introduction of renewable energy
– the idea to give everybody the same wealth, leading to W=2, is rapidly evolving (China, India), which makes a rapid transition to renewable energy even more urgent
– the reduction of P (factor 1,45) might be tackled later, or by tackling P itself by better birth control (more wealth of the poor people will help the birth control issue)

A rather brilliant example of the “factor-thinking” is given in the doctorate thesis of Dr A.A.J.F. van den Dobbelsteen, “The sustainable office“, in which he proves that a factor 20 is possible on this subject!