Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Where Our Energy Goes

I saw this tidbit on Stuart Staniford’s site: agriculture accounts for 2 percent of U.S. energy consumption. Keep in mind, that’s our large-scale fossil-fueled system of turning oil into corn and soybeans. That’s actually pretty miniscule. And I think this explains why in the near future, we won’t neo-peasant reversalists returning to the fields anytime soon. In the whole scheme of things, the big-fossil fuel agriculture we depend on doesn’t really require a lot of our total energy consumption. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, of course, only that we won’t be forced to stop it – there will be a lot of other energy resources we can cannibalize.

As I’ve said before, I think smaller-scale producers and organic farming have a bright future. But it has to do with quality, rather than necessity.

By contrast, here are statistics I hear quite often, courtesy of the EPA. In the United States, buildings account for:
36 percent of total energy use and 65 percent of electricity consumption
30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions
30 percent of raw materials use
30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually)
12 percent of potable water consumption

So if you’re concerned about Peak Oil, you should spend more time looking at buildings, and perhaps somewhat less at agriculture. I’ve seen different figures for transportation, from 27 to 40 percent depending on what you’re looking at. What does that mean? I think it adds up to less frivolous buildings in the future, and less frivolous miles driven. And what few buildings will be built will be more energy efficient, as will cars. But the immediate implications will be in transportation and construction moreso than agriculture, I think.

Here’s another interesting tidbit:

Total energy consumption in the manufacturing sector decreased by 17 percent from 2002 to 2010 (Figure 1), according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS). Manufacturing gross output decreased by only 3 percent over the same period. Taken together, these data indicate a significant decline in the amount of energy used per unit of gross manufacturing output. The significant decline in energy intensity reflects both improvements in energy efficiency and changes in the manufacturing output mix. Consumption of every fuel used for manufacturing declined over this period.


And also, we currently waste nearly 40 percent of our energy:


  1. About agriculture's share of our energy use, if agriculture is defined as the entire industrial food system, then fine 2 percent looks like something that can be sustained.

    But if that 2 percent does not include food processing, shipping, refrigeration etc? And what about all of the food that Americans consume that is not produced within the United States? I think we need to look at it more broadly than the USDA's discussion of energy use in agriculture.

    1. That's a good point. A look at the entire food system, where wheat grown in Kansas is shipped to Africa and China needs to be explored more fully.


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