We all use energy constantly to meet our daily needs. It powers your alarm clock, pumps water to your home and heats it; it cooks your breakfast and takes you to work or school (some of us use human energy for this). It powers your computer and electronics; heats the buildings you use and while you’re sleeping it’s used to keep your food fresh in the refrigerator. Energy is also used to make and move the things we buy, including food, clothes and all our other “stuff”.

Even if you don’t have an alarm clock, computer or even a house; energy is used to grow your food and get your water. Again, some of this is done through human energy.     


Most people use natural resources as an energy source whether this is wood and other plants, water, wind or sun, or coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear energy. In many parts of the world, this energy often needs to travel long distances to go from where it is extracted to where it is used. Sometimes it is extracted or burned in a power plant and sent along power lines as electricity, and sometimes it is put into pipelines, trains or trucks before it is then burned or converted into heat to power our buildings, industries and cars.


Supplying the world’s energy requires a huge amount of resources to be extracted. In 2008, world energy demand was 474 exojoules, which is equivalent to burning approximately 500,000 kg of coal every second. Approximately 85% of our energy comes from fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas); 6% from nuclear power; 4% from biomass; 3% from hydro; and less than 1% from other renewable energies such as the solar, wind and geothermal energy.


Burning this many fossil fuels has a significant impact. In order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change or global warming, we need to reduce our use of conventional energy by 80% within the next 40 years. This means that nearly every power plant, furnace, boiler, and car or gas station needs to be replaced with something cleaner. If we don’t, it may cost the world as much as World War I and II combined as the world tries to deal with a rise in sea levels, drought, more severe storms and other consequences of a dramatic shift in our global climate systems.


Energy production and use is also the main source of air pollution (eg. smog) in most places. Air pollution affects our health – it damages lungs, makes it hard for some people to breathe and can even increase the chance of dying from an existing condition like heart disease.  As many production methods require water and the extraction of natural resources from the land, how we create energy has a significant impact on water availability, water quality, the landscape as well as plants and animals.  Looking into the future, how we create and use energy will be at the centre of discussions in nearly every aspect of our lives - from transportation to climate change to city-building and beyond.

Energy + The Environment

“When we fill our car with gas, we're pouring into the tank the energy equivalent of about two years of human manual labor.” (Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down)

In 2005, the energy consumption per capita (in kilograms of oil equivalent) in Bangladesh was 171; in Italy was 3,169; in Canada was 8,472. (World Resources Institute EarthTrends)

In 1990, China and India combined accounted for about 10 percent of the world’s total energy consumption.  In 2006 their combined share was 19 percent. It is predicted that thanks to their economic growth, their combined energy will nearly double make up 28 percent of world energy consumption by 2030. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Stats + Figures


Translator: Jesse Row (Calgary, Canada), Director, Sustainable Communities Group, Pembina Institute

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