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Future Earth: declining energy use and economic output

Patrick Moriarty (Department of Design, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Damon Honnery (Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 10 November 2014




The purpose of this paper is to show that the observed strong link between global economic output and primary energy use will continue in future; and attempts to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources or implementing CO2 removal or geoengineering approaches cannot provide the level of clean energy that economic growth needs. Global economic growth, therefore, is unlikely to continue for much longer.


The paper uses historical and recent global data (2012) for energy output from various sources, economic output and CO2, emissions to make its case.


Alternative energy output is growing too slowly, and faces too many problems, to significantly change the energy mix in the coming decades. Continued use of fossil fuels requires either massive CO2 removal/sequestration or global solar radiation management (SRM). The first is too expensive and would take decades to be significant, the second carries risks, some already known and possibly also unknown ones.

Practical implications

The paper makes the case that technical fixes such as alternative fuels, energy efficiency improvements, carbon dioxide capture and SRM will not be sufficient to prevent global climate change.

Social implications

Social change, rather than reliance on technical fixes, is needed for ecologically sustainable economies.


Most research argues that global energy intensity and carbon intensity will continue to fall. In contrast, we argue that the strong link observed between global economic output and primary energy use will most likely continue.



Moriarty, P. and Honnery, D. (2014), "Future Earth: declining energy use and economic output", Foresight, Vol. 16 No. 6, pp. 512-526.



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