Peak Oil is You

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Page added on June 12, 2018

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How many vehicles can the earth sustain?


One of the hallmarks of the good life in developed countries is the freedom to move about as we choose in personal vehicles. However, as populous developing countries are gaining in economic power, people in those countries are asking for the same mobility that people in developed countries enjoy. Consequently, demand for personal vehicles has recently skyrocketed and this trend is likely to continue in the near future.

​We first reached the 10-million-vehicle level in the world in 1920, about 34 years after the first motor vehicle appeared on the road. From that level, a 10-fold increase to 100 million vehicles was reached by 1956, 36 years later. The next 10-fold increase took an additional 44 years. By 2010, we were at 1 billion vehicles. By 2015, there were 1.3 billion vehicles. Is the 10-billion level around the corner? It is not likely, given the following argument.

Let’s consider a possible scenario for 2050, when the United Nations forecasts that the world population will be 9.8 billion (up from the current 7.6 billion). This scenario is based on the situation in the United States—the country with the largest number of vehicles (about 22% of all vehicles in the world). In the United States, there is currently a vehicle for every 1.2 persons. Furthermore, the number per capita of light-duty vehicles (cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans), which represent a vast majority (92%) of all vehicles in the United States, appears to have leveled off. Applying the current U.S. rate of 1.2 persons per vehicle to the projected 2050 world population of 9.8 billion leads to about 8.2 billion vehicles.

​However, there are at least three reasons why using the current U.S. motorization rate to estimate the number of vehicles in the world in 2050 is not realistic.

  • First, it is not reasonable to assume that, by 2050, every household in the world will be able to afford a vehicle.
  • Second, household size (which has an influence on vehicle demand) is greater in many countries than it is in the U.S. (The average household sizes in the most populous countries are 3.1 in China, 4.8 in India, 2.6 in the United States, 4.0 in Indonesia, and 3.3 in Brazil.)
  • Third, it is not clear whether the current focus on individually owned vehicles will continue in the future.

​Therefore, the above scenario is not a forecast, but it provides a very generous maximum that is unlikely to be reached. However, that conclusion provides no solace.

To the extent that developing countries aspire to reach motorization levels comparable to those in developed countries, the number of vehicles will likely continue to climb rapidly. We in the developed countries cannot successfully argue that the mobility afforded to us by personal vehicles is something to be curtailed in the developing countries for the benefit of us all. As a consequence, the required raw materials and energy will challenge our resources, and the resulting vehicle emissions will strain our ecological systems.

green car congress

17 Comments on "How many vehicles can the earth sustain?"

  1. JuanP on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 8:19 am 

    Logic is missing here! LOL!

  2. Revi on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 9:59 am 

    Everyone needs to have a vehicle or two!

  3. Bob on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 1:47 pm 

    We have already passed max car sustainability. Our roads and bridges get a D grade. We don’t have the $$$ to repair them anymore. We are at the bottom of the oil barrel w/ shale. Air pollution needs to be reduced. We are at max and don’t know it.

  4. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 2:18 pm 

    ‘Green Car’, lol, now there is an oxymoron for you.

  5. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 3:22 pm 

    I really think we should bring in one of our very own experts to weigh in on this.

    Go Speed Racer
    According to your calculations and analysis, how many Ford LTD 2 Broughams with v8 400cids and 1968 Lincoln Continentals with 460cid can the earth support? Any yes, they would all have the AC and the 8-track options included. Every last one. Plus, the extended range 45 gallon gas tanks.

  6. Harquebus on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 5:36 pm 

    I read a few years back that, the current global fleet is more than enough to see out the remaining affordable oil. It is the unsustainable growth economy that needs more of everything, not just cars.

  7. Cloggie on Tue, 12th Jun 2018 11:55 pm 

    E-road, the somewhat different railroad:

    Ride-sharing, a stepping stone towards the self-driving car and the end of private car ownership:

    Back-of-an-envelope calculation:

    Your average western sedan has an occupation rate of 1.25 and operational time of ca. 5%.

    The same transportation effort can be achieved by far less cars if you increase both. Calculation example:

    Occupation of 6.25 per vehicle (5x)
    Operational time 25% of the day (5x)

    With these figures you can (in theory) reduce the current 1 billion global car fleet with a factor of 5×5=25 = 40 million vehicles, en passant enormously reducing the embedded energy of the global car fleet, as well as reducing personal transportation fuel by a factor of 4-5.

  8. Cloggie on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 12:02 am 

    The end of retail and the shopping mall:

    Time to nationalize

  9. pointer on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 7:21 am 

    Producing more cars and wrecking the Holocene conditions make sense as long as money is the organizing principle.

  10. Glenn Morton on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 11:15 am 

    I expected to see a smart argument and there was no smart argument in that article. The real reason we won’t have 8.2 billion cars is that we would need more than a 4x increase in oil production just to feed the cars. At 2 gallons per day we need 390 million bbl of gasoline. Since gasoline is a small part of oil the amount of actual crude produced to make that much gasoline is even higher. Does anyone realistically think we will sustainably produce more than 400 million barrels of oil each day?

  11. Outcast_Searcher on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 11:33 am 

    Glenn, let’s not pretend EV’s never will exist. Or that cars can’t get more efficient. Or that Electric scooters, bikes, and motorcycles aren’t a trend.

    Or even that in a decade or three, automated vehicles employed as taxis can’t GREATLY reduce the number of cars needed.

    We won’t want or need 8.2 billion gas guzzling cars, thankfully.

    Gasoline is nearly half of the content of what oil produces in the US. And diesel is another quarter.

    So how is gasoline a “small” part of crude oil production.

    More learning and thinking, less empty proclaiming of doom.

  12. Antius on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 12:19 pm 

    Tesla cuts 9% of its workforce.

    Can’t say I am surprised. Musk poured huge resources into a technology that he did not understand.

    Peak oil demand will indeed arrive. But it will be delivered by lack of affordability from increasingly impoverished populations.

  13. Glenn Morton on Wed, 13th Jun 2018 3:47 pm 

    Outcast, if EV’s take over, my calculations show that one must triple the capacity of the electrical grid and thus triple the amount of nat gas, coal and oil used to generate it. Yeah yeah, solar might help but think of the vast environmental destruction of the desert fauna PV’s will require if they are to source our electricity. And besides solar will need massive battery storage to save their electricity for night time when everyone is charging their car but no solar is being generated. Right now, West Texas is having electrical grid problems because of all the oil wells being hooked up to pump oil from the Permian. If everywhere hooked up EV’s the problem would be everywhere and much worse than we see in West Texas

  14. Anonymouse1 on Thu, 14th Jun 2018 12:21 am 

    The waste economy, aka the shop, drive everywhere and consume on credit economy, will be the first thing flushed down the crapper when the problems created by industrial civilization finally come to a head. And it be painful, and there was a wailing and flailing, lots of it.

    As for the morons who promised the world, and themselves, that EVs, driverless or not, or even sillier notions, like electric 18 wheelers for example, will ‘save the world’, will be rather disappointed, and feeling foolish, when it becomes obvious they were spectacularly wrong. Of course, by that point, everyone will be so mad at the politicians and corporations that are to blame, they will be too busy to chase down all those EV and fusion cheerleaders to ask them just what went wrong with their grandiose lofty promises for the future.

    Hopefully, by that point, Elons colony on Mars will be in fully operational, and he won’t be around to answer any awkward questions like the one above.

  15. Cloggie on Sat, 16th Jun 2018 1:03 am

    “City Of London To Source 100% Renewable Electricity For Square Mile”

    “Small-Scale Solar Is Bound To Expand Rapidly After New EU Renewable Energy Deal”

    In my town Eindhoven/Netherlands I see new solar installations every single day. Here a picture gallery (scroll down):

    Payback time: 9 years, “free electricity” for another 20 years (at least), assuming feed-in tariffs remain in place (they won’t). Financing schemes are in place that you only have to pick up the phone in order to lower your monthly electricity bill. I have not a single doubt that by 2030 all roofs in Eindhoven will be covered with panels, a penetration pattern comparable to developments like the car or internet or holidays by plane. It is no longer the villa-owners who install them, the “little guys” now install them as well.

  16. Cloggie on Sat, 16th Jun 2018 1:10 am

    “Tanzania Approves First Wind Project Worth 300 Megawatts”

    To be build by Australian company.

    “Samsung Commits To 100% Renewable Energy By 2020 In US, Europe, & China”

    Big companies with money giving the good example, other are bound to follow. The transition will largely be done by companies and private house-holds.

    “Updated: New US Solar Record — 2.155 Cents Per kWh! (with Escalator for Inflation)”

  17. Davy on Sat, 16th Jun 2018 4:40 am 

    “Payback time: 9 years, “free electricity” for another 20 years (at least), assuming feed-in tariffs remain in place (they won’t). Financing schemes are in place that you only have to pick up the phone in order to lower your monthly electricity bill. I have not a single doubt that by 2030 all roofs in Eindhoven will be covered with panels, a penetration pattern comparable to developments like the car or internet or holidays by plane. It is no longer the villa-owners who install them, the “little guys” now install them as well.”

    It is not that simple neder. Payback time maybe on the panels themselves but not the other equipment if you include like my system the inverter and the batteries. You are feeding your panels directly into your grid and then you will have to consider that payback time theoretically. Your grid will have to be maintained and adapted. There will be no free electricity because these solar energy gathering devices must feed that energy into batteries or the grid to work. This free shit doesn’t add up

    I am sold on solar. My system is great. I am doing demand management during the day gathering as much solar energy as I can. I am not using the battery system at night because I don’t need to. I will use the batteries if needed like a grid down situation. I would like to see every house with some panels on them but tied to a battery pack doing what I do but the problem is you need to be around to lower the demand if the sunshine drops. I am gathering about 10 KW a day on a good sunny day by running air-conditioning and refrigerator. If the sunshine drops I have to take the air-conditioning load off. This is how I have reduced my electricity consumption by a third but there is labor involved. How many people can hang around to do what I do? I farm so I can do demand management.

    I want to add a wind turbine because around the Ozarks when the sun is not good the wind many times is and I want to get power at night. All this cost money neder. My system was around $13K. If I add a good wind unit to it I need another $8K. Payback is not what you are saying. If you are looking at grid tied solar/wind it still must consider all the other equipment needed to allow the gathering of that power.

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