Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Peak oil


Environmental problems have contributed to numerous collapses of civilizations in the past. Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. Overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich and poor choices of technologies are major drivers; dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.

Concepts: Poverty, Culture, Peak oil, Society, Globalization, Civilization, Sociocultural evolution, John Zerzan


The argument that human society can decouple economic growth-defined as growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-from growth in environmental impacts is appealing. If such decoupling is possible, it means that GDP growth is a sustainable societal goal. Here we show that the decoupling concept can be interpreted using an easily understood model of economic growth and environmental impact. The simple model is compared to historical data and modelled projections to demonstrate that growth in GDP ultimately cannot be decoupled from growth in material and energy use. It is therefore misleading to develop growth-oriented policy around the expectation that decoupling is possible. We also note that GDP is increasingly seen as a poor proxy for societal wellbeing. GDP growth is therefore a questionable societal goal. Society can sustainably improve wellbeing, including the wellbeing of its natural assets, but only by discarding GDP growth as the goal in favor of more comprehensive measures of societal wellbeing.

Concepts: Gross domestic product, Sustainability, Peak oil, Society, Economic growth, Ecological economics, Decoupling, Uneconomic growth


The United Nations Conference on Climate Change (Paris 2015) reached an international agreement to keep the rise in global average temperature ‘well below 2°C’ and to ‘aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C’. These reductions will have to be made in the face of rising global energy demand. Here a thoroughly validated dynamic econometric model (Eq 1) is used to forecast global energy demand growth (International Energy Agency and BP), which is driven by an increase of the global population (UN), energy use per person and real GDP (World Bank and Maddison). Even relatively conservative assumptions put a severe upward pressure on forecast global energy demand and highlight three areas of concern. First, is the potential for an exponential increase of fossil fuel consumption, if renewable energy systems are not rapidly scaled up. Second, implementation of internationally mandated CO2 emission controls are forecast to place serious constraints on fossil fuel use from ~2030 onward, raising energy security implications. Third is the challenge of maintaining the international ‘pro-growth’ strategy being used to meet poverty alleviation targets, while reducing CO2 emissions. Our findings place global economists and environmentalists on the same side as they indicate that the scale up of CO2 neutral renewable energy systems is not only important to protect against climate change, but to enhance global energy security by reducing our dependence of fossil fuels and to provide a sustainable basis for economic development and poverty alleviation. Very hard choices will have to be made to achieve ‘sustainable development’ goals.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Sustainability, Fossil fuel, Renewable energy, Peak oil, Energy development, Greenhouse gas, Energy economics


Abundant supplies of oil form the foundation of modern industrial economies, but the capacity to maintain and grow global supply is attracting increasing concern. Some commentators forecast a peak in the near future and a subsequent terminal decline in global oil production, while others highlight the recent growth in ‘tight oil’ production and the scope for developing unconventional resources. There are disagreements over the size, cost and recoverability of different resources, the technical and economic potential of different technologies, the contribution of different factors to market trends and the economic implications of reduced supply. Few debates are more important, more contentious, more wide-ranging or more confused. This paper summarizes the main concepts, terms, issues and evidence that are necessary to understand the ‘peak oil’ debate. These include: the origin, nature and classification of oil resources; the trends in oil production and discoveries; the typical production profiles of oil fields, basins and producing regions; the mechanisms underlying those profiles; the extent of depletion of conventional oil; the risk of an approaching peak in global production; and the potential of various mitigation options. The aim is to introduce the subject to non-specialist readers and provide a basis for the subsequent papers in this Theme Issue.

Concepts: Petroleum, Future, Saudi Arabia, Peak oil, Economic growth, Oil shale, Oil reserves, Unconventional oil


Human-made material stocks accumulating in buildings, infrastructure, and machinery play a crucial but underappreciated role in shaping the use of material and energy resources. Building, maintaining, and in particular operating in-use stocks of materials require raw materials and energy. Material stocks create long-term path-dependencies because of their longevity. Fostering a transition toward environmentally sustainable patterns of resource use requires a more complete understanding of stock-flow relations. Here we show that about half of all materials extracted globally by humans each year are used to build up or renew in-use stocks of materials. Based on a dynamic stock-flow model, we analyze stocks, inflows, and outflows of all materials and their relation to economic growth, energy use, and CO2 emissions from 1900 to 2010. Over this period, global material stocks increased 23-fold, reaching 792 Pg (±5%) in 2010. Despite efforts to improve recycling rates, continuous stock growth precludes closing material loops; recycling still only contributes 12% of inflows to stocks. Stocks are likely to continue to grow, driven by large infrastructure and building requirements in emerging economies. A convergence of material stocks at the level of industrial countries would lead to a fourfold increase in global stocks, and CO2 emissions exceeding climate change goals. Reducing expected future increases of material and energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions will require decoupling of services from the stocks and flows of materials through, for example, more intensive utilization of existing stocks, longer service lifetimes, and more efficient design.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate change, Material, Sustainability, Peak oil, Greenhouse gas, Global warming, World energy resources and consumption


Zimbabwe underwent a socioeconomic crisis and resultant increase in food insecurity in 2008-9. The impact of the crisis on Tuberculosis (TB) incidence is unknown.

Concepts: Tuberculosis, Sustainability, Peak oil, Socioeconomics


The environmental costs of economic development have received increasing attention during the last years. According to the World Energy Outlook (2013) sustainable energy policies should be promoted in order to spur economic growth and environmental protection in a global context, particularly in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Within this framework, the European Union aims to achieve the “20-20-20” targets, including a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, a raise in the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20% and a 20% improvement in the EU’s energy efficiency. Furthermore, the EU “Energy Roadmap 2050” has been recently adopted as a basis for developing a long-term European energy framework, fighting against climate change through the implementation of energy efficiency measures and the reduction of emissions. This paper focuses on the European context and attempts to explain the impact of economic growth on CO2 emissions through the estimation of an Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) using panel data. Moreover, since energy seems to be at the heart of the environmental problem it should also form the core of the solution, and therefore we provide some extensions of the EKC by including renewable energy sources as explanatory variables in the proposed models. Our data sets are referred to the 27 countries of the European Union during the period 1996-2010. With this information, our empirical results provide some interesting evidence about the significant impacts of renewable energies on CO2 emissions, suggesting the existence of an extended EKC.

Concepts: Sustainability, Renewable energy, Peak oil, Wind power, Greenhouse gas, Kyoto Protocol, World energy resources and consumption, Energy policy


Traditional CdSe-based colloidal quantum dots (cQDs) have interesting photoluminescence (PL) properties. Herein we highlight the advantages in both ensemble and single-nanocrystal PL of colloidal CsPbBr3 nanocrystals (NCs) over the traditional cQDs. An ensemble of colloidal CsPbBr3 NCs (11 nm) exhibits ca. 90 % PL quantum yield with narrow (FWHM=86 meV) spectral width. Interestingly, the spectral width of a single-NC and an ensemble are almost identical, ruling out the problem of size-distribution in PL broadening. Eliminating this problem leads to a negligible influence of self-absorption and Förster resonance energy transfer, along with batch-to-batch reproducibility of NCs exhibiting PL peaks within ±1 nm. Also, PL peak positions do not alter with measurement temperature in the range of 25 to 100 °C. Importantly, CsPbBr3 NCs exhibit suppressed PL blinking with ca. 90 % of the individual NCs remain mostly emissive (on-time >85 %), without much influence of excitation power.

Concepts: Electron, Particle physics, Quantum dot, Peak, Exhibition, Förster resonance energy transfer, Peak oil, Linus Pauling


Energy production in the United States for domestic use and export is predicted to rise 27% by 2040. We quantify projected energy sprawl (new land required for energy production) in the United States through 2040. Over 200,000 km2 of additional land area will be directly impacted by energy development. When spacing requirements are included, over 800,000 km2 of additional land area will be affected by energy development, an area greater than the size of Texas. This pace of development in the United States is more than double the historic rate of urban and residential development, which has been the greatest driver of conversion in the United States since 1970, and is higher than projections for future land use change from residential development or agriculture. New technology now places 1.3 million km2 that had not previously experienced oil and gas development at risk of development for unconventional oil and gas. Renewable energy production can be sustained indefinitely on the same land base, while extractive energy must continually drill and mine new areas to sustain production. We calculated the number of years required for fossil energy production to expand to cover the same area as renewables, if both were to produce the same amount of energy each year. The land required for coal production would grow to equal or exceed that of wind, solar and geothermal energy within 2-31 years. In contrast, it would take hundreds of years for oil production to have the same energy sprawl as biofuels. Meeting energy demands while conserving nature will require increased energy conservation, in addition to distributed renewable energy and appropriate siting and mitigation.

Concepts: Petroleum, Natural gas, Fossil fuel, Renewable energy, Peak oil, Wind power, Ethanol fuel, Renewable energy development


The growing geographic disconnect between consumption of goods, the extraction and processing of resources, and the environmental impacts associated with production activities makes it crucial to factor global trade into sustainability assessments. Using an empirically validated environmentally extended global trade model, we examine the relationship between two key resources underpinning economies and human well-being-energy and freshwater. A comparison of three energy sectors (petroleum, gas, and electricity) reveals that freshwater consumption associated with gas and electricity production is largely confined within the territorial boundaries where demand originates. This finding contrasts with petroleum, which exhibits a varying ratio of territorial to international freshwater consumption, depending on the origin of demand. For example, although the United States and China have similar demand associated with the petroleum sector, international freshwater consumption is three times higher for the former than the latter. Based on mapping patterns of freshwater consumption associated with energy sectors at subnational scales, our analysis also reveals concordance between pressure on freshwater resources associated with energy production and freshwater scarcity in a number of river basins globally. These energy-driven pressures on freshwater resources in areas distant from the origin of energy demand complicate the design of policy to ensure security of fresh water and energy supply. Although much of the debate around energy is focused on greenhouse gas emissions, our findings highlight the need to consider the full range of consequences of energy production when designing policy.

Concepts: Natural gas, Freshwater, Coal, Peak oil, Nuclear power, Globalization, Greenhouse gas, World energy resources and consumption