Resources and Economy

December 20, 2016

The notion of “decoupling” energy consumption from economic growth has become vogue in policy circles, but how much evidence is there that it’s really happening? If the energy intensity of our economy is falling, are we sure that it’s becoming more efficient, or might we just be offshoring energy-intensive industries to somewhere else…along with those emissions? If energy reaches a certain percentage of total spending, does it tip an economy into recession? Is there a necessary relationship between energy consumption and monetary policy? Is there a point at which the simple fact that we live on a finite planet must limit economic growth, or can economic growth continue well beyond our resource consumption? Can the declining EROI of fossil fuels tell us anything about the future of the economy? And can we have economic growth using clean, low-carbon fuels, or might transitioning to an economy that produces zero net new carbon emissions put the economy into recession and debt?

To help us answer these thorny questions, we turn to an expert researcher who has looked at the relationship between energy consumption and the economy over long periods of time and multiple economies, and found some startling results with implications for the Federal Reserve, for economic policymakers, and for all those who are involved in energy transition.

Geek rating: 8

Guest: Dr. Carey King performs interdisciplinary research related to how energy systems interact within the economy and environment. He is a Research Scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, and Assistant Director at the Energy Institute. He also has appointments with the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy within the Jackson School of Geosciences and the McCombs School of Business. He has both a B.S. with high honors and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has published technical articles in the academic journals Environmental Science and Technology, Environmental Research Letters, Nature Geoscience, Energy Policy, Sustainability, and Ecology and Society. He has also written commentary for American Scientist and Earth magazines discussing energy, water, food, and economic interactions. Dr. King has several patents as former Director for Scientific Research of Uni-Pixel Displays, Inc.

On Twitter: @CareyWKing

On the Web: Carey King’s website

Recording date: November 28, 2016

Air date: December 14, 2016


Dr. Carey King, “Macro and Climate Economics: It’s Time to Talk About the ‘Elephant in the Room’,” The Economic Argument for Environmental Protection, Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. (Sep 12, 2016)

King, Carey W., “The Rising Cost of Resources and Global Indicators of Change,” American Scientist, Vol. 103 (6), November/December, 2015.

King, Carey W., “Relations Between Energy and Structure of the US Economy Over Time,” Environmental Research Web. (Nov. 6, 2016)

King, Carey W. Information Theory to Assess Relations Between Energy and Structure of the U.S. Economy Over Time.Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, Sept 2016, 1 (2), 10. doi: 10.1007/s41247-016-0011-y. See also a more extensive blog discussing the interpretation of this paper.

King, Carey W. Comparing world economic and net energy metrics, Part 3: Macroeconomic Historical and Future Perspectives, Energies, 2015, 8, 12997-13020

King, Carey W. Energy intensity ratios as net energy measures of United States energy production and expenditures, Environmental Research Letters, Volume 5 (4) (Nov 2010)

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Chris Nelder, “The Worst Way to Measure Energy Efficiency,” Slate. (Mar 22, 2013)

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Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (2016), In Press, Corrected Proof (Nov 29, 2016)

Fred Lambert, “Tesla converted an entire island to solar with new microgrid product developed by SolarCity,” Electrek. (Nov 22, 2016)

Michael Coren, “Germany is building the world’s first wind turbines with built-in hydroelectric batteries,” Quartz. (Nov 1, 2016)

Jeffrey Tomich, “Exelon nuclear plants get bailout in sweeping energy bill,” E&E News (Dec 2, 2016)

Christian Roselund, “BREAKING: Demand charges removed from Illinois nuke bailout bill,” PV Magazine. (Nov 22, 2016)

Kim Geiger, “Exelon teams up with Big Coal in subsidy-filled Springfield bill,” Chicago Tribute. (Nov 22, 2016)

Steve Daniels, “Rauner-Exelon deal clears way for nuke bailout,” Crain’s Chicago Business. (Nov 30, 2016)

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Jim Polson and Mark Chediak, “Exelon Wins $235 Million-a-Year Nuclear Lifeline in Illinois,” Bloomberg. (Dec 1, 2016)

Melanie Santiago-Mosier, “A Bright Spot for Low-Income Solar in Illinois Energy Legislation,” Vote Solar (Dec 2, 2016)

Photo credit: © Wikipedia / joadl / Cc-by-sa-3.0

Chris Nelder

Chris is an energy analyst, journalist, and investor, who consults and lectures on energy investing and policy. During a decade of studying energy, he has written two books on investing and energy Profit from the Peak and Investing in Renewable Energy, as well as over 900 blog posts and articles.

Tags: decoupling emissions from economic growth, economic growth, energy consumption