Category “Communiques”

To: President Obama’s Nuclear Energy Advisor

December 5th, 2008

Dear [President Obama’s Nuclear Energy Advisor],

Thank you for your timely seminar yesterday, here at [ ]. You provide a compelling and much-needed case for nuclearization. I would have enjoyed discussing some of your points in more detail, and hope that such an opportunity will present itself in the near future.

In the interim, I feel a need to return to the question I posed following your talk: is it reasonable to anticipate ~9 billion high-capacity users by mid-Century? It is clear that the answer strongly influences your projections, and subsequent policy recommendations.

Figure 1: GDP/capita for different country groups over time. Real GDP/capita at 2008 US$ calculated using Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). Figure compiled using 2008 World Bank data. {}

Let’s take IBRD/UNDP’s ‘middle-of-the-road’ demographic projections of 9-9.5 billion inhabitants by 2050 as reasonable. Contrary to popular belief, only a small segment of the anticipated population growth will occur in China and India. China’s population has stabilized and, with current trends continuing, will grow to ~1.4 billion. India will gain 750 million inhabitants at most, and likely will house less than 1.6 billion people come 2050.

Low-income countries (LIC’s) currently house ~2.5 billion people. As I pointed out in my question, it is in LIC’s where we must expect most of the population growth – on the order of 2.5 billion or so in Africa alone. If current GDP growth trends (Figure 1, above) are to be believed, an industrialized Africa in 30 or 40 years is highly unlikely. Why would the coming 40 years see entirely different trends from the preceding 40?

Furthermore, developing countries are currently responsible for almost half of the world’s primary commodity exports, whilst importing less than a third. Industrializing today’s ~5 billion un-industrialized people and the net 3 billion newcomers over the next 42 years would entail roughly sextupling primary commodity demand, with dramatic effects on markets – a serious consideration which your projections currently ignore.

I hope that these comments will prove useful to you. I would be delighted to discuss any of these issues further.


And all the best in convincing the incoming administration,

Jelte Harnmeijer

Lecturer, Sustainable Economics, Humans in the Environment Program

Ph.D. Candidate, Center for Astrobiology & Early Earth Evolution University of Washington

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