Articles | Volume 13, issue 2
Research article
15 Jun 2022
Research article |  | 15 Jun 2022

Lotka's wheel and the long arm of history: how does the distant past determine today's global rate of energy consumption?

Timothy J. Garrett, Matheus R. Grasselli, and Stephen Keen

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Cited articles

Ayres, R. U. and Warr, B.: The economic growth engine, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, ISBN 978 1 84844 182 8, 2009. a
Ayres, R. U., Ayres, L. W., and Warr, B.: Exergy, power and work in the US economy, 1900–1998, Energy, 28, 219–273,, 2003. a
Bettencourt, L. M. A., Lobo, J., Helbing, D., Kühnert, C., and West, G. B.: Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities, P. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 104, 7301–7306, 2007. a
BP: Statistical review of world energy 2020, (last access: April 2021), 2020. a
Deutch, J.: Decoupling Economic Growth and Carbon Emissions, Joule, 1, 3–5,, 2017. a
Short summary
Current world economic production is rising relative to energy consumption. This increase in production efficiency suggests that carbon dioxide emissions can be decoupled from economic activity through technological change. We show instead a nearly fixed relationship between energy consumption and a new economic quantity, historically cumulative economic production. The strong link to the past implies inertia may play a more dominant role in societal evolution than is generally assumed.
Final-revised paper