60-Second Earth

China Surpasses U.S. in Energy Use?

China is now the world's number-one user of energy--unless you ask the Chinese. David Biello reports

The U.S has been the world's number-one user of energy for roughly a century, burning fossil fuels of all varieties with great abandon, fissioning uranium, even harnessing the power in wind and water. That's over now, according to the International Energy Agency, or IEA.

China consumed more than 2.2 billion metric tons of so-called oil equivalent in 2009, a measure born out of the same oil crisis that gave rise to the IEA. The U.S. fell back to just under 2.2 billion metric tons, thanks to the ongoing Great Recession. Ergo, we're number two. An analysis by BP agrees.

But hold on. Chinese officials immediately rejected the IEA's calculation, noting that their own official statistics showed energy use of roughly 3.1 billion metric tons of coal equivalent. A quick conversion makes that roughly 2.1 billion metric tons of oil equivalent.

The Chinese blamed IEA confusion on a misunderstanding of China's energy efficiency efforts—as well as misunderestimating its buildout of renewable energy resources like wind turbines.

Regardless, per person, my fellow 310 million Americans and I use more than three times as much energy as more than 1.3 billion Chinese. Hence the meeting of 24 energy ministers in Washington, D.C., last week to attempt to hash out ways to use cleaner energy more efficiently, regardless of who's number one.

—David Biello

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