Fifteen Times More Oil and Steel Now Versus 1940

The World of today still seems to be similar to the world of 1940. The world of 2019 and the world of 1940 are both mainly based on oil and steel. We can see in movies and documentary reels that we still have tanks and aircraft carriers that look similar. The planes changed from propeller to jets in the 1960s. The world has increased steel and oil production by about 15 times since 1940. We can get a sense of the pace of change by looking at production increases across the decades.

World population was about 2.2 billion in 1940 and became 4 billion in 1974 and is about 7.6 billion today. This was nearly a 4 times increase.

World per capita GDP (PPP) is now 17300.

In 2019 in developed countries, the per capita GDP (PPP) is about $35,000 to $60,000. In 1990 inflation-adjusted numbers the per capita GDP is about $25,000 to $45,000.

The GDP per capita in developed countries in 1940 was about $5000 to $7000 in 1990 inflation-adjusted numbers.

About 50% of the world are considered global middle class or wealthier. Those counted in the global middle class (households spending $11-110 per day per person in 2011 purchasing power parity or PPP). About 3.8 billion people are global middle class.

By 2030, the world population will be 8.5 billion and 10 billion in 2050. Nearly 5 billion people in Asia will all be middle class in 2050. This will be about 7 billion people in 2050. This would mean about 50% more people overall but close to double the people in the global middle class.

In 1940, world oil production was 276 million tons per year or 2.3 billion barrels per year. Production nearly tripled from 1940 to 1960. Global Oil Production tripled from 1960 to 1977. It went from 7 billion barrels per year to 22 billion barrels per year. World production is now at 4.4 billion tons per year or about 95 million barrels per day or about 35 billion barrels per year. Production is now 16 times more than in 1940.

In 2018, total world crude steel production was 1808.6 million tonnes (Mt). The biggest steel producing country is currently China, which accounted for 51.3% of world steel production in 2018. In 1936, there were 122,000,000 long tons of steel produced in the world. Steel production has increased 15 times.

In 1875, Britain accounted for 47% of world production of pig iron, a third of which came from the Middlesbrough area and almost 40% of steel. 40% of British output was exported to the U.S., which was rapidly building its rail and industrial infrastructure. Two decades later in 1896, however, the British share of world production had plunged to 29% for pig iron and 22.5% for steel, and little was sent to the U.S. The U.S. was now the world leader and Germany was catching up to Britain.

The growth of pig iron output:
Britain went from 1.3 million tons in 1840
6.7 million in 1870 and 10.4 million in 1913.

The US started from a lower base, but grew faster; from 0.3 million tons in 1840,
to 1.7 million in 1870, and
31.5 million in 1913.
From 1875 to 1920 American steel production grew from 380,000 tons to 60 million tons annually, making the U.S. the world leader.

21 thoughts on “Fifteen Times More Oil and Steel Now Versus 1940”

  1. While not killing the public they certainly kill the billions it took to build them and the billions it takes to deal with the mess. The really sad thing is there are dozens of ways to build reactors why select the way that is most inherently unsafe.

    If the coal extraction industry and the coal burning power plants had to pay the health care cost of the people they sicken with their pollution none of them would be in business. Privatize the profit and let the public bear the burden of the cost.

  2. Pressurised water reactors are ‘inherently the most dangerous fission technology’ ? They’ve yet to kill a member of the public in seventy years. Chernobyl was a water-cooled graphite reactor, Fukushima had boiling water plants. Three Mile Island was the only PWR meltdown, and it didn’t kill anyone.
    I’d fully support funding for energy storage research, as well as nuclear, but a carbon tax is a much better way of incentivising the build-up of truly low carbon power. We are often told that such and such a windfarm saves so many tons of emissions per year, but that’s assuming every kilowatt it produces will be replacing coal. If they’re being paid curtailment fees because demand is low, or if they’re operating on subsidies and putting equally low carbon, but more reliable, nuclear out of business, it’s wasteful or even harmful. A rising carbon tax would float all clean boats, and sink all dirty ones.

  3. There are theoretical fission technologies like MSR that can burn 100% but we refuse to invest the money to develop them. We have settled on PWR, the most inherently dangerous fission technology and refuse to budge. What nuclearphile want is to beat people into submission. I would be willing to trade R&D money for MSR for tax support for renewable and storage.

  4. Accepting defeat before even trying is never a good thing. I don’t even think we need 100% renewable. The earth will absorb or convert a certain percentage of CO2 so we can burn some just a lot less than we do now. What we need is a combination of resources including conservation until we prefect fission or fusion. As for the intermittentcy of wind that isn’t a problem if the wind power is collected over a vast geographic region which it will be. Storage isn’t that big a problem. It is getting cheaper every year. And we can back renewable with hydro and fast start gas turbines. And there is also demand shedding.

  5. ‘Cost of mining… enrichment… maintaining the waste sites for the next ten thousands years. ‘
    It’s hard to see what long term costs would be incurred by putting used fuel rods down a deep borehole in a salt or granite mass, that has sat unchanged for a hundred million years.
    Not doing so, though, would leave you, after three hundred years, with no live fission products, just uranium, plutonium and minor actinides, with twenty times more energy potential than the oringinal fuel had. Using that, plus the much greater quantity of depleted uranium from enrichment plants, eliminates the need for mining or enrichment for hundreds of years.
    Comparing current tech to that of two hundred years ago, I find it inconceivable that such a dense energy source will not be used in future.

  6. Improvements in wind reach physical limits set by the low energy density and intermittency of the resource, and the strength of the materials used to collect that energy. I’ve seen designs for huge horizontal axis floating turbines, and flying turbines that need no tower, and send power down from the strong winds aloft. They still have to be strong enough to survive the occasional sixty + knot wind, and light enough to harvest one of seven knots. Energy of wind goes up with the cube of the velocity, so maximum there is 200 times minimum. Anything below 7 and above 50 means no power, which means a backup system with as much or more output than the wind turbines is usually needed.
    Wind turbines are following the technology route of passenger aircraft, with more high tech composites and improved calculation of aerodynamics. They are both limited by the speed of sound, so blade tips and jets can only go so fast ( though the planes raise this by flying higher.) Airlines have cut their fuel use, but their advantage is their capacity factor – greater reliability means that the expensive asset is back airborne and earning not too long after dumping one planeload – 737 Maxes excepted. That will never happen for wind turbines. Even a fifty percent capacity factor means you have to build at least twice your demand, plus storage, plus extra for storage losses, plus a giant transcontinental grid. Will that be enough ? Unlikely, and not demonstrated anywhere.

  7. I would do full live cycle analysis for nuclear. Cost of mining plus enrichment. And the cost of disposing of not only the nuclear waste but the radioactive reactor and all of the support structure. And the cost of maintaining the waste sites for the next ten thousands years.

    As for wind, larger tower use less material per MW. And we are still on the learning curve. We will learn how to make wind power much cheaper in the next few decades.

  8. You need coal to make iron, it is just part of the process. China is also the largest consumer of steel. Nuclear power is just too expensive. Most of the economy of rich nations is services, not manufacturing. We will grow most if we focus on technology and finance.

  9. Sometimes doing thing smarter is better. When you pollute the air and the water you might think you are doing things cheaper but you are actually sickening and killing you customers and your labor which isn’t a good thing in the long run since you will need both.

  10. I played a game called Hearts of Iron that had industrial capacity values for each country in ww2. I was wondering what that value would be today and I guess the answer would be about 15x as big. Along with modern technology, it’s scary to think how destructive even a non-nuclear war would be if countries brought all their resources to bear for several years like in ww2.

  11. No, it is bad that China is making half the world’s steel, because they are making it with coal power. We need to build a bunch of nuclear and mostly automated factories and make 70% of the steel the world needs as well as aluminum, iron, titanium, glass, cement, and other high energy investment materials. This is the only way to get China to use less coal. Undercut them. Produce in such volume and of high quality that you can undercut them in every market. You want to cut CO2? I believe this is the best way to do it. It will be temporary, as they will also then switch to nuclear and automated factories. But that was the goal.
    A stagnate society may not need much steel. But there is no reason the US must be stagnant. We should be building advanced planned cities to reduce the traffic congestion of many of the larger cities. We should be widening the highways and making them safer by separating oncoming lanes by either physical separation or islands/guardrails. We should be tunneling through mountains, making bridges, and we should be making 25 million electric cars a year.

  12. The Solutions Project, one of the proposals for running the US ( and the rest of the world ), entirely on renewable energy, has 1.9 million construction workers hard at it for the next 40 years. Wind, for example, is supposed to make 38.4 % of total power in the US. Current wind turbines take over ten times as much steel and concrete to make the same power as current nuclear reactors – and that’s without counting all the power lines to bring the juice from North Dakota to somewhere people live.

  13. I guess the others should be happy that we are willing to buy from them. If we reduced the EPA regulations to dead letter laws like they do, we could make the stuff in advanced countries at competitive prices as well.

  14. Also we exported our dirty industries to them.
    2 years ago I was in the Ruhr region of Germany. In the 50s and 60s it used to be the “coal and soot pot” of Germany. Now the coal mines are closed or museums and the iron and steel plants have mostly closed as well. There are more trees in the urban areas than there are in many forests.

  15. Have you seen the cesspools that are China and India pollution-wise? Of course greater populations lead to more pollution.

  16. Pollution is lower because of better processes and filtering.
    In the large cities in the west I say its lower than in 1940.

  17. I guess we should be happy that there are others who are willing to make iron and sell it to us.

    The true is you only need a lot of iron when you are urbanizing. Once you are over that hump your demand will decrease.

  18. The US steel production is microscopic compared to China. And we don’t even have the high end. Japan makes the good stuff. China produces 928.3 million metric tons. The US produces only 86.7 million metric tons. And that is less than India and Japan, 106.5 million metric tons, and 104.3 million metric tons respectively. Unions killed it. Most of what is produced in the US is used for the military and other government stuff like bridges. They are obliged to buy American when possible.
    OK unions are not 100% responsible, failure for Congress to do anything about technology falling behind like some government loans and such to upgrade or build new facilities (contingent on actually building the new advanced facilities and using them), has played a role. And dare I say it again, failure to build enough nuclear power to power this stuff. And, yes, electricity makes the best quality steel. Though you still have to add carbon, in some form or another for carbon steel.

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