Take all the power stations in the United States. Together, they produce almost 1000 gigawatts of electricity - enough to boil several billion kettles simultaneously.
Now imagine building another five power stations for every one that already exists in the United States. That is about the amount of electricity generation that the world is on track to add over the next 20 years.
And three-quarters of the new stations will use fossil fuels. These startling figures were released today by the International Energy Agency. The agency predicts that between a quarter and a third of the new capacity will be built in China, which generates over 40 per cent of its electricity from coal. This will lead to huge increases in carbon dioxide emissions.
The agency has previously said that the current recession has helped rein in emissions, but that effect will not last. The report predicts that 40 billion tonnes of CO2 will be emitted worldwide in 2030, around twice the figure for 1990.
That would put us on a path towards a future in which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels top 1000 parts per million and average global temperature rise by up to 6 °C. Many scientists think that that our goal should be a maximum rise of 2 °C and that 4 °C would cause severe flooding and drought.
The agency describes our current trajectory as almost certain to cause "irreparable" damage to the planet. We are not, of course, locked into this future. The agency's calculation come from a modelling exercise in which we continue on the path we are on now, rather than switch to low-carbon technologies like solar power.
Many governments have already committed to changes, albeit limited ones, so the most dire aspects of the agency's predictions will not come to pass. But they are a useful reminder of just how wrong things will go if we do not take action.
Originally published at New Scientist, click view for more information