Dr. Carey W. King

Research Scientist, Energy Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, 

Researching the role of energy in our past and future


Dr. Carey W King performs interdisciplinary research related to how energy systems interact within the economy and environment as well as how our policy and social systems can make decisions and tradeoffs among these often competing factors. The past performance of our energy systems is no guarantee of future returns, yet we must understand the development of past energy systems.  Carey’s research goals center on rigorous interpretations of the past to determine the most probable future energy pathways.

Carey is  Research Scientist at The University of Texas at Austin and Assistant Director at the Energy Institute. He also has appointments with the  Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy within the Jackson School of Geosciences and the McCombs School of Business. He has both a B.S. with high honors and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has published technical articles in the academic journals Environmental Science and Technology, Environmental Research Letters, Nature Geoscience, Energy Policy, Sustainability, and Ecology and Society. He has also written commentary for American Scientist and Earth magazines as well as major newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and Austin American-Statesman. Dr. King has several patents as former Director for Scientific Research of Uni-Pixel Displays, Inc.

Contact Carey:  e: careyking@mail.utexas.edu     ||    p: 512-471-5468

Carey’s Curriculum Vitae: pdficon_small PDF


Sign up for Carey’s Newsletter and Donate to Research:

Sign up for Carey’s Newsletter or donate to his research group (see students) at University of Texas at Austin:



Carey’s energy and economy systems “primer”:

The turn of this century saw the cheapest-ever energy and food combined, and here’s why we may never return to those historic low numbers.

“Contemporary discussions of energy resources and technologies are full of conflicting news, views, and opinions from extreme sides of arguments. The average person is understandably confused. Depending on who you listen to, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have either placed the United States on the verge of energy independence, or exposed the insolvency of oil and gas companies as they spend more money than they collect from sales. Renewable energy technologies can either obviously serve all of our needs, or are a subsidized path to economic ruin.”  Read more …

Latest Presentations and Videos

June 14, 2018:  A Long-term Growth Model with Endogenous Biophysical and Economic States

Want to understand how economic outcomes depend on physical resources? Me too!

This presentation discusses a macroeconomic model that integrates biophysical variables (people, natural resources (energy), capital) to economic variables (wages, debt, profits, interest payments, employment).  This modeling framework can be used to understand and model long-term energy transitions and resource-economic feedbacks.

June 7, 2018:   “Energy and Economic Narratives

Want to know how to contemplate the ways in which people have ENTIRELY DIFFERENT views about the future of energy?  Watch this presentation!

This is a talk (video and slides) I gave at the 2018 Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Modern Solutions Power Conference, Chicago, Illinois.


Latest Blogs and News:

March 6, 2018:  Our Electric Future (Big Ideas of McCombs School of Business)

In a new multidisciplinary study, researchers find the answer to our electric future is blowing in the wind — and burning natural gas. A Q&A in two parts.

Read the article: https://medium.com/texas-mccombs/our-electric-future-b0c46bdb3aba


January 2018:   A Lack of Systematic Thinking Keeps America from Staying Great

Our economic system operates within intellectual, social, and physical constraints. Each of these constraints can feedback to affect the others. To produce more goods and services we have to 1) know how to produce them, 2) make them desirable, acceptable and affordable, and 3) have the required natural resources.  The finite size of the Earth increasingly affects socioeconomic outcomes across the globe, including within the developed economies.

Ecologists, anthropologists, and systems scientists have anticipated this since the 1970s.  However, the physical constraints on societal and economic organization and equality are largely unappreciated and misunderstood.

Click here to read further …


2016, December 14:     Energy Transition Show – Podcast Discussion of  Resources and Economy

Click on the link in the heading above (or below) to hear a podcast by Chris Nelder’s Energy Transition Show.   We discuss the idea of energy in the economy: decoupling (or lack thereof), energy intensity, net energy, and decarbonization.
From the Energy Transition Show website: “The notion of “decoupling” energy consumption from economic growth has become vogue in policy circles, but how much evidence is there that it’s really happening? If the energy intensity of our economy is falling, are we sure that it’s becoming more efficient, or might we just be offshoring energy-intensive industries to somewhere else…along with those emissions? If energy reaches a certain percentage of total spending, does it tip an economy into recession? Is there a necessary relationship between energy consumption and monetary policy? Is there a point at which the simple fact that we live on a finite planet must limit economic growth, or can economic growth continue well beyond our resource consumption? Can the declining EROI of fossil fuels tell us anything about the future of the economy? And can we have economic growth using clean, low-carbon fuels, or might transitioning to an economy that produces zero net new carbon emissions put the economy into recession and debt?
Link: http://energytransitionshow.com/episode-32-resources-and-economy/



2016, December 8:          Pipeline, Standing Rock, Conflict is all about Power

The following is the text of an opinion editorial I wrote that was placed in many major Texas newspapers on December 8, 2016. I also include comments received via e-mail, from readers, and only include names when persons specifically gave permission to do so.

Links to version in Austin American StatesmanHouston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News

The recent decision by the President Barack Obama’s Administration, via the Army Corps of Engineers, to ask for a more in-depth environmental impact statement regarding a final section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline represents a clash of power.  The simple story is one of environmental and health concerns, but in reality the full story is much more. It is a continuation of the populist fervor building up in the United States.  It is a continuation of the pursuit of infinite growth. It is a story of physical power, political power and economic power.

Click here to read full op-ed.


2016, November 6:      Relations Between Energy and Structure of the US Economy Over Time

The findings of the paper described in this blog have important implications for economic modeling as they help explain how fundamental shifts in resources costs relate to economic structure and economic growth.

As the cost of food and energy in the U.S. decreased from 1947 to 2002, the U.S. economy became more “redundant” and less “efficient”.  However, once the cost of food and energy started increasing after 2002, the trend reversed.

Click here to read the full post …


2016, September 20:       The Most Important and Misleading Assumption in the World

Part 2 of 2: A blog written for the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation (see link here).

Part one of this blog post explained how macroeconomic models are flawed in a fundamental way.

These models are coupled to models of the Earth’s natural systems as Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) that are used to inform climate change policy. Most IAM results presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports show climate mitigation costs as trivial compared to gains in economic growth.

The referred to “elephant in the room” (from part one of this series) is the fact that economic growth is usually simply assumed to occur.

Click here to read the full post …


2016, September 12:       Macro and Climate Economics: It’s time to Talk about the “Elephant in the Room”

Part 1 of 2: A blog written for the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation (see link here).

If we want to maximize our ability to achieve future energy, climate, and economic goals, we must start to use improved economic modeling concepts.  There is a very real tradeoff of the rate at which we address climate change and the amount of economic growth we experience during the transition to a low-carbon economy.

If we ignore this tradeoff, as do most of the economic models, then we risk politicians and citizens revolting against the energy transition midway through.

Click here to read the full post …


2016, September 2:      Keep Austin Weird by Making Austin Wealthy … all of it!

Keep Austin Weird. The mantra is everywhere – on shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers.  And yet Austin seems to be losing its weirdness.

I think we need a new mantra: Make Austin Wealthy – and by “wealthy,” I mean emphasizing all kinds of assets, and by “Austin” I mean every person and neighborhood in Austin.

This concept holds not only for Austin, it holds for all cities, and is a translational concept

Click here to read my post which is the full text of my September 2016 opinion-editorial in the Austin American Statesman.


2016, June 23:      Rediscovering the Energy-Economy Connection (on OurEnergyPolicy.org)

The world has experienced profound changes recently regarding energy and the economy. Fossil fuels, while still abundant, are becoming more costly to develop as the most easily-accessible resources become depleted. Many renewable energy technologies are becoming less costly due in part to market forces as well as supportive state and federal energy policies. These technologies however would require massive capital investment to replace fossil fuels at current scale.

Meanwhile, a global financial crisis as well as mounting public and private debt have cast a shadow of lingering uncertainty over the world economy. Conventional thinking suggests an eventual return to “normal.” But slowing growth, increasing inequality, and a sense that an apparent recovery remains fragile are driving concerns that the world has entered a new era, where classic economic rules and tools may no longer apply.

Click here to read further …


2016, April 15:       The most interesting chart I’ve ever made: Leverage of energy versus money

Figure 1 is perhaps the most interesting chart I have ever made. The purpose of this figure (from my publication here) is to provide context into metrics of net energy and see how they relate to economic data. Here, I’m asking a fundamental question: should our (worldwide) society be able to leverage money more than we can leverage energy? My hypothesis is “no” and would be represented by values < 1 in Figure 1. Clearly the plotted ratio of ratios in Figure 1 is not less than one (for all years) per my hypothesis, so why might this be the case?  As I discuss below, understanding the data in Figure 1 is crucial for making better macroeconomic models of the economy that properly account for the role of energy.


Figure 1.  This is a ratio of how much the worldwide economy leverages money spent by the energy sector relative to how much surplus energy is produced by the energy sector itself.  Specifically this calculation (using world numbers) = (GDP/money spending on energy by the energy system) / [ (world primary energy production – energy spending by the energy system) / energy spending by the energy system)].

CONTINUE reading the full post …


2016, March 3:       How much can the next president influence the U.S. energy system?

There have been dramatic changes in the U.S. energy system under our current president – a big drop in the use of coal, a boom in domestic oil and gas development from fracking, and the rapid spread of renewable energy.  But in terms of influencing energy technology deployment, the next president will have a lot less influence than you might expect.

When it comes to educating U.S. citizens on energy’s relationship to the broader economy, though, the next president could have a great impact. But I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I’d say it’s likely not going to happen.

Here I pose a few relevant questions about energy and the economy that could be asked of our next president and suggest some answers.