In 2010, the world generated on the order of 21 petawatt-hours of electricity (1). Of this, 4.3 petawatt-hours (20%) was generated by the United States:
In 2012, Apple sold 125 million phones and 58 million tablets, yielding sales of $150 billion dollars (2).
The current cost of solar power is around $125 per megawatt-hour (3).
If the world had chosen to invest in solar cells instead of smartphones, 5.6% of the world's electrical generation capacity - 28% of the United State's capacity - could have been converted. This is a single year of a single company's sales.
The direct financial cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are subject to some debate (4,5), but it definitely comes to at least one trillion dollars: $1,000,000,000,000. At 6.5x Apple's 2012 sales, that's over a third of global generation - enough electricity for the United States and the close-second consumer, China.
I have also heard (references please, energy people?) that current-generation offshore wind power is as little as one-half the cost of solar.
On the bright side, these numbers at least make me feel like sustainable power generation on a grand scale is within reach. The technologies will keep improving and costs will continue to drop.
But man... priorities.
This post researched and prepared by Brandon Curtis; follow him on Google+