Saturday, April 17, 2010
Energy Trumps Economy
In this article: The Future of Capitalism - Profits and Growth George Mobus describes, in systems language, why continued growth is impossible in a world of finite resources, that is, our world.
It seems logical and self-evident, but in a world dominated by the totalitarian philosophy of capitalism, that logic gets washed away in a barrage of propaganda, advertising and sleight of mouth. Consumerism is the norm, the expected reality. Any attempt to point out the illogic of unlimited consumerism is met with disbelief and open hostility.
One would think that Peak Oil and Climate Change (aka, Global Warming) would bring a note of reality to popular awareness. But the Capitalism propaganda machine is incredibly efficient at gobbling up realities and shitting false promises. Peak Oil is discredited with promises of Tar Sands, Oil Shale and deep ocean oil discoveries, ignoring the rapidly increasing energy costs of these marginal sources. The realities of climate change are obfuscated with the imposition quasi-scientific governmental organizations such as the IPCC, who fix the data around politically determined policy.
The public lack of understanding of the science and reality of global and cosmic energy and their effects on energy availability here on Earth, results in a political inability to come to turns with societal profligacy and waste. Mobus points out an important distinction between efficiency and waste. Efficiency is the reduction in the loss of energy in the process of conversion from source to useable work. Waste is the depletion of energy without producing useable work. We can eliminate waste with no effect on our physical environment. Efficiency has a steep diminishing return result: we are rapidly approaching the limits of efficiency in conversion of fossil fuels into useable energy.
Despite their promise, there is a limit to the amount of renewable energy that can be put to use for human consumption. Renewable sources have a much lower ratio of energy return on energy invested (EROEI), meaning we get less energy out of them for the same energy invested in their development. The result is that we are entering into a future with less energy available for human use than we have enjoyed in the past.
The upshot is that we must cut back somewhere, and that somewhere is growth. We no longer have the excess energy availabile to permit continued economic and consumption growth. We have two pathways open to us, one desirable, the other inevitable: a steady state society and economy, or decline and ultimate collapse.
Unless we can somehow take control over the political process and make these economic and physical realities a critical part of the political decision-making process, we will be very soon left with just the one future - economic decline and collapse.