Archive for the ‘Energy Resources’ Category

Gregor MacDonald, once again does a great job illuminating the centrality of energy in the global economic situation.   In this post, he focuses on a chart snagged from The Oil Drum’s 2010 Chart of the Year post.  The chart provides a clear perspective on the total energy expenditures of the US.  Because data on the energy costs of energy extraction are slim-to-none, it’s easier to estimate this cost using inflation-adjusted dollars.  Having done this, it is clear to see that energy costs during the 2000-2008 period were much higher than those in the decade preceding it.  Even with rising energy prices, total energy supply (in Quads) wasn’t able to increase – a clear indication of an energy limit of some kind.


The Decline of Available Energy to Society

Over the New Year’s Day weekend The Oil Drum put out a call to its community of analysts for chart submissions. What’s been created there over the past 72 hours is a kind of museum of data covering population, energy, growth, and the economy. Do check out the post, Chart of the Year, which is still expanding. Amongst all the various entries, I found this following nugget from a paper by Alan Dechert:

Quantification of the decline of available energy, which results from the increased cost of energy extraction, is difficult. Instead of trying to quantify EROEI (energy return on energy invested) Dechert uses the proxy of inflation-adjusted dollars to obtain his result. I think the answer is valuable, and his graphic here is a more complete look at energy expenditures in the US than my own chart from late last year. What I like about the Dechert chart is that he tracks BTU consumption and shows that this levels off as the cost of that consumption soars. This may appear obvious, but the decline of energy available to society–the energy available after one has spent energy to obtain it–has a forceful and direct impact on the economy. What’s anomalous is that in our age of trailing fossil fuel wealth, we simply don’t recognize the transition. In Dechert’s chart, however, you can very clearly see that we have crossed a threshold.


Graphic: Safe Energy Association: from What’s It Going to Be Like on the Downside of the Curve?, page 21, Dechert.


Embedded below is a great video by David Korowicz of the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (FEASTA).

As with many of the resources I share on this blog, the following video explores the pressing concerns of today from the perspective of complex-adaptive systems theory.

Complexity is one of those things that most people “get” (at least intuitively) but about which very few people think systematically.  Instead of trying to comprehend, cope with & adapt to complexity, many people’s response to it is just simply to ignore it or to minimize it.  But, the law of requisite variety says that “if a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled (wiki link).” So, for us to properly understand and control our responses to complexity, our mental control systems must be broad enough to be able to handle the massive range of inputs.  In a world of hyper-specialization with subject matter experts, pundits & guru’s, very few of us have a perspective that is transdisciplinary enough to actually understand what’s really going on in the world.

People like David Korowicz of FEASTA, Stoneleigh of The Automatic Earth, Nate Hagens of TheOilDrum & The Institute for Integrated Economic Research, Buzz Holling – the father of resilience theory, or the noted trans-disciplinary thinker Thomas Homer-Dixon – these guys & gals are among a select group of individuals with enough understanding of enough different fields of study to actually have something useful to say about how the future might unfold.  Although the subject matter experts have their purpose, I am of the opinion that in the current environment, anyone who fails to understand complexity and the role that energy plays in sustaining it is not worth listening to for very long.

We live in a complex world.  To deny or ignore this is to severely limits one’s ability to understand and consequently, to make wise decisions.  So, I try to focus on the trans-disciplinary thinkers who make complex-adaptive systems an explicit part of their perspective.

Korowicz is one such thinker.

Additional Resources:

Embedded below is a series of youtube clips from a talk given by one of my favourite thinkers – Nate Hagens.  The talk was given @ the University of Wisconsin in April 2009.

I’ve said it before, but Hagens “gets it” better than almost everybody I’ve come across in my 3 or so years of pretty intense research on the various global threats in the 21st Century.  The reason that I think Hagens has so much to offer those of us who care about what’s really going on in the world, is due to the relevancy of his background & experience.  Having done his MBA in finance at the University of Chicago and then becoming a hedge-funder on Wall St., it was a significant change of direction for someone like Hagens to then go back to academia and study natural resources by pursuing a PhD in Ecological Economics.  Due to his understanding of finance, natural resources & human behaviour, I take what Hagens’ says as some of the most valuable commentary available on the net.

Check out the videos below to get a good big picture overview of the supply & demand side factors relevant in the Peak Oil/Limits to Growth debate.

In the following report written by Richard Heinberg and sponsored by The Post-Carbon Institute, the real issues facing our energy future are laid out for all to see.

This was one of my “wake the f*#$-up” videos.  In it, Albert Bartlett – Professor Emeritus of Physics at The University of Colorado @ Boulder, explains why he believes that “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” This has become a very famous lecture over the years  – Professor Bartlett has given it over 1600 times since 1969.  Definitely worthy of your attention.

Additional Resources:


C-realm Podcast Interview – “Malthusian Memes

Excerpts from Albert Bartlett interview for the documentary “Blind Spot