By Ugo Bardi: Are We Decoupling?

energygdp2017

http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.ca/2017/12/are-we-decoupling-not-really-but-happy.html

When driving at speed towards a brick wall should you accelerate or brake? The laws of physics prevent you from going through the brick wall, but you can influence the condition of your health at the brick wall.

This essay by Ugo Bardi shows that our standard of living is totally dependent on non-renewable resources that emit carbon. If we continue with monetary strategies to maintain business as usual we will experience a brick wall at speed when debt accumulates to a level that makes it ineffective at supporting the extraction of high cost fossil energy, and prior to the crash, we will continue to push the climate from an already unsafe state to something worse.

A wise society would acknowledge its denial of a dire predicament, set a goal to maximize well-being at the brick wall, and step on the brake to manage a fair and civil contraction of the economy via population reduction, austerity, and conservation.

Decoupling looks like an obvious idea, isn’t it? After all, isn’t that true that we are becoming more efficient? Think of a modern LED light compared with an old lamp powered by a whale oil. We are now hundreds of times more efficient than we were and we also saved the whales (but, wait, did we…..?). So, if we can do the same things with much less energy, then we could grow the economy without using more energy, solving the climate problem and also the depletion problem. It is part of the concept of “dematerialization” of the economy. Then we paint everything in green and all will be well in the best of worlds.
But there has to be something wrong with this idea, because it is just not happening, at least at the global scale. Just take a look at the above image.
In the end, society needs energy to function and the idea that we can do more with less with the help of better technologies seems to be just an illusion. If we reduce energy consumption, we’ll most likely enter a phase of economic decline. Which might not be a bad thing if we were able to manage it well. Maybe. Calling this “a challenge” seems to be a true euphemism, if ever there was one. But, who knows? Happy 2018, everybody!

3 thoughts on “By Ugo Bardi: Are We Decoupling?”

  1. Would be great to get this in front of Mark Zuckerberg. Judging by his comments in this op-ed from 2013, he needs to see this and chew on it a bit.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mark-zuckerberg-immigrants-are-the-key-to-a-knowledge-economy/2013/04/10/aba05554-a20b-11e2-82bc-511538ae90a4_story.html?utm_term=.c15f27170ce6

    Key excerpt from the op-ed:
    “The economy of the last century was primarily based on natural resources, industrial machines and manual labor. Many of these resources were zero-sum and controlled by companies. If someone else had an oil field, then you did not. There were only so many oil fields, and only so much wealth could be created from them.

    Today’s economy is very different. It is based primarily on knowledge and ideas — resources that are renewable and available to everyone. Unlike oil fields, someone else knowing something doesn’t prevent you from knowing it, too. In fact, the more people who know something, the better educated and trained we all are, the more productive we become, and the better off everyone in our nation can be.

    This can change everything. In a knowledge economy, the most important resources are the talented people we educate and attract to our country. A knowledge economy can scale further, create better jobs and provide a higher quality of living for everyone in our nation.”

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    1. What a wise and brilliant man Zuckerberg is. It’s amazing that no one else thought of this sooner. The solution to overshoot problems is to increase the population so we have more ideas to solve the problems.

      There’s one small thermodynamic problem he overlooked, ideas consume energy rather than producing energy.

      Oops.

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  2. Fossil Fuel Expansion Crushes Renewables by Barry Saxifrage
    h/t GailZ

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/09/20/analysis/fossil-fuel-expansion-crushes-renewables

    “What determines our climate fate is how much climate-polluting fossil fuels we decide to burn. Renewables are great but only if they actually replace oil, gas, or coal. Sadly, rising renewables haven’t stopped our fossil fuel burn, or our atmosphere’s CO2 from continuing to rise. Instead, the new business-as-usual is one in which we keep expanding both renewables and fossil fuels at the same time.”

    Like

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