Terminal Illness of the Global Energy System and Prospects for Recovery

The slow-motion collapse of the fossil-fuel based global industrial civilization is the unspoken elephant in the room of  main-stream media discussion of politics and economics. To even try to confront the awesome reality that a 200 year period of economic growth and the associated population explosion is heading for a cliff-edge unprecedented in human history takes clear-headed equanimity. The group of researchers and writers associated with the Post-Carbon Institute in Santa Rosa, California (www.postcarbon.org) are valiantly outlining ways to move beyond denial to realism. Here are two recent essays from this group:

David Fridley – Energy: Nine Challenges of Alternative Energy

Unlike conventional fossil fuels, where nature provided energy over millions of years to convert biomass into energy-dense solids, liquids, and gases–requiring only extraction and transportation technology for us to mobilize them–alternative energy depends heavily on specially engineered equipment and infrastructure for capture or conversion, essentially making it a high-tech manufacturing process. However, the full supply chain for alternative energy, from raw material to manufacturing, is still very dependent on fossil-fuel energy for mining, transport, and materials production. Alternative energy faces the challenge of how to supplant a fossil-fuel-based supply chain with one driven by alternative energy forms themselves in order to break their reliance on a fossil-fuel foundation.

William Ryerson – Population: The Multiplier of Everything Else

When it comes to controversial issues, population is in a class by itself. Advocates and activists working to reduce global population growth and size are attacked by the Left for supposedly ignoring human-rights issues, glossing over Western overconsumption, or even seeking to reduce the number of people of color. They are attacked by the Right for supposedly favoring widespread abortion, promoting promiscuity via sex education, or wanting to harm economic growth. Others think the problem has been solved, or believe that the real problem is that we have a shortage of people (the so-called “birth dearth”). Still others think the population problem will solve itself, or that technological innovations will make our numbers irrelevant. One thing is certain: The planet and its resources are finite, and it cannot support an infinite population of humans or any other species. A second thing is also certain: The issue of population is too important to avoid just because it is controversial.

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