Short essay on net energy

Net energy means two things.  The first thing is that growth becomes impossible, which is what impacts us first.  The second is that any subsequent zero-growth system which we might establish has a limited duration.  It is in the pattern of any population boom, which follows an exponential trend.  However, once that population saturates its environment support the population levels off and enters a period of logistic or Henon-Heiles cycling.  We are entering this phase NOW!  The economic doldrums we are experiencing are global and have signatures of this.

The problem we really face immediately is we have an economic system geared to exponential growth, and we live in a nation with a political-military power base which demands this.  So we are entering a new game while trying to play with old rules.  The outcome of this will be at least interesting, and would be even entertaining if I was some ETI getting data downloads from our space probe observing this planet.  The outcome could be most unfortunate.

We may flip out of this current manic political trajectory, or the United States may become irrelevant as it shifts into a retrograde political trajectory.  So we may fill in the gaps with renewable energy and other sources, which might carry our civilization 50 or 100 years (maybe longer if sufficient wisdom combined with luck shines upon us) into the future in some state between moderately happy to just barely tolerable.  I doubt we are going to see a “one happy world” which has John Lennon’s “Imagine” as its anthem, though the band “Perfect Circle” did a curious take on this song.

This phase will not be perfectly sustainable, for resources during a zero-growth phase will be consumed — things are thermodynamic.  There is no way 9 billion human beings can exist in some completely sustainable manner.  So in keeping with population biology, this logistics phase is followed by the inverse exponential phase.  This is crash, implosion or die-off.  Interestingly the proverbial rise and fall of civilizations, which has some episodic basis to it, has all mode locked into one grand global cycle.  This crash will be far deeper than any prior dark age, and will consume the entire world.  Things will be far worse if we collapse the global eco-system of the planet; we engineer the sixth mass extinction.  Peak global environment is the ultimate catastrophe which we may face.  Peak environment could mean not just die-off, but in the end die-out.

We might as well lay our cards on the table and admit this is virtually inescapable.  If we are smart about things we might be able to postpone it for a while; we may even postpone it a couple of centuries if we can rise enough above the “killer ape” level.  On the other hand we might see it hit in the next 10 years if a nuclear war breaks out over political/economic control of energy.

Lawrence B. Crowell

lcrowell@swcp.com

About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence. Artificial Intelligence Foundation Latvia, http://www.artificialintelligence.lv Editor.
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