Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why energy itself, not the lack of it, is the nemesis of our modern existence

Any energy that we ‘create’ or produce in excess of the total available energy of the sun will express itself in exponential growth until the point at which the ability to produce the excess energy is not possible or the unusable byproducts of that growth destroy the environment that enabled it.

We cannot carve the earth up and live as if energy is something we might have to be bothered to conserve or use cautiously. We cannot have the energy intensive lifestyles of our current paradigm without sacrificing our environment.

Much of the damage has already been done, but in the process, humanity discovered many wonderfully useful sciences that do not need high-tech infrastructure and processing to be relevant. Through simple breeding techniques and organic, permaculture styled food production, we can feed quite a lot of people with much less energy than is being used now with fossil fuels. Also, the food will be much better for you and for the land when being produced, guided by these low energy methods.

We really do need to live fairly low tech, productively active lifestyles in order to fit in with the earths requirements for successful organisms. Yes, we are smart, but being smart, and being successful are not always the same. Sometimes we do things that aren’t that smart for minimal, short term advantage which threatens the long term success of the species.

There is an equilibrium, a place where human civilization can live happily, with and about nature. But there will never be a condition where we can live outside of nature*. We will find this equilibrium eventually, and when we do we will be very different people from who we are now. Those of us that are still around when this great change has been fully realized will tell stories of the technological wonders that once existed, practically anything you wanted to know could be answered within seconds from a small device in your hand.

Some technology will survive, but in the long term, it will not last, not without the abundant resources and complex monetary/global trade structures to support repairing and replacement of parts. Unless we can figure out how to do amazing things organo-chemically with every day resources like rocks, wood, or dirt, we aren’t going to be able to keep our technology.

We have plenty of ways to use these types of resources as infrastructure, and thus they then become an energy sink, requiring energy, either human, animal, combustion, or electricity from Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Tidal, etc. to extract, form, transport and assemble. But we can’t use rocks to produce energy, say by simply polarizing their atoms (I am totally making this up as an example) which suddenly causes the rock to produce electricity in the company of light.

Electricity itself requires a carrier, or conduit, and a source. Normally the source is a hydroelectric, nuclear, or natural gas/coal powered plant. But with the alternatives like solar and wind, you run into intermittency problems as well as load distribution issues. So you fix that with batteries, but batteries are expensive, require many rare materials, are usually toxic or corrosive, and do not have a long life span.

The introduction of excess energy into the biosphere from humanities discovery and utilization of massive amounts of ancient solar energy in the form of fossil fuels has created one of our greatest conundrums. We are a pulsing and adaptable species which works well to keep us going, but in an energy rich lifestyle, that skill inadvertently turns to growth and our whole life becomes about earning wealth and accumulating products and investments.

The very fact that the majority of people in the developed world have not or do not often eat something that they themselves have grown, or harvested shows how deep this is. We need to get back to food production being a large employer of the population, and something that only a few would have little experience with. We cannot afford to mine, refine, form, assemble, treat, package, transport and consume our way through life with the merits of a credit economy and infinite growth.

It is a difficult position for politics to address. Ultimately, it becomes a choice between giving up our chance to escape earth rather than die with her. Now if I was alive and this was a choice right now, like an earth killing meteor is going to hit and there is a spaceship taking off with a hundred thousand light year capability, I would be on board.

I think we all know that just isn't going to be a possibility right now and in the mean time we are losing our hold and heading toward disaster in the face of energy decline.

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