Introduction

Section
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
Page
8.1

Rather than start chronologically, examining our extraordinary growth in energy use and the benefits and problems this has entailed, I will start with the present day as the current energy uncertainty and instability throw light on our immediate energy-society dynamics, as well as the longer and bigger picture.

(9To5Toys. 2018. Amazon delivery van. With Amazon alone having 70,000 trucks and vans running mostly on fossil fuels, it is no wonder that Heinberg says that energy is “Not just a part of the economy; in a real, physical sense, it is the economy”.)

As mentioned previously in T10 (e.g. see Section 1.1.8), Richard Heinberg is a first-class guide for us in all manner of energy issues, and in May 2022 he neatly summed up our present energy problems, and the wider context, in this piece for the ‘Resilience’ website. Heinberg’s article – The Energy/Food Crisis Is Far Worse than Most Americans Realize – Resilience –  nicely touches on the scale of the problem and that, in so many ways, energy “is the economy” when he says that Amazon.com alone has 70,000 delivery vehicles running on fossil fuels! The immediate problems of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War are examined, as well as the overarching problem of total energy depletion. The latter situation is described by John Schramski1 from the University of Georgia as a giant battery that has been charged slowly over billions of years. “The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels,” says Schramski, “but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished”. Heinberg elaborates that this is “mostly by deforestation and the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. Once that battery is discharged, there is nothing humans can do within a relevant timescale to maintain the energy flows that currently support complex industrial civilization and a population measured in billions.”

I encourage you to read the article for a quick snapshot of where we are now re energy and what the future will be within a setting of depletion.

(CleanTechnica. 2017. Richard Heinberg, author and Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute)

 

We will return the energy story in 8.2 to some background on why the last 200 years have been so anomalous in energy use, before looking to the problems involved in exploiting fossil fuels in 8.3. 8.4-8.6 examine various transition scenarios, from straight substitution of fuels and sources (largely business as usual), to greater use of renewables, to deeper forms of structural change, and the best compromise between energy availability, least damage, and sustainability, is selected. 8.7 looks at how individuals can assist, plan and commence transition to this new state, and 8.8 presents examples of people, groups and nations working for a lower-energy, less-polluting future.

Section 8 is very much big-picture, a global-scale perspective on energy issues. For the smaller-scale, localised, household or individual aspects of energy use, see Section 2, ‘Consumption’.

Section 8 is written in collaboration with engineering friend Heinz de Chelard who has spent much of the last 20 years studying energy issues and has conducted research into biofuels, amongst others.

 

1 Schramski, J. et.al. 2015. Human Domination of the Biosphere: Rapid Discharge of the Earth-space Battery foretells the Future of Humankind. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, July 15, 112 (31).

Explore Other Energy Descent and Transition

8.1 Introduction

Rather than start chronologically, examining our extraordinary growth in energy use and the benefits and problems this has entailed, I will start with the present day as the current energy uncertainty and instability throw light on our immediate e...

8.2 Background

  Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming under forests, swamps and seas in the Carboniferous or Tri...

8.3 Problems

Although fossil fuels have been a boon for most of us in one way or another, they have several major problems, not least that that they are finite and highly polluting. Figure 2-1 below portrays world production for one of the fossil fuels – oi...

8.4 Responses: 1. Classical Economics and Business as Usual

Predominantly, this is the response to resource limitations and climate change around the world at the moment. After fierce resistance to the notion of climate change, and that fossil fuels were at all limited or a major cause of climate disruptio...

8.5 Responses: 2. Substitution with Renewables

Renewable energy is a huge and complex topic that we can but touch on. This said, we are lucky to have some first-rate communicators and clear thinkers to guide us through the maze, and Dave Borlase from ‘Just Have a Think’ is certainly one of the...

8.6 Responses: 3. Decreased Consumption and Deep Structural Change

As alluded to in 8.5, there is a group loosely positioned within the ‘renewables camp’, but sees it as just part of the solution to the problems of finite energy resources and pollution/climate change. This group perceives the enormity of the prob...

8.7 How Individuals can Assist, Plan, Commence Transition

As mentioned in 8.6, Jason Bradford believes that we will have to transition to a very different, more rural, society with far more localised and less energy-dependent food production. To commence this process he thinks we need to familiarise ours...

8.8 Successful Low-Energy, Renewable Energy, Projects and Groups

I have endeavoured to provide examples of responses at different scales (e.g. individual/household, town/village, nation), with different emphases (e.g. food or power), origins (e.g. collapse or transition), and technologies (e.g. the very simple ...

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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
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3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

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4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
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6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
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6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
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7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
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9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
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10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...