Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Concerning Energy Return On Investment (EROI)

Dr. Homer-Dixon presents powerful arguments for the coming energy crisis, arguments with which I agree for the most part, although again I believe the picture he paints is overly pessimistic. He argues that oil provides very high energy return for a modest amount of effort required to extract,harvest, refine and distribute it, while other energy sources provide much lower EROI. He suggests that ethanol production, if it can be tuned to guarantee a positive EROI, may provide a low EROI renewable energy resource that competes, however, with land needed for farming. Coal, especially the new technologies that are somewhat less harmful to the environment, may be useful for a time. Hydrogen provides a high EROI, but is difficult to produce, while solar energy has low power density, and hence cannot be used to support industrial processes that require high energy density.

Overall, he argues that the alternatives will not sustain our current industries, which assume high power density, nor will they support our current concentrated living arrangements, such as found within cities. Essentially, he is saying that we cannot continue to function under our current socio-economic arrangements for much longer.

There we agree. His fear, of course, is that the result will be catastrophic breakdown of social structures. He argues that our societies have little built in "resiliency" against such failures. This is where we disagree. I believe that we, humanity, is engaged in a vast process of developing new ways of functioning within a changing world, and that these new ways of functioning essentially provide the needed resiliency. I suggest that the two processes are matched - on the one hand, the old ways of functioning of the environment is changing in dramatic ways, and on the other, we are changing along with it.

Homer-Dixon draws an analogy with the collapse of ancient Rome, and suggests that we are in a similar situation. I disagree, despite the apparent similarity of contexts. I believe that what is different is that we are operating at the limits of what the planet can sustain, that the world is no bigger than we are. Although the Roman empire was huge, it was still a centrally organized society, and one that operated in a much larger world. We are not in the same situation - there is no place on the planet that is not also part of our dilemma, the paradox we face. I believe that places us in a situation in which no alternative but change is possible, and that we WILL change, as a consequence.

Humanity is in a systems interaction with our environment, to the extent that each determines the other, and both have to change together. The ancient Roman empire had other alternatives, bad ones perhaps, from the perspective of a centrally organized civilization, but alternatives nonetheless. We do not. We're the only game in town. Either we succeed, or we die. And while dying is a possibility, it is not an option.

The way forward must therefore be, that we change the way we do business, the ways in which we live, the ways in which we make things. The energy alternatives we face are inevitable, inescapable. We must reinvent ourselves, in such a way that as a society we can function with low power density and lower EROI energy sources. Already we are moving away from a centrally-oriented society, to one that expects to function more peripherally, more fragmented, less uniformly at the local scale. Social upheaval will occur, but not at levels that exceed our capacity to deal with them.

Although i think there has been a "dearth of ingenuity", rather than a death, I believe that our current (receding) socio-economic arrangements are the source of the problem, and that the newer arrangements coming into being will act to correct the problem.

42 comments:

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............................................................

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路過留言支持~~~............................................................

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