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Page added on May 29, 2014

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Peak Oil: The Limits of “Techno-Optimism” 3

Alternative Energy

This is the third and final look at another great effort by Dr. Samuel Alexander * in his working paper entitled A Critique of Techno-Optimism: Efficiency without Sufficiency is Lost, examining the longstanding belief that no matter what society’s problems in an endless quest for more and better, technology will provide and resolve in due course.

The most recent post of this short series ended with some rather daunting projections about the Earth’s capabilities if economic growth and population proceed according to reasonable projections based on historical trends. The capsule summary of that discussion: we’ll need the equivalent of 80 Earths to sustain ourselves before the end of this century.

Responding to expected challenges to the projections he offered, Dr. Alexander scaled back the numbers. Citing a 2013 study suggesting that the link between growth in GDP and resource usage (if I understood correctly, which is open to question when it comes to economics), the alternate conclusion is that before the end of the 21st Century, we would only need the equivalent of 48 Earths to sustain ourselves.

That’s better, Right?

I may not know a lot, but I do know they are not making more planets. So 80 planets worth of resource/carrying, 48, or anything beyond 1 is an enormous problem. As Alexander explained, what we have now on our one and only Earth is reaching the absolute limits of its abilities to sustain us all. Any contemplation of more planets’ worth of capacity is pretty much a nonstarter.

Try as they might, those who dispute climate change or peak oil or any facts suggesting Business As Usual If Not Better is no longer in the cards have a big job ahead of them. Ideologies can can only carry you so far and no further, and I simply do not think there is a pro-business, anti-government ideological principle which will convince more than a handful of the far-right extremists on the far-right of extremists that this is all nonsense.

Technology is still a vital component for our future well-being, but working with finite resources and limitations only affords us so much and no more. Facts are tough to ignore forever.

Reducing the ecological impacts of developed nations, however, cannot be achieved simply through the application of technology. As well as using technologies to reduce the impact of economic activity, what is also required is that typical levels of consumption and production in developed nations go down. This can be achieved partly by cultural change, through which people practice ‘voluntary simplicity’ by exchanging superfluous consumption for more free time. But such cultural change needs to be supported and facilitated by structural changes that support an economics of sufficiency. (links/citations in the original quote)

I’m thinking that’s going to take more than a lunch meeting or two figure out. When would be a good time to start?

* Dr. Alexander is a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs at the University of Melbourne as well as co-director of the Simplicity Institute, among other professional endeavors.

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10 Comments on "Peak Oil: The Limits of “Techno-Optimism” 3"

  1. Makati1 on Thu, 29th May 2014 6:13 am 

    “… what is also required is that typical levels of consumption and production in developed nations go down…”

    Well, we all know that will not happen until we are forced to do it by lack of resources/money. Capitalism cannot exist in a contracting economy.

  2. Davy, Hermann, MO on Thu, 29th May 2014 7:20 am 

    Developing nations need to quit pushing the population limits of their carrying capacity. The third world is in severe overshoot to carrying capacity. This will be the single biggest systematic danger to the world. These people may be poor but they still need a minimum caloric intake. When BAU staggers and tips we will not be able to feed these masses of third world people. This will rapidly create failed states. These failed states will occur in regions important for supply of vital resources and supply distribution. We can consider the developed world a critical node to the global BAU economy. We can also consider those resource producing states as a vital node but a subset. Currently there are a few failed states but they are insignificant. We are talking regional areas with multiple states failing and the resulting collapse of economic activity in those regions. The vital developed world node cannot survive this type of collapse. Constant resupply must occur for the developed world to function. This is not a matter of sending in the military to crush a dictator or the like. This is a matter of providing food that will not be there and rebooting a failed society and economy. This is beyond the abilities of the developed world economies and militaries. Food will not be there to resupply and the resources need to restore order will not be there. Look to the third world to initiate the coming BAU demise through their overpopulation and resulting food shortage. East Asia and Africa are the worst culprits of population overshoot they will be the center of the coming collapse. The ME is dangerously positioned in overshoot but it will be able to outbid East Asia and Africa with oil.

  3. Juan Pueblo on Thu, 29th May 2014 8:49 am 

    Everyone everywhere should reduce consumption and nobody should have more than one child for this to become a problem with a solution. Instead, most people consume and breed as much as thay can and want. Therefore, this is a predicament, not a problem and it lacks possible solutions. That’s why I had a Vasectomy and no children. I realized 35 years ago how this was going to end. It is a matter of when and how, not if. It’s human nature.
    Carpe Diem

  4. peterjames on Thu, 29th May 2014 9:05 am 

    Dont worry Juan, I am pretty sure that the people on earth will never consume the resources equivalent to 80 planets. Something tells me they wont go past 1. The decision not to breed is the conundrum we have. Those who have vasectomies on the basis of saving population growth, decrease the chance of the world being populated with like minded people. On the other hand, we end up with more people who think its their duty to buy an SUV and then make 4 kids tofill it.

  5. Juan Pueblo on Thu, 29th May 2014 9:16 am 

    Peterjames, LOL. Almost spit my coffee on that one planet!
    “Those who have vasectomies on the basis of saving population growth, decrease the chance of the world being populated with like minded people.”
    I am well aware and agree wholeheartedly. Still LOL. Another reason to not have babies or hope! 😉

  6. GregT on Thu, 29th May 2014 9:27 am 

    Developed nations need to reduce their consumption to the levels of undeveloped nations. Developing nations need to stop trying to emulate developed nations, and return to the family farms. Western corporate advertising media needs to be exposed for the lies that it is spreading globally.

    The ‘American dream’ is unsustainable, and is causing the demise of spirituality, family, community, and the natural environment that all species are dependant on for survival.

    We had the choice between living in harmony with nature, or altering nature to suit ourselves. We have chosen the latter, and will reap the consequences of our own inflated sense of self importance.

    The choice that we have made is a dead end for our species, and we will continue to promote it right up until it is no longer possible to change. It may very well be too late already.

  7. JulianB on Thu, 29th May 2014 10:18 am 

    JuanP, Whilst I fully respect your decision to have a vasectomy, by declining to bring up intelligent and ecosystem-aware children, you have made space for two or three more idiots on this totally overpopulated planet ! And therein lies a part of our predicament. Even rational decisions by well-meaning individuals to reduce their consumption in some way just leaves more resources for the unthinking and profligate to waste.
    In common with many other people, I just can’t see any non-catastrophic path out of our global predicament at this point.

  8. HARM on Thu, 29th May 2014 12:01 pm 

    “Developed nations need to reduce their consumption to the levels of undeveloped nations. Developing nations need to stop trying to emulate developed nations, and return to the family farms. Western corporate advertising media needs to be exposed for the lies that it is spreading globally”

    However true this may be, you will NEVER, repeat, NEVER be able to sell this to 99.9% of the population.

    Americans will give up their electronic toys, cars, cheap factory-farmed GMO food and 4,000 sft McMansions when you pry it from their cold dead hands. Developing nations want what Americans already have and are not going to listen to environmentalists or scientists telling them they cannot.

    In the U.S., you can’t even get enough voters to see the logic in re-regulating the financial sector or providing basic healthcare to all citizens. So you think you’re going to be able to sell “willingly return to the lifestyle of an 18th century subsistence farmer”? Good luck with that.

    The status quo will continue… until it can’t.

  9. GregT on Thu, 29th May 2014 1:39 pm 

    “The status quo will continue… until it can’t.”

    Hmmm Harm, sound familiar?

    “The choice that we have made is a dead end for our species, and we will continue to promote it right up until it is no longer possible to change. It may very well be too late already.”

  10. HARM on Thu, 29th May 2014 6:35 pm 

    @GregT,
    I was thinking of Herb Stein when I wrote that, but your ending quote says basically the same thing, sure.

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