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View Diary: MIT team: global economic collapse by 2030 (246 comments)

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  •  Physics prof. Tom Murphy had a great post on this (29+ / 0-)

    He called it the Energy Trap:

    In brief, the idea is that once we enter a decline phase in fossil fuel availability—first in petroleum—our growth-based economic system will struggle to cope with a contraction of its very lifeblood. Fuel prices will skyrocket, some individuals and exporting nations will react by hoarding, and energy scarcity will quickly become the new norm. The invisible hand of the market will slap us silly demanding a new energy infrastructure based on non-fossil solutions. But here’s the rub. The construction of that shiny new infrastructure requires not just money, but…energy. And that’s the very commodity in short supply. Will we really be willing to sacrifice additional energy in the short term—effectively steepening the decline—for a long-term energy plan?


    Many of us have great hopes for our energy future that involve a transition to a gleaming renewable energy infrastructure, but we need to realize that we face a serious bottleneck in its implementation. The up-front energy investment in renewable energy infrastructures has not been visible as a hurdle thus far, as we have had surplus energy to invest (and smartly, at that; if only we had started in earnest earlier!). Against a backdrop of energy decline—which I feel will be the only motivator strong enough to make us serious about a replacement path—we may find ourselves paralyzed by the Trap.

    In the parallel world of economics, an energy decline likely spells deep recession. The substantial financial investment needed to carry out an energy replacement crash program will be hard to scrape together in tough times, especially given that we are unlikely to converge on the “right” solution into which we sink our bucks.

    Politically, the Energy Trap is a killer. In my lifetime, I have not witnessed in our political system the adult behavior that would be needed to buckle down for a long-term goal involving short-term sacrifice.  Or at least any brief bouts of such maturity have not been politically rewarded.  I’m not blaming the politicians. We all scream for ice cream. Politicians simply cater to our demands. We tend to vote for the candidate who promises a bigger, better tomorrow—even if such a path is untenable.

    The only way out of the political trap is for a substantial fraction of our population to understand the dimensions of the problem: to understand that we’ve been spoiled by the surplus energy available through fossil fuels, and that we will have to make decade-level sacrifices to put ourselves on a new track. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

    by barath on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 11:36:36 AM PDT

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    •  That's not a prediction. It's reality. (9+ / 0-)
      Fuel prices will skyrocket, some individuals and exporting nations will react by hoarding, and energy scarcity will quickly become the new norm.
      Thus the deregulation of commodity futures.

      It doesn't take a PhD in Economics to understand the implications of a rapidly rising price of oil juxtaposed against a stagnant supply.

      Many people get upset about the impact that commodity trading has on raising the price of oil.  I agree with that anger, but it doesn't take the implications far enough.  Not only does buying futures increase the price of oil now through speculation, it also decreases the future supply of oil available to everyone else on the future market.  One day, that oil will be PRICELESS, and as long as a society that recognizes the contract and the dollar as being legitimate is still in effect, those who can claim ownership of the future's oil will not be mere market manipulators but the true masters of the fucking universe.

      The bourgeoisie had better watch out for me, all throughout this so called nation. We don't want your filthy money, we don't need your innocent bloodshed, we just want to end your world. ~H.R.

      by chipmo on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 01:29:19 PM PDT

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      •  There is plenty of energy... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Frank Knarf, Nulwee

        The total energy usage by the entire planet is less than 1% of the total solar energy hitting the planet.  Not even counting the mix of nuclear and gravitational energy available underground (geothernal), or the energy from leftover angular momentum from the formation of the moon (tidal).

        Declining fossil fuels are a problem because we should be using the fossils fuels that are left to put in place the initial renewable energy infrastructure to supply the energy for tomorrow.

        Conversion of all that energy to useful forms will be the particular challenge.  Food being particularly challenging.  Food energy has limitations other than the amount of energy hitting the planet.  Arable land, water, photosynthetic conversion efficiency, phosphorous, etc...

        So I would expect the ability to convert energy to food is the real limit, not the total available energy.

        •  How long will it take to manufacture sufficient (1+ / 0-)
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          solar panels and wind generators, install them, connect them and manage the power fluctuations caused by changing conditions?  

          The issues is that we cannot currently foresee being able to manufacture enough solar panels to supply all our needs and fuels are rapidly running low.

          That is the energy trap:  not that there is not enough energy reaching the earth, but that we cannot put the infrastructure into place in time to avoid great disaster.

          What a Police State Looks Like: "On one side: soft human flesh, unprotected human skulls, cardboard signs, slogans they chant, armed with belief in 1st Amendment rights. On the other: helmets, body armor, guns, batons, chemical weapons." -- JanetRhodes

          by YucatanMan on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:41:50 PM PDT

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          •  Solving that challenge ought be high priority (1+ / 0-)
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            Time is running out, the risks are huge, but there are still viable paths forward.

            See Amory Lovins Reinventing Fire

            Radical energy efficiency must be part of the mix.

            Do more with less, as Bucky taught us.

            Supply side: Global PV installed base is doubling approx every 2 years, and has been for decades. But that portion of the exponential has seemed flat because it's made up for a tiny slice of global energy demand.

            + PV is rapidly getting more efficient, less energy and material intensive to make, and cheaper. Moore's Law has kicked in and PV prices have fallen in half twice in the past 4 years. ($4.50/Wp summer 2008, less than $1/Wp now in spring 2012). This is a case when good exponentials can come to our aid ;)

            #3: ensure network neutrality; #2: ensure electoral integrity; #1: ensure ecosystemic sustainability.

            by ivote2004 on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 02:28:06 AM PDT

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