14     Energy: Are we Running Out?



Laws of Thermodynamics vs. law of diminishing economic returns, entropy, utility’s two meanings,


“Energy, the ability to effect change in our physical world.” p.290




Overview – without energy we are lost because we have no source

1.    The uses of energy { 292

2.    Efficiency as an energy source { 295

a.    Lovin’s soft energy path

b.    Holdren’s Optimistic Scenario

3.    Alternative energy sources – Renewables { 207

4.    Fossil Fuel Alternatives { 305

5.    Nuclear Power { 306

6.    Toward the Future { 308


“Some of the biggest downsides of developing a heavy dependence on biomass fuels derived from major crops is that they would be competing for the productive capacity of agricultural land against food, a vital resource that is in short supply globally.”


while much of the land now being farmed is being degraded and thus is unlikely to sustain production.”


“Only a myopic society would, in essence,  grind up its most irreplaceable resource [food] and feed it to Hummers.”


“To move toward an effective solution to energy supply and related environmental problems, what seems needed is prompt action on efficiency, combined with careful planning, research and rapid implementation of an array of supply technologies that minimize adverse environmental impacts.”


“It should be remembered that abundant energy is no panacea for the world’s ills.”


“The slowness of change in the social arena of culture has retarded recognition of this circumstance and its consequences [the human predicament].      






the energy problem brings together many crucial issues in the human predicament. The great speed of evolution in the technological dimension of our culture has led to the deployment of a dangerous and unsustainable global energy infrastructure.”

P. 308


Overview – without energy we are lost because we have no source of water to grow food and no energy to plant, harvest, refrigerate, and distribute food.


“It has made us the dominant animal on earth.”


The US energy consumption profile:                       World profile:

      Petroleum                                        40 percent                34 percent

      Coal                                                  23                               25

      Natural gas                                      25                               21

      Fission –nuclear power                08                               06.5

      Hydro electrical (dams)                06                               02.2

      Biomass                                                                         11.

                              Solar, geo, & wind                                     00.4   


about 2 billion people , mostly in developing countries–on the burning of wood, crop residues, or dung to heat their huts, boil their water, and cook their food.


 solar cooker

Solar cookers could replace wood, kerosene and charcoal fuels.


“Altogether the world’s people now use energy at the rate of about 16 terawatts. . . .the equivalent of 17 billion tons of coal.


“That means the average person among the richest 800 million accounted for a commercial energy flow of about 8 kilowatts while an average poor person enjoyed the use of only about 0.7 kilowatts of commercial energy and roughly half that much from biomass. (wood-fodder-dung)


“That misdistribution (of access to energy) is a fundamental cause, (and consequence) of economic inequality.”


Europeans monetarily subsidize their cows (beef, cheese, & milk production) at a per capita rate greater than the amount of money that half of humanity earns every day ($2.50 versus $2.00 / diem)

p. 292

• The uses of energy { 292


“What society is in danger of running out of relative to energy is is environment–especially the ‘away’ in which to throw things (as in the expression ‘throw away’).”


Air –“is a classic open access resource–one nobody owns, and thus one open to overexploitation.


“A fundamental fact about the human energy situation is that energy use and its hidden costs have increased globally  roughly fivefold since 1950.”


fossil-fuel based energy systems which now provide  some 80 percent of the energy used globally.”



Efficiency as an energy source { 295

“The quickest, cheapest, and safest new ‘source’ of energy is efficiency.”


Public authorities have failed to design cities and suburbs so that people can easily walk or bike to work, and they have failed for two decades to insist on improved fuel efficiency in automobiles and trucks for wich the technology already existed.”


the United States could potentially reduce its energy use to about a quarter of what I is now, while increasing the quality of life.”


Lovin’s soft energy path (296)

Holdren’s Optimistic Scenario or “best plausible scenario” (296)


• Alternative energy sources – Renewables { 297

“Without the use of alternative energy sources efficiency alone cannot solve the dilemma.”


mostly versions of solar energy, sometimes in the guise of wind, water, and biomass fuels.”


Solar energy can be used more directly for space heating and cooling by situating and designing buildings so they can best absorb and hold heat in the winter while reflecting sunlight in the summer.”


research has steadily increased the efficiency of  these solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in converting solar radiation into electricity, and they can perform even under somewhat cloudy conditions.”        


like solar systems, wind installations offer a flexibility that is lackingin industrial style power grids”


“Biomass fuels could, in some circumstances, help to stretch supplies of fossil fuels.”


“However the quantity of ethanol (alcohol fuel) that would be needed to replaceall the gasoline consumed today in the US transportation system would exceed the nation’s corn harvest, which under the best estimate could be convereted into enough biofuel to meet only 12 percent of the demand for gasoline.”

p. 302.

• Fossil Fuel Alternatives { 305


Integrated gasification closed cycle –IGCC—coal and carbon sequestration techniques

more expensive to build than conventional coal burners”

150 conventional coal plants proposed for the US (due to cost-constraint)


Nuclear Power