Friday, July 02, 2004

The Party's Over by Richard Heinberg

a few notes from the book

“At first ecologists studied food chains—big fish eat little fish. Quickly however, they realized that since big fish die and are subsequently eaten by scavengers and microbes that are then eaten by still other organizsms, it is more appropriate to speak of the food cycles or webs. Further analysis yielded the insight that all of nature is continually engaged in the cycling and recycling of matter and energy. There are carbon cycles, nitrogen cycles, phosphorus cycles, sulfur cycles, and water cycles. Of fundamental importance, however are energy flows—which tend to drive matter cycles and which…begin in nearly all cases with sunlight.” (15)

Process of collapse in level of complexity (Tainter) is comparable to population overshoot and die-off within a colonized ecosystem (Rome’s population was over 1 million in 100 CE and about 40,000 in 1100 CE) (35)

“Western civilization from the Middle Ages to the present…rather than growing and declining in a simple curve, Western Civilization has recovered and undergone at least two even greater growth surges due to its ability to find and exploit new energy subsidies at critical moments. The takeover of the Americas, Africa, India, and the Pacific Islands offered subsidies ranging from slave labor to new sources of metal ores and timber. The expansion of the Euro-American cultural and political influence that these new resources enabled, while impressive, probably could not have been sustained throught the 20th century in the face of rising costs (e.g., for the maintenance of colonial administrations) and declining returns, had it not been for the discovery of fossil fuels, the greatest energy subsidy ever known. This discovery, as we have already seen, enabled the transformation of civilization itself into a form never before seen: industrialism.” (36)

“That the ancient Europeans revered the forest is evidenced by their traditions concerning the sacredness of certain groves, by their customs of making sacrifices and offerings to trees, and by their extensive lore regarding tree-spirits. But, with the coming of Christianity, these early pagan attitudes (the Latin paganus means “peasant”) were gradually replaced by the idea that the wilderness is inherently fallen and corrupt, to be reclaimed only by pious human work. Far from fearing the overcutting of forests, later medieval Europeans saw the clearing of land as their Christian duty. Cutting the forest meant pushing back chaos, taming Nature, and making space for civilization.” (45) (dovetails with Barry Lopez wolves)

pp 34-80 is story of Western Civ told from perspective of energy usage. (trees, coal, petroleum)

“More than any other product, the automobile led to the dramatic expansion during the 1920s, of both the advertising industry and consumer debt. Car companies nearly tripled their advertising budgets during the decade; they also went into the financing business, making car loans ever easier to obtain. By 1927, three-quarters of all car purchases were made on credit and there was one car for every 5.3 US residents.” (65)

Energy Information Agency “these adjustments to the USGS and MMS estimates are based on non-technical considerations that support domestic supply growth to the levels necessary to meet projected demand levels.”(115) Economists only see growth, don’t see limits.

EROEI (Net energy): it takes energy to acquire or develop energy resources

“Rich industrialized nations have used loans, bribes, and military force to persuade nations with indigenous populations on small-scale, traditional subsistence cultivation to remove peasants from the land and grow monocrops for export” (176)

East 16, Africa 3, M.East 4, China 5, FSU 4, Europe 13, L.america 6, US 22
Millions of barrels per day

“It is realistic to hope for humankind to move collectively from being a colonizing species to becoming a cooperative member of climax ecosystems.” (241)

colonizers of an ecosystem (energy subsidy): bloom, overshoot, dieoff (rats, fruitflys, bacteria)
climax ecosystem

when should we have stopped?


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