“Can Civilization Survive” #1

Just as the years of our individual lives dwindle to an end; humanities’ dwindling fossil fuel energy supply increasingly threatens the lives of our world’s civilizations and their populations.

But, life goes on with humanity normally focused upon the here and now, much like the creatures we deride as “lower-order organisms”. These amazing creatures that will live as well as ever, during humanities’ struggle to survive the coming energy-starved dark ages.

The following is a quote from: The Post Carbon Institute News Letter. Dec 28, 2022.


What We Need to Know

The first efforts toward energy transition modeling mostly estimated how many solar panels and wind turbines would be needed to replace the energy we currently derive from fossil fuels, and how much all of that technology would cost. But the energy transition will be a far more complex task than just building new energy generators. Because solar and wind power are intermittent, energy storage will be required, along with more redundancy in generating capacity. Because most of the new energy sources will produce electricity, while most current energy usage infrastructure is designed for storable fuels, we’ll have to electrify a great deal of energy-using technology (electric cars are just the start). At the same time, we’ll need a whole new industry to make low-carbon fuels for technologies that will be hard to electrify—like cement kilns and airplanes.

The field of system dynamics is ideally suited to energy transition analysis, since its practitioners aim to model changing complex systems. System dynamics studies often produce several possible scenarios, with each scenario based on the adjustment of a key variable.

With regard to the energy transition, we need system dynamics scenario studies that can answer the following questions:

  • How much will the transition cost monetarily—not just for panels and turbines, but for the system as a whole, including all the new electrified infrastructure, along with infrastructure needed for energy storage and the production of low-carbon fuels?
  • How much energy will it take? Building all this new infrastructure will take energy. In the early phases of the transition, most of that energy will come from fossil fuels, which supply over 80 percent of global energy currently.
  • What about carbon emissions? During the energy transition, society will be emitting more greenhouse gases than it would otherwise (due to ramped-up industrial processes needed to build new energy infrastructure). How much more?
  • How will the transition affect economic growth, and vice versa? If the global economy continues to grow, that might make the transition harder, as more energy would be required for non-transition purposes. But deliberately contracting the economy in order to direct more energy toward the transition might erode financial (and political) support for the project.
  • How will the transition impact society’s return on the energy it invests in getting more energy (energy return on investment, or EROI)? It is the high energy profit ratios of fossil fuels that have enabled humanity to construct complex industrial societies in which the great majority of people spend their days using energy rather than producing it. EROI for fossil fuels is generally declining due to the depletion of high-quality stocks of oil, gas, and coal, while EROI for renewables is generally increasing due to technology improvements. But the situation is complicated: during the transition, energy costs will come earlier than the energy paybacks, thereby possibly lowering the EROI for society as a whole, at least temporarily. And EROI for renewables could decline due to the depletion of mineral and metal ores needed to build these technologies at scale (since it takes more energy to mine and refine lower-grade ores).
  • How will the transition be impacted by materials scarcity? The construction of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and other renewable energy technologies at scale will require enormous amounts of metals and minerals, some of which are already scarce.
  • What are the costs and benefits if the transition goes faster or slower? The speed of the transition could have varying impacts on the economy, on energy availability, on societal EROI, and on greenhouse emissions.

Clearly, there’s a lot that we need to know. And, adding further to the complexity, we can’t just address each of these questions independently, because all of the parts of the energy system, and the industrial system it powers, will be constantly interacting. That’s why we need scenarios based on dynamic systems modeling.

Interest in energy transition modeling is fairly recent, but the academic literature is growing quickly. Dozens of relevant research papers have been published in the past decade, though most attempt to answer just one or two of the questions listed above (for example, a report by McKinsey consultants estimated that the global transition will cost $275 trillion over 30 years; that report was criticized here). A full discussion of all these publications would be unwieldy, especially since many do not employ system dynamics methodology. Instead, let’s survey just two recent system dynamics studies that address many of the questions I’ve posed. One study’s conclusions are more gloomy, the other’s less so.

End of quote.

I would strongly encourage you to read more on this topic at https://www.postcarbon.org/blog/ . It addresses the most important longer-term threat to the survival of this world’s civilizations.

Given humanities’ basic tendency to respond for more immediate pleasures, to acclimate to gradually increasing unpleasant conditions, and to avoid thinking about distant calamities; there is every reason to engage in productive worry right now!

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 12/29/22

Thanks to Darrel Bostow, Ph.D., for sending this newsletter to me.

One Response to ““Can Civilization Survive” #1”

  1. “Can Civilization Survive” #1 | Cultural Survival Skills – The Patriot Revue Says:

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