Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The renewable revolution, III - the Jevons paradox

I received an interesting comment today on my first post on the renewable revolution. In answering it, I thought that the exchange was worth publishing as a post in its own, so here it is. 

Karl North said... 
Ugo, you are no doubt familiar with the Jevons Paradox, which says that energy efficiency gains, in a typical capitalist political economy of few policy constraints, are used in ways that lead to higher energy use at the macro level. In my view something similar is at work if the “clean” energy alternatives that you are advocating replace fossil fuels to a significant degree. The use of alternatives (again in our dominant form of political economy) will be used to chew up the same resources as fossil fuels do. Many of these resources are nonrenewable, many of them destructive of global carrying capacity in their production and use. As just one example, fossil fuels have permitted an industrialized form of agriculture that is an ecological slow-moving disaster but has temporarily doubled world population, which in turn is causing its own problems. As a systems analyst I am sure you can appreciate the positive feedbacks involved. So in general, significant production of alternative fuels would continue the disastrous process that is producing ‘peak everything’ both in terms of resource depletion and nest fouling.

Few writers on the subject of energy flow in our planetary system are considering the question: What is the level of energy use (of any sort) that is excessive, because it simply wears out the system. I liken the problem to running a car at rpms that are in the red zone of the car’s tachometer. Again, as a systems analyst I would think that you would be interested in such questions.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)