Rock and a Hard Place

We often face decisions that seem to have disagreeable results no matter what. An old mining expression “between a rock and a hard place” gives graphic imagery to this decision making. Are we facing such decisions now when it comes to energy allocation? That is, with our civilization relying upon copious amounts of readily available energy; what decisions must we make to keep our civilization prospering?

Our civilization feeds off of energy. Annual global energy consumption continues to increase, up to 5.85E+20 Joules in 2017. About 89% are from non-renewable resources: oil, coal, natural gas, uranium. The first three of these contribute to pollutants that are causing environmental changes for our planet. The last, uranium, results in large amounts of long-lived, contaminated waste. And reactors have a potential for wide area, accident-caused contamination. Nevertheless, we can and likely will use these energy sources until supply is exhausted. And by deciding to do this, we inherently accept any consequences.

We can also obtain energy from renewable sources; principally hydro, solar and wind. These amount to 11% globally. Certainly they have value, but they have cost. One measure of this is the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) metric. In other words, there is no free source of energy. For renewables, energy is needed to construct the collector and energy is taken from the ecosystem during the system’s operation. That is, we take for ourselves and leave less and less for other living things.

So which are the rock and the hard place? The metaphorical rock could be us taking more and more energy for our services with the inevitable crash when supplies of non-renewables fail. The metaphorical hard place could be that we access so much from renewables that our planet is no longer a pleasant place to live. According to the Doomsday Clock, we have precious little time remaining to make a decision. Need help with your decision? Contact me.

Offshore food


Growth is a great mantra for economies. Continual growth leads to advancing prosperity; even to the increase in individual wealth. And whether it’s due to nature or nurture, or both, most people prefer the excess caused by growth. And when people get what they prefer then they readily support the government. Thus government’s economists demand growth to appease the ratepayers. And the mantra spins on.

Subsuming to the mantra of growth has brought great prosperity to many people and many civilizations. But everyone knows that growth is limited. People can build only so many homes until there are not enough people to live in them. Japan is a case in point with a population with some of the longest life expectancies; but this expectancy may be instrumental in its ever decreasing population. Equally, there is only so much arable land; though a continual 2percent increase in crop production makes one wonder, “what is the limit?” And then there are the seas. Once imagined to be limitless, these wonders of Earth have proved to have boundaries. While fish capture rates have maintained a steady value of about 85 million tonnes annually, aquaculture has boomed to provide another 85 million tonnes. Will the mantra strike reality?

While people have certainly met their natural goal of maximizing their progeny, is it possible that they are limiting the potential of their progeny?  People may get smarter and invent new ways to garner energy, to grow food and to construct abodes. Now does a mantra of continual growth achieve the best future for the progeny? Or could economists enable our progeny to sing to better?

Les Fleurs