• 3 minutes e-car sales collapse
  • 6 minutes America Is Exceptional in Its Political Divide
  • 11 minutes Perovskites, a ‘dirt cheap’ alternative to silicon, just got a lot more efficient
  • 15 hours Could Someone Give Me Insights on the Future of Renewable Energy?
  • 1 day How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy
  • 2 days "What’s In Store For Europe In 2023?" By the CIA (aka RFE/RL as a ruse to deceive readers)
  • 2 days Bankruptcy in the Industry
  • 3 days The United States produced more crude oil than any nation, at any time.
Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has also appeared in The Christian Science…

More Info

Premium Content

Reducing Consumption: The Unpopular Answer To Global Crises

  • Many proposed solutions to civilizational threats like climate change and antibiotic resistance address isolated issues and are based on unrealistic assumptions.
  • Current ideas such as fusion energy, vertical farming, and iron burning, while innovative, rely heavily on stable geopolitical environments and vast resources.
  • Addressing the root of the problem requires accepting and acting on the concept of degrowth, ensuring a sustainable and steady-state economy before nature forces us into one.

There are those who believe our current way of life is not facing any near term threat and will go on indefinitely. In this view, any existential problems—should they ever arise—will be dealt with by new technologies.

Others assume the threat of civilizational collapse is real and can be and even will be addressed. They may believe that the threats include climate change, the challenge of evolving microbes that are rendering antibiotics useless, and the increasing toxicity of the biosphere due to human releases of novel toxic chemicals. This group frantically offers solutions which are emitted on an almost daily schedule from the world's universities and industrial research laboratories.

The solutions that are offered usually address an isolated issue such as carbon-free energy. A recent proposal suggests burning iron powder. As one reads about this "solution," it seems more and more like a nonstarter. There's plenty of iron, of course. But we need to ramp up dramatically the manufacture of iron powder. This gets burned to make iron oxide. Then we can make iron "renewable" by using hydrogen to strip away the oxygen from the resulting iron oxide so we get iron again.

Of course, the hydrogen is assumed to be "green hydrogen" made using renewable energy. Even if the amount of green hydrogen necessary for widespread adoption of iron oxide recycling were to become available—which is a real stretch—storing and transporting hydrogen is a nightmare because as the smallest molecule in the universe, it leaks easily and persistently from practically anything you put it into AND any hope of storing it economically means it needs to be turned into a liquid at minus 423 degrees F. Keep in mind that absolute zero at which all molecular motion theoretically ceases is minus 459.67 degrees F. Of course, this will be very energy-intensive.

I am reminded of the joke about the priest, the engineer and the economist stranded together on a desert island. They need food, and the logical source is fish. The priest suggests that they all pray for fish. The engineer recommends building a fishing net with materials available on the island. The economist ponders for a moment and then says, "Assume a fish."

That is what most of the "solutions" to civilizational collapse amount to. For example, fusion energy assumes a stable geopolitical environment capable of funding, building and running complex energy infrastructure. So does renewable energy. So-called vertical farming in cities assumes the capital to build environment-controlled buildings which use enormous water, fertilizer and electricity resources while sitting on high-value real estate.

For the various solutions to take hold we must assume ongoing access to huge sums of willing capital, geopolitical stability, plentiful resources to get us through any transition, and a climate that does not plunge us into a sudden catastrophic change that undermines food supplies and challenges the limits of existing infrastructure. And, we must assume that the multiple threats we face regarding depletion of fossil fuels, water and fertile soil and the continuous poisoning of the air, land and water will be addressed in tandem successfully. The smooth functioning of the existing system depends on it.

None of the solutions, however, get to the heart of the matter. I regard the heart of the matter as ever rising consumption (and therefore use of energy and resources). Dramatically reducing consumption is simply not in such plans for the future except among a few groups advocating for what has euphemistically come to be known as "degrowth." Degrowth means the same thing as the economist's "negative growth." It means less stuff and energy and a lot less over time.

As the dean of the steady-state economists, the late Herman Daly told us again and again, human civilization will achieve a steady-state economy one way or another. Either we will plan for it and execute a plan that takes us as a global society on average down to a fraction of what we consume today. Or, nature will take its course and we will collapse down to a steady-state level of consumption, probably one considerably below what would occur if we took the planned route.

By Kurt Cobb via Resource Insights 


More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:

Download The Free Oilprice App Today

Back to homepage

Leave a comment
  • DoRight Deikins on August 07 2023 said:
    I know of 3 houses in the US (two in Texas, one in Oregon) that are so stuffed with stuff that they are unlivable. Except they have become breeding grounds for rats.

    Think I'll go buy something at Stuff-Mart so I don't have to think about it!

Leave a comment

EXXON Mobil -0.35
Open57.81 Trading Vol.6.96M Previous Vol.241.7B
BUY 57.15
Sell 57.00
Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News