We need now to see if there are particular things happening in specific areas that will reveal whether or not people there are seeking to use more high-energy converters, and what they are prepared to sacrifice to get them. Very often what they are trying to do is not to elevate the position of new values in their hierarchies but rather to reduce the costs of obtaining what they value more highly, at the sacrifice of what they value less. It is not necessary to posit “power-mad” or “materialistic” people to account for the fact that energy is being sought in ever greater amounts. They may be seeking to guarantee increased favor in God’s eyes, or to increase their comfort or their status, or indulge in sensual extremes. To secure these ends, they may wish to produce anything from a cathedral to an atom bomb.
As we have seen, some values, particularly those that depend on close, long-term interpersonal relations, fare badly in the complex social systems which facilitate the use of high-energy converters. Where these interactional values are strongly entrenched, high-energy technology is less likely to be adopted than in areas where achievements will be enhanced by the increased use of energy are paramount in the minds of most people.
Some idealists assert the proposition that equality among men ? that is, equality of status and of power, not only equal opportunity to become unequal ? is of such significance that the concentration of wealth, influence, and power which accompanies high-energy technology is inherently abhorrent. Where high-energy technology develops in the face of such idealism, the efficacy of energy as compared with other means that affect the survival of values comes into focus.
If, in spite of ideological opposition, supported by the deep-seated values, high-energy converters do come into wider use, it is evident that those who implement their desires by means of these converters are becoming dominant over those who would ideally prefer another world but are forced to retreat before their more powerful opponents. This is not the same, however, as saying that it is evident that more individuals prefer such a world. It may mean only that a small elite, themselves convinced of the superiority of the values which arise with and can be served only by high-energy technology, have gained the power to shape their world in the image of their values despite popular opposition. It might, on the other hand, be evidence that men do generally accept the idea that “progress” consists of increasing the amount of energy brought under man’s control, and that this justifies whatever sacrifice of other values may be required.
The position taken here is that the values in any particular region to some degree affect and to some degree are affected by the culture and the social structure to be found there. We also hold that there is constant interaction between the technological relationships that are sanctioned and the values which they help to promote or destroy. This would imply nothing about “final” or supreme values. Investigation in any society could reveal the directions in which it was currently moving.
It should be noted that it will be precisely in those societies where increasing amounts of energy are being used that groups favoring values which require more energy for their achievement will be able to promote those values. For example, sates in which large amounts of energy are now used can utilize advertising, propaganda, and education to promote their values through the use of means of mass communication and transportation, such as newspapers, magazines, automobiles, railways, airplanes, television, telephones and radio. That use will in turn sustain increased demand for these instruments and for goods and services whose use can be promoted by them. By the same token, in low-energy society, values which do not depend upon the increasing possession of things are, perhaps, more likely to survive particularly in those cases where they do not have to compete with mass-produced effort designed to promote material things as an evidence of worth.
An examination of the ideologies contending for supremacy today makes clear that some of them do require action opposed to that which would maximize the availability of energy and its products among present users of high-energy technology. For example, the ideology being promoted by the Communists demands the transportation of great amounts of industrial products from Russian industrial plants to unindustrialized regions within the sphere of influence of the USSR. These products are needed to help keep those outlying regions within that sphere. They help Communist ideologists resist the efforts of those who seek other values and to escape Russian dominance.
It, nevertheless, remains true that the resources used in this way reduce the amount of goods that could otherwise be used to meet the rising expectations of the Russians themselves.
It also remains true that expanding the sphere of Communist dominance has added hundreds of millions of people to the lists of those who must be supplied primarily from Russian industrial centers.
At one point it looked as if communism (Russian style) might dominate most of the Eurasiatic continent. But Mao’s version of Communism, resting very heavily on the resurrection of Chinese nationalism, pretty generally destroyed the myth that class, rather than Nation, occupies the highest position in all regions as far as final loyalty is concerned. In China the struggle to oust the “Foreign Devil” claims more and more support as compared with that of world destruction of the upper class.
There is too little evidence available to show whether Mao’s peasant-dominated society will come to rule in all of the areas once occupied by Imperial China, but enough to indicate that One World dominated from Moscow is a chimera. In a sense this limitation has enhanced the probable survival of the USSR, for it relieved Moscow of the terrible burden involved in attempting to industrialize China, or to hold it against the witness of hundreds of millions of peasants now in control of the land.
In communist theory the great achievement of Marxism was that it taught men the true relation between technology and society. To many Russian engineers and economists who are daily made aware of the barriers which communist policy puts between them and the achievement of maximum physical productivity, the contrast between the ideal and the results of its application must make the acceptance of ideological considerations rationally difficult.
Some of the values widely held in the West pose similar problems for the democratic states. The United States, the French, and the British sought, partly on ideological grounds, to defend “democracy and free enterprise” among low energy nations in East Asia. Taxes imposed to carry out this effort used part of the national income of the West in ways which the owners of free enterprises would not in their efforts to secure profits have used it.
On the other hand, the development of the [[Common Market] promotes policies which have resulted in increased industrialization of North East Europe. For example, there is increased effort to produce food at home which lessens the need to export capital to other regions. Discovery and development of petroleum and gas in the North Sea makes the region less dependent on areas that had been supplying that fuel. So, there is less reason than before for the West to promote increased exploitation of science and technology at home, in order to support Western ideology and values abroad.
Recent events have made it impossible for serious students to continue to disregard the erroneous assumptions on which many major decisions have been made during the last hundred years. Perhaps by looking squarely at historic facts we can better understand both the origin of those decisions and the likelihood that their consequences can be modified or postponed.
Among what appear now to have been the most grievous error was the assumption that there is an unlimited supply of the materials on which man in high energy society must depend. A whole system of economic thought depended for its verification on the validity of that idea.
Luckily the notion that such recurring natural products as forests could be ruthlessly exploited without serious damage was refuted in some major regions before the supply had passed the point of no return. Conservation of the forests had been clearly made necessary in many parts of the world by the appearance of deserts and swamps, floods and dustbowls. In the U.S. on the other hand the beneficial results of conservation were demonstrated particularly by Theodore Roosevelt and his supporters and by the New Dealers. There were similar movements in many other parts of the world. The approval of conservation led to widespread recognition of the connections between human survival and the protection of the soil. This in turn contributed to the adoption of codes that had widespread support even when they interfered with the “God given rights” of the exploiter.
In North America the enormous land area that remains under government control and ownership has facilitated the conservation movement while at the same time it has made possible and promoted the industrialization of agriculture. Even the concentration of private ownership of forest lands has put many of them into the hands of people who seek to preserve them for future profit. Governmental restrictions on the use of privately owned agricultural lands have also changed the pattern of exploitation that previously had been followed. These and other actions that were directly contrary to what the proponents of the ruthless rule of price demanded have in fact resulted in a more prosperous and productive forestry and agriculture than the profit motives had previously provided.
This is in distinct contrast with the treatment accorded mineral resources. The world is pitted with the graveyards of many minerals, including fuels that were recklessly consumed using methods of extraction that made many of what were once rich resources now recoverable only at insupportable costs. Among these are, of course, the sources of almost all of the non-recurring energy available to man. I will come back later and discuss in detail the facts that we confront as they relate to fuel and minerals. But first, I need again to refer to the economic thought that justifies most of the extremely wasteful use of these resources.
Malthus vs. Ricardo
At several points in this book, I have talked about the relationship between “economic theory” and the historic conditions under which it arose; I thought it would be wise to summarize it again rather than have the reader go back to these statements.
It is hard to realize how short a time has passed during which any country or region on Earth was using fossil fuel as a primary source of the energy it used, and how narrowly restricted are the boundaries of such regions even today. But the fact is that a hundred years ago no major area of the world was primarily dependent upon such fuel for the energy it used. Yet, a great deal of economic thought relies for its forecasts of even the long-time future upon observation of what has happened to humans during this limited space and time. Research “in depth,” has often meant going back to examine how man functioned in the different, low energy societies that existed in the past. The degree to which his past actions presage the future has been difficult to assess. Economic philosophers differed in their judgment.
We can, for our convenience divide the schools of economic thought that emerged from the shift toward high energy economy into two categories. One relies primarily on considering man as being ultimately subject to all the limits imposed by the geographic and the biological world on all animals. The other relies on analysis in which values are the primary independent variable. We give to the first set of thinkers the name Malthusians and to the second Ricardians, after two outstanding British economies.
From what I have said earlier you will recall that with the use of the sailing ship it was possible, using only organic converters and the sparsely settled rich soil of the Americans, to feed many more people in Northwest Europe than was previously possible. This fact did result in a very great increase in that population, which again threatened widespread starvation. Malthus noted the increase and the result it portended. But he paid little attention to the source of the food increase that permitted the explosive growth and which was, in fact, located in lands far removed from the places from which Europeans had been accustomed to getting it. He emphasized the limitation on population imposed by those local sources and disregarded the effects of the sailing ship in bringing food to England from abroad.
Most of the people who had in all times past lived in urban areas behaved in accordance with social norms developed where the power of those who controlled access to land greatly affected them. Such rulers were reluctant to see increases in power that were not dependent on the sources which they controlled. Malthus’ predictions provided rationalizations to support their self interests.
He did not foresee the way massive emigration and technology advance would deny (or postpone) the consequences that he predicted. When Englishmen who made up a large part of the immigrants to Colonial America went abroad, they established much the same system of property in land that characterized England. The same class of people came to rule, particularly in the areas of the American South where plantation agriculture flourished. The systems of slavery and indentured servants permitted land owners to control the growth, and particularly the location of the population. This prevented for a time the full impact of the consequences foreseen by Malthus.
Later, with the use of the Homestead Act and similar legislation, ownership of land was in the United States very widely dispersed. The population was not limited immediately by either social or biological facts. Only now, even with the industrialization of agriculture, long-run fulfillments of the Malthusian doctrines begin to appear to be more or less inevitable. Today’s Malthusians insist that it is still true that the human ability to reproduce is potentially far greater than is the human ability to feed their offspring. They hold that the recently developed means which have permitted tremendous increases in population are only temporary and have already approached if not actually exceeded the ability of the earth to supply increasing food for the offspring of the greatly increased population base than now exists. Others, like the Club of Rome are concerned about declining sources of scarce minerals. They emphasize that scarcity in absolute terms.
Ecologists can now predict fairly accurately how many people can survive in a given area if they are compelled to depend on the energy that can be produced from sources in that area. For them the temporary enlargement of these limits through importing goods partly the product of fossil fuels only postpones the day when biological and geographical controls regain their dominance.
Ricardo looked at the same world as Malthus and came up with another set of conclusions. He believed that human values would intervene to stop the march “backward” that Malthus foresaw. In his view the true measure of wealth was value. Value as measured primarily in the market place. So, for example, as the supply of a good became inadequate to make it freely available to all men, they would prize it more. It would thus “increase in value.” So wealth was increased. Thus, scarcity itself became a virtue because it enhanced value as measured by price. If, for example, land became scarce as population increased, land owners were rewarded by an increase in the value of land, the “free gift of nature,” while those who paid higher rents for what they previously got for less could have the satisfaction of knowing that the land they worked and/or lived on was worth more. Thus “wealth” was increased and the society was better off. One need only look at skyrocketing rents and land prices all over the world to judge whether as a whole the people of a society are better off because land is increasingly scarce relative to the population that lives from it.
But much more insidious is the idea that there can be no such thing as absolute scarcity. According to the prevailing view, when any natural resource such as, say copper, increases in cost, men will substitute another material that is lower in price, such as, say aluminum. The fact that the latter requires for its production relatively enormous expenditures of energy does not matter, for surplus energy, being the “free gift of nature” can be used to produce goods at a lower price and thus enlarge the diminishing supply of copper. However, in fact, the energy so used is drawn from limited sources, mostly fossil fuels, that cannot ever be replaced. Nor is it certain that substitutes, even higher in costs will prove to be adequate.
This is of no concern to the businessman for whom the only costs are those for which he must pay as determined by the operations of the market, the edicts of the state, or the controls of some other institution. Similarly enormous quantities of energy are expended in transportation so as to save human time which each person knows to be limited for him and for which the market charges a higher price. But here again, this reduction in the time spent in unrewarding ways comes at the cost of increased use of energy.
Until very recently the myth that the resources of the Earth are unlimited withstood all rational argument to the contrary. As greater quantities of fuel were consumed even greater quantities were discovered. New plants that gave higher yields of food were discovered or developed as were new sources of minerals. It was only during and following World War II that harsh realities forced themselves into recognition.
Only as short time ago as the early 1950’s petroleum was supplying less than 5 percent of the energy used in the world. But there were heroic injections of new technology made during World War II, under the Marshall Plan, and in similar moves by the United States, and the U.S.S.R. in the post-war world. These, plus increased use of the tractor, truck, and automobile all over the world, and widespread use of gas and oil for space heating, resulted in an explosive increase in the use of petroleum and of natural gas.
Urbanization increased and the profits that this produced were utilized to expand the use of petroleum and gas at a rate which has become frightening to many thoughtful people. Extensive exploration has recently revealed very few significant new reserves to replace those already used up in the United States and in most other areas. The reserves are also declining. Careful assessment of previous estimates, backed by costly exploration and drilling has reduced many of the previous optimistic forecasts that have been used to justify recent rates of usage. And finally particularly as a result of explorations in space, many people who previously projected a future where energy from space will replace the exhausted sources of the earth have been forced to accept the idea that when the existing stocks of petroleum and gas have been used up there will be no comparable new source of surplus energy.
While estimates vary, most center on the figure thirty to forty years as the remaining time that petroleum and gas can be produced at costs even remotely like those that have recently prevailed. So, we must contemplate an end to the great bonanza that has been so largely responsible for the industrialization of those parts of the world that had access to the social and technological means to use petroleum and gas. Even if these estimates are so poor that there remain, say fifty years of use, that is a miniscule period in which to project the life of societies.
There is in reserves in the Untied States, coal and shale enough to prolong the period of declining use of gas and petroleum there. There are no adequate figures as to indicate how the rest of the world will develop and distribute the remaining sources. In point of fact, then, unless one assumes that human ingenuity will create fuel in amounts equal to those that existed say in 1800, we must deal with a world in which there remains each year a smaller stock of physical resources to be used by an increasing population.
Decline in the yield of surplus energy
Early in this book, I put emphasis upon the amount of surplus energy produced in using various fuels and converters. I talked about the sources of energy and the costs of obtaining it and converting it from the form in which it was secured to the form, at the place and time men seek to use it. That figure is reached by subtracting from the total energy made available, the sum of all the energy used to secure it. It is not until the last step to bring that about has been taken that we can know what net amount of surplus energy has been made available through these operations.
In a simple situation where, for example, coal is dug by hand with pick and shovel and burned to supply heat, it is easy to see how much surplus energy was made available by digging it. On the other hand, to estimate the surplus energy to be obtained from the production of say nuclear fuel is most difficult. Enormous amounts of energy must be expended before any energy output whatsoever can be delivered and compared with energy inputs.
Some hold that human intelligence and ingenuity will compensate for this decline. What such optimists should understand and remember is that human intelligence and ingenuity have so far resulted in depleting energy from fixed resources at a geometrically increasing rate. We will look closely later at what research is finding out about substitutes for the fast disappearing petroleum and gas.
Decline in surplus
What I have been pointing at is reductions in the total stock of non-recurring energy sources. Some people seem to be satisfied that if it is not all used up by the time their grandchildren die, there is nothing to worry about, and if that requires a “change in our way of life” no action to preserve these resources need be contemplated.
So, we need now to look at some of the ways energy flow will affect life from now on. So far almost all the energy expended in mining concentrating and refining the ore, and supplying and fueling the machines used to build the reactor and generators, comes from fossil fuels, and hydroelectric power. Little comes from nuclear sources themselves. So, up till now, it is probable that there is very little surplus from this source. The government of the Untied States does not reveal its costs and since it has produced the greater portion of the nuclear fuel available, there is no way those costs can be learned. The price put on the fuel has been set, not on costs, but at a point to make it competitive with other fuels. (Similarly the OPEC petroleum suppliers have recently set prices on what the traffic will bear, not at all on costs.)
But still more is involved before we know the size of the energy surplus. In measuring it, I have used the amount of surplus energy produced per man, per hour, per day or year. But we do not yet know, for example, how many men will have to be used to deliver nuclear energy in useable forms. American experience has been very disappointing to private investors. Potentially the yield from uranium and thorium is so great that if it could all be realized by just digging it and burning it, energy could become practically costless. In fact, however, as the costs of converting nuclear energy from the forms it is found in nature and delivering it in the form of electricity at the bus bar of a generating system become more and more apparent there has been a decline in the enthusiasm of private utilities companies in the United States to build new plants.
Some of this grows from increased knowledge about the technical processes involved and the life of new materials used in the refining and converting processes now subject to hitherto unknown causes. But there are also increasing costs of protecting the society against failures of the equipment or misjudgments about the processes involved. Some of this resistance arises from increasing concern about industrial pollution in general. Some derives sufficiently from the difficulty of making foolproof disposal of radioactive wastes with a half life equal to five times the length of man’s recorded history.
The use of the breeder reactor, which is necessary if any large part of the energy potential of the fuel used is to be realized, poses an additional problem in that the plutonium it produces could be used, in the form of the bomb, to blackmail every existing state. The result is that security costs go up. The number of man hours used relative to the energy output, is increased, and the ratio of surplus energy to the manpower involved goes down.
This is a kind of longwinded statement about the costs of obtaining energy from nuclear fuel. Put another way, I am saying that we can only estimate the size of the surplus when we can subtract the costs of producing nuclear energy from the amount obtained from it for man’s use. But nobody now knows how large they will be. The same kind of calculation has to be made with the use of other fuels.
Until recently, nobody was required to calculate the costs resulting from industrial pollution of air and water, or to find the means of reducing the energy costs of using fossil fuel. But now it is being recognized that these costs are real, and a price is being put upon them. The costs of restoring or maintaining the environment are costs which have had to be met in the past by countless millions of people who live and have lived in high energy society. They now rebel against assuming those costs. Only as we measure both the yield and the cost in energy terms can we make a rational decision about the cost-benefit ratio of proliferating both population and other converters.
As I showed earlier, when coal was first widely used in England, it was dug by hand from very shallow pits or surface outcrop. Even then, the surplus energy produced was so large as to overcome the resistance of those who did not approve the results of its use. Then, as now, many of the costs were not assessed against those who benefitted from its use. So we know only that the benefits provided to those who expanded the use of fossil fuel were great enough to supply them with the means to expansion regardless of the increased costs to and resistance by others. Nevertheless, as I have shown, the energy cost of dealing with these social ills has recently been made a concern of those who produce energy for sale. They now have to devote a considerable part of their product to the restoration of what was free to men before high energy society came into being. Courts are now putting a price on the damage done and new legislation imposes new obligation on industry. So businessmen recognize that the costs that they once could disregard must be taken into account. In time, it may be taken for granted that the energy surpluses, “the free gift of nature,” cannot in fact be augmented in either energy or in price-measured terms by disregarding part of the costs of producing and delivering it. (The values that must be sacrificed.)
We can look at some of the estimates that have been made as to what the new surplus energy to be derived in the future from particular fuels is likely to be. But quite apparently they are going to be small as measured in energy per man per unit of time, than those secured in the recent history of petroleum and gas usage.
Earlier it was possible to punch a fairly shallow hole in certain parts of the earth’s crust and oil and/or gas would gush out in astronomical amounts; amounts so great that there were not enough converters available to make use of it. At one point, for example, petroleum sold in Texas for as low as ten cents a barrel. Yet hundreds of men got rich by selling it. (Some researchers hold that it is now being produced in the Middle East at twenty cents a barrel.) Petroleum and gas have sold at so low a price that they have replaced coal and wood in most of the significant areas of energy usage.
Many wells that once produced thousands of barrels a day must now be abandoned or be pumped for a return so low it would not equal the cost of getting it were it not for the use of pipelines, pumps, storage tanks and refineries that have already been paid for from previous yields.
The Arabian well fields will probably have a longer life than those in the United States thanks to superior imported technology and to the high prices which the OPEC monopoly can charge, regardless of the low costs at which the oil is being produced. But to the costs previously encountered in the Middle East huge amounts must be added to provide military protection of the producing areas from invasion by neighbors or the oil hungry industrialized states. Added to this, particularly in the areas that have been previously exploited are the costs of deep drilling, of dry holes, enormous costs of producing oil under the ocean, of producing in areas remote from the markets for petroleum, and providing means of transporting oil and gas to those able to demand and pay for it. All these must be amortized before there is any net surplus of energy to add to the flow needed to produce consumer goods and services.
It is true that improvements in the efficiency of converters has provided some offset for the decline in surplus energy; technological changes such as miniaturization and electronic controls also reduce the energy required to do what is now needed to produce some goods and services. But as population grows and the costs of urbanization multiply, the offset is insufficient. With increased capital costs, insufficient goods to supply the consumer demand for them are produced, and inflation is endemic. So, finally the physical limits to supply are visibly taking their toll both in terms of fuel and of other natural resources. Research has so far not discovered the means to offset the decline in surplus energy that accompanied the recent lavish use of natural gas and petroleum.
The upshot of this is that the trend is no longer toward a continually expanding economy. Instead, unless many old values such as those that produced high survival rate in human populations, are abandoned, per capita rates of productivity and consumption of material goods will continuously fail. More efficient use of surplus energy will slow down the rate of approach toward absolute limits, but the physical limits established during the Earth’s existence will not be changed.
A number of different approaches to this change will emerge. Among them must be the abandonment of the idea that it is possible permanently to circumvent the limits of the natural world in which we live. The return to Malthusianism contravenes many exceedingly deep-seated beliefs in the Western World.
The expansion of Europe
It is time to look again at the underlying theory that permitted and encourage the rapid exhaustion of energy sources. So, I must here again repeat the fundamental Ricardian idea. It held that the market itself would provide any necessary correction in the rate at which any resource should be used. Human expectation and judgment would lead to proper solutions. For a short time, history seemed to confirm that thesis.
During the reign of sail, and following it well into the era of coal as a major source of surplus energy, Europe expanded the area within which it was culturally dominant. There is still widespread belief that this was primarily a consequence of European ideas. This assumes that the only thing needed to achieve the expansion was the rising tide of human expectations. Increased supplies of gold and silver and paper money and credit broke the restraints that had long been imposed by the banker and the money lenders. The spirit of enterprise did the rest. Then, and for many economists, today, credit money was the great multiplier. What I have been trying to point out is that the spread of this ideology was accompanied by a tremendous expansion of the use of energy. It was feedback from the exploitation of surplus energy that validated the ideological theory. With huge increases in available energy the material goods that were supposed to flow from rising human expectations did in fact appear. I believe that what I have shown is that the time has passed when this kind of physical feedback, in the increasing quantities necessary to meet ever increasing demand can be scientifically or rationally expected.
The imminent decline in usable surplus energy is a consequence of two kinds of factors. One is found in the character of the remaining geographical resources, which are clearly inferior to those already used up. The other is the growing awareness that many of the costs of securing energy were never deducted from the total secured and a false conception of new surplus obtained was very widely accepted. Part of the error lay, as I have just pointed out, in failure to count energy costs of producing energy. Part, as I showed in the chapter on the nature of Capitalism came from the assumption that because the “owner” of “capital” could recoup his investment, there was no real non-returnable cost involved in producing the converter or the fuel used up in production. So obligations based on these false notions were made. Ultimately since physical productivity did not permit them to be liquidated, deflation, usually followed by inflation followed.
The idea of progress
We need, then, to look at the reason such ideas could survive as long as they have. In part, of course, they resulted from promotion by those who immediately benefitted from their use. A much more important cause is the idea of progress, the conception that the universe was so created as to make it possible for man, if only he held to the right ideas and beliefs, to constantly improve his lot. Any evidence that put ultimate physical limits on man, thus challenged a fundamental belief in the nature of man and God. Within that perfectionist belief it was impossible to get adequate recognition of man’s inherent limitations. So, anybody who could also gain from perpetuating the idea of endless expansion could also get widespread support. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”
Looking toward ultimate utopia, people were taught that gratification postponed was greater than that immediately available. And, as I just pointed out, the result of investment did in fact introduce greater return, often enough to reify the necessary beliefs.
Postponement “saving” actually did result in investment in more and more effective converters. More surplus energy could be used to increase productivity. But, and this was seldom recognized, could take place only if there were sufficient fuel available at low enough energy cost. Since until recently, the fuel was there, the cornucopia continued to pour forth increased wealth.
This last caveat (the presence of low cost fuel) was, of course, ignored in those areas that did then and still do have to have access to sufficient fuel. In these regions science and exploration were seemingly demonstrating the fact that there would always be energy adequate to supply man’s most extortionate demands. Where that was true, then, the limit on surplus energy did lie in social institutions and values.
On the other hand, people who lived where nature’s bounty was not so great, have had to continue their old beliefs which were reinforced by their experience. They were not among those whose rationalizations could be used to support the endless upward movement called progress. Most of the people in the West have been imbued with the idea that ultimate perfection will come if only they think the right thoughts and act on them. It will be enormously difficult, if not impossible to get them to abandon the utopian dream. But the development of secular knowledge and science do pose an apparently insurmountable obstacle to its continued acceptance. The evidence makes it more and more certain that man cannot, as a mundane being, avoid the limits imposed on him by “nature” and/or “nature’s God.”
It is through exploiting science and its handmaiden technology that the Western World holds its more and more tenuous grasp on its position of dominance. To continue that hold it will have more and more to recognize the necessity to follow the technological imperative. This means the abandonment of many of the old ideas that can no longer survive in the limited world. Whether it changes in this way, regresses, or succumbs to the power of people who do accede to technology’s demands, or reverts to the kind of world that comes from denying the demands of the sciences, is far from being certain at this time.
I have examined this aspect of the situation only because the relationship between this major idea and the utilization of energy is important for the future. It is not in the purview of this work to examine it in depth. But it is our task to see what efforts are being made, or are likely to be made to replace with new resources the declining stock of petroleum and gas, and to compare the amount of surplus that is likely to become available with what has been used in the very recent past, say 25 years. We will also have to discover the form in which that energy can be made available, and to explore, very briefly, some of the more probable consequences in terms of the pattern of fields generated by the converters used, the limits of those fields and the gradient operating in them. And the way these will affect its geographical distribution.
Of major concern will be the discovery of the likely effects of a contracting system upon the value hierarchies’ characteristic of industrialized regions.
This is a chapter from Energy and Society: The Relationship Between Energy, Social Change, and Economic Development (e-book).
Previous: Chapter 14: Not One World, But Many | Table of Contents | Next: Chapter 16: Energy in a Contracting System