Wasted energy, and worse

So what is the problem with cheap energy? If something is cheap we tend to waste it, and this is the terrible and virtually unacknowledged truth about energy:

Almost all the fossil fuel we have consumed has been wasted, and some has been “worse than wasted”.

By “wasted”, I don’t mean to deny that billions of human beings have enjoyed the benefits of cheap energy: greater warmth, faster and more comfortable transport, and so on. But the point about this energy use is that there is nothing to show for it afterwards.

By “worse than wasted” I mean that the cheapness of fossil fuel has accustomed us to a state of affairs that is unsustainable; and the path back to sustainability will involve a great deal of suffering, in addition to the suffering flowing from ecosystem damage that has already happened or is guaranteed to happen from climate change that is already in the pipeline. There are too many people in the rich part of the world using far too many resources per capita; and remember that the population in the poor part of the world also has a dependence on cheap fossil fuel (remember that use of nitrogen fertilizer – synthesized from natural gas – has gone up in the developing world as part of the “Green revolution”).

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One Response to Wasted energy, and worse

  1. dysangelist,

    This line strikes a chord: “By ‘worse than wasted’ I mean that the cheapness of fossil fuel has accustomed us to a state of affairs that is unsustainable.”

    What it means to be “accustomed to…” would surely fill volumes. I remember nodding my head in agreement while reading an essay by Wendell Berry. He says the invention of the tractor effected a paradigm shift in farming. Yes.

    It feels as if the way of life we’ve inherited already has built into it a background of assumptions that are so basic to our lived reality as to be scarcely visible. And it seems as if former ways of life were nothing but myths, fancies, folklore. It’s for this reason that much talk by climate scientists and experts becomes nothing save airy abstractions.

    I think the conceptual problems and the practical implications fall outside most people’s grasp. It’s as if they have no ears to hear. (Nietzsche’s madman smashes the gig lamps and flees, muttering something about how they are not ready.)

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