Energy & The Financial System: Presentation to Energy Systems Conference (June 2014)

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IEA Oil Market Forecast: Optimistic Assumptions And An Economy Unable To Grow Out Of Its Problems

The International Energy Authority (IEA) forecasts a yearly increase of 1.3% in global oil demand during the period 2013-2019. This contrasts with the assumption of global economic growth rising from 3.6% in 2014 to around 4% thereafter[1]. How does a 1.3% increase in oil usage support economic growth of about three times that amount? Continue reading

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Watching the World Go By: Quebec

I sit here in a Montreal coffee shop on a rainy day, looking through the window at people living their lives. I feel as if I am watching one of those movies where normality pervades, but the ominous soundtrack warns of the impending rupture of that reality. Perhaps this is what the “phoney war” was like, in the period between the invasion of Poland in World War 2 and the invasion of France? As people went about their daily lives the impending utter and rapid defeat of the British and French was unimaginable. Continue reading

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Energy & The Financial System: A Financial System Addicted To Exponential Growth

Unlike the rest of the content on this site, this is copyrighted work which cannot be reproduced without the prior and explicit permission of the publisher, Springer.

This is the fourth chapter to my book on Energy & The Financial System, which can be purchased from Amazon.

4.1. Introduction

4.1.2. Limitations on Energy Availability

Fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) provide about 87% of the energy utilized by humanity1 and modern societies are completely dependent upon this massive amount of energy to maintain and grow their size and complexity.  Among the fossil fuels, oil takes a special place, not only providing about 33% of global energy1, but also being the predominant transport fuel given its energy density and liquid form at room temperature.  Since the exploration, extraction, and transportation of the other fossil fuels are themselves heavily dependent upon the availability of oil, a shortage of oil could easily lead to constraints on the supply of all the other fossil fuels. Coal, gas, and even plants (such as corn and sugar cane) can be used to produce something like oil but much of the energy is used up in the conversion process.  In the foreseeable future, these processes will not be able to significantly offset declines in oil production as there are severe limitations on the rate at which the required facilities could be put in place and the scale of production that they could support. Some transport sectors could be converted to use electricity, but the huge infrastructure and vehicle changes needed would require significant amounts of the declining net energy supplies available. History demonstrates that large scale energy use transformations have taken many decades to complete2. Thus, if global oil production falters, or even falls, within the next decade, economic growth will almost certainly grind to a halt. Continue reading

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The Rich And The Gilded Cage

The Greek philosopher Plato used the Allegory of the Cave to illustrate deception of the mind by representations of reality, rather than true reality[i]. In this parable, inhabitants of a cave have been shackled since childhood, facing a wall, and unable to turn their heads. All they could see are shadows on the wall made by a fire behind them. When one of the inhabitants is freed and able to turn around, he sees the fire, but then rejects what his eyes are telling him as they contradict his most basic beliefs about what reality is. Only after being dragged to the cave opening and being able to behold the outside world does the freed individual start to accept that what he had treated as reality was, in fact just shadows on a wall. Plato proposes that the freed individual has a responsibility to return to his fellow prisoners in the cave and try to change their minds about what constitutes reality, even though they may react negatively to the invalidation of some of their most basic beliefs. In the present, those that truly understand the scale and urgency of the predicament that humanity faces, can see much of their own experiences in the story of the freed prisoner. Rich countries, and the rich within those countries, do not live in simple caves with mere shadows from a fire. Instead, they live in wonderful gilded cages with a seemingly unlimited number of media sources providing incredibly complex and distracting shadows. Continue reading

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Developing a Framework for Assessing Country-Level Resilience

With the final draft of the “Schizophrenic Society” text now with my editor, I can change focus to other intellectual pursuits. A major interest is to develop an overall conceptual framework with which to assess the resilience of a country or region to the challenges of climate change, peak resources and general ecological destruction. Given that meaningful concerted efforts to place human civilization on a sustainable path will not take place for a significant period, if at all, an understanding of the resilience of individual countries (and regions within countries) will be an extremely valuable tool with which to drive personal, organizational, and government policy decision-making. Such a conceptual framework could also be used to produce a score-card for an individual country, to help assess the impact of policy decisions upon overall resilience. Continue reading

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Energy & The Financial System: It’s the flow stupid!

Unlike the rest of the content on this site, this is copyrighted work which cannot be reproduced without the prior and explicit permission of the publisher, Springer.

This is the third chapter to my book on Energy & The Financial System, which can be purchased from Amazon.

It’s the flow stupid!

3.1. Introduction

Imagine that you had two wealthy aunts and a wealthy uncle who all adored you and all suddenly died. Being wealthy they all decided to leave you substantial amounts of money, let us say $500,000 each. Each one had a different view of your ability to manage money though and put different conditions on when you could withdraw the money and how much. Aunt #1 decides that you should get $100,000 each year until the money runs out. Your uncle is a bit more careful with money and not very impressed with your money management capabilities. So he decides that you can only withdraw $25,000 per year. Aunt #2 makes your uncle look positively spendthrift, she decides you are just not old enough yet so you will have to wait 5 years before you can withdraw any money, and then only $25,000 per year. Overall the amount of money is the same, but the conditions on the rate at which you can withdraw it will have a real impact on your lifestyle. Continue reading

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Celebrating Mass Murder Suicide

A fundamental difference between the present and the past is that the ecological impact of the rich societies is so great, and their ability to manipulate the functioning of other societies so pervasive, that their destruction will take all of the other complex human societies with them. With the destruction and despoilment of the ecological basis for human societal existence so wide ranging, even many of the simpler societies may also perish. Thus, the richer societies can be seen as not only committing suicide, but murdering the less rich societies in the process. In previous times, individual civilizations would rise and fall, but humanity would continue its rise. No more. Continue reading

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Energy & The Financial System: It takes Energy to get Energy

Unlike the rest of the content on this site, this is copyrighted work which cannot be reproduced without the prior and explicit permission of the publisher, Springer.

This is the second chapter to my book on Energy & The Financial System, which can be purchased from Amazon.

It takes Energy to get Energy   

2.1 A very short history of Humanity and Energy Return on Investment

Imagine you are a prehistoric hunter-gatherer. Your primary motivation is to find food, as that is your only source of the energy which your body needs to stay alive and without it you will slowly starve and die. The balance between the amount of food energy gained in hunting and gathering, and the amount of energy expended in those activities is critical. If that ratio is not high enough you will still die from starvation, just more slowly than if you had no food at all. Let’s say that for every usable calorie of energy you gain, you expend one calorie in the hunting and gathering process. Then you would be fine, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately not, as you would still starve to death, just even more slowly. Your body has a whole host of functions not directly related to finding food but which are critical to your survival. First of all, there is the need for water, without which you will die in about 5 to 10 days. Then, you have to digest the food, to transform it into useful calories, and you have to excrete the processed food and water; otherwise your bladder and intestines would swell up rendering you painfully immobile.  So let’s say all these other functions require a doubling of calorific intake, so you now get 2 calories for every calorie spent hunting and gathering. Now you are good, right? Still no, as the human body also has the annoying need to sleep for approximately one third of the day otherwise you will slowly malfunction and start going somewhat mad. So let’s add another calorie for that, so 3 calories gained for every calorie spent in hunting and gathering make for a good balance. Things are now good, right? Continue reading

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Endless Layers Of Delusion

Apologies for the sheer length of this, the layers of delusion are truly endless. Each sub-heading can be treated as a standalone mini-chapter.

Obvious Delusions

We are used to treating the ‘bought and paid for’ politicians and ideological front groups of the rich and powerful[1] [2] [3] [4] [5], or the Christian fundamentalist folks who believe in a cartoon history called Creationism[6] [7], as groups that are either serving or trapped in deep delusional denial. Then there are “The Rapture”[8] folks who consider that God will beam up the true believers while the rest of us non-believers are left on earth to meet our blood curdling end. For such a true believer, the ongoing destruction of the ecological and resource basis of our complex civilization is not a problem, as God will just make it all better after the non-believers have perished. At the other end of the religious spectrum we have the economists who believe that the new god of the Invisible Hand and the wonders of technology will deliver us from our own suicidal deeds; all we need is to get the prices right[9] [10]. Continue reading

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