Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Biophysical economics: shiny, new and good?

This article appeared in Scientific American on October 23. I read it today and see its content as an important part of changing course at a civilizational level. The following quotes from the article represent the key issues:

"In 1926, Frederick Soddy, a chemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize just a few weeks before, published "Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt," one of the first books to argue that energy should lie at the heart of economics and not supply-demand curves."

""If you go from using a 20-to-1 energy return fuel down to a 3-to-1 fuel, economic collapse is guaranteed," as nothing is left for other economic activity, said Nate Hagens, editor of the popular peak oil blog "The Oil Drum."

"The main problem with neoclassical economics is that it treats energy as the same as any other commodity input into the production function," Hagens said. "They parse it into dollar terms and treat it the same as they would mittens or earmuffs or eggs...but without energy, you can't have any of that other stuff.""


We ignore these sound observations at out peril. And this isn't some idle chatter in the halls of academia. Economics is a co-opted quasi-science used primarily as a tool to maintain the status quo's grip on power. In the interests of humanity we need to give the dismal (quasi) science a thorough, apolitical and scientific going over.

However, I remain firmly ensconced in the optimists' camp, because renewable (solar, geothermal, wind, radiant energy) and other clean energy sources (cold fusion, Black Light's hydrinos) are sufficient to power civilization forwards for centuries. That said, the carrying capacity of the planet -- a shifting variable due to technology (see Malthus) -- needs also to be taken into close account. Assessing it to the best of our ability is a top priority. There's only so much soil and water; without one or the other we won't last very long at all.

That I support wholeheartedly The Venus Project's proposals might, in light of the above, seem, to the unversed in them, counter-intuitive or even idiotic. And yet it is abundance that encourages cooperation and a more balanced relationship with the ecosystem than scarcity, which encourages hoarding and greed. We are faced with profoundly radical challenges which require profoundly radical solutions. We are consuming ourselves to death, while the sociopaths at the wheel slam down on the gas pedal with increasing mania. It's up to us now folks. The system has become destructive and utterly corrupt. We must remove our support of it and demand open, honest and public discussions of all verifiable ideas that might offer hope.

As one of planet Earth's billions of humans I demand we put our best minds and strongest ideas to some apolitical process for sorting the wheat from the chaff, then act on the best of the proposals. Time is running out.

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