It is astounding to see satellite views showing the way the world’s citiees light large parts of the Earth light up at night. These dots look like stars on the ground. As our world resources run out, it’s inevitable that these stars will return to the sky. If we have the mind of wisdom, we will realize that this by itself will be a reason to celebrate.
What the hell am I talking about?
No matter what, the human race will be reducing its energy usage by between 90% and 100%. Lighting up city streets at night will be seen as a frivolous activity. Why go out about town at night at all, when you can stay home and engage in activities appropriate to the night? Including walking outside and gazing at the stars?
The reason that this dramatic energy reduction will occur is that the human race needs to do this, and the lack of energy resources will guarantee that current energy consumption cannot and will not continue at its current rate, no matter what human desire dictates.
Don’t believe me? Read these.
The simple fact is that creating energy in and of itself requires energy. It requires energy to extract energy resources. It takes energy to transport these resources and refine them so that it becomes a usable fuel. It takes more energy to build and maintain those facilities that refine those resources that refine the fuel into energy. It takes energy to mine the resources that are necessary to build those facilities that refine those resources that refine the fuel into energy.
I don’t know why we swallowed the lie. Perhaps we’ll die.
This dilemma is what is referred to as Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI). The EROEI for oil, coal and natural gas used to be high–the ratio between the energy returned from the energy invested was 20-1, 50-1 or even 100-1. This was because we were, essentially, “picking the low hanging fruit” that was the easiest to get to.
But now that low-hanging fruit has been picked through. we need to expend a greater amount of energy in order to get the same results–while at the same time meeting an exponentially increasing energy demand due to rapid population advancement. Lotsa luck there.
The fact that we are extracting oil from tar sands, coal from mountaintop removal, and natural gas from fracking shows that a greater amount of energy is required in order to get energy. Depending on who you talk to, the EROEI appears to have dropped well below 10-1 and may be rapidly approaching 1-1. At 1-1, the amount of energy invested to extract energy equals the amount of energy put out by that investment. And then there’s no point in putting out that energy. (The Creative Commons license for the chart below is here.)
Lots of of people have been talking about alternative energy sources such as solar, wind power, geothermal energy, and hydroelectric energy. The EROEI for these types of technology hover in the 5-1 to 12-1 range. What also needs to be considered is the fact that it takes an investment in energy to produce the massive amounts of infrastructure necessary to convert from conventional energy to renewable energy.
It appears that we have consumed too much energy to make a smooth transition from conventional energy to renewable energy. Investments in solar and wind energy should be encouraged, but we are fooling ourselves if we think that such investments mean that we can continue the modern lifestyle as we have. Some people argue that even if cuts in energy consumption are put into place, the world economy as we know it would need to come to a complete stop and then the vast majority of the world’s remaining resources would need to be diverted towards building this new alternative energy infrastructure. Currently, no major industrialized nation is willing to make such radical changes. And in the United States, a large percentage of the population doesn’t even agree that climate change constitutes a real threat to our civilization.
So our current trajectory seems to indicate that the worldwide industrial society will hit a wall sometime in the next decade or so. It will likely be ugly and messy. Institutions and the materials they provide will quickly evaporate and billions of people will quickly find themselves without jobs, without money and without the means to sustain themselves.
If humankind is lucky, industrial society will hit this wall before humankind’s consumption of resources puts the Earth and all life on it at an irreversible danger point. If we’re lucky. I’m not holding my breath.
There are a lot of books and movies that paint stark pictures of worlds where resources have vanished and people are left to fend for themselves in the ruins of society fighting over what resources remain. It says a lot about our culture that this genre exists. I believe it is the collective subconcious of our society chronicling its nightmares.
This dystopian post-apocalyptic society could happen, but this is one of only many alternate futures. We have more than one choice in this matter, and it begins with each of us, individually.
Depending on how we prepare, this new era could become a great leap forward in spiritual advancement. Spiritual advancement borne out of difficult spiritual challenges that come from this difficult lesson that humankind must learn. The lesson that spiritual fortitude is far important than material wealth. The realization that we can live a far richer life without all this technology that we do not yet have the wisdom to use in a non-destructive way. The understanding that we are but one species on Earth occupying a tiny slice of this planet’s history. The recognition that where we are is but one small step in ours and humankind’s history. The possibilities are limitless, but first we must learn to live within our limits.
So one goal for this blog is to talk about this future that I see and how our present early 21st century life connects with it. I am but one person, but I am fortunate enough to have had life experiences that have allowed me to learn about many of these things. My vision may be imperfect, but it is from here that I start my writing.
Many worlds are possible, if only people could realize it. It appears that we human beings are about to undergo a spiritual test of unprecedented proportions. Can we endure these tests without destroying ourselves and the planet?
This is why I write about the forthcoming time as the time “when the stars return to the sky.” Gaze up at the stars and we realize how small we are, how we are part of something greater.