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« More on Aesthetics and Humanity | Main | Is Brodmann Area 10 the Key to Human Evolution? »

April 08, 2010


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Robin Datta

A deeply insightful post.

"The proper response to the reality of diminishing energy flows from fossil fuels would be to greatly reduce the flow
budgeted to growth"

If we delay too much in doing there will be none left to

"redirect it toward investment in alternative energy capture/conversion capital"


"to preserving the valuable artistic treasures of the past as well as support current humanities".

"Unfortunately, the majority of the population, and especially the economists and politicians, don't get it."

David Ward

Figure 1. looks like Figure 2. is this a mistake?

George Mobus


Action is afoot.


George Mobus


I'm glad you commented on that. I wondered if they were too much alike and I guess they are. In fact the second figure has a smaller raw energy input arrow and then several of the budget arrows are narrower to reflect this.

I think I will try to fix the figure to emphasize the differences. Thanks.


George Mobus

I have edited the above Fig. 2 to reflect (I hope) reductions in the energy budget due to restricted raw energy inputs (e.g. post peak oil). Of significance is the fact that there would be a decline in energy capture capital (like oil rigs not being used turning to rust!) over time since the energy invested in maintaining it would have less and less energy profit. The whole system then goes into contraction. Sorry for any confusion the similarities in the two diagrams caused. Hope this helps.



The more I interact with the typical suburbanite the more I am convinced that yhere won't be a meaningful attempt made to transition to a more conservative/sustainable model.
The spoiled selfish Homo Americanus simply will not make the needed sacrifices.
We have created a society that is completely self-centered and egotistical and just as Rome seems to have done before us we will ride the profligate "lifestyle" all the way into the ground.
I wish that I could be more hopeful but to pretend would be intellectual dishonesty in the purest form. To even start we need real leadership but that will never happen since the "leaders" are nothing more than puppets for the entrenched oligarchy of psychopaths.
Woe is we...............................

PS. I see things in the same light that you do but at this point it is an academic exercise (no pun intended professor)


thanks for a thoughtful post. When you say "action is afoot", George, what do you mean?

I agree with porge's assessment by the way.

George Mobus

Hi Porge.

I guess you would have to say that it is an empirical question as to whether we spoiled humans can actually adapt to a new reality. I suspect that there will be much rending of loin cloths and gnashing of teeth! As you probably know I have a dim view of the level of sapience of the species that proudly calls itself Homo sapience. Truthfully I am thinking about how this species might give rise to a more sapient form in the future (see latest blog post). I hold out little confidence that some how H. sapiens will survive beyond the stages of radical decline in net energy from fossil fuels. Look to the far future.


George Mobus

Hi Erin.

Action as in pursuing the ideas that I have been writing about, e.g. a feasible living situation for future humans ( ). I am in contact with people who are, like me, thinking about what comes after the decline of net energy. We are thinking about the far future and laying plans. Looking for helpers!



.. selfish Homo Americanus, Europeanus, Asianeus, etc. How precise comparison!
It will be a quite hard for me to give up to travel by car so often (to save a fuel), or for instance not to use a PC (to save an electricity). Well, some people use the candles instead of the electric bulbs.
It is not just a question to change some of our customs, it is also a question to give up some of our customs (I am asking: how many of them?). I am wondering if we can manage to do that...


Of the things you mention transportation is by far the big opportunity.
It will have to be a National initiative like Carter tried to start back in the 1970s. My point is that I don't even see a slight effort out here in makes me sick to my stomach.
We ain't gonna make it.

Michael Dawson

Fantastic. I'm going to use this in the Environmental Sociology and Social Change courses I'm teaching.

Curtis Fromke

Greer "Archdruid" has posted on this idea, but not as clearly as this. Odum has whole books devoted to the graphic representation of the second law and it's impact. has had a lot of discussion of EROEI.

Heinberg's "Power Down" sets out the types of response that is possible. Your take in the following blog, is probably the best that we can hold as a way to survival for the species.

It reminds me of the science fiction shows where the hero's show up on a planet that gone under and they look around at the artifacts.

The middle ages had people in Italy that looked upon the building of the Forum and had no idea of how to make such buildings. Does that seem to be what our great grand children will have in store?

George Mobus


I strongly suspect the requirement for giving up will be extensive and painful. I also expect many, possibly most people in the OECD countries (but especially the US) to not do so gracefully.


Same observation.


Hope it helps. Let me know what kind of reaction you get to it.


That is, of course, a question that must presume we will have great grand children! I'm not that sure.


jim macinnes

excellent work George. One of the best explanations I have read on this subject. Frederick Soddy would be proud of you.

Have you read Steward Brands recent work, Whole Earth Discipline, which offers some ideas on how some of this might play out. Smil also has some new works on energy transitions too. see

We certainly live in interesting times!

George Mobus


We do indeed.

Thanks for the book tips. I haven't read Brand's book but I have fond memories of the 'last whole earth catalog'. The back cover had the famous picture of earth from one of the moon shots. Below, the caption was a quote from one of my all-time heros, Harold Morowitz: "The flow of energy through a system acts to organize that system", Energy Flow in Biology.

Smil is something of an enigma to me. He discounts ideas about energy valuation methods for currency, while at the same time building one of the best arguments I've heard for why we should use energy as a base for money! See: Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems.

My e-mail is george.mobus at gmail dot com. I saw your profile on TOD. Sounds like we should converse more!


Michael Hoexter

Thank you for your work here. I appreciate your thoughtful writing here on your blog and in particular this post.

However, I want to point out an analytic inconsistency in the diagram/model you present of energy flows in the economy. Having "growth" as a separate term from "assets" or "energy" and making it the focus of material flows gives it a special status that may be true in an ultimate sense but it simplifies too much. I'm assuming that "growth" here is the positive increment or increase in assets. I think it might be more helpful, though more complicated, to distinguish between subsistence and surplus, both of which require energy and material flows. I think that you are right to point out the pivotal role of "growth" or positive incremental increase in assets as well as acceleration of that increase (the 2nd derivative) but that is as much a psychological as a physical force, which you do point out in the last part of your piece.

George Mobus


Thanks for the comment. You are right. The circle labeled 'Growth' should actually be an asset producer engine. My haste, I guess. Nevertheless, the idea is that the engine that produces the assets is powered by flow of net energy that isn't needed to build and maintain capital and energy assets. Someday I will try to dredge those up and relabel.


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