Energy – the oxygen of civilization, part I

I’ve spent considerable time during the past few years trying to understand our modern civilization, where it comes from, where it is going, and why. Thus, I will write a number of posts on this topic. Here’s the first.


Various forms of (pre-) humans have been around for some 3M years. Our latest species, Homo Sapiens, has been around for some 300.000 years.

Over almost all that time, the children of any previous generation had a life – in terms of knowledge, energy, food, work, ”housing”, location, etc, i.e. ”Lifestyle” – identical to their parents. That is, there was no GROWTH, no improvement in living conditions, just ”business as usual”, for 100.000’s of generations. Life was short and brutal, focused on surviving to the next day, and passing on one’s genes.

Then, sometime very late in human history, say around year 1500, things began to change. Trade and scientific discoveries, new navigational methods (read Longitude) enabled better productivity, which in turn resulted in (limited) GROWTH, which in turn generated modest surplus that could be invested in new business opportunities, further improving growth. And material standards of living.

But all the way until the first industrial revolution, around 1700, when humans started to use energy sources other than human or animal labor, growth rate was very modest.

What was the discovery of the first industrial revolution, the one that all of sudden enabled sudden and explosive growth…?

Think about that for a while.

Unless you truly understand exactly WHAT enabled the major change, that is, going from generation after generation, during hundreds of thousands of years, being unable to improve their living conditions, to all of sudden seing massive improvements, you have no chance understanding the CURRENT HUMAN PREDICAMENT, that is, why you now, after a few hundred years of constant growth in living standards, will most likely experience a huge drop in those standards, globally… Within the next 10-20 years, you can expect our (material & financial) standards to drop to levels none of us living now have ever experienced, with massive unemployment, with constant shortages on products we’ve gotten used to have in abundance, prices going thru the roof, our homes being cold and damp. and yes, even famine and starvation…. eventually.

Am I sure about this dark outlook materializing…? No, I’m not certain about ANYTHING, not even about being alive tomorrow – I think in Bayesian probability distributions.

But everything i learned over the past few years about humans, biology, ecology, economy, physics, technology, materials and most importantly – ENERGY – has resulted in a probability distribution for civilization collapse heavily skewed in favor of such a collapse not only being very likely, but all but almost unavoidable.

We, all of us living at this moment, are living in a time of PEAK – peak coal, peak oil, peak materials, peak population, peak pollution, peak energy, peak transportation, peak debt, PEAK EVERYTHING. On a FINITE PLANET!

And after a peak, there comes a drop, the higher the peak, the more significant drop. The only thing we might be able to control is the gradient, the slope, of that drop. But that will take that ”everybody” truly understands what we have coming, and joins forces, and I’m not very hopeful about that.

Suffice to say that if ”everybody” continues their lives as before – which is the most likely case – then the eventual drop will be very steep and brutal. If we, the global human collective, instead realize that global action has to be taken NOW, we might be able to dampen the worst effects of the upcoming downfall.

The choice is yours (joined by everybody else).

Have a nice Friday!

About swdevperestroika

High tech industry veteran, avid hacker reluctantly transformed to mgmt consultant.
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