Facebook Blogging

Edward Hugh has a lively and enjoyable Facebook community where he publishes frequent breaking news economics links and short updates. If you would like to receive these updates on a regular basis and join the debate please invite Edward as a friend by clicking the Facebook link at the top of the right sidebar.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Gloom and Doom Brigade: Part I

Very interesting link from Francisco. Interesting but problably flawed. Interesting because it tries to situate us in demography, overshoot, and ecology. Flawed probably because it places too much emphasis on resource shortages. As some of my readers will quickly point out (c'mon Joerg!) the resource situation depends in part on the choices we make. Information is not especially resource 'heavy' in terms of consumption. OTOH the Lotka based boom-bust idea is very near to my heart. Probably flawed, but why is it that only people with flawed ideas interest themselves in these (interesting and important) problems.

The Olduvai theory has been called unthinkable, preposterous, absurd, dangerous, self-fulfilling, and self-defeating. I offer it, however, as an inductive theory based on world energy and population data and on what I’ve seen during the past 30 years in some 50 nations on all continents except Antarctica. It is also based on my experience in electrical engineering and energy management systems, my hobbies of anthropology and archaeology, and a lifetime of reading in various fields.

The theory is defined by the ratio of world energy production (use) and world population. The details are worked out. The theory is easy. It states that the life expectancy of Industrial Civilization is less than or equal to 100 years: 1930-2030.

World energy production per capita from 1945 to 1973 grew at a breakneck speed of 3.45 %/year. Next from 1973 to the all-time peak in 1979, it slowed to a sluggish 0.64 %/year. Then suddenly —and for the first time in history — energy production per capita took a long-term decline of 0.33 %/year from 1979 to 1999. The Olduvai theory explains the 1979 peak and the subsequent decline. More to the point, it says that energy production per capita will fall to its 1930 value by 2030, thus giving Industrial Civilization a lifetime of less than or equal to 100 years.

Should this occur, any number of factors could be cited as the 'causes' of collapse. I believe, however, that the collapse will be strongly correlated with an 'epidemic' of permanent blackouts of high-voltage electric power networks — worldwide. Briefly explained: "When the electricity goes out, you are back in the Dark Age. And the Stone Age is just around the corner."

The Olduvai theory, of course, may be proved wrong. But, as of now, it cannot be rejected by the historic world energy production and population data.

Update: Francisco's response:

I've been thinking about this, and like you said, "overshoot" is the operative concept here. On that, I think the new "usual suspects" (China, India, Brasil) will be the ones to make the right choices, and hopefully share with everyone else :). The US is positioning itself to control most of the oil reserves, so they are the most likely to overshoot. Likewise Europe will have Russian oil, which leaves CI&B without, thus developing the necessary tech early on. Not so much a choice as no choice, but hopefully civilization saving :) I know that Brasil is very interested in alternative tech and more ecological ways of doing things, so they are certainly on the right track already.

No comments: