These blind spots infiltrate the way we think. It can be difficult to mentally process energy realities when the very concept of “energy absence” is counter intuitive. One simply expects - as do the current generation of economists - “energy” is some specialty product, like helium; occasionally handy to have but trivial. In reality, it’s more like oxygen: We need oxygen to live, just as our current societal systems are utterly dependent upon uninterrupted energy flow. Part and parcel of energy ubiquity is “stuff” ubiquity, barely distinguishable from magic, and we’ve come to expect it. For instance, if we figure a way to make niobium magnets to harvest wind power, we just assume this is “renewable,” because it doesn’t occur to us that th ere is a separate complex energy story behind “niobium” which may not be indefinitely renewable (and in fact isn’t). The notion of niobium simply not being available in the future “doesn’t compute” in our brains, because our baseline expectations are that pretty much any element is automatically available to us via an exchange for money. And this is the case for everything : lithium, phosphorus, gallium, molybdenum, etc., including even helium, (which as things are now proceeding, will simply be unavailable for most of the human future, for party balloons, blimps, CT scans, superconductivity, or anything else for which we might want to use it). The current availability of all that stuff is a side effect of energy ubiquity applied to a virgin planet, as are lobster tails, crab legs, beef, pork, chicken, tuna, wheat, and corn. Indeed, these days, even the energy in that corn comes primarily from natural gas and crude oil rather than from photosynthesis. If we face an energy-constrained future - which we absolutely do - we’ll need to learn to deal with our energy-ubiquity blind spot and think about how much energy we are really using. This has many ramifications when it comes to, well, everything, because a future in which energy is constrained is a future in whic h all other physical “consumables” will be constrained relative to today’s baselines.
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