Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Gross World Burning

Summary: The above graphic illustrates the past two centuries and human’s dramatic departure from historically using primarily ‘renewable’ solar flows (the peach-colored stripe on the bottom comprised of trees, timber, and other current biomass). You can see the scaling of coal in grey, followed by oil in green and natural gas in red. The “net energy” surplus provided by these fuels, in turn, allowed us to scale nuclear (light green), hydroelectric (blue), and recently some “renewable” energy mechanisms that directly tap the sun and wind (yellow). Globally, human access to energy is over 30 times what it was 150 short years ago when the great eastern forests in the US (as well as in Britain and Europe) were largely clear-cut to feed our exosomatic metabolism. Every single good and service in the global (or your own) economy starts somewhere with a small fire. It is possible to decouple carbon emissions from GWP if we increase non-fossil energy production faster than energy consumption growth. We can also become slightly less energy intensive - termed a ‘relative decoupling’ (historically around 1% per year). But we cannot absolutely decouple GWP from energy use (unless we change the definition of ‘GWP’) because the global economy is metabolically tethered to our energy use. GWP is a poor metric of our well-being and cultural progress. It is however a reasonably good metric of how much energy


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