Ecosummit

A Sobering Report from the Eco-Summit

By Elliott Campbell, PhD

Bio: Elliott recently received his doctorate from the University of Maryland, studying with David Tilley and received a MS degree from the University of Florida under Mark Brown, both of whom studied with H.T. Odum. Elliott’s grandmother is Betty Odum, widow and longtime collaborator of H.T., and father is Daniel Campbell, a senior researcher at the EPA, so it is safe to say ecology is in his blood. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Elliott Campbell

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Eco-Summit, held in Columbus Ohio and hosted by William Mitsch at Ohio State University. This was a large conference, over 1600 people, featuring preeminent ecologists from around the world including Simon Levin, E.O. Wilson, Robert Costanza, Bernie Patten, Sven Jorgensen and plenary sessions by popular authors Jared Diamond and Lester Brown. As a recent PhD graduate and nascent systems ecologist I found the Eco-Summit to be edifying, inspiring, as well as incredibly frustrating.

The presenters and attendees of this conference acknowledge the challenges that lie before humanity and collectively much of the knowledge and skill base necessary to meet these challenges was present within the audience. However, a cohesive vision of how to go forward using this knowledge to guide humanity towards a “sustainable” future was absent. The reasons behind the lack of a cohesive plan of action are varied and include discipline specificity, intellectual hubris, and lack of organizational infrastructure, but I believe at the heart of the matter is a frustration and resignation that the world is locked into an ecologically ignorant, consumptive, growth based economy. To place it in an ecological context, like a cloud of locusts or bacteria in a petri dish we will inevitably consume a resource until it is exhausted and then die off.

Two sessions of the Eco-Summit were dedicated to the “prosperous way down” or related ideas and were led by former H.T. Odum students Mark Brown, John Day, Dan Campbell, and Charlie Hall. The prosperous way down is the idea that instead of exponential population growth followed by resource exhaustion and subsequent exponential decline, humanity can expect the coming decline and decrease its consumption and population slowly, preventing catastrophe. These sessions were well attended and featured a healthy dose of debate. Speakers presented compelling evidence for the rapid approach of peak oil from now to within the next 10 years and peak phosphorous within 50-100 years. Calculations done through either emergy or

Hall, Charles and John Day. 2009. Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil. American Scientist. May-June 2009, Volume 97, Number 3. Page: 230 (Lighter colors indicate a range of possible EROI due to varying conditions and uncertain data).

energy return on investment (EROI) show that renewable alternative such as photovoltaics and wind will not be able to fully replace the current global demand, much less the requirements of rapidly expanding standard of living expected in China and India. EROI is a simple, incredibly important concept that is completely absent in economics and political decision-making. EROI looks at how much energy is necessary to produce energy for consumption. For instance, in the early 1900’s it only took 1 barrel of oil to produce 100 barrels of US domestic oil. Today it takes 1 barrel of oil to produce 11-18 barrels of US domestic oil (Murphy and Hall, 2010). Thus, much more energy is necessary to produce an equal amount of oil and less energy is available to drive economic growth. Studies have shown that the Canadian tar sands have an EROI of 2 (Hall, 2008); less than most renewable energy sources. This is an excellent example of economics failing to give tools to help us decide is what is most beneficial to society. Speakers suggested policies that would help in slowing consumptive growth and moving towards growth in intellectual capital and happiness, including measuring growth using the genuine progress indicator (GPI) and not GDP, slowing economic growth by pegging currency to a resource (think gold standard with natural resources) and slowing population through making family planning more available and educating women. Herein lies another source of frustration— the world we live in is light years away from adopting any of these measures with no plan for moving towards the prosperous way down even at this gathering of experts. This concern was raised several times and the general consensus was that a global disturbance will be necessary before humanity realizes that changes must be made. The question of what this disturbance will entail, how many billions of people will suffer, and how the people in power will respond, remains.

BP Statistical Review 2012 Renewable energy sources now account for less than 1% of global energy demand and renewables plus hydroelectric and nuclear meet only 12% of global demand

Technological fundamentalists were not absent from the Eco-Summit. In fact this paradigm was more dominant than that of the need for a prosperous way down. Lester Brown, the head of the World Watch Institute, stated that we had plenty of wind power and would soon be running the globe with it. While he is correct that wind is one of the more promising renewable energy alternatives he ignores wind intermittency, the location-specific nature of enough wind strength for electrical production, the indirect inputs necessary to produce wind and transport electricity, and, most importantly, the unavoidable second law losses associated with production and transportation. A woman at the prosperous way down session insisted that we would simply move to solar power, a power source with a low EROI even in the most ideal of situations. Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal do make sense to exploit but only where they are abundant and give a net energy benefit. The inability of decisions makers to simply look at the net energy benefit and not the economic incentives (often subsidies) has led to many failed alternative energy ventures (see Obama’s largely failed “green job” initiative).

Salvador Dalí, 1945, Don Quixote and the Windmills, Are we tilting at the right windmills?

I think it is important to communicate that the scientists speaking in these sessions take no joy in sharing a message of doom and gloom. No one wants to be the bearer of the news that very likely the lives of the next generation will be of a lower quality. However, if we have this knowledge it is a moral obligation to communicate it to others. Actions that we take now will have huge ramifications for the future. Everyone hopes that a new, abundant, clean energy source is discovered, but the current state of knowledge shows that renewable alternatives are not capable of fulfilling the role of fossil fuels in society. Perhaps a “holy grail” of energy sources (i.e. cold fusion) will be perfected 20, 30 years down the road. Everyone, including those of us advocating for a prosperous way down, will rejoice, but this is not a certain outcome and relies on making a tremendous leap of faith with a non-zero chance for catastrophic consequences.

A bend in the road is not the end of the road . . . unless you fail to make the turn.
A bend in the road is not the end of the road . . . unless you fail to make the turn.

We now face an incredibly important juncture in human history where a choice must be made: either drastically change how we consume resources and our social, political, and economic structure or continue with business as usual. To those who would advocate for the business as usual approach I pose this question— what are the costs associated with moving towards the prosperous way down? Drastic changes in how we live, certainly, but it is possible that it can be done while maintaining the key aspects of quality of life. Now, ask yourself, what are the potential costs of business as usual? Even the most ardent technological fundamentalist must acknowledge that there is a chance they are wrong and inaction in terms of bracing for energy limitations has potential catastrophic ramifications. Energy does not simply power our cars and lights, we rely on fossil fuels for every aspect of our lives, the clean water we drink (pumped from a reservoir), the food we eat (grown with fossil fuel derived fertilizer and transported to us using fossil fuels), and increasingly our social interactions (charging our ever-present phones and laptops).  Of course, we won’t just one day wake up and find our lights won’t turn on, but it can be argued that we have already seen the beginning effects of fossil fuel limitation. Many theorize that the recent war in Iraq was largely due to the US wanting to secure the large oil reserves of that nation. While fossil fuel limitation was not a direct cause of the recent global recession it was indirectly responsible. The rate of growth in real wealth (benefit independent of monetary value) and infrastructure enjoyed due to cheap, high-energy return on investment oil was no longer possible in the mid 2000’s. This may have triggered in part the investment boom and artificial inflation of the stock and real estate markets. The logical extension of what we have seen so far is more resource wars, greater economic inequity and combined with a growing global population a dwindling resource base that cannot support global demands. This exact situation has been observed throughout history, in both economies and ecosystems, and inevitably leads to a catastrophic population crash. The question is, if we know that this is even a possibility and do nothing to attempt to halt our course, are we responsible for the consequences? I think that we are and as such, given a non-zero potential for catastrophe, it is immoral for society to continue on the path of ecological ignorance, over-consumption, and exponential growth. It is up to those who realize this, my peers in the scientific community and aware citizens like those who are reading this blog, to give this message and hopefully, eventually, affect positive change that will ripple out to the local, national and global scale creating a better future with less.

  • Doug Salzmann

    This is an excellent (and appropriately sobering) report on the Eco-Summit, Elliott. More than that, it summarizes our current circumstances and the dilemma we face with unusual clarity. Interested non-specialists will find it comprehensible and instructive — which is, I believe, critically important.

    I’m off to share it with some of those non-specialists, now. Thanks, so much, for this post, and congratulations on that doctorate!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elliott-Campbell/14319425 Elliott Campbell

    Thank you Doug, I appreciate the kind words, clear communication was my goal.

  • http://www.EcoReality.org/ Jan Steinman

    Elliott, I didn’t see much in your report about what we should do about the situation. You note that “a cohesive vision of how to go forward… was absent.”

    So was it really just yet another bunch of intellectuals, putting tons of carbon into the air in order to preach to the choir, or was there anything, cohesive or not, about how to proceed?

    Indeed were societal changes noted at all? Was there much of a focus on re-discovering local living?

    Wind and solar won’t power the status quo. Wind might be able to power a re-localized society. But solar? Doesn’t that currently require a billion-dollar wafer fab plant and 400 highly trained specialists — and 400 big suburban houses, 400 SUVs, 300 big-screen TVs, etc.?

    HT Odum stressed that complexity is a form of embedded energy. Will the world be able to maintain a semiconductor industry, with the “long tail” of global supply-chain needs in rare earths, exotic metals, and a highly-trained work force?

    The only way solar is going to “save us” is if we’re talking the “basic productivity” of photosynthesis.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elliott-Campbell/14319425 Elliott Campbell

      Hi Jan,

      The question of how to proceed as a society is a complex one and probably deserves its own blog post. There was some discussion on ideas like permaculture, societal reorganization, and creating a steady state economy within the prosperous way down session and other sessions addressed ecological engineering/design and global food resources. My frustration came from the fact that these ideas were present but a clear way to communicate them and to be heard by decision makers was absent.
      I agree with you regarding the inability of solar to address our global energy needs, but have seen some studies that indicate in a situation with high insolation/clear days solar collectors (and potentially thin film pv) can be net energy (although with a low EROI and emergy yield). These situations are rare, the technology is still developing, limitations due to materials are a concern, and energy consumption would need to be SIGNIFICANTLY lower, but could southern California, parts of Africa, the middle east, etc meet some of there energy demand through solar? I don’t think we can rule it out. Globally, we will use any resource that provides a net energy/emergy return that is significant enough to benefit society. Mark Brown hypothesizes that the benefit must at least be 3 to 1, based on observing the energy sources currently in use (3 to 1 is about the return on nuclear) but I believe that as we grow more desperate for energy we will exploit resources that are around 2 to 1 like biofuels for motive power and biocombustion for electricity, but we will be able to do comparatively less for the investment, making economic growth in the traditional, consumptive, sense impossible. I don’t think any energy source should be categorically overruled: some areas of the world have abundant geothermal potential or tidal potential or wind or hydrologic and in these areas it will very likely make sense to exploit these resources. But rather than let economic/political forces discover what makes sense where through trial and error we should evaluate these place specific resources and make decisions through net energy/emergy accounting.

      • Doug Salzmann

        Elliott: “But rather than let economic/political forces discover what makes sense where through trial and error we should evaluate these place specific resources and make decisions through net energy/emergy accounting.”

        We should, indeed, especially as there are/will be steadily-decreasing resources for correcting errors and beginning new trials. However, there seems (to me, at least) little likelihood that the fundamental changes in the organization of the larger structures of our societies necessary to adopt such a radically different decision-making model will be made — at least until catastrophic developments rudely and massively upset BAU. What we propose (need!), after all, is heresy in our global capitalist culture.

        Assuming that the above is correct, is there anything (effective) we can do, now, beyond research, education, explanation, etc.? Might we attempt to construct working models, on scales within our grasp, both to validate the analysis and accounting in visible, tangible forms and to provide examples that will be available as awareness of our true predicament grows? If we could, what might those models look like?

  • http://mandymeikle.wordpress.com/ Mandy Meikle

    Great to see EROEI discussed. The next big change will be psychological, not technological. People cling to there being a new technology just around the corner. You mentioned cold fusion being perfected – then what? What would we use this energy for? What would be the next limiting factor?

    I agree that we need to re-link currency (or how we live) to non-renewable natural resources but this understanding has been absent from the industrial mindset for so long that it’s difficult to see how that connection can be remade without some catastrophe occurring first. It’s as if this state of denial we’re stuck in can only be blown away by something incontrovertible, something big. Of course no one wants this but we’re doing nothing to avoid it. It’s not lack of knowledge (
    http://mandymeikle.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/ignoring-the-signs/), it’s disbelief that our notion of progress is all wrong. Until we accept that, I don’t think we’ll make the right choices. Here’s hoping I’m wrong!

  • David MacLeod

    Elliot,
    Thank you for this report from the Eco Summit, nice to have you contributing to this site.

    Do you know if Charles Hall has ever discussed the pros/cons of using EROI in comparison to Odum’s Emergy analysis? Or do you have your own perspective on this to share?

    • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

      Hi, David, you do ask the questions. Here are a link and a quote comparing the methods. Energy quality varies, and not all forms of energy have the same ability to do work, depending on the system and the intensity of energy required. Net energy contribution of any process the economy including energy production can be calculated using an Emergy Yield Ratio (EYR) (Odum, 1976, Brown & Ulgiati, 1997). Earlier formulations of net energy such as (Embodied or Net) Energy Analysis or Energy Return on Investment (EROI):

      “. . . does not include quality correction and other inputs such as labor and environmental contributions. The EYR as its name implies, is the ratio of the yield from a process (in emergy) to the costs (in emergy). . . The EYR is the ratio of the yield (Y) to the costs (F) of getting it. The costs include energy, materials, and human service purchased from the economy, all expressed in emergy. . . Net contributions of energy sources to growth and development is always greatest in early stages of development of systems, and declines as energetic costs of processes and organization (overhead) increase with increasing quantities of structure” (Brown, Cohen, & Sweeney, 2009, p. 3426).

      http://prosperouswaydown.com/principles-of-self-organization/empower-basis/emergy/

      • David MacLeod

        Thanks, Mary. I do understand the basic differences between the two concepts, but I’m wondering why Charles Hall chooses to focus on EROI instead of EYR. Is he in the camp that does not accept that energy quality should be an important part of the calculation?

        • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

          David, it’s a great question, but perhaps best answered by Dr. Hall. Dr. Hall’s version of net energy diverged from Odum’s, or perhaps vice versa. Odum was used to reinventing his ideas as they got subsumed into or compromised by mainstream thinking in the disciplines that developed, first within the field of ecology, then ecological economics, and so on. Odum was unyielding in his theoretical approaches. The EROI concept is simpler to understand and it yields higher numbers, so it is more palatable to the general reader. It’s a start, but it doesn’t explain beyond resource production. But we don’t truly understand the layers of hierarchical complexity that go into our society until we understand the emergy basis. NYC, for example, may wake up tomorrow understanding some of the hidden subsidies of energy that underlie every simple and complex part of their society, that are required to make it function. It’s not going to be pretty, and EROI doesn’t explain it.

        • http://prosperouswaydown.com/ MaryLogan

          Hi, David, here’s a response from Charlie Hall, WAY after the fact. I emailed your comment to him along with Elliott’s post. Here is his response:

          “I think I should respond to the EROI /EMergy issues raised by your correspondants.
          Long after my PhD I became very close to HT as a person, something that was not possible when he was the scary (but kind) professor. THere were a number of conferences with lots of extra time in Italy that we both attended, and he and Betty and myself and my wife Myrna spent a lot of very high quality time togethr. Although he as interested in and I think proud of my work he was sad, hurt and perplexed that I did not (often) use emergy analysis. SO he asked me this once, directly, on a balcony overlooking the Adiratic sea in Italy. “Why don’t you use emergy analysis?” I was unprepared but after a bit replied “Its because I think what is most important is that which is used up (i.e. fossil fuels)”. The second issue was probably that I was developing my own independent scientific persona, which required I suppose some kind of independent approach. A third I did not say is that given the difficulties and uncertainties that I had with getting the needed data for EROI that the transformities were at least an order of magnitude more challenging. While I really liked the idea of energy quality when that first emerged (as in my 1977 book with John Day–I love Odum’s article there but he once said he did not like it) emergy became a bit too squishy for me. But I acknowledge it as important and far more comprehensive than anything I do. Its sort of an upper limit on the denominator of EROI. Of course when you do that, like with footprint analysis, you find that we are just using up all our earthly capital. Finally given that emergy analysis is often used for policy and that I have never been comfortable with prescribing policy, taking the self righteous and perhaps cowardly position of being a “pure” scientist. There is a longer story there…

          I also felt that HT’s late emphasis on emergy as the be all and end all of analysis diverted attention from his earlier, somewhat less controversial and to me incredibly powerful approach to understanding everything around us through systems and energy analysis. I spent my academic life in top National Laboratories, the Ivy league, and excellent State Schools. I still feel that I have never met anyone with ten percent of HT’s scientific knowledge, brilliant intuition and “once you strip it of his special language” (TB) common sense. I feel so enriched by what I learned from him and also fortunate to have been with him just as he as making his transition from relatively “pure” ecology to “Environment power and society, for originally I was most interested in the former but evolved into the latter.

          Well I don’t know if this is an adequate answer, and I certainly wish the emergyeers the best, but these are the reasons I did not join that particular bandwagon. TO answer the question about the relation of EROI and emergy analysis is that one could use an emergy approach to EROI and it would give you an upper limit. We do use quality a lot (e.g. electricity vs coal for starters) and are weak in in our environmental analysis. I would welcome someone taking our EROI analysis and adding in emergy and footprint analysis, as we did once in 2000 with Myself, amrk Brown and Mathis Wackernagel.

          This was very interesting. Thanks Mary. You may paste it into this conversation thread or whatever.”

          And my response to Charlie was, “I learned a long time ago not to argue with HT. He had an amazing capacity to be right in the end. I saw that over and over. By the time I was a teenager, I would just nod my head and store his dictums away for the future. When you live with genius with a track record, do you argue with it, try to compete with it, follow in its footsteps, or just go make it a sandwich?”

  • AEnoch

    The conviction of the Italian scientists for manslaughter shows that there can be
    accountability for what the “smart people” tell us they know. I don’t know the
    facts of what happened in Italy but if the scientists stated that there was no
    danger of an earthquake then they deserve what they get. No one can deny the
    possibility of an earthquake.
    Our culture awards the smart people class with an enviable lifestyle of nice homes,
    new cars, overseas vacations, etc. In return the smart people are supposed to guide
    our path for the greater good. Tom Murphy at DO THE MATH recently asked the
    question of push back when scientist bring bad news. I think the push back is
    going to be when the bad THINGS come… too late to worry about bad news.
    “Of course, we won’t just one day wake up and find our lights won’t turn on,”
    Is an example of the separate reality of our smart people that has us on course to painful disaster.
    As a retired maintenance man I can tell you that all the things that work when
    you flip a switch or open a valve or push a button only work because someone
    was on the job to keep all that stuff working. None of that stuff is a given.
    Maintenance men don’t get tenure. And no one is going to listen to them when
    they say we’re on the wrong track.
    Would it help to have a hundred thousand PhDs on the Mall in D.C.
    demanding that the politicians face up to global warming?

    • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

      Aubrey, that’s interesting. My husband tells me the same thing about nuclear power and the developers’ culpability. If nuclear power is unsafe, then how could the engineers deny it? I quoted Sinclair Lewis to him, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” But it is bigger than that. It is an entire world view or expectation that the future will always be bigger, wealthier, faster, and more high tech. So we can’t blame the engineers, when the entire country is embedded in 200 years of successful American exceptionalism. I don’t think the scientists will be the ones to make a difference. They are increasingly ensconced in reductionist ideas in their academic silos.

      Upton Sinclair also said this “I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime I am not frightened by your menaces. . . . But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country” (Sinclair, 1918). Things won’t change until hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life challenge the status quo. We have more power than we think. All it takes is to begin to walk away from the status quo, until there is a tipping point of people no longer following the herd? Thanks.

  • Brian

    I have a friend who is a surgeon. She went on a medical mission to Tanzania. The first hospital they went to they were aghast to find that most nurses, doctors, and patients weren’t doing the simple act of using soap and water before surgeries, between room visits, etc. The 10 or so doctors called the staff in and explained the importance of using soap and water and how it could cut infection rates 70-90%. They left to other parts of the country and came back before leaving. They found the hospital staff doing exactly as they had done before they explained to them the importance of antiseptic techniques. When I heard this story a decade ago, I thought how stupid are these people. After reading Odum, I realized information is a form of energy and it isn’t as simple as telling someone something like how energy works outside of an information infrastructure. Kind of like, giving someone a car with no streets to drive it on. When the author asks, “The question is, if we know that this is even a possibility and do nothing to attempt to halt our course, are we responsible for the consequences?” It is clear that we do not know and just some PhD saying it is not enough. Most people who can understand emergy concepts are first worlders and are doctors, lawyers, PhDs or have very specialized life training. There is no amount of dumbing down to make people understand the need for antiseptic method or emergy. Doing simple back of the napkin type calculations based on the US education system (about 3000 dollars per capita per year with a life expectancy of 76 years), would mean we would have to spend over a quadrillion dollars to create a still less than adequate world information grey matter infrastructure. Has an emergy analysis been done to create the infrastructure necessary to implement emergy principles worldwide? Aren’t we just saying we need more growth in the form of information instead of in energy resources or whatever else to solve all our problems? What if emergy analysis was done on the education infrastructure necessary and the emergy analysis said it wasn’t worth it? It maybe that we should focus on individuals and less on global systems, governments, or communities.

    While writing this it made me think of the cliche, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” What was the emergy basis for teaching him proper casting techniques/rod building/net weaving/boat building/sustainably managing a fishery? Changed my perspective on what I always thought teach a man to fish meant.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elliott-Campbell/14319425 Elliott Campbell

      Information is the highest quality form of emergy and has the greatest potential for influence, causing work and cascading effects. I agree with you that simply proscribing action from on high is inadequate in affecting change but disagree that the educational infrastructure of the United States is necessary for emergy to be understood globally. Emergy is already more accepted and utilized in China, Italy, and Brazil than in the US. In fact, In agreeance with Odum’s hierarchical theory of energy, energy of a higher quality is easier to transport and this is particularly true of information. I envision the emergy practitioner to take on a similar role in society to the engineer- active in the initial design/planning of a project but it is not necessary or possible for everyone involved to fully comprehend emergy. Construction workers likely do not fully understand the physics and design that go into making a bridge but they trust the engineer to have made the proper decisions and they understand the general principles. While energy theory is complex the underlying idea is simple and is digestible by anyone- the benefit of an action must be greater than the costs associated with that action. The basic ideas- growth on finite resources is unsustainable, energy varies in quality, and the importance of energy return on investment must be communicated to all, but the intricities of energy theory need not be understood by all.

      • Brian

        Let me restate what struck me after reading your post: Why do superior forms of information fail? I was trying to armchair emergy quarterback an explanation. I will concede for the sake of brevity that my logic was all wrong. What do those working in the Emergy field see as the reason for emergy analysis being a failure, see your post above for evidence? And if I use the logic often used on this blog that green technologies have not taken off because they don’t return high net emergy, could not the same be said for emergy analysis and floundering when it is needed most? How is this not an energy problem about the spreading or losing of superior information in the future?

        • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

          Hi, Brian, thanks for clarifying. I’m afraid I’ve been a bit distracted by all of the goings on on the east coast. Is Emergy synthesis a failure? I guess no one told me. Dan Campbell gave an excellent report at the last Emergy Conference on the number of researchers, papers, and subgroups developing globally. The spread was impressive. I am hoping that he will write a summary for the blog. Dan, are you out there? I believe there has been a failure to communicate, LOL.

          My mother said that HT was always going to be 50 years ahead of his time, with the mainstream beginning to understand his ideas at about 40 years out. That puts EROI in the mainstream right now, and the ideas of Transformity and Emergy basis out another 10 years. We are blind to the energy basis of our society, beginning with basic things like food, and then with more complex transformations such as electricity and the internet. We have had about 70 years since the last period of insecurity and shortages in basic needs during the Depression and WWII. Several generations have never experienced the nature of true need or lack of cheap energy that helps us live like kings and queens.

          I don’t think we will begin to be interested in embodied emergy until we begin to recognize what the absence of energy means for us. Hopefully a little hardship will sharpen our learning curve on all of this. That may be happening now. Is it too late? Perhaps. You are correct that this is an energy problem about the loss of information for the future. Great question, thanks.

          http://prosperouswaydown.com/information-storms/

          Mary

      • Doug Salzmann

        “While energy theory is complex the underlying idea is simple and is digestible by anyone. . .”

        Yes. We “simply” must find ways to convey the underlying idea in accessible terms and in media formats that the target audiences identify with and utilize daily. As Mary knows, I think even animations and children’s songs have enormous potential.

        I vote for Elliott as explainer-in-chief. ;^)

        ~Doug

    • http://twitter.com/TinyEnergies Prosperous Way Down

      Elliott, how are you doing down there in Maryland? Mother Nature’s energy on display today, thinking of all of you down there on the north east coast. Brian, I’ll answer this one. Piling on more information and refining our information system to retool our worldview at a societal scale at this point would require a very, very large amount of additional energy that we don’t have. We don’t have the juice for a societal retooling. We must work on self-organized retooling of local communities from the bottom up at this point. Your points about the costs of education are right on.

      Your point about the primary importance of basic needs such as handwashing for public health is also important. Our healthcare system depends on a high, consistent energy basis to supply the general functioning of society in a myriad of ways for basic needs, and then also much higher energy basis for the complex high tech rescue healthcare that western medicine has become. Healthcare will be especially vulnerable. I’m involved with a healthcare workforce study up here, and I can’t write my piece, which is the big picture. How do you tell the dominant paradigm that its all going to come apart, and we will need a completely different way of doing and thinking, which is much more focused on basic needs in a low gain society?

      Thanks, Mary.

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