Can we sustain “Business as Usual (BAU)?” Can we change BAU and create a Green Economy (Business as Sustainable-BAS)? Or do we adopt a new paradigm that recovers our environmental support systems and forestalls collapse?
If we have available energy, we may maintain life and produce every material requisite necessary. That is why the flow of energy should be the primary concern of economics. –Frederick Soddy, 1926, p. 56.
The promoters of the global economy…see nothing odd or difficult about unlimited economic growth or unlimited consumption in a limited world.
― Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank, 1996
The economic term, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), measures market value of goods and services produced in a country over a year. A proposed measure of Gross Emergy Product (GEmP) measures the total emergy value of goods and services produced in a country over a year, instead, and can be visualized above as the sum of (R+F+G+P2I +N0+N1). Emergy intensity can then be measured by dividing GEmP by area, population and GDP of each country. Further measures of Areal Empower Intensity, Empower per capita, and Empower Intensity of Market Value can be calculated (Brown, Cohen, & Sweeney, p. 3427).
On “Emergy evaluation of WorldBank and IMF impact on less developed countries: the emergy/dollar ratios (after currency conversions to dollars) are much higher in the less developed countries than in developed nations. Where the ratio is 4 to 1 the repayment with interest in real wealth is equivalent to a 440% interest for a loan with a 10% interest rate. The raw resources bought by developed countries transfer 2 to 250 times more real wealth than is paid for in buying power of money exchanged. An undeveloped country can develop its own capital faster by using its real wealth at home than by trying to exchange real wealth for a fraction of its real value. For example, with shrimp pond mariculture in Ecuador the real wealth of the mangrove coastal zone was taken from the local people and sold to the U.S. for a fraction of its emergy value” (Odum, 1996, pp. 208-219).
Maximizing jobs and the economy requires maximizing the symbiosis of the economy with the environment and its resources (Odum, 1995, p. 367).
The Maximum Power principle (MPP) says that “you can’t play for long unless you steal your opponent’s gamepieces.” And after the 1970s, and due to the US’s powerful momentum, oil prosperity, and military might, Americans did just that. Through the IMF, World Bank, and other organizations, the U.S. achieved petrodollar status and expanded the control of their monetary system through expansive international loans. In other words, the system self-organized into a design where the US, already in power, designed new feedback loops to bring in even more power. The MPP basically says that in a situation with surplus energy, those that have typically get more, through competitive exclusion. The principle was also described in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and is illustrated in the brief video below. Brown and Ulgiati (2003, 2011) mirror this concern in several recent articles, also below. Whether one calls the imbalance shock doctrine, predatory capitalism, or resource imperialism, the result is massive inequities in economic growth and the capture of global real wealth. Unfortunately, the fifth law of hierarchy says that “stealing your opponent’s game pieces shortens the cumulative length of the game.” American imperialism has shortened long-term sustainability of our global trade system, as the global flywheel economy spins faster, and faster, and faster.
Comparative Gross Emergy Products (GEmP) have been assembled in an Emergy database for 141 countries. In the first graph, the US and China have the highest GEmP scores, followed by Mexico as a surprising third rank. The authors suggest that this might be because “Mexico is a renewable resource rich country having coastlines on two oceans which may account for its high GEmP” (Brown, Cohen & Sweeney, 2009, p. 3431). The second graph shows Emergy Intensity (approximated as Areal Empower Density) which is the sum of Renewable R and NonRenewable NR emergy use divided by the area of the country). The graph shows countries with large flows of R energy dominate high empower intensity, while industrialized countries dominate the midrange. Countries with less R and NR flows of energy use are clustered at the low range of Emergy Intensity. The authors explain that “generally, countries with small footprints and either large geopotential (mountainous) or large coastlines and continental shelf areas (which translate into very high renewable energy intensity per unit area of footprint) have the highest energy intensities” (Brown, Cohen & Sweeney, 2009, p. 3431). The third graph below shows GEmP per capita, an index of well-being. In the graph, “the countries with the highest empower per capita are countries that have large area, relatively large neon-renewable flows, and relatively small population densities. Countries with few indigenous non-renewable resources and little renewable empower occupy the lower end of the spectrum. The industrialized nations tend to dominate the mid ranges of empower per capita” (Brown, Cohen & Sweeney, 2009, p. 3432). Other international comparisons in this paper include indices of national economic efficiency for agriculture, trade, national EYR, and indices for environmental efficacy. The authors also discuss sustainability constraints and an Emergy Sustainability index (EmSI), with implications for net energy, energy intensity, and energy efficiency.
The EmSI is calculated as the ratio of National Empower Yield Ratio (NEYR, derived from the ratio of total emergy use to investment of local non-renewable resources) to Environmental Loading Ratio (ELR, ratio of NR to R emergy use). EmSI = NEYR / ELR
Global emergy per capita has been decreasing in a stair step fashion since about 1975. Standards of living depends on the resources in use per person, and the standard of living is falling in developed nations, since the mid to late 1970s. What does this mean for us, and how will it translate in our economies?
The most vital economies in descent will be those that encourage choice in order to find what is workable in a changing world. The most vital economies will be those that adapt promptly.