Energy, ecology, and economics revisited

By Mary Logan

We must understand the concept of net energy in order to see the underlying energetic basis for society.  Yet net energy is often misunderstood, typically through optimistic measures of valuation that do not address the hidden inputs. Perhaps HT Odum’s clearest, simplest, most understandable paper on the topic was written 40 years ago, in a special issue of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science’s Energy in Society issue of Ambio (1973). The article was republished in Mother Earth News, still available online through Minnesotans for Sustainability. The paper remains as relevant and fundamental to the arguments for net energy today as it did 40 years ago. Each time I read the paper, I find new meaning from it. Perhaps it is time to revisit the principles quoted below from the paper, to update the terms and give modern examples of the interrelationships between the 3Es of energy, ecology, and economics. Some of the terminology and accounting methods have been refined over time, but the general principles remain unchanged–principles that are essential to the energy dialogue. Continue reading Energy, ecology, and economics revisited

Emergy: you spelled energy wrong!

by Mary Logan

EMergy–yes, that word is spelled correctly. Emergy with an EM, means the Energy Memory of something. What is Emergy, and how do I learn more about it? I have been getting requests for suggested readings about EMergy–so here is a brief explanation and some suggested links.

Science proposes to describe, explain, predict, and control. But when we talk about global problems of the biosphere, science often fails in explanation, prediction, and problem-solving. Many scientific disciplines have reduced themselves into specialized, competitive silos, protected from each other by separate terminology and reductionist theories. The lenses through which many scientists view the world are microscopic in nature, focusing on analysis and application, using statistical tools that break things down into smaller and smaller pieces.  This focus makes it difficult to even define the problems, much less find solutions. While analysis is a useful and important subset of the overall process, synthesis and evaluation of policies requires using an instrument such as a macroscope to view the world from a systemic perspective. Our lack of synthesis prevents us from seeing and evaluating the relationships, processes and structures inherent in the whole. And our grasp of the holistic big picture is what frames our view of society’s trajectory and the problems society faces.

How does one find a coherent way to grasp the big picture of how man exists on this planet? If we use a macroscope to analyze energy flows using Emergy Synthesis, then we  can capture the essence of complex, global systems, since a continuous flow of energy is the central issue to maintaining our complex civilization (or not). Understanding the nature of our energy basis is essential to understanding where we are headed as a civilization.  Continue reading Emergy: you spelled energy wrong!

Our Rube Goldberg Economy

by Mary Logan

Two prominent energetic systems principles that drive our complex economy are hierarchy and autocatalysis. Earlier posts highlighted the concepts of energy transformity and hierarchy. The concept of autocatalysis can be seen in many circular loops in our current society, such as current proposals for geoengineering technology to fix the problems that industrial and post-industrial technology have wrought. Autocatalysis is also known as the positive feedback loop, and it is the engine for our growth economy. Continue reading Our Rube Goldberg Economy