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Our Renewable Future

April 23, 2015

Part three of a four-part video series. Released in conjunction with Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels.

 
Can we keep growing the economy and avoid diminishing returns by switching energy sources? The transition to renewable solar and wind technology is both necessary and inevitable. But can it solve all our problems?

This video is the fourth in a four-part series by Richard Heinberg and Post Carbon Institute. The themes covered in these videos are much more thoroughly explored in Heinberg’s latest book, Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels. (View the entire series here.)
 
Special thanks to New Society Publishers for partnering with us on this fantastic series and to Shutterstock.com for granting image rights.
 


 

Afterburn-cover-230

 

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  • EVHappy

    This video by Richard Heinberg is about as truthful as you are going to get. The real question is how will humanity act as this plays out.

    An argument can be made that most non-biological technology is unsustainable. The biological systems on Earth that have evolved over billions of years have proven how sustainable and resilient they are. If you look at the complete engineering cycle of current high-tech systems, like our Internet, renewable energy systems, the electrical grid, transportation infrastructure, etc. from the standpoint of a completely sustainable biological system, the differences are striking.

    If we ask the difficult question of how a near-future solar / wind infrastructure can evolve, without fossil fuels to power the design, manufacture, transportation, installation, operation, construction, decommission and final environmental cleanup, you get an easy answer – it will be far too costly for the masses to enjoy.

    If you add in the primitive programming we humans have evolved to survive, it is easy to predict that he most probable future is one where there are small powerful groups that control much larger weaker groups into doing the work needed to keep the powerful groups living in relative luxury. Animals and humans will be used to extract as much net energy needed for these luxuries to be possible. In essence, we are going forward back to the past. Fossil fuels only gave humanity a short break from the way we have evolved to survive.

    This may seem as a very pessimistic view of our world but to any outsider, Earth before organized humans was far more beautiful and pristine than it is today.

  • I recently completed the book and highly recommend it. I was familiar with most of the material, but I did discover a new writer, Marvin Harris, and I appreciate Richard’s direct critique of Jared Diamond’s “career.” I agree with “EVHappy” that “it is easy to predict that the most probable future is one where there are
    small powerful groups that control much larger weaker groups into doing
    the work needed to keep the powerful groups living in relative luxury.” We need to do everything that we can to avoid this likely future.

    As someone who lives well at 10% of the national footprint, I am happy to say that the transition can be made. However, it will involve a completely new way of organizing our lives. We are now in a unique position to launch that “new society.” It requires understanding that our educational system has done nothing to prepare us to live sustainably. Fortunately, that system is starting to crumble. I just heard that LSU is filing for bankruptcy and that Sweet Briar College trustees have elected to close that school. Granted, a transition will be fought every step of the way thanks to almost everyone being invested in the system. Sweet Briar professor’s have already filed a lawsuit…

  • Michael Dowd

    Another simple, elegant, and powerful video, Richard!

    I’ll be evangelizing all of these (as well as, of course, your book).

    Together for the future,

    ~ Michael (and Connie)

  • sunweb

    All the things in our world have an industrial history. Behind the computer, the T-shirt, the vacuum cleaner is an industrial infrastructure fired by energy (fossil fuels mainly). Each component of our car or refrigerator has an industrial history. Mainly unseen and out of mind, this global industrial infrastructure touches every aspect of our lives. It pervades our daily living from the articles it produces, to its effect on the economy and employment, as well as its effects on the environment.

    Solar energy collecting devices also have an industrial history. It is important to understand the industrial infrastructure and the environmental results for the components of the solar energy collecting devices so we don’t designate them with false labels such as green, renewable or sustainable.

    This is an essay challenging ‘business as usual’. If we teach people that these solar devices are the future of energy without teaching the whole system, we mislead, misinform and create false hopes and beliefs.

    Provided by the various industries themselves, I have posted both charts and videos for the solar cells, modules, aluminum from ore,aluminum from recycling, aluminum extrusion, inverters, batteries and copper.

    Please note each piece of machinery you see in each of the videos has its own
    industrial interconnection and history.
    http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2015/04/solar-devices-industrial-infrastructure.html

  • EVHappy

    Exactly! I always ask the simple question – how sustainable are these systems when there is no fossil fuel crutch?

    I now believe that nearly all non-biological systems are highly unsustainable when viewed through the complete engineering cycle. This is something that more energy or more technology cannot solve.

    Eventually, humans may learn to master DNA and biological manipulation. Until then, we can expect the usual rise and fall of civilizations, filled with copious amounts of human and animal slave labor.

  • sunweb

    EVHappy – I agree but don’t want to see us “master” DNA and biological manipulation. More arrogance on our part. More “Too Smart for Our Own Good” More unintended consequences.