Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It's all about footprint

I have had some profound realizations lately that deserve highlighting, IMHO.

1. As far as possible post-peak scenarios go, we should focus on society's ability to provide food, shelter, and a handful of other necessities first. JohnDenver, in his "Food and Shelter" thread, has begun a discussion of this issue.

2. The goal of agricultural technology should be to reduce the amount of land (and water) needed to support an individual human. If this reduction in agricultural footprint can be accomplished with energy inputs and the footprint of the energy production itself is lower than this reduction, then more energy reduces overshoot.

3. Energy-rich societies are better able to clean their environment and restore ecosystems like forests and rivers than energy-poor societies. Through enabling people to restore their environment, more energy again reduces overshoot.

4. Overall, whereas energy-rich societies should probably lower their total energy use, energy-poor societies could stand to raise theirs significantly. This will enable them to raise their standard of living, clean their environment, and reduce oveshoot (see points 2 and 3).

5. Energy-rich societies waste a lot of energy. SUVs, superfluous car trips, McMansions, fast food, and suburban sprawl all exemplify wasteful energy use. Developed nations could greatly reduce their energy footprint through conservation. Efficient technologies developed to reduce the footprint of energy-rich societies could also reduce the growth of energy-poor societies' footprint as they increase their energy use.

6. If we use only renewables, EROEI is meaningless. It makes much more sense to focus on energy / terrestrial area. Any technology that increases watts/hectare (or terrawatts) reduces overshoot. Polluted land, water, and air should be considered acreage lost to energy production in this equation. Carbon dioxide emissions should be included somehow, too. Therefore, we are looking for clean, renewable energy sources that increase watts/hectare.

7. For these plans to work, we need to control the world population through voluntary means like free, safe, and legal birth control and education for all women.

So how do we alleviate overshoot? Work on agricultural technologies that reduce the terrestrial area required to sustain an individual human, work on energy technologies that increase watts/hectare, and work on providing education and family planning to women. We have a lot of work to do.