Friday, April 01, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Abundant Energy

From the Archdruid Report:


[T]he average European uses around a third as much energy per capita as the average American, and has a better standard [of] living by most of the usual measures. Until recently... I’d assumed that this was simply a function of waste and mismanagement on our part, and a more efficient use of limited resources on theirs.

Still, I find myself wondering if there’s a direct connection between these two factors. Is it possible that Europeans have, by and large, a better standard of living because they use less energy, not in spite of that fact?

Ask the question and it’s not hard to find obvious examples. Consider the way that so many Americans buy gasoline-powered riding lawnmowers, and suffer the health impacts of a flaccid middle age – with attendant costs to the economic system – that could have been avoided by the moderate exercise gotten by using a push mower. Consider how much of the industrial world’s intractable unemployment has been driven by the replacement of skilled human labor with machines made possible by the availability of cheap abundant energy. For that matter, consider the way that the availability of energy correlates with the civilian death toll in wars. Before the age of fossil fuels, the annihilation of the entire population of a city happened relatively rarely, and took an extraordinary amount of hard labor on the part of the attackers. By the twentieth century it was relatively easy, and therefore routine.|Link| (emphasis added)


I find his analysis provocative. I suspect there's a happy medium to be found here.

As an American, I cannot dispute a link between material and energy abundance and its waste. But energy abundance has allowed humans freedom from agriculture which allows specialization of trades and the dynamism of cities in the long run.

Staying in shape is really important and the we've designed our societies to encourage sitting in chairs. We need to put walking and motion back into our lives.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends putting computers on treadmills or stair climbers and having walking meetings, for instance.