Energy, Ecology and Economics

| December 31, 2018 | Leave a Comment

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Media Type: Article - Foundational

Date of Publication: May, 1974

Year of Publication: 1974

Author(s): Howard T. Odum

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Dr. Howard T. Odum wrote about sustainable societies, ” a society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period”, in 1974.


As long-predicted energy shortages appear, as questions about the interaction of energy and environment are raised in legislatures and parliaments, and as energy-related inflation dominates public concern, many are beginning to see that there is a unity of the single system of energy, ecology, and economics. The world’s leadership, however, is mainly advised by specialists who study only a part of the system at a time.

Instead of a single system’s understanding, we have adversary arguments dangerous to the welfare of nations and the role of man as the earth’s information bearer and programmatic custodian. Many economic models ignore the changing force of energy, regarding effects of energy sources as an external constant; ecoactivists cause governments to waste energy in unnecessary technology; and the false gods of growth and medical ethics make famine, disease, and catalytic collapse more and more likely for much of the world. Some energy specialists consider the environment as an antagonist instead of a major energy ally in supporting the biosphere.

Instead of the confusion that comes from the western civilization’s characteristic educational approach of isolating variables in tunnel-vision thinking, let us here seek common sense overview which comes from overall energetics. Very simple overall energy diagrams clarify issues quantitatively, indicating what is possible. The diagrams and symbols are explained further in a recent book (see Ref. 1).

For example, Figure 1 shows the basis of production in interaction of fuel reserves, steady energies of solar origin and feedback of work from the system’s structure. Figure 1 is the computer simulation of this model for our existence, showing a steady state after our current growing period. As the fuel tank is drained, we return to a lower solar base of simpler agriculture. Simple macroscopic minimodels based on overview of world energy provides the same kind of trend curves as the detailed models of Forrester and Meadows (see Ref. 2). With major changes confronting us, let us consider here some of the main points that we must comprehend so we may be prepared for the future.


To read more on Dr. Odum’s theories, click here. 

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  • Greeley Miklashek

    Interesting ergonomic perspective on the human condition and environmental collapse at the hands of energy depletion. It even cites the role of disease in limiting overpopulation and the consequent over utilization of energy. However, it misses one important reality, which was as true in 1973 as today, population density stress is killing us NOW, in spite of our $3.8T annual money expenditure on our healthcare “industry” here in the US, and as a direct result of ALL of our myriad “diseases of civilization”. The last time humanity lived in an energy balanced relationship with the rest of the diverse species on this planet was 12,000 years ago, when our ancestors were migratory clan/band living hunter-gatherers worldwide. Then we were energy neutral and stayed within our ecological niche’, unlike today when we are nearly 3,000 times as many and driving thousands of other species into extinction. We humans now make-up 30% of the land-based animal biomass on earth, but our “domesticated” food animals account for another 67+%, which leaves maybe 3% wild. The new President of Brazil, cut from the same blind Populist cloth as our Mad King Donald has promised to allow the destruction of the remaining Rain Forest, which is the final refuge of the remaining indigenous hunter-gatherers of that country. Human overpopulation is the single most important energetic as well as total ecological problem on this finite planet and only voluntary one-child families will result in reducing our numbers back down to 1950 levels of 2.5B by 2,100. The alternative is population collapse and species extinction, our species that is, as well as thousands of our fellow life forms. Mother Nature will eliminate us from the planet, if we cannot find the humility and self-restraint to depopulate voluntarily. Remember, the next-time you’re in your doctor’s office, without our desperate over-use of petroleum, you’d have no life saving medicines. Currently, we take 4.3B Rx/yr. and nearly all are dependent on petroleum. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Stress R US