I’ve been doing some reading on embodied energy. If you google search this term you will find references to the embodied energy of buildings. Yes, eco-architects are on to it. Buildings have life cycles and the eenrgy involved in the extraction, transport, manufacture, assembly and end of life phases adds up. All this energy becomes “embodied” in a product. So when we engage in discussions of our renewable energy future we can say much more about it than what energy source we will use. Mostly the discussion is about moving to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels.
In a previous post I argued that because the energy returned on energy invested is gradually declining, there is less net energy available to the economy. This means economic growth will inexorably decline. I also explained why productivity is on a downward trend. There is a high correlation between energy consumption and GDP
But what is the economy? It is the sum of all activities humans do to meet our complex needs. For manufactured goods, we mine, we transport, we manufacture, we transport again, we assemble, we sell, we use and then we dispose. For our food needs we acquire land, we plant, we grow, we fertilise, we harvest and then off it goes into the huge international chain.
Supply chains are so complex and tightly coupled these days. Take a car. Automotive supply chains are among the most complex in the world, with each vehicle containing more than 20,000 parts originating from thousands of different suppliers.
the use of energy products allows businesses to leverage human labor, so that human labor can be more productive. A farmer with a stick as his only implement cannot produce much food, but a farmer with a tractor, gasoline, modern implements, hybrid seeds, irrigation, and access to modern roads can be very productive. This productivity would not be available without fossil fuels
Increasing complexity has a downside. If an increasing share of the output of the economy is funneled into management pay, expenditures for capital goods, and other expenditures associated with an increasingly complex economy (including higher taxes, and more dividend and interest payments), less of the output of the economy is available for “ordinary” laborers–including those without advanced training or supervisory responsibilities.
David Korowitz, an author, physicist, and member of Feasta and Comhar, says: “We might also think of workhorses, trailers and harnesses; containers and demijohns; barges and sail boats; shovels and hoes; basic chemicals; waste recycling; curing and preserving; bottling and canning; and so on.”
Lisa Ellis said
Thus we can confidently anticipate enormous political pushback from large sectors of the community as they become aware of the constraints on economic activity and the lifestyle sacrifices that achieving the 2050 target will mean. This is a natural response to uncertainty and the possibility of job loss etc. Recent examples where The option to offer a stable methane emission regime appears to be one such example.
Thus we can confidently anticipate enormous political pushback from large sectors of the community as they become aware of the constraints on economic activity and the changes across the whole economy that achieving the 2050 target will mean. While achieving net anthropogenic zero emissions will be a win for everyone, the transitions required to do so will create winners and losers along the way. The more rapidly society begins to experience the co-benefits of energy transition, for example, the quicker coalitions of clean energy winners will emerge.