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The primary issue at hand is that, as a dissipative system, every economy has its own energy needs, just as every forest has its own energy needs (in terms of sunlight) and every plant and animal has its own energy needs, in one form or another.
There is a fairly narrow range of acceptable energy levels–an animal without enough food weakens and is more likely to be eaten by a predator or to succumb to a disease. In fact, the effects of not having enough energy flows may spread more widely than the individual plant or animal that weakens and dies. It would be some consolation for the feebleness ofA our selvesA and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.
There is a standard wrong belief about the physics of energy and the economy; it is the belief we can somehow train the economy to get along without much energy.
In this wrong view, the only physics that is truly relevant is the thermodynamics of oil fields and other types of energy deposits.
According to this wrong view of energy and the economy, all we need to do is design an economy that uses less energy.
The primary source of energy flows to the economy seems to come through the leveraging of human labor with supplemental energy products of various types, such as animal labor, fossil fuels, and electricity. As long as the quantity of supplemental energy supplies keeps rising rapidly enough, human labor can become increasingly productive.
Besides inadequate supplemental energy, the other downside risk to continued economic growth is the possibility that diminishing returns will start making the economy less efficient. Deeper wells or desalination are needed for water because aquifers deplete and population grows.
More productivity is needed from each acre of arable land because of growing population (and thus, falling arable land per person).
Larger mines are required as ores of high mineral concentration are exhausted and we are forced to exploit less productive mines. Fossil fuels from cheap-to-extract locations are exhausted, so extraction must come from more difficult-to-extract locations. In theory, even these diminishing returns issues can be overcome, if the leveraging of human labor with supplemental energy is growing quickly enough. Another way that inadequate energy flows can manifest themselves is through the falling profitability of companies, such as the falling revenue that banks are now experiencing. The closest situation that the US has experienced to collapse is the Depression of the 1930s. The need for debt greatly increases when an economy begins using fossil fuels, because the use of fossil fuels allows a step-up in lifestyle. As the required price for energy-products rises, it takes ever-more debt to finance a similar amount of energy product, plus the higher cost of homes, cars, factories, and roads using the higher-cost energy.A In fact, with higher energy costs, capital goods of all kinds will tend to be more expensive. Clearly one of the risk factors to an economy using fossil fuels is that debt levels will become unacceptably high. A third risk to the system is that the rate of economic growth will slow over time because even with the large amount of debt added to the system, the leveraging of human labor with supplemental energy will not be sufficient to maintain economic growth in the face of diminishing returns.
One of the issues in today’s economy is that promises of future energy flows extend far beyond what is formally called debt. One recent example of a partial collapse was that of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in December 1991. A major issue that underlay this collapse was a fall in oil prices to the $30 per barrel range in the 1986 to 2004 period. When commodity prices fall below the cost of oil production, it is as if the economy is cold because of low energy flows. Beyond the critical point, wealth condenses into two phases that can be compared to a gas phase and a liquid phase. Spiking food and energy prices.A Prices were high at times due to lack of supply, but held down by low wages of workers. Rising need for government to solve problems (for example, fight war to get more land; install irrigation system so get more food from existing land). Increased number of nobles and high-level administrators.A Result was increased disparity of wages. Eventually, the workers who were weakened by low wages and high taxes tended to succumb to epidemics. Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies talks about the need for increasing complexity, as diminishing returns set in. Dissipative systems work in the other direction; they create order where no order previously existed.
According toA Ulanowicz, the traditional focus of thermodynamics has been on states, rather than on the process of getting from one state to another. In forests, this point of self-organized criticality comes when the growth of the tall trees starts blocking out the light to the shorter plants. When we look at what happened in the world economy alongside the history of world energy consumption, we can see a pattern.
It wasn’t until the restructuring of the economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s that energy consumption really came down.
If we think of the world economy relative to its critical point, the world economy has been near this point since 1981, but various things have pulled us out.
One thing that has helped the economy is the extremely high interest rate (18%) implemented in 1981.
Once a dissipative structure is past its critical point, Roddier says that what is likely to bring it down is an avalanche of bifurcations.
Communication in an economy is done in various ways, including through the use of money and debt.
The other talk is one I gave in Paris on March 12, 2015, for Jancovici’s Shift Project. In this talk, I describe economy in terms of Gibbs-Duhem potentials (akin to chemical potentials). In the EU-27 countries, energy efficiency in the transport sector increased by 15% between 1990 and 2008- at an annual average rate of 0.9% - due to increased efficiency particularly for passenger cars and airplanes. Road transport represents on average 81 % of the total energy consumption in transport in EU-27 in 2008.
Until 2010, for well over a century, through two world wars and the Great Depression, the quantity of electricity used in Australia each year was greater than the year before.
The electricity consumption decrease has been relatively large in the National Electricity Market (NEM), which covers the five eastern states and the ACT, but is also occurring in Western Australia. Specifically, NEM demand in 2013 (financial year) was almost 8 terawatt hours (TWh) (4.3%) lower than in the peak year of 2009. Consider that 37 TWh is equal to the output of almost 5,000 MW of coal fired generation capacity. All of the decline in consumption has in fact been at the expense of coal fired generators.
To be precise, what the above figures are measuring is not electricity used by final consumers, but electricity supplied to the national grid system by large generators which participate in the (wholesale) National Electricity Market. It is very difficult to find consolidated data on the quantities of electricity supplied by small distributed generators, such as rooftop photovoltaics and landfill gas plants. Australia’s first mandatory regulatory energy efficiency measures were introduced in the late 1990s. Since then, these standards have been extended to a very wide range of residential and commercial appliances and equipment. Smaller demand reductions have come from increased uptake of solar and heat pump water heaters (supported by various government programs), the Home Insulation Program (the so-called “pink batts scheme”), and the Victorian and NSW retailer energy efficiency obligation schemes. Between October 2011 and September 2012, three major industrial electricity users, all in NSW – the Port Kembla steelworks, the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter and the Clyde oil refinery – were partially or totally shut down. However, detailed analysis of annual public reports of National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System (NGERS) shows that, other than the companies linked to the above closures, electricity consumption by the largest 100 electricity users in Australia over the three years from 2010 to 2012 was remarkably constant. That said, the longer term structural shift in the economy away from manufacturing to services (and mining) has accelerated in recent years. For several decades, ending around 2006, Australia has had steady growth in output of primary metals and other electricity intensive commodities, and this drove a steady increase in electricity consumption. This means that over and above the absolute decline caused by the closures, lack of growth in output of electricity intensive commodities is contributing to lack of growth in demand for electricity, amounting to about 14% of the 37 TWh. If all the above contributions to reduced electricity demand are added to actual demand, starting in 2006, the result is a series of total annual numbers, which can be thought of as total demand for electricity services. From 2010 to 2013 a widening gap between the modelled demand for electricity services and the historical projected demand emerges. The most interesting finding of this part of the modelling is the abrupt change in consumer responsiveness to higher prices after 2010. Once they paid attention, consumers responded by reducing their consumption to limit their spending. It seems residential electricity consumers have managed, very sensibly, to almost completely offset the effect of higher electricity prices on their household budgets by reducing consumption. The irony is that all the misinformation coming from Abbott scared a lot people into doing very irrational things that cut back on power consumption.


If the reason a plant dies is because the plant is part of a forest that over time has grown so dense that the plants in the understory cannot get enough light, then there may be a bigger problem. The pattern of energy dissipated over the life cycle of a dissipative system will vary, depending on the particular system. We can supposedly do this by increasing efficiency, and by changing the nature of the economy to use a greater proportion of services. Otherwise, it will collapse in a way that is analogous to animals succumbing to a disease or forests succumbing to forest fires.
For example, a man with a machine (which is made using energy products and operates using energy products) can make more widgets than a man without a machine. One of these is inadequate wages of low-ranking workers (those who are not highly educated or of managerial rank). If energy flows are inadequate, prices of commodities will tend to fall below the cost of producing these commodities.
Still another way that inadequate energy flows can manifest themselves is through falling tax revenue. The Great Recession of 2007-2009 would represent a slight case of inadequate energy flows–one that could be corrected by a large dose of Quantitative Easing (QE)(leading to the lower cost of borrowing), plus debt stimulus by China. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data. This is worrying, because many economies have collapsed in the past when this situation occurred. If the price of a product is low, it dictates that a small share of energy flows will be directed toward that product.
If the energy flows are inadequate using what we would think of as the natural flows of the system, debt is often used to increase energy flows. Since factories, houses and cars are made using commodities, the use of an increasing amount of debt tends to raise commodity prices.
There is no way that this step-up in lifestyle can be paid for in advance, because the benefits of the new system are so much better than what was available without fossil fuels. This is a major reason why the ratio of debt to GDP tends to rise as the cost of producing energy products rises. Inflation adjusted Brent oil prices (in $2014, primarily from BP Statistical Review of World Energy) shown beside two measures of debt for the US economy. A second risk is that debt will stop rising fast enough to keep commodity prices at an acceptably high level. In fact, it is clearly evident that US economic growth has trended downward over time (Figure 4). These promises include shareholder dividends and payments under government programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Oil production and price of the Former Soviet Union, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015. In fact, it raised oil production, to compensate for the low price (energy flow it received per barrel). Former Soviet Union energy consumption by source, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy Data 2015.
This is what we would expect if the FSU’s problems were caused by the low prices it was receiving as an oil exporter. A small number of rich people form the equivalent of a gas phase, whereas a large number of poor people form what corresponds to a liquid phase. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov in Secular Cycles.
This would seem to correspond to the need for increased government services and an increased role for businesses. EconomiesA get ever-more complex, as businesses grow larger and more hierarchical in form, governments provide more services, and the number of different jobs filled by members of the economy proliferate.A How do we explain this additional order?
World energy consumption per capita, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2105 data.
Back prior to 1973, when oil was less than $30 per barrel, oil consumption and the economy grew rapidly. The huge ramp-up in energy consumption after 2001 represents the effect of adding China (with all of its jobs and coal consumption) to the World Trade Organization.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 bought the rest of the world a little time (and saved oil extraction for later); the addition of China to the World Trade Organization in 2001 added a great deal of cheap coal to the energy mix, helping to bring down energy costs. It was only with QE that interest rates could be brought very low, and commodity prices bounced back up to adequate levels. Stored information, which is very close to technology, becomes very important when food is hard to find or energy is high cost to extract. Few people understand the extent to which debt can give false signals about future availability of energy flows.
Unfortunately, this calculation is based the common misunderstanding of the nature of the physics problem that I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Much of the world’s infrastructure was built when oil could be extracted for $20 per barrel. Roddier says that once new economies begin to form again, the survivors after collapse will tend to be more co-operative. We don’t know precisely what they will be like, except that they will be limited to using resources that are available at that time.
Greater progress was achieved in the energy efficiency of both cars and airplanes than in the rest of the sector (Figure 1).
In half of the countries however, its share is declining due to the growing importance of air transport. Emissions from international air transport are not included in countriesa€™ emissions (UNFCCC methodology). Increased energy efficiency can lead to significant reductions in energy consumption provided that measures are in place to discourage the occurrence of rebound effects.
Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way of reducing energy consumption while maintaining an equivalent level of economic activity. In the three years since 2010, the quantity used each year has been less than the year before.
If electricity consumption in the NEM had continued to grow from 2005 onward at the same rate as it did for the previous 20 years, consumption would have been about 37 TWh higher in 2013 than it actually was. This is just less than the combined capacity of Bayswater plus Eraring in NSW or, in Victoria, Loy Yang A plus Loy Yang B plus Hazelwood. These closures removed approximately 3.6 TWh of annual electricity consumption from the NEM, which is about 10% of the 37 TWh reduction. Declining manufacturing output overall is not, in general, causing an absolute fall in demand. This includes both actual electricity and services provided by using a given quantity of electricity more efficiently. This gap can be completely accounted for by introducing consumer response to higher electricity prices into the model. It is surely not a coincidence that 2009-10 was the year in which the possible effect of a carbon price on electricity prices became a major national political issue. The hypothesis is that the political attention being paid to electricity prices led consumers to pay more attention than they had previously done to their expenditure on electricity. Looking at the recently published ABS Energy Account data, we can see that real average annual household expenditure on electricity grew strongly until 2009-10. Like pure technical articles it is rational, balanced, not pejorative and with no ad hominem attacks. There are not many people who understand dissipative systems, and very few who understand how an economy operates. In the examples I gave, the pattern seems to somewhat follow what Ugo Bardi calls a Seneca Cliff. If we also add renewables (even if they are expensive) the economy should be able to get along fine with very much less energy. A woman operating a computer in a lighted room can make more calculations than a woman who inscribes numbers with a stick on a clay tablet and adds them up in her head, working outside as weather permits. Governments of commodity exporters are particularly vulnerable when commodity prices are low. If it is high, it indicates that a larger share of energy flows will be directed toward that product. Debt has the effect of directing future energy flows in a particular direction, such as paying for a factory, a house, or a car.
With higher commodity prices, more of the resources of the economy are directed toward producing energy products. For example, a farmer raising crops using only a hoe for a tool will never be able to save up sufficient funds (energy flows) needed to pay for a tractor.A While it may seem bizarre that banks loan money into existence, this approach is in fact essential, if adequate energy flows are to be available to compensate for the better lifestyle that the use of fossil fuels makes possible. The reason more debt is needed is because fossil fuels and other types of energy products tend to leverage human labor, making human labor more productive, as mentioned previously.


At this point, in the United States it takes approximately $3 of additional debt to increase GDP by $1 (author’s calculation). The recent slowdown in the growth of debt (Figure 3) no doubt contributes to current low commodity prices.
For example, will the wages of those taking on debt to pay for college be sufficiently high that the debtors can afford to have families and buy homes?
The governments of the individual republics remained in place, and many of the services they provided, such as public transportation, continued. This is similar to the situation today, and what we would expect if oil exporters are very dependent on these energy flows, no matter how small. Francois Roddier describes the point at which collapse sets in as the point of self-organized criticality.
Like gas molecules, rich people monopolize most of the energy and have the freedom to move. Again, we have a situation of low energy flows, and the lower wage workers not getting enough of these flows. With this view, the implication is that the universe will ultimately end in a heat-death, in which everything is at the same temperature. A lot of infrastructure (interstate highways, electric transmission lines, and pipelines) was added in this timeframe. With this change, energy needs became permanently higher, if China was to have enough jobs for its people. These low energy costs, plus all of the debt China was able to add, allowed energy consumption and the world economy to grow again–temporarily pulling the world away from the critical point. When energy is low-cost to extract, practically anyone can find and make use of energy, so technology is less important.
Thus, it is possible for an economy to build up to a very large size, with few realizing that this approach to building an economy is very similar to a Ponzi Scheme.
Since 2000, there has been a net slowdown in the consumption growth in most EU-15 countries and at the EU-27 as a whole (Figure 3); this trend was especially marked in Germany, France and Italy, with a consumption lower in 2008 than in 1999. Cars represent almost 50% of the total energy consumption of the transport sector but this share is declining slowly ( 47% in 2008 compared to 52% in 1990), while the share of road freight transport (trucks and light- duty vehicles) is increasing (31% of total energy consumption of transport in 2008 compared to 28% in 1990). Reducing energy consumption in transport as a result of energy efficiency progress and other factors such as fuel prices, modal shift, etc, can lead to significant reductions in environmental pressures, such as greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions fell by 9.2 Mt CO2-e, roughly 2% of Australia’s total emissions, in 2012 alone. We have used data in reviews of the appliance and equipment measures and the building measures to estimate that the increased impact of these measures between 2006 and 2013 has in total reduced annual demand for electricity by 10.5 TWh, or 28% of the total 37 TWh reduction. We found that demand defined and calculated in this way (and also including the reductions from the major industry closures) closely tracks the historical trend growth in electricity demand, up to 2010 . It was also the year when increasing political attention was paid to the rapid increases in electricity prices already occurring, mainly because of higher network costs. Since then it has barely increased, despite continuing large increases in electricity prices.
NSW, in particular, recently experienced the slowest house construction rate in 50 years, despite satisfactory economic growth as well as continued population growth. The combination leads to an awfully lot of false beliefs about the energy needs of an economy.
Thus, based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the amount of free energy we will have available in the future will tend to be less than today. Consumers can also have ever more funds available to buy goods and services from businesses. Ultimately, these inadequate energy flows can lead to bankrupt companies and collapsing governments. Wages follow a similar pattern, with low wages indicating low flows of energy, and high wages indicating higher flows of energy.
These flows will be available when the product is already part of the system, and thus are easier to accommodate in the system. In order to maintain this leveraging, an adequate quantity of energy products (measured in British Thermal Units or Barrels of Oil Equivalent or some similar unit) is needed.
If not, their lack of adequate income will be one of the factors that make it difficult for the prices of commodities to stay high enough to encourage extraction. The amount of manufacturing performed by the FSU dropped precipitously, as did oil extraction. Oil production didn’t fall below the 1986 level until 1989, most likely from inadequate funds for reinvestment. All of these changes would leave a smaller share of the energy flows for the low-ranking workers–a problem mentioned previously.
Instead of a trend toward heat death always being the overarching goal, systems have a two-way nature to them. It can continue only as long as energy costs are extremely low, or debt is being rapidly added.
If our problem is rising debt levels, EROEI and similar calculations do nothing to show us how to mitigate the problem. So, it looks like the world will need to collapse back to a level before fossil fuels–perhaps much before fossil fuels. In other EEA countries, the increase of per capita energy consumption in transport was either below the EU-27 average (e.g. Since the year 2000, the consumption per capita increased at an annual average rate of only 0.7% per year in the EU-27. The Plan lists a range of cost-effective measures, proposing priority actions to be initiated immediately, and others to be initiated gradually over the Plan's six-year period.
So, although important and growing, these sources alone do not account for the whole of the 8 TWh reduction from the peak year, let alone the 37 TWh reduction from the long term trend. Plausibly, the more persons living in a dwelling, the lower the electricity use per capita therein.
Thus, the indirect result may be to put to an end a portion of the forest ecosystem itself. If technology makes a particular type of product cheaper to make, there is also a good chance that more products of that type will be sold. Defaulting debt can be a huge problem, because of the adverse impact on financial institutions. This increased energy consumption tends to help flows of energy to many areas of the economy at the same time: wages, taxes, business profitability, and funds for interest and dividend payments. Emissions from cars have increased by 18% since 1990 and represented around 54% of the total transport CO2 emissions in 2008. Should the trend reverse and more households be formed, watch for sectoral growth in electricity demand. On the favorable side, the fact that there were few occupations back in pre-industrial days meant that those who did survive could sometimes resettle with other nearby communities and continue to practice their occupations.
Away from equilibrium, there is an obverse and largely unappreciated side to the second law that, in certain circumstances, mandates the creation of order.
If we consider low consumption along with low commodity prices, it makes for a worrying situation. The economy has received a favorable boost from falling interest rates for almost the entire period between 1981 and the present. The emissions from road freight transport increased by nearly 40% between 1990 and 2008 and made up 37% of the total emissions of transport (compared to 32% in 1990).Although emissions from domestic air transport represented only 2% of the total (CO2 emissions from transport), they are increasing at a very fast pace. The EU is increasingly dependent on energy imported from Non-EU Member Countries, creating economic, social, political and other risks for the Union.The EU therefore wishes to reduce its dependence and improve its security of supply by promoting other energy sources and cutting demand for energy. Judging entirely from office gossip, electricity expenses do seem to have touched the ordinary person’s hip-pocket nerve, as your article implies. Growth in passengers and freight traffic, together with an observed modal shift from public transport to road transport, contributed to increase the energy consumption in transport, offsetting the energy efficiency gains. Consequently, it is putting the accent, above all, on improving energy efficiency and promoting renewable energy sources, in particular though the Intelligent Energy Europe Programme (IEE). This trend had a negative impact on the energy consumption of passenger transport, since cars consume four times more energy per passenger-km than public transport . Around 30% of the savings come from trucks and light vehicles, 60% from cars, 6% for domestic air and 3% for rail. The increase in freight traffic in tonne-km was responsible for a consumption increase of 40.4 Mtoe.




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