Integral Energy: Uniting Mulitple Perspectives on our Thermodynamic World

Obviously the title of this discussion is a playful plagiarism of the book on Integral Ecology by Esbjorn-Hargens and Zimmerman. I do believe that the subject of gross physical energy has been woefully under-discussed in the integral community.

A great place to begin is a recent essay by Richard Heinberg that has been received to high acclaim over on the website, which is operated by the Post Carbon Institute, for which Heinberg is a senior analyst. Heinberg has been writing about energy for 12 years, and is the author of books such as Cloning the Buddha: The Moral Impact of Biotechnology; The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies; Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World; Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines; Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis; The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality.

In his latest essay, Our Renewable Future, Heinberg demonstrates that he is what I would call an energy realist. He does not demonize the fossil fuel industry, but he clearly lays out the formidable challenges we face as the climate crisis worsens and as easy access to these fuels continues to recede.  Nor does he communicate as would a lobbyist for the renewable energy industry, hyping the benefits and downplaying the problems in this field.

Instead, Heinberg approaches the problems from multiple perspectives and honestly conveys his own biases, and encourages us to broaden our thinking:

I consider myself a renewable energy advocate: after all, I work for an organization called Post Carbon Institute. I have no interest in discouraging the energy transition—quite the contrary. But I’ve concluded that many of us, like Koningstein and Fork, have been asking the wrong questions of renewables. We’ve been demanding that they continue to power a growth-based consumer economy that is inherently unsustainable for a variety of reasons (the most obvious one being that we live on a small planet with finite resources). The fact that renewables can’t do that shouldn't actually be surprising.

What are the right questions? The first, already noted, is: What kind of society can up-to-date renewable energy sources power? The second, which is just as important: How do we go about becoming that sort of society?

As we’ll see, once we begin to frame the picture this way, it turns out to be anything but bleak.

I believe this to be an extremely important essay, and the embedded links provide even more depth, providing a great resource for essential 21st century energy literacy.

- David

Our Renewable Future

Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy

(7000 words, about 25 minutes reading time)

Folks who pay attention to energy and climate issues are regularly treated to two competing depictions of society’s energy options.* On one hand, the fossil fuel industry claims that its products deliver unique economic benefits, and that giving up coal, oil, and natural gas in favor of renewable energy sources like solar and wind will entail sacrifice and suffering (this gives a flavor of their argument). Saving the climate may not be worth the trouble, they say, unless we can find affordable ways to capture and sequester carbon as we continue burning fossil fuels.

On the other hand, at least some renewable energy proponents tell us there is plenty of wind and sun, the fuel is free, and the only thing standing between us and a climate-protected world of plentiful, sustainable, “green” energy, jobs, and economic growth is the political clout of the coal, oil, and gas industries (here is a taste of that line of thought).

Which message is right? Will our energy future be fueled by fossils (with or without carbon capture technology), or powered by abundant, renewable wind and sunlight? Does the truth lie somewhere between these extremes—that is, does an “all of the above” energy future await us? Or is our energy destiny located in a Terra Incognita that neither fossil fuel promoters nor renewable energy advocates talk much about? As maddening as it may be, the latter conclusion may be the one best supported by the facts.

If that uncharted land had a motto, it might be, “How we use energy is as important as how we get it.”...

Read the full essay here.

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Here we go with the acronyms again.  ITER = Integral Theory Emergency Response? Information Technology Energy Realism? Isomorphically Tiered Esoteric Religion? Industrial Third Energy Revolution?

Neoliberalism is pumping a whole lotta Ka$h into this fusion reactor:

Again, we should note how this project was birthed by neoliberal advocates. We can deduce that the powers that be are very much aware of the current conundrum energetically( and have been for a very long time) but are bound to ideology in their attempts to address the issue of our time. I've even speculated conspiratorially that austerity is linked to this type of modus operandi. 

Regarding ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), I would say that the claim it will be operational in 30 years is their best case scenario; even so, I think that would be much too late to solve the crisis happening now...but who knows, anything can happen, right? Richard Heinberg in Powerdown called this "Waiting for the Magic Elixer." JM Greer calls it "vaporware." Check professor Ugi Bardi's comments about ITER here

Perhaps it is wiser to put our faith in Isomorphically Tiered Esoteric Religion. I rather fancy that name, though I'm not sure what it means. It may have something to do with a mystery religion of the Romulans, who require isomorphic injections

I was thinking it was your first one!  ITER = Integral Theory Emergency Response? 

I'm going to post this here David. We may as well know what is coming our way. Depressing, and the profits don't even belong to the people like in places like Denmark . All that wealth into the hands of greed:

Madmen gone crazy. Once was a story I was told; about future things that would unfold; these tyrants in their lust for gold; these men would search for peace and find none; harken not to truth behold. Crazy, madmen gone crazy. 

Fragments of lyrics I wrote long ago…...

That's excellent (and alarming) analysis by Michael Klare, who's the go-to expert on the ongoing relationship between energy, politics, and war. Good intro by Tom E. also, who reminds us that Obama's policies are also scary, just not quite as scary as those of the madmen on the other side of the aisle. 

It should also be pointed out that this whole meme of "American or North American energy independence" is a bad joke.  Even the EIA and the IEA are telling us that the shale "revolution" will be over within five years. Other analysts say it might be over in less than 2 years, and with the current price collapse, sooner. Listen to (or read the transcript) of a recent interview with analyst Arthur Berman, who brings great clarity to this issue: "Why Today's Shale Era is a Retirement Party for Oil Production"

I wrote here and here (see toward the end of the article the heading "2014: Gloomy Times Ahead: An Energy System Under Stress" and "Is there a Hidden Code in this Graph" about the International Energy Agency's newer reports on the forecast of a decline of North American oil supply.

I also want to add the reminder that most governments say that they agree we need to limit global warming to 2 degrees. As this interview points out, we can't achieve that unless we come to some agreements about what we should consider as "unburnable carbon." 

DM - just want to thank you and others for this educational thread (among so many). These topics herein, referring back to the Ken and supermind thread, have been high on my primordial avoidances list. Yikes - so many things are hard to look at.


Thanks for the comment.  I know it's often not easy to face some of these difficult issues and predicaments.

Remember the words of Thomas Hardy: "If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst."

Hi David. Sounds right.

I'm curious, to the extent you feel like answering, where in you and how these issues land in you, reside in you, touch your interest, and maybe get motivating purchase in you? How do they affect you in emotion, affect, mood, thought and imagery? How personal do you feel these issues and themes, how close or distant - maybe some things like that?


DavidM58 said:


Thanks for the comment.  I know it's often not easy to face some of these difficult issues and predicaments.

Remember the words of Thomas Hardy: "If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst."

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