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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Ah yes, Morin, that syntegral rascal.

I guess I new this was coming :

Given that the planet is run by warring oligarchs I can't really see this prescriptive measure  of C.C. being all that helpful . 

Here is what is not addressed in the article: 

- that 7 to 10 billion people in the next 50 years have to change their relationship to consumption and pollution . 

- the foundational issue of currency monopoly and type of currency leading to these inevitable outcomes.

As long as the solutions to over-population, consumption and pollution are framed within the neoliberal globalist mindset then they are destined to failure , IMO.

Peter Pogany's last book has just been published: "Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century."

It can be purchased as an ebook ($3.00) or softcover ($14.99) from the publisher (iUniverse), or as a Kindle ebook from Amazon .

"Orthodox economics assumes a self-adjusting, facile harmony between the economic process and its material resources. This credo of ecological independence, which is logically consistent with existing institutions, social life, politics, culture, and ethics, now faces the censorship of reality.

Predictions that the global economy will double its size in 18 or 24 years (based on the widely used 4- and 3-percent annual growth rates of the Gross World Product, respectively) are dead in the water. The fanciful dream about turning the world into a shopping center for 10 billion people with ample parking for their 2.5 billion motor vehicles by midcentury is clearly in the realm of Fairyland.

Just to maintain our standard of living, we need to grow the worldwide economy at an unsustainable rate.

As we seek to hit such lofty targets, we're bound to deplete our resources and cause environmental crises on a scale that we have never seen before. Revolutions, terrorism, and wars will follow.

Peter Pogany examines the problems we face and argues that human culture is governed by thermodynamic cycles of steady states interrupted by chaotic transitions. Specifically, he postulates that a steady state was interrupted by World War I, with a chaotic transition following World War II, which has led us to the current world order.

His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s.

Havoc, They Name is Twenty-First Century, delivers sobering thoughts on where the world is headed, but it also offers a glimpse of a bright future that we can embrace once we get through the darkness to come."

Peter Pogany, a trained economist, applied his skills in numerous roles for more than fifty years. His international experience includes research positions in Europe and Africa, and a teaching assignment in Asia. He died in 2014 and this book is his final legacy of deeply innovative thought.

Thanks for the link David! i'll be sure to read this one in the coming year. BTW.: I in no way found Mary Odum's web site mean ! lol A lot of very useful metrics within that site.

Some more links on Pogany:

The prediction therein is that the worlds carbon spewing autos will double in the next 30 years . No wonder JMG was so glum ( personal issues aside ) in his writing this week . 

BTW : the deficient rationalists up on the west coast here have hired Wall St advertisers proclaiming faery dust zero this and zero that by 2030 while never a word that anyone would have to change their behaviour or attitudes ( well apparently educating people wouldn't work according to our brightest corporate minds) anyway  .

and another one:

It's interesting to note that not having heard of Pogany until quite recently ( thx.:) his work reflects long standing spiritual intuitions I've had that perceived  dirty energy supply with dirty money systems and the need for humanity to find cleaner healthier ways of living and doing business upon this planet . 


Thanks. I'm very familiar with the "Fifth Structure" paper - I've been reading it again this week, and just quoted from it in a reply to theurj.  I don't recall having read the first paper you referenced. It's very interesting to look back on this 2009 piece, and compare with the reality of what's happened since then. I think so far Pogany seems to be proving more accurate than mainstream projections at that time were. Though he didn't anticipate the fracking phenom, that phenom is turning out to be a very short term thing that is rapidly coming to an end. 

Pogany wrote (emphasis mine): 

"Those who believe that the current goldilocks loitering of oil prices between the “not too high” and the “not too low” will somehow stimulate reserve development and investment in refinery capacity forget about the larger context: The recession continues to dissuade private-profit-motivated capital formation.

“Peak oil” as an economic phenomenon

Geologists still argue, and will do so for some time, about whether the world has already maxed out its annual rate of oil extraction; or whether it is close to that acme, or indeed, very far from it. This last opinion comes from an outlier group of independent scientists and other sources strongly suspected that, one way or another, business interests color their assessments.

Economic analysis is tilting the debate in favor of accepting “peak oil” as an undeniable component of reality. Its assumption helps more than any other theory or hypothesis to explain recent and current developments, including malfunctions in the mixed economy.

Developed and experimented out during the American New Deal, the mixed economy spread around the world in the postwar era and became the legal-ideological foundation of the current global order. The system received many shocks and endured much stretching and the folding over the decades but it always rebounded. Its ability to satisfy material needs and wants remained intact. Until now, that is, when for the first time in modernity, physical obstacles have emerged to block exponential economic growth.

Worldwide oil consumption in the vicinity of 85 million barrels per day may be such an obstacle. Trying to go above it via mobilizing nonconventional reserves or around it by developing alternative sources of energy appears to be sufficient to throw national economies into disarray.

The input demand for getting over or around the oil barrier may well be large enough to require that a slack in the global economy’s aggregate resource demand be channeled toward the energy sector. But when growth slows or stops, the main stimulus -- the price of the barrel rolling higher -- vanishes.

It is highly doubtful that a spontaneous, growth-preserving gradual transformation to renewable energy sources is achievable under the prevailing economic organization’s decentralized and easily distractible incentive system.

Curse for an economist: “May you be a forecaster in interesting times.”

Forecasting consists largely of holding a mirror up to the past, combining the picture with the intended effects of policy measures and calling it “the future.” This cannot possibly work when bizarre goings-on force policies to cross never-before imagined thresholds.

According to all official and most private sources, once the global economy leaves its current rough spot behind, it will grow between 3.0 and 4.0 percent per annum (PPP-weighted average) until 2030, approximating the past quarter century’s performance.

To make good on this prognosis, crude oil output must increase. IEA estimates that worldwide oil demand will be around 106 million barrels per day by 2030. If we accept the central economic thesis of “peak oil” -- i.e., that the price of the barrel must trend up when global resources are at their approximate full employment level -- then something must give. Either the past quarter centuries’ growth experience will not be repeated or new sources of cheap alternative energy will put the squeeze on oil dependence to an extent not foreseen -- a bold spell of hopefulness, not unlike expecting financial salvation from the roulette wheel.

It is much more likely that the world economy will walk aimlessly in circles for many years, led by the long rhythm of oil price fluctuations.

When the price of oil falls in the wake of a recessionary downturn, the system’s natural reflex is not to build the infrastructure to produce alternatives to conventional oil. When the economy recovers, resources stream toward current production, driving up oil prices again and reconstituting the basis for a new recession.

As demonstrated by last year’s U.S. Presidential election, public opinion is pushing the state to assume a greater role in economic management and this threatens to alter the private-public hybrid of the mixed economy. A point may be reached beyond which the system could no longer be called “mixed economy;” that is, free market capitalism in which the national government’s responsibility is restricted to keeping the economy on an even keel through fiscal and monetary measures. Trade and industrial policies, even in their actually practiced, indirect and limited forms, are frowned upon and may be legally challenged by partner countries through the World Trade Organization..."

Consider this, from Tom Whipple, about where we are right now (as of Oct. 28, 2015):

"Most of the news this week has been of the gloom and doom variety with job cutbacks, falling profits and cancelled projects across the oil industry being reported every day.  Among the major announcements were a $2.4 billion loss posted by Anadarko; a decision by Royal Dutch Shell to abandon a $2 billion construction project in the Canadian tar sands; the decision by Shell and rig contractor Transocean to delay by 12 months the delivery of two new deepwater drill ships; and the announcement of a third round of spending cuts by BP in order to position the company to cope with sub-$60 oil prices which it expects to continue into 2017.
Many of the world’s largest oil companies are struggling to come up with enough cash to cover their current spending and the generous dividend programs that were established in better times.  Financial institutions are starting to shy away from companies with little or no prospects to become profitable in the foreseeable future. The “supermajors” such as Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP have slashed spending by more than $30 billion in the past year and this trend seems likely to continue."

Good to see deeper exploration of ways to make the shareable economy work effectively for all. Here in Bellingham, WA, people in our community were making early attempts with both bikeshares and carshares.  The bikeshare fell apart due to vandalism and theft of the bicycles.  The carshare was initiated by a small group of idealists on a shoestring budget in approximately 2005, but when the financial crisis hit in 2008, it ironically could not survive, because the cost of participating was higher than what interested parties could afford. 

In 2007, Pat Murphy, of Community Solutions, proposed the idea of the Smart Jitney, anticipating the technology that made Uber possible, but set up to benefit people and planet rather than a financial enterprise. 

"The private car, regardless of its convenience, can no longer serve as the
principle mode of people transport. Its high cost, the depleting of fossil fuels, and climate deterioration – along with high rates of deaths and injuries - make it unacceptable. A "Smart Jitney" system could be developed rapidly, and provide for a very sizable (50-75%) reduction of gasoline consumed and greenhouse gases generated by transportation. It could also be the model for a new and more efficient approach to personal mobility."


This just hit the wires up here:

Faeries and pixie dust all around ! The first thing I would mention (as a lot of commenters did) is the cognitive dissonance created with the Enron like accounting . Sure there are more people riding bikes but there are overwhelmingly many many many more people driving. The city is a 16 hour a day traffic jam 7 days a week and that is a fact . So putting out metrics that don't jive with reality is not a good place to start . 

Here is a first suggestion for Canada and Vancouver premised on the fact that the majority of people up here ( we won't mention the thousands of covert agents of the financial chaos machine that took over the country ) have a conscience and would do the right thing if there were proper appeals from the authorities giving citizens accurate information on pollution . In light of that the first response would be an appeal to voluntarily cut use for pleasure to begin with . There is no need for the amount of vehicles on these road on weekends . I've managed to keep my kilos to 5000 a year and drive for non-work activities only when I need to . So capping kilometre use should be one of the first responses . 

Am also highly skeptical of the tech solutions presented therein but remain open to the possibilities down the road . Right now I think simple solutions should be tried . Of course there are those up here who don't give a $%^& about anything or anyone but themselves, but they are by far the minority and we could deal with them through fines . But most people up here, i believe, would bend if the proper appeals from authority were put out via the giant media squid . A little re-educating of the enlightenments paradigm of I can do anything I want whenever I want is in order. This does not have to curtail peoples freedom but re-educate them into personal responsibility when it comes to one's relationship with ecology .

The first media response to this report is the implementation of road tolls. I'm wondering if there are any stats from the City of London where this has been done that show real decline in Co2 emissions ? Off the top of my head I don't quite see how charging people more to drive actually stops pollution . 

We already have a two tiered society here where a nouveau elite rules via neoliberal economics. It has created homelessness on pretty well every inner city street ; hopelessness for those still buying into the 'Canadian Dream/IMO- Delusion as far as housing being affordable , and a gig economy where most people just get by from week to week. I suspect it's a bit of a struggle even for the upwardly mobile highly educated and well employed two parent family. I suspect the amount of debt being carried there  makes it very difficult for anyone to scale back and i suspect that this is no random accident of evolution . The point, I think, is that tolls will only add to the further economic stratification of this society where the wealthy still get to do anything they want while the rest of us get to practice various new forms of austerity . Even with that I could almost stomach it if the elite were driving Tesla's but most of them won't, or so I suspect ; which is why I argue that everyone should have to take a hit on this one and not just the less fortunate . 

One more point : if I'm right that pollution cannot be solved by more growth then civilization has a dilemma  (to say the least), as economies constrict over this issue then somehow somebody has got to account for the poorer masses . It seems to me we have a choice of more crime (out of necessity) as people are starved and more revolutionary chaos, or civilization issues in a new green G.A.I.N.( a global commons non-debt currency) to prevent civil wars that are going to be inevitable if we continue on this trajectory . 

I've been following the work of Robert "Doc" Hall for some years now, though it's been a while since I checked on his website. Here is someone who has been enmeshed in the mainstream capitalist world of manufacturing, who has taken "lean" thinking to a new level. His ideas about "Vigorous Learning Organizations" and "Compression" thinking are consistent with permaculture principles, PatternDynamics, degrowth, and even integral theory (without any affiliation or mention of KW or I-I, etc.).  

Hall says "we have to broaden the context of the problem: physics, biology, psychology, social interaction, and much else."

Here's an excerpt from his Sept. blog post,

Why Vigorous Learning Organizations: The time has come.


"As noted in many prior posts, the world is a finite place. Both fossil energy sources and mineral ores are depleting. Low return on energy makes suspect the ability of alternative energy sources to fully replace them. And the planet’s biosphere is under serious pressure. No wonder we prefer to wish this away. The potential upheaval is unimaginable from our present framework of thought. That’s why we need a new one.

Ideally, every work organization, public, private, or hybrid, should learn to foresee outcomes for all “consequentees.” Perfect forecasting being impossible, we should prepare to adapt to rapid and sometimes unexpected change. Project a variety of future scenarios; then prepare to adapt to any of them, rather than press for results by a single objective, like ROI. For example, wise farmers since antiquity learned to plant a variety of crops. If pests or weather destroyed one of them, they could survive on the others. That just-in-case thinking is the opposite of just in time. Both kinds of thinking have their place protecting against factors we cannot control.

A complex problem may be resolvable by a simple countermeasure unthinkable by our current framework of thought. Loss of biodiversity is an example. Die offs of honeybees and monarch butterflies are visible, publicized examples of a larger problem, rapid extinction of many kinds of species. Why? We destroy natural habitat to obtain more for human consumption. Countermeasure: Do nothing. Let more trees, grass, and weeds grow. Give nature more room to live."


The depth of the chasm between conventional business thinking and that requiring Vigorous Learning Organizations is huge. What would a new system of thought entail?

1) Preparing to adapt to either sudden or drawn out changes.

2) Considering the welfare of nature in preparation and execution.

3) Trying to balance the needs and obligations of all stakeholders (or consequentees)

4) Discovering and dealing with our own motivations.

5) Not fearing a reduction in monetary transactional volume.

6) Limiting systems thinking only by thought capacity, not by limiting the scope of systems to be considered – “open-scope systems thinking, not narrow scope.”

Point 5 triggers paranoia in orthodox business and economic thinkers, but all six points suggest a mindset very different from a winner-take-all rush to nowhere. Whatever major changes in system might help, rehashing socialist-capitalist ideologies of the 20th century seems useless. None of that really addresses our challenges today. Re-conception of what we need to do must grow from the bottom up.

Our guide to thinking differently is six “principles” of Compression Thinking. One is “quality before quantity, always.” That encapsulates the idea that quality processes, intended to benefit all “consequentees” in the long run, have much higher value to us than consuming as much as possible at an accelerating rate.

Faith in the present system consists of faith in 1) Bureaucratic organization with command-and-control; 2) entrepreneurial start-ups; 3) technical advance; 4) economy of scale; and 5) unending growth. But cutting way back and tending to the biosphere scrambles these faiths. The biosphere is a pastiche of local environments, each with a different set of “consequentees.” Small-scale local innovation, adapting to specific situations, is less risky. To do that, working organizations must test and observe, free of the obligation of success being only profit. Profit systems are narrow scope systems.

When unbounded, systems thinking becomes more like dealing with an organism rather than a machine. Overstress an organism like a human body or an ecosystem, and it is apt to keep getting sicker until we relieve something. To intervene, we have to broaden the context of the problem: physics, biology, psychology, social interaction, and much else. That’s why we need to grow Vigorous Learning Organizations, with different values."

Read the entire post here.

Thank-you for the info David! Here is something I've not heard of yet on C02 . If there is merit to this line of thinking then it makes sense the Goldman-Sachs et al might engineer terror disasters to keep the masses attention away from something far more important (C.C.). G.S's become the clear winners in a Cap and Trade Ponzi scheme and have created the situation in France so no one gets a say on carbon pollution but the globalists ( no one gets into France but then now ) So here is the link . Let me know what you think . No need to comment, though, on my speculative musing on the criminal cabals . 

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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