The Energetic Basis of Wealth

Last year I did an analysis to try to understand whether it’s possible to feed the world sustainably. Today I’d like to try to understand what happens to countries as they must rely upon the sun for energy (and, indirectly, wealth). An old proposition in the sustainability community is that the material wealth we enjoy … Continue Reading

We Can Feed the World / No We Can’t / No We Won’t

There are, and have been for a few decades now, competing narratives about food, hunger, and population. And supporting these narratives are a large number of divergent arguments from people with an even larger array of ideological perspectives. I’ve been puzzled for some time that these narratives not only have co-existed for as long as … Continue Reading

Internet vs. Travel

A few months back, I was asked the following question via email: I am trying to find out how much power will be used, both in my home and on the systems computer hubs, if I were to use Skype for and hour and a half to people who live 20 miles away. Is it … Continue Reading

Horse Equivalents

What if we visualized cars with horses in front of them? We’ve gotten used to thinking about engines in terms of horsepower, but rarely step back to consider what that unit of power means: a rough equivalent in horses. Consider the Geo Metro. It was one of the smallest cars available on the U.S. market … Continue Reading

The Power of Transformity

I recently understood the elegance of H.T. Odum’s concept of transformity. The transformity table presented at the link above shows that electricity has a transformity of 300,000 seJ/J, where seJ stands for solar-equivalent joule. It’s a weird unit, so I tried to digest it as follows: to produce electricity requires 300,000 solar-equivalent joules per joule. … Continue Reading

An Oil, Energy, and Alternatives FAQ

Over the past two years I’ve had the chance to give presentations on energy in front of different audiences, and have enjoyed the discussions that followed. However, I’ve found that there’s a lot of background material that needs covering on energy, economics, oil, growth, ecology, etc. that makes it difficult to get the conversation going. … Continue Reading

Seeing the world through embodied energy

As Howard Odum noted in his classic work on environmental accounting, “The natural conversion of sunlight to electric charge that occurs in all green-plant photosynthesis after 1 billion years of natural selection may already be the highest net emergy possible.” Emergy—embodied energy—is nearly invisible to us.  In a previous post I looked at how emergy … Continue Reading

How much energy does the Internet use?

At the moment I’m using the Internet, as are you.  In many ways, the Internet is the largest and perhaps most successful global system ever built by humanity.  And yet because of the way it was built—haphazardly, over the course of a few decades—there are no maps, no records documenting its entire structure. Given my … Continue Reading