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Framework of the Future


The professional baseball catcher and homespun philosopher Yogi Berra once famously said: “Predictions are always difficult, especially about the future.” Probably true. Nevertheless, enough facts and trends are already emerging so that, to a considerable extent, the framework in which humanity will have to live is becoming apparent. The subsequent views here only relate to the next hundred years or so. The more distant future for humanity is so vague as to preclude significant conclusions.

There are several circumstances that will be most important in the future. Perhaps the first is the departure of fossil fuels in their abundance and the way we now use them. Most importan of the three – coal, oil and natural gas – is oil. No other substance coming into common and widespread use have so rapidly and profoundly changed the world in so many ways as has the use of fossil fuels, especially oil. For thousands of years, centuries came and went with little differences. But beginning about 1750, the use of coal provided the basis for the start of the Industrial Revolution, which continues to this day.

Underlying all activity is energy.  Without energy nothing happens. Here arises the important concept of EROEI – energy returned on energy invested. What energy is produced beyond  the energy needed to produce the energy is energy surplus. The modern world is built on an energy surplus. Cities – with all their infrastructure, health care, education facilities, and factories – are all a product of an energy surplus. Widespread use of fossil fuels, especially oil, inaugurated a time of a high EROEI, but worldwide the EROEI is rapidly deteriorating from an average of 40:1 to an estimated 17:1 by 2020. Unless some new energy source is discovered there seems no solution to this vital problem. It probably takes an EROEI of at least 7:1 to maintainworld economies as we have them now. A declining EROEI has a critical importance in its negative effect on agricultural productivity, now supporting some 7.4 billion people. Recent rapid growth in population is a result of the multiple effects of a high EROEI we have enjoyed...

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