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Roadmap for Sustainability, Equity and Peace


Note: Paper to be presented by Sagar Dhara, one of the founder-members of Peak Oil India Group, at the XXXVII Indian Social Science Congress, Aligarh Muslim University, 27-31 December, 2013

What is our share of energy in nature?  How should we distribute it?
Search for a roadmap to a sustainable, equitable and peaceful human society

Sagar Dhara1

To become sustainable, equitable and a peaceful society, humans must power down by at least 60%, become solar beings, distribute energy equitably and manage it democratically. For this, global outlook must change from Gain maximization for a few to Risk minimization for all species.  The formulation of sustainability indices and a wide public discussion for short and a medium term programmes for such a transition should be conducted.

Energy—the fundamental change agent in history

The history books that I had read in school and later got it wrong.  They had me believe that rulers and the powerful were the fundamental change agents in history.  Nay.  It is energy that is the fundamental driver of social and natural history.  Rulers were only bit players through whom energy flows happened and changed the world.

World War Zero has been fought for the last 250 years by fossil fuelled Europe and North America to project their power through factories, railroads and gun boats to vanquish solar and animate energized countries in Asia, Africa and South America.  Yet, history books tell us about how Robert Clive played a key role in establishing military and political supremacy of the East India Company in India and securing the wealth that followed for the British crown.

Energy theft and overshoot

Of the primary energy sources, solar energy has been the most important in shaping and changing the world.   It energizes inanimate processes, e.g., climate, biogeochemical cycles, as well as life, including human society.  While inanimate processes and life forms other than humans have consumed more or less constant quantities of energy, humans have continuously increased their consumption as they created improved knowledge of energy conversion.

Since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humans have usurped increasing amounts of energy from other life forms, primarily plants.  The driver for this process is class society—slavery, feudalism, capitalism—that creates the need to maximize energy surplus (profit) accumulation by increasing energy use.

HANPP (Human appropriation of net primary production = NPPh + NPP lost due to land use change and fires caused by humans), a measure for the amount of energy usurped by humans from nature, grew slowly till the industrial revolution began, and exponentially in the last 250 years.  In the last century, it has doubled from 13 to 24% of the Net Primary Production (NPP) estimated to be 65 GTC (Giga tonnes of carbon).  Human theft from nature, or HANPP, is today estimated to be 15.6 GTC, i.e., equal to the energy in 7.5 million Hiroshima sized atom bombs.

Peak oil

 Fossil fuels began to be used 250 years ago when the industrial revolution began.  By the end of the 19th Century, they overtook biomass use the primary energy source.  From a consumption of 300 MToe/year (million tonnes of oil equivalent per year) in the year 1900, fossil fuel use today is 10 GToe/year (Giga tonnes of oil equivalent per year), a jump of 33.5 times and a growth of 3.2% pa.

The party is over.  We have hit peak oil, i.e., oil production peaking, followed by a decline as new oil resources have not been discovered in large quantities.  Peak gas is to follow in a few decades.  Declining energy resources has grave implications for the future human society as it has the potential to cause economic crises, exacerbate inequity, and even throw society into chaos.

Energy use and inequity

The total energy consumed by humans today is 18.47 GToe/year.  Of this, 64% is from commercial TPES (total primary energy supply), ie, fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro-energy, 5% from biomass and 31% from NPPs(net primary production-solar energy fraction, which is the contribution of solar energy to Net primary production energy harvested—NPPh, and appropriated by humans from crops lands, pastures, forests) by way of photosynthesis (Table 1).  NPPs is free of energy cost and contributes to surplus energy, which can be variously called surplus value or profit.

Table 1  Energy supply today by type

Region

Commercial

TPES

Biomass

CGAR-Commercial

TPES + Biomass

1990-2013 (%)

NPPs

Total

Energy

Popu-

lation

Per capita energy consumption

(Toe/Yr)

GToe/Yr

GToe/Yr

GToe

/Yr

GToe

/Yr

Billion

Commercial

TPES + Biomass

NPPs

Total

World

11.83

0.89

1.8

5.75

18.47

7.16

1.8

0.8

2.6

India

0.62

0.13*

3.6

0.53

1.28

1.23

0.6

0.4

1.0

China

2.14

0.29

5.1

0.45

2.88

1.36

1.8

0.3

2.1

USA

2.13

0.09

1.0

0.58

2.78

0.32

6.9

1.8

8.7

EU27

1.56

0.06

0.4

0.56

2.18

0.51

3.2

1.1

4.3

* For India, biomass includes dung cake (0.04 GToe) used extensively for cooking energy and which is a non-market good.

The per capita commercial TPES + biomass energy consumption in the European Union and North America is of the order of 2-4 times the world average and 5-10 times that in India.  There is great inequity in energy consumption between nations and within nations.

The ratio of commercial TPES + biomass energy to total energy is higher for the European Union and North America than for Asia, Africa and South America, as the former regions use a greater proportion of fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels provide about 80% of the world’s (Table 2) commercial energy.  Fossil fuel addiction, which began in North countries, has now become global.  Biomass supplies a significantly higher proportion  of the total energy consumed by India and China in comparison to Europe and North America.

Table 2  Commercial TPES and biomass energy supply by type

Region

Commercial TPES

+ Biomass

Supply (%)

Gtoe/Yr

Oil

Coal

Gas

Nuclear

Hydro

Biomass

Renewables

World

12.72

34

25

20

5

6

7

3

India

0.75

24

44

8

1

5

17

1

China

2.43

20

57

2

1

6

12

2

USA

2.2

36

20

26

8

3

4

3

EU27

1.62

35

16

26

13

Negligible

4

6

 Tipping points

Driven by class society’s greed, a massive energy overdraw is the most important cause for today’s environmental crisis.  It manifests as global warming, rapid deterioration of air, water, land and biodiversity quality, and disturbance to the biogeochemical cycles, in particular the carbon and nitrogen cycles.  Earth’s environment’s life support systems have been badly compromised.  The carbon cycle will not correct itself for centuries even if we stopped emission of excess carbon completely today.

Perception that there is inequitable distribution of energy between various sections of people—class, caste, gender, colour, nations—has caused conflict throughout human history.  In the last century, three types of human conflicts—interstate, colonial and civil wars—have killed no less than 100 million people.

Peak oil and climate change are tipping points that have the potential to collapse human civilization.  Such collapses have happened in the past, e.g., Mayan and Roman civilizations, but they remained local.  In a globalized economy, collapse will be global.  As the global economy’s EROEI (energy return on energy invested) drops to ›9-10, supporting an industrial civilization will become increasingly difficult.  At an EROEI of 13 today and dropping, we are not far from a collapse.

Sustainable capitalism—an oxymoron

 Sustainable development, trickledown theory and green energies are myths that capitalism has created to make us believe that it is sustainable and has solutions for the maladies of environmental injury and economic inequity.  These solutions have not worked till date, nor do they show any promise to do so in future.

Development, as understood today, requires energy.  Peak oil is here.  In the 20th Century, North nations used massive quantities of fossil fuels and energy stolen from South nations through unequal exchange for their development.  These sources are no longer available to South nations.  They can never develop to become like North nations.

Trickledown theory is dead.  At current growth rates, it will take over 100 years for the world’s poorest 1.5 billion to creep above the poverty threshold of $1.25/day (2005) PPP, and centuries to cross the $5/day poverty line.  With peak oil being here, whether the current global growth rate of 2.6% pa will sustain for the next 100 years for wealth to trickledown to the poor is moot.

Green energies do not have the energy density or the high EROEI of fossil fuels to replace them.  Nuclear energy is expensive and hazardous.  Moreover, uranium ore at current consumption levels, will run out within this century.  While there are coal reserves for over 100 years (at current consumption levels), its use will hasten global warming as it releases twice the amount of carbon dioxide as oil per Joule (J) of energy.

 Ideologies that support inequity and unsustainability

 If the EROEI of coal is 50, a coal mine owner is able to harvest 49 J of surplus energy for every joule invested.  That 49 J becomes her property which she can use whichever way she wishes, including in mining more coal to increase her surplus energy accumulation.  Those denied such ownership remain poor.  Since slavery began 5,000 years ago, private ownership of energy resources has created and perpetuated class society and inequity.  Today capitalism justifies private ownership over natural resources as an ideology that works best for human development.

It took 300 million years for nature to bake coal from dead plants and animals of the Carboniferous period.  Humans created private ownership rights over coal when in fact they played no part in making it.  The same logic holds for other natural resources used in artefacts and services.  Humans therefore have no ownership claim over nature or its products; at best they have a usufruct claim.

 Anthropocentrism is the belief that humans are the most important species on earth and the rest of nature is for their use and enjoyment.  It is epitomized in v 1:26, Book of Genesis, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”  Anthropocentrism legitimizes unbridled use of nature for humans, energy overdraw being its direct consequence.

Without fighting the ideologies of private ownership of nature, first of land, then water and very recently of the atmosphere; and its products, and anthropocentrism, a sustainable, equitable and peaceful human society is impossible.

Vision for a future society

 To become sustainable, equitable, and peaceful human society must replace its current global outlook of Gain maximization for a few with Risk minimization for all species.  We must believe and act in a manner that make us a part of nature and not apart from it, and strive to achieve equity between species.

Two things must happen first—powering down and energy equity.  We must reduce our commercial TPES + biomass, currently 12.72 GToe, by 60%, and rely largely on the sun for our energy needs.  We must have only usufruct and not ownership rights over nature, and must put energy resources—energy sources, converters, conveyors, storage devices and knowledge of energy conversion—under social and collective management.

With a population of 7 billion, equitable distribution of energy will give each person 0.75 Toe/year of commercial energy (current average annual per capita consumption: US-7.5-Toe, Europe-3.7 Toe, India-0.57 Toe, World-1.8 Toe), including of eMergy (embodied energy—energy used to produce a good or service).  This was the annual per capita energy consumption prevalent in the 19th Century; which is adequate for a good life at current lower middle class levels in India, but without the possibility of luxury consumption.  A smaller global population would give each person more energy.

Sustainability energy indices

Sustainability energy index 1:  How much energy can we take from nature without disturbing it?  We do not know.  This question has neither been asked nor answered adequately.  The answer would depend on how we define what we consider disturbance to nature.  A wider discussion of this question will contribute significantly to our understanding of sustainability.  For such a discussion to take off, an attempt is made below to define two sustainability indices.

How much should HANPP be, for human society as a whole, and for specific communities in different environments?  One clue to finding an answer is by determining the band of redundancy that nature creates for various life forms.  HANPP can be the energy available within this band.

Sustainability energy index 2:  What mix of energies will help human society become more sustainable?  The higher the proportion of solar energy used, the greater would be the energy sustainability of a society.  A good measure for understanding the sustainability of various countries/ regions would be the ratio of NPPs to total energy use.  The ratio of NPPs to total energy for India is 0.41, whereas it is half that for North nations and as low as 0.16 for China (Table 3).  India’s energy use is more sustainable that that of North nations and even that of China.

Table 3  Ratio of NPPS to total energy

Region

Total Energy

NPPs

NPPs/Total energy

GToe/Yr

GToe/Yr

Sustainability index 2
World

18.47

5.75

0.31

India

1.28

0.53

0.41

China

2.88

0.45

0.16

USA

2.78

0.58

0.21

EU27

2.18

0.56

0.26

Roadmap towards a sustainable society

 A well worked out roadmap is difficult to visualize at this stage due to several imponderables. Social change may happen in many ways—global economic collapse, peoples’ groundswell, slow but incremental change, changes in specific local areas without human society as a whole changing.  In the past, change has happened through each of these pathways.

A clearer roadmap will emerge only through a dialogue.  To contribute to this dialogue, a short (next 10 years) and a medium term (10-50 years) programme are presented below.  These programmes are not exhaustive and are indicative of the direction society should take.

 Short term programme

 A short term programme must be implementable immediately with popular people’s support and without making fundamental changes in the social or political system we are in, ie, capitalism.

  • Define sustenance energy, tax luxury energy:  North and South nations must set up per capita sustenance energy consumption standards.  A good standard is 0.75 Toe per annum.  Consumption beyond 1.2-1.6 Toe pa, does not increase wellbeing.  Incomes that allow consumption over 0.75 Toe per annum (which is what ~$5,000 PPP can buy) should be taxed telescopically.  This model is already being followed in Scandinavian countries.
  • Optimize solar and animate energy technologies:  The world’s poor are sustained largely by two energy sources—NPPs and animate (animal and human) energy.  Both energy sources are not accounted for in national energy balances as they are not considered to be commercial sources.  The first priority must be to optimize the use of these energies for the benefit of the poor.  This can be done by adopting low cost appropriate technologies, eg, light-weight animal carts, bicycles, to increase efficiencies of animate and energies; and appropriate choice of crops and vegetation to improve photosynthetic energy conversion.
  • Sustainability energy index 2 goals:  Get all countries to agree to raise their NPPs/Total energy ratio to be >0.5.
  • Universal risk standard:  Establish a universal health risk standard for all people, considering all manner of health risks—malnutrition, diseases from natural and manmade causes, disasters—natural and manmade, etc.  Food and water security must be given importance.  Some areas and some people are more vulnerable than others.  Greater investment must be made for such areas and people to reduce their risk and bring it on par with the standard.
  • People’s environmental governance:  Impacted people should be mandated to do environmental impact assessment (EIA) and not the impacting entity.
  • Restrict new energy plants:  Do not build new fossil fuel energy (power and refineries) plants in North nations and new nuclear power plants in the world.
  • Uniform environmental standards:  Set up uniform global ambient and shopfloor air quality and drinking water quality standards.  Set up a single set of emissions standards throughout the world, including for per capita emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Reparations:  North nations should pay reparations to South nations for using 80% of fossil fuels consumed since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
  • Transport energy reduction plan:  Transport and residential areas are two major energy consuming sectors (Table 4).  Transport consumes a higher per cent of commercial energy consumed in the developed world in comparison to India and China.

Table 4  Commercial TPES and biomass use

Region

Commercial TPES

+ Biomass

Energy Use (%)

GToe

Transport

Residential

Commerce

& services

Industry

Agriculture

World

12.72

28

25

18

27

2

India

0.75

13

36

8

35

9

China

2.43

8

13

7

70

2

USA

2.22

38

16

12

33

1

EU27

1.62

32

27

14

25

2

 Car travel consumes the maximum energy—2.9 mega joule (MJ) per passenger-kilometre (p.km)—in comparison to all other modes (Table 5), and train travel the least (0.1 MJ/p.km).  Car travel’s share of the p.km done in India in 2012 was just 8%, but consumed 40% of energy spent in transporting people by fossil fuelled prime movers.  The corresponding figures for bus travel was 66.4% of all p.km and 28% of energy consumed.

Table 5  Energy use in various transport modes in India in 2012

Mode

Car

Auto

Plane

2-wheeler

Bus

Train

Energy use (MJ/pass.km)

2.9

2.1

1.5

1.1

0.25

0.1

Passengers (lakhs)

NA

NA

63

NA

NA

90,000

Pass.km traveled (trillion)

733

275

63

916

6143

1100

Per cent travel (pass.km) by each mode (%)

8

3

0.6

10

66.4

12

Energy consumed (MToe)

50.6

13.74

2.25

22.0

35..5

2.62

Per cent energy expended by each mode

40

11

2

17

28

2

Per cent energy expended by each mode/Per cent pass.km done by each mode

5.00

3.67

3.33

1.70

0.42

0.17

Energy reduction for passenger transport requires two things—reducing the p.km travelled and moving away from private to public transport.

  • Neighbourhood schools, coaching classes:  In the field of education, energy reduction can be done by having neighbourhood schools (which is already in vogue in countries like USA), and getting rid of entrance exams for higher education courses and abolishing coaching classes.  Implementing neighbourhood schools in Hyderabad would save 7,150 Toe per annum, which is equivalent to 7.8 million T of diesel costing Rs 43 crores.
  • Similar exercises for other sectors:  Similar energy-saving exercises can be done for every sector.
  • Bicycle and car share:  Bicycle and car shares make these vehicles available for shared use. These systems allow share subscribers to pick up a vehicle from one point and drop it off at another.  There are around 535 bike-sharing programmes around the world with an estimated fleet of 517,000 bicycles, the largest being in China.  Car share systems have become popular in cities like York.  Such systems should be encouraged to reduce transport energy expense.
  • Local currencies:  Encouraging the development of local currencies will give impetus to localism and help reduce transport energy expenditure.  This has already been done in several places by the transition town movement.
  • Soft borders:  Moving towards soft borders will reduce energy spent on standing armies and large foreign missions.  Despite problems, the European Union has demonstrated how to do this.
  • Increase forest cover:  The global goal of having at least one third land mass of each country under forest cover should be implemented, except in such regions where such a goal is not possible to meet.

Medium term programmes

Medium term programmes are geared to moving towards an eco-socialist society, and to minimize human suffering and environmental injury during the transition.

  • North countries to reduce consumption drastically:  To move towards an equitable energy world, North America must reduce its commercial energy consumption by 90% and Europe, Japan & Australasia by 75%.  Only such a measure will allow South nations to catch up with North nations at a per capita energy consumption of 0.75 Toe pa.  Tapping existing known sources of energy will not help them achieve equity with North nations.
  • Creating a borderless world:  Ten per cent of the global energy consumption that is spent on standing armies will be saved by abolishing national boundaries.  Such a move will not only bring greater peace and security to all of humanity, but will revert to moving people to energy sources, a cheaper way of doing things that was followed throughout human history until oil was discovered.
  • Entropy minimization:  The rest of life on earth creates negative entropy by using only as much energy as is required for survival and reproduction.  Humans have caused entropy increase because they continuously improve their knowledge of energy conversion.  Humans need to learn from nature to minimize entropy creation.  This includes doing eco-restoration programmes on lost forest lands.
  • Technology size: The size and scale of production technologies should be relatively small to prevent excessive power from accumulating with those managing technologies.  Following the Small is beautiful concept also reduces energy investment costs per workplace.
  • Collectives:  Energy resources (means of production) used for producing goods & services for public consumption should be managed collectively and not individually.
  • Small administrative areas:  Administrative areas should be relatively small to allow for grassroots democracy to function effectively.
  • Cities to shrink:  Cities are energy consumers, not producers.  One square kilometre of an urban area requires all the biomass produced on 100-200 km2 of hinterland.  Cities have a relationship of unequal exchange with hinterlands.  Cities must therefore shrink.
  • Eco-socialist democracy:  It is in the interest of working people (and not working class only) to discard capitalism and establish eco-socialism.  Social transformation should not be defined as merely abolishing a capitalist state and replacing it with a “socialist” state, but must include moving towards a genuine people’s democracy that manages usufruct claim over natural and energy resources collectively rather than through leaderships.  It also means living in harmony with nature.
  • Steady state economy:  One of the principles of eco-socialism is to achieve a steady state economy operating within the bounds of negative entropy goals set by society
  • Abolish banks:  Banking as we know it today must be abolished.  Banks operate on the notion that future energy surpluses will be larger than the present, and therefore on the concept of growth.  Banking is not in consonance with a steady state economy.
  • Minimizing ravages of the collapse of capitalism:  A civilizational collapse implies that the foundations of social fabric will be shredded—rule of law, food and water security, health, education and other social services will no longer remain what we have known them to be.  Attrition in terms of human health and life will be very high.  Minimizing the ravages of the collapse of capitalism will become an important task.
  • Non-Violence:  Throughout history, incalculable violence has been done to nature (we have expend energy equivalent to 20,000 Hiroshima sized bombs every year for deforestation and divert the equivalent energy of 7.5 million Hiroshima sized bombs away from nature every year) and humans (in the last century, interstate, colonial and civil wars were responsible for 100 million deaths; the energy yield of one million Hiroshima sized atom bombs is expended to keep the global war machine up and running).  The essence of equity is being non-violent towards the other, be that human beings or nature, for there is nothing to derive forcibly from them.  If equity is our goal, we will lose all moral authority if we use violent means—whether by using (or possessing the means to use) violence, or use the state to settle scores or extract something from the other.  If one of the fundamental issues we face today is extreme inequity, to get to think and act equitably, we cannot use the same level of thinking as we did to become inequitable.  All social justice issues and social change must now be done in an absolutely non-violent manner.

Some questions

There are many questions for which there are no easy answers.  I am flagging a few that I felt were important to discuss.

  • If we accept that humans are a part of nature and not apart from it, what should our relationship be with it?
  • How much energy can we actually take from nature without disturbing it?
  • How much eMergy accumulation is good for human society?
  • How do we distribute eMergy equitably?
  • How do we power down without the Jevons’s paradox coming into play?
  • What configuration of renewables will work best for an equitable and decentralized society?
  • How should we define per capita sustenance energy levels?
  • How do we restore management control over natural resources to people?
  • How can technology down-sizing be done?
  • How can re-localization be done along with true internationalization (sans borders)?
  • How can population control be achieved without tackling poverty and inequity?
  • Is all knowledge good?  Or should we voluntarily eschew such knowledge that increases entropy and encourage knowledge that decreases it?
  • What are the agencies of change?
  • How can a societal transition be made with minimum pain to society and nature?

The roadmap to get to a new society is hazy and will have to be worked out by dialogue between those who wish to avoid the mistakes of class society.

References

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Deloitte, IEC 2013, Securing tomorrow’s energy today: Policy & Regulations-Long Term Energy Security

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http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130604094519.htm

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