Economic Development and Energy

John Michael Greer writes about the future of societies in relation to the abundance and concentration of energy resources to which it has access. This is especially pertinent as the realization that Peak Oil may be real dawns on the American public. In the debate over switching our energy sources from petroleum to sustainable energy, the influence of big oil companies on many policy makers guarantees a short-term outlook and possible economic decline for countries who are dependent on an increasingly scarce resouce available mainly from unstable governments.

Link: The Archdruid Report

White’s law holds that the level of economic development in a society is measured by the energy per capita it produces and uses. Since the energy per capita of any society is determined by its access to concentrated energy resources – and this holds true whether we are talking about wild foods, agricultural products, fossil fuels, or anything else – it’s worth postulating that the maximum level of economic development possible for a society is measured by the abundance and concentration of energy resources to which it has access.

…a society’s maximum level of economic development will be reached, on average, at the peak of a bell-shaped curve with a height determined by the relative renewability of the society’s energy resources. A society wholly dependent on resources that renew themselves over the short term may trace a “bell-shaped curve” in which the difference between peak and trough is so small it approximates a straight line; a society dependent on resources renewable over a longer timescale may cycle up and down as its resource base depletes and recovers; a society dependent on nonrenewable resources can be expected to trace a ballistic curve in which the height of ascent is matched, or more than matched, by the depth of the following decline.