[Ok-sus] A sobering report from an eco-summit

Bob Waldrop bwaldrop1952 at att.net
Tue Oct 30 23:23:24 CDT 2012

This report about a recent eco-summit was written by Elliot Campbell, 
grandson of H.T. Odum.


One of the interesting notes is a comment which can be a footnote in 
discussion about the present EROEI of oil production. . . " For 
instance, in the early 1900's it only took 1 barrel of oil to produce 
100 barrels of US domestic oil. Today it takes 1 barrel of oil to 
produce 11-18 barrels of US domestic oil (Murphy and Hall, 2010). 

Bob Waldrop, OKC

A snip. . . .

I had the pleasure of attending the 4^th Eco-Summit, 
<http://www.ecosummit2012.org/conference-symposia.html> held in Columbus 
Ohio and hosted by William Mitsch at Ohio State University. This was a 
large conference, over 1600 people, featuring preeminent ecologists from 
around the world including Simon Levin, E.O. Wilson, Robert Costanza, 
Bernie Patten, Sven Jorgensen and plenary sessions by popular authors 
Jared Diamond and Lester Brown. As a recent PhD graduate and nascent 
systems ecologist I found the Eco-Summit to be edifying, inspiring, as 
well as incredibly frustrating.

The presenters and attendees of this conference acknowledge the 
challenges that lie before humanity and collectively much of the 
knowledge and skill base necessary to meet these challenges was present 
within the audience. However, a cohesive vision of how to go forward 
using this knowledge to guide humanity towards a "sustainable" future 
was absent. The reasons behind the lack of a cohesive plan of action are 
varied and include discipline specificity, intellectual hubris, and lack 
of organizational infrastructure, but I believe at the heart of the 
matter is a frustration and resignation that the world is locked into an 
ecologically ignorant, consumptive, growth based economy. To place it in 
an ecological context, like a cloud of locusts or bacteria in a petri 
dish we will inevitably consume a resource until it is exhausted and 
then die off.

Two sessions of the Eco-Summit were dedicated to the "prosperous way 
down" or related ideas and were led by former H.T. Odum students Mark 
Brown <http://www.ees.ufl.edu/homepp/brown/>, John Day 
<http://www.lsu.edu/aeg/staff/john.html>, Dan Campbell, 
and Charlie Hall <http://www.esf.edu/EFB/hall/>. The prosperous way down 
is the idea that instead of exponential population growth followed by 
resource exhaustion and subsequent exponential decline, humanity can 
expect the coming decline and decrease its consumption and population 
slowly, preventing catastrophe. These sessions were well attended and 
featured a healthy dose of debate. Speakers presented compelling 
evidence for the rapid approach of peak oil from now to within the next 
10 years and peak phosphorous within 50-100 years. Calculations done 
through either emergy or energy return on investment (EROI) show that 
renewable alternative such as photovoltaics and wind will not be able to 
fully replace the current global demand, much less the requirements of 
rapidly expanding standard of living expected in China and India. EROI 
is a simple, incredibly important concept that is completely absent in 
economics and political decision-making. EROI looks at how much energy 
is necessary to produce energy for consumption. For instance, in the 
early 1900's it only took 1 barrel of oil to produce 100 barrels of US 
domestic oil. Today it takes 1 barrel of oil to produce 11-18 barrels of 
US domestic oil (Murphy and Hall, 2010). 
Thus, much more energy is necessary to produce an equal amount of oil 
and less energy is available to drive economic growth. Studies have 
shown that the Canadian tar sands have an EROI of 2 (Hall, 2008) 
less than most renewable energy sources. This is an excellent example of 
economics failing to give tools to help us decide is what is most 
beneficial to society. Speakers suggested policies that would help in 
slowing consumptive growth and moving towards growth in intellectual 
capital and happiness, including measuring growth using the genuine 
progress indicator (GPI) 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genuine_progress_indicator> and not GDP, 
slowing economic growth by pegging currency to a resource (think gold 
standard with natural resources) and slowing population through making 
family planning more available and educating women. Herein lies another 
source of frustration--- the world we live in is light years away from 
adopting any of these measures with no plan for moving towards the 
prosperous way down even at this gathering of experts. This concern was 
raised several times and the general consensus was that a global 
disturbance will be necessary before humanity realizes that changes must 
be made. The question of what this disturbance will entail, how many 
billions of people will suffer, and how the people in power will 
respond, remains.

More at the link above.
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