Cheating the Calorie

Every now and then I hear or read something that really makes me stop and think. Check this out:

And he said, ‘Joe, you know, there’s only one unit of exchange, and it isn’t any kind of currency in the world. It’s called the calorie. 3,000 calories in and 3,000 calories out and everything’s sustainable; the world is sustainable–the unit of measurement of heat energy. But when oil came along as a cheap source of it, you have human beings using 1,000,000 calories a day. And so we built a civilization that no Caesar could have built hurling along at 70 miles per hour in hard exoskeletons at high speed. People don’t really understand what the cheap oil fiesta provided.

And besides being non-sustainable, the ultimate unit of exchange and the ultimate decider will be the availability of the calorie——not just the one in your stomach, the one that melted that metal, the one that grows the plants, the petro chemicals that grow the plants, and so on. And he said, at some point it’s got to come back down. It will come back down.

He said the third world will never rise to the first world standards. You will see the first world drop down to the third world standards because they’re closer to sustainability. … Everything runs on electricity, and electricity runs on oil. And when it doesn’t run on oil, it runs on coal which makes the situation worse. Imagine when the electrical grid starts dimming out. It’s pretty scary stuff.'”

He goes on to say that running out of oil will not happen as a gradual decline over decades. He states that since our consumption of oil is increasing geometrically instead of linearly, it will happen with a relatively unexpected suddenness. Since our civilization is built and sustained by oil consumption, what will the transformation to a different source of energy look like?


Source of Quotation: Joe Bageant’s July, 2007, podcast with George Kenney over at Electric Politics (about an hour and a half into the podcast)