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Introduction

Introduction

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We have reached a point of crisis with regard to energy, a point where the contradictions inherent in our growth-based energy system are becoming untenable, and where its deferred costs are coming due. The
essential problem is not just that we are tapping the wrong energy sources (though we are), or that we are wasteful and inefficient (though we are), but that
we are overpowered, and we are overpowering nature.
We have reached a point of crisis with regard to energy, a point where the contradictions inherent in our growth-based energy system are becoming untenable, and where its deferred costs are coming due. The
essential problem is not just that we are tapping the wrong energy sources (though we are), or that we are wasteful and inefficient (though we are), but that
we are overpowered, and we are overpowering nature.

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Aug 20, 2013
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09/27/2013

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INTRODUCTION
RichaRdheinbeRg
 
Thi publication i an excerpted chapter rom
The Energy Reader: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth
, Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner,ed. (Healdburg, CA: Waterhed Media, 2012).
The Energy Reader 
i copyright© 2012 by the Foundation or Deep Ecology, and publihed in collaboration withWaterhed Media and Pot Carbon Intitute.For other excerpt, permiion to reprint, and purchaing viit energy-reality.org or contact Pot Carbon Intitute.Photo: Brett Cole
about the author
Richard Heinberg
i enior ellow-in-reidence at the Pot Carbon Intitute and i widely regarded a one o the world’ oremot peak oil educator. He ha written core o eay and article or a wide range o popular and academic periodical, and he i the author o ten book including
The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality, Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World,
and
The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.
Post Carbon Institute | 613 4th Street, Suite 208 | Santa Rosa, California 95404 USA
 
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1
E
nergy i at the core o the human predicament inthe twenty-frt century. Extracting oil uelpoion landcape, ragment habitat, and detroybeauty. Burning thoe uel i changing the chemicalcompoition o the global atmophere and acceleratingclimate change. At the ame time, piraling oil uelprice—reulting rom depletion o the highet-gradeand mot eaily acceed hydrocarbon reource— have contributed to a worldwide fnancial crii thatthreaten global tability. Not only are tranport cotriing, threatening globalized upply chain, but oar-ing energy price alo drive up ood price, leading toincreaing ocial unret around the world.A conventional oil and ga deplete, energy companieare orced to pend more and more to earch or andproduce reource that are arther afeld, that are moretechnically challenging to acce, and that poe eri-ou rik to ecoytem. In their increaingly deper-ate earch or “extreme energy,” oil and ga companiemut operate at the margin o their technical capabili-tie. Under thee circumtance, accident are not onlymore likely to happen, but are oten ar more diatrouwhen they do: Recall the Deepwater Horizon cata-trophe in the Gul o Mexico in 2010, and imagine aimilar or larger accident happening hundred o mileo the coat o Alaka in rough arctic ea. Indeed,the entire project o globalized indutrial civilization— which took root and dramatically expanded during thetwentieth century a cheap energy drove production,trade, and population growth—now eem imperiled aenergy and ecological limit come into view.It’ tempting to take the micro-view and look or wayto target each o our energy problem with a technicalfx. Can’t we improve the energy efciency o vehicle,inulate our building, and develop renewable energyource? Ye, o coure. Can’t we regulate the oil uelindutry better, and allow the vat, recently unlockedNorth American reerve o hale ga and hale oil tobe produced reponibly? Poibly. We could do all o thoe thing, and many more beide, to leen the cur-rent energy economy’ impact on natural and humancommunitie—and till there would remain eriouobtacle ahead.Why? Let’ zoom out rom the detail o our dilemmaand take in the big picture. A we do, two undamentalproblem become clear:FIRsT: We have exceeded global level o energy con-umption that are utainable. The heer cale o our energy ue today i antatic when compared with thatin any era o hitory. Today the human populationi roughly even time larger than it wa jut prior tothe Indutrial Revolution—a dramatic and dangeroupopulation growth trajectory—but we ue 30 time amuch energy. On average, each human today ue the
 
We have reached a point of crisis with regard to energy,a point where the contradictions inherent in ourgrowth-based energy system are becoming untenable,and where its deferred costs are coming due. Theessential problem is not just that we are tapping thewrong energy sources (though we are), or that we arewasteful and inefficient (though we are), but thatwe are overpowered, and we are overpowering nature.

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