Edited by Matthias Ruth
Chapter 9: Energy return on investment (EROI) and its implications for long-term prosperity
Energy is usually taught and considered as an independent entity, as lecture 7 of a physics course, as something that lives unto itself. In truth energy is a component of everything around us that moves and most that does not: the skies, seas, land, all geological, meteorological and hydrological processes, all plants, animals and microbes, all ecosystems, including those human-dominated ecosystems called cities and societies, essentially everything. Consequently, energy is associated with, indeed drives, all that society and its economies do. How this fundamental fact has escaped the attention of most social scientists – including especially economists, who seem impervious to energetic reality despite a century of intelligent criticism of that – is astonishing. Soddy (1912), Georgescu-Roegen (1975), Leontief (1982), Hall et al. (2001) and Piketty (2014), three of them distinguished economists and two Nobel prize laureates, are among the dozens of professionals who have leveled scathing attacks on economists for not including energy as a critical driver or for using models unconnected to reality as their base. Instead economists have continued to consider energy as just another commodity, no different from pickles, while considering the drivers of economic production to be just capital and labor.
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