The most colossal planning failure in history

SA: These are excerpts from the great Richard Heinberg. So important!

He explains the predicament we are in: “Here’s the essence of our planning failure: we have built up civilization to a scale that can temporarily be supported by finite and polluting energy sources, and we have simply assumed that this scale of activity can continue to be supported by other energy sources that haven’t yet been developed or substantially deployed. Further, we have incorporated limitless growth into the requirements for civilization’s success and maintenance—despite the overwhelming likelihood that growth can occur for only a historically brief interval.”

Then he explains what we need to do: “We should start with conservative estimates of how much energy solar and wind can provide. No one has a definitive figure, but for industrial nations like the US, it would be wise to assume some fraction of the energy currently provided by fossil fuels: half, for example, would be a highly ambitious goal (one of the first projects of the planning process would be to come up with a more precise estimate). Then, planners would explore ways to reduce energy usage to that level, with a minimum of disruption to people’s lives. Planners would also seek to determine approximately the scale of population that can be supported long-term by these sources without degradation of the environment (yes, Putnam discussed the relationship between population and energy back in 1953), and then create and implement policies to begin matching population to those levels in a way that reduces, rather than worsening, existing social inequities.

A comprehensive plan would detail the amount of investment required, and over what period of time, and would specify the sources of the money.”

Then he tells us what our fate will be if we do not plan: “Without planning, this is what will most likely happen: we’ll fail to produce enough renewable energy to power society at the level at which we want it to operate. So, we’ll continue to get most of our energy from fossil fuels—until we can’t, due to depletion. Then, as the economy crashes and the planet heats, the full impacts of our planning failure will finally hit home.”

And he offers us a tantalizing planning experiment: “Finally, as I have suggested elsewhere, good planning would entail the creation of a pilot project, in which a medium-sized industrial city is transitioned to get all its energy (for food, manufacturing, heating and cooling, and transportation) from renewables.”

WHAT A GREAT CHALLENGE! I fear we will not accept it.

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