The Physics behind the end of infinite growth

That’s a major shift in the argument, though, from having less energy for heavy industry to not being able to shop for groceries. The energy for basic food production is a small amount of total energy usage. Half the protein content of the seven billion human bodies on the planet came from atmospheric nitrogen fixed by the Haber-Bosch process (the other half from nitrogen-fixing bacteria), yet that process only uses 3-5% of world natural gas production. At a certain price level, the necessary hydrogen (for combining with nitrogen to make ammonia) could be produced by electrolysis of water using renewable electricity, but the need for that is a long, long way off. Energy for food transportation could be dramatically reduced by doing more locally, if necessary. I’m sure the saltpetre miners of Chile thought the sky was falling when Haber-Bosch destroyed the entire industry, but redistribution of jobs is a fact of life with changing needs/technologies and hasn’t ended the world yet.

The article I quoted actual makes the same points on efficiency that you did but comes to a different conclusion. He states that we are approaching of the limits of efficiency gains

He also has another article that basically states that we can’t have infinite energy growth as due to the laws of thermodynamics increase in energy growth equals increase in heat.

So basically we can’t utilise more energy indefinitely and we can’t increase efficiency indefinitely, therefore we must hit a limit on growth at some stage unless we can decouple growth from efficiency and energy gains.

Motor Efficiency is not the only thing human ingenuity can be applied to. Obviously the electrical motor and gas turbine were already highly efficient inherently. And there were not much more gains to be made there. But there is still good potential to make efficiency gains in the internal combustion engine according to thermodynamics. But the real current potential for human ingenuity to find gains is in things like new and improved methods of organisation, in new improved materials, in manufacturing methods, in distribution, and so on. The areas that will be focused on in the future will no doubt evolve too. Btw note how the areas I listed have implications for energy consumption and output. So do they all. Even the ones we haven’t thought of yet.

400 years in the future the excess heat can be dealt with by building giant air-conditioners that beam the collected heat into space to power interstellar spaceships. Problem solved. :laughing: (I am joking of course).

I’m sorry but the stuff you are referencing is using straight line projections with made up numbers (ala Marc Coleman), ignoring numerous variables and speculating about what might happen centuries in the future. It is silly in my opinion.

Those of you who believe that we can grow through efficiency gains are simply forgetting the fact that currently only about 30% of the world’s population has access to a “western” lifestyle, much of the remainder (in India & China) are striving to catch up.

These people are snatching every ounce of energy that the “west” saves, this is one of the main reasons that future growth is severely constrained! (it’s already happening)

The human mind at its best is not a linear device. It makes leaps. And it works best when faced with serious challenges, especially to its survival. I mean look at how we got here. We may well have further to fly. The obsession with efficiency and market growth may well pass. We may well find new metrics of human well being and civilisation. That doesn’t have to entail living on lentils in a tent either.

Lentils are a great source of protein and don’t forget that! :smiley: … rotein.php

Tonight I arrived home and was presented with the most awesome lentil soup I’ve ever had. You’ve never tasted anything like it!

Now, this debate is mistaking growth, the manifestation of change as change itself.

Less will be more becasue it already is…

I think we are missing a few tricks don’t you?

The most important savings are “negawatts” … the energy foregone altogether. True, you can’t make a jet plane much more efficient, but hold 200 video conferences and you don’t have to fly it at all.

Not sure you can have a lad’s weekend in Prague without flying.

Flippancy aside, I’m sure that technology will soon allow us to e-visit places without leaving home.
But watch out for those tourism jobs.

We can’t utilise more of any resource indefinitely - so we have to learn to do more with less. Luckily technology is the enabler for that (although typically do-less-with-more “low-tech” is cheaper to begin with).

Technology can only go so far, when shortages of energy really start to make an impact, it may make more sense to reintroduce people back into the manufacturing process! :angry:

Hehe - though to be honest, humans are less energy efficient than most robots.

Just wait till you naysayers see this self-replicating robot I’m working on, I’ll show you exponential growth…

Is it called HUMAN?

Nuclear energy will replace fossil fuels. Unfortunately the current energy companies don’t like nuclear and actively campaign against as it effects their profit but when the situation is dire that is what we will turn to. Hopefully people will realise this before we end up burning copious amounts of coal, just look at Germany. Pretty much everything else wind power, hydro etc is just pissing in the wind.

I often wonder why people who are so despondent about the rate of fossil fuel depletion don’t just recognise this and frequently don’t even mention it groupthink on a massive scale. Why was it not mentioned on this thread, despite all the predictions of returning to mid 1700s no growth economies. The sooner we realise this and start actively building and developing reactors the better, the anti-nuclear crowd are leading us down the path of resource wars and huge social upheaval.

This argument is true but not useful. It’s like saying that this is a limit on the number of widgets we can make, because there is only so much matter in the universe, so when we have turned all matter in the universe into widgets we will have to stop. The argument is (probably) true. But it’s silly. At some point long before you have turned planet Earth into a mountain of widgets, you will have a reasonable number of widgets, and you probably won’t derive a whole lot more pleasure or use out of having a whole lot more of them.

At that point, you will start to looks for other things, like an iphone, someone to help you with your tax return, and decent medical care.


Machinery has a capital cost, and human energy isn’t so expensive everywhere. Go to a building site in India and you’ll see hordes of people doing jobs that you thought were mechanised a century ago.

The whole concept of a lads’ weekend in Prague just underscores how crazy cheap oil still is. There’s a lot of negawatts to go before we can’t even get to the grocery shop.

Personally i’m looking forward to a day where energy is dear enough to slow down this covering of the earth in concrete, steel and motorways. It is cheap oil energy to blame for the damage already done. Imagine what we’d do with fusion. It would be the sure end of the earth and her eco systems.

The romans made good use of a tried and trusted energy source:- slavery. But let me feed your point some: the Dutch built a powerful industrial economy on wind power, a non fossil fuel solution. However that is not what I am arguing against. I’m simply stating that the technology would be useless without the energy source. One analogy might be the american indians: They had invented their own wheel, but used it for children’s carts. They couldn’t make wheeled carts drawn by horsepower because they did not have any horses, or any other domesticatable animal to use as a substitute.

I don’t argue either that technology cannot help increase the rate of resource consumption, or to use it more efficiently. That’s a blindingly obvious fact. What I do argue however is that once a technology has been developed to do something, particularly in the energy game, it soon hits upon hard limits of what’s thermodynamically possible, or some sizeable fraction of that which is practically possible. There can, is, and will be further efficiencies made, but to say that the lowest hanging fruit has been picked wouldn’t be out of place in this context.

The question is really are the options if the question of oil is broadly agreed. It was very disappointing for me to hear that the EROI of nuclear energy is so low that it may possibly avoid being a net energy contributer at all; that the peak of coal extraction may already be behind us in net energy terms, and not far off in volume terms. There is little reason to believe that there will suddenly appear a magical source of energy that will suddenly lead us back on our cornucopian nirvana.