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« Of orcs, goblins and climate change think tanks | Main | More on GCMs and public policy »
Wednesday
Aug272014

Renewables cannot sustain civilisation

The other day we were considering the concept of EROI, the amount of energy you get out of a given technology for the amount you have to put in. Specifically we were looking at the figures for solar PV in Spain.

With splendid timing, the Energy Collective has published a post considering EROI for the full gamut of energy technologies. At first glance the story looks not too bad, with wind and solar PV (so long as it's in a desert) above the minimum level of 7 that the article says is needed to sustain a modern society (breakeven EROI of 1 is not really worth the bother). The problem arises when you have to start storing all energy from renewables, which as their adherents suggest is the key to having them compete with fossil fuels.

If we were to store energy in, say, batteries, we must invest energy in mining the materials and manufacturing those batteries.  So a larger energy investment is required, and the EROEI consequently drops.

Weißbach et al. calculated the EROEIs assuming pumped hydroelectric energy storage.  This is the least energy intensive storage technology.  The energy input is mostly earthmoving and construction.  It’s a conservative basis for the calculation; chemical storage systems requiring large quantities of refined specialty materials would be much more energy intensive.  Carbajales-Dale et al.2 cite data asserting batteries are about ten times more energy intensive than pumped hydro storage.

Adding storage greatly reduces the EROEI (the “buffered” values in the figure).  Wind “firmed” with storage, with an EROEI of 3.9, joins solar PV and biomass as an unviable energy source.  CSP becomes marginal (EROEI ~9) with pumped storage, so is probably not viable with molten salt thermal storage.  The EROEI of solar PV with pumped hydro storage drops to 1.6, barely above breakeven, and with battery storage is likely in energy deficit.

Read the whole thing.

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Reader Comments (50)

Renewables cannot sustain civilisation, the mistake is to think the greens want to sustain current civilisation, they don't, they want a return to mythic rural centred past world where people made everything by hand , went to bad when the sun set which was full of rosy cheeked people , who lead short and often very hard lives in reality .

Renewable does not and cannot work unless you combine it with massive cuts to the amount of power used and ration when it can be used .

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

I think KNR has hit the nail on the head. Roman civilisation succeeded without the internal combustion engine. However, the population of the world in Roman times was around 200 million, it is now 7.2 billion therfefore we would be unable to sustain our present civilisation. The figure 1 billion carrying capacity comes to mind from renewables, what do our green delusionists suggest doing with everyone else ?

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterTrefjon

Renewables aren't even self-sustaining in terms of energy required to make and install them, so the idea we could power the whole of our society from them is bonkers.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

I endorse KNR's statement fully. It's something we seem determined to ignore largely because the greens are following their normal practice of being economical with the truth make sure we don't get to hear the bad news. Which we might try to avoid believing even if we did hear it.
It's interesting that we are being forced to examine aspects of modern life that we had never seriously considered before. How many of us had even heard of the concept of EROI before last week for example? I suppose we have known instinctively that there is a cost to providing energy as there is to providing any commodity but we've never had to think about how energy production actually requires an energy cost which in real terms affects the value or the viability of that form of energy generation.
Presumably there are other areas where an examination of the whole cost would alter our ideas about the necessity or desirability of them.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:33 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Membrane-based redox batteries are the best chemical energy storage system. UNSW invented the first of these, based on the multiple valency of vanadium. A few years ago, it was being test-marketed by a major UK electricity concern (RWE?): http://energystorage.org/energy-storage/technologies/vanadium-redox-vrb-flow-batteries

The problem is that they are large, so only viable for farms and other commercial sites.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

What an absolutely wonderful article. It is not often that one reads something in the sciece / technology / economics space which is articulated with such clarity.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterImranCan

KNR @ Aug 27, 2014 at 11:06 AM is right. In whatever form, Greens, et al, simply want to impose their will regardless of what that will may be and regardless of reason or opposition. It's called Totalitarianism. We colonials used to call it tyranny.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

There is no doubt that renewables cannot sustain civilisation, but I would take the results of Weißbach et al with a large pinch of salt. There is considerable uncertainty in his results. Obviously solar and wind depend on location. For solar he seems to do a decent job. For wind he relies on few life cycle assessments and says "There are no known detailed LCA studies concerning o shore-wind energy converters." Not true. I would expect the LCA for wind turbines to be much less than 16, but widely varying dependent on location, size etc

Aug 27, 2014 at 12:00 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Environmental activists are not interested in sustaining civilisation; their aim is to fundamentally change it while leaving their own wasteful high-carbon lifestyles intact. Their reasoning is as dim and stupid as those who believe you can live perfectly happily without government and/or the rule of law. It's no accident that eco-activists and political anarchists are virtually indistinguishable.

Aug 27, 2014 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterHG54

Agreed with KNR.

This is precisely where we fail in the debate with Greens. They need to be called out publicly and directly for simple answers to direct questions.

Q. Should I be allowed to eat food grown in a foreign country whenever I want?
Q. Should I be allowed to eat food that is out of season in my own country whenever I want?
Q. Should I be allowed to own a private car and travel wherever I want without restriction?
Q. Should I be allowed to fly to a foreign country wherever I want without restriction?
etc...

That sort of thing.

For most of the current Green leadership the answer would be 'NO' to all four questions. People will soon get the message what the greens actually stand for.

Aug 27, 2014 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

KNR

"went to bad when the sun set"

Happens to me all the time.. :-)

Aug 27, 2014 at 12:49 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

This is a good article. A few points. It is currently totally impractical to store renewables to load balance the grid. This applies to lengthy wind lulls at high latitude and to storing Solar PV from summer to winter. Adding the notional cost of energy storage to ERoEI is a step in the right direction but in fact it is the energy cost of load balancing using CCGTs and running to separate electricity systems that needs to be analysed along with covering Europe in transmission lines.

A meta analysis of nuclear published by Lenzen suggested EroEI was closer to 8. I never trusted that number, but there are apparently large back end energy expenditures related to decommissioning and waste storage.

"Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review
Manfred Lenzen *"

I've had a few articles on this subject recently, notably a detailed look at the renewable surplus Scotland will generate in the near future and how it has nowhere to go (which I still feel deserved much wider exposure than it got):

Scotch on the ROCs

The problems scaling pumped storage discussed here:

The Coire Glas pumped storage scheme - a massive but puny beast (Google it if you want to read)

And the problems storing summer solar PV for use in winter (by Roger Andrews)

Large scale grid integration of solar power – many problems, few solutions (Google it if you want to read)

The situation we have at present is one where our whole energy system is subsidised by high ERoEI coal (and perhaps high ERoEI nuclear power). And our grids continue to operate since the relatively low level of renewables penetration can be easily absorbed by load balancing and the costs born by you.

Aug 27, 2014 at 1:02 PM | Registered CommenterEuan Mearns

'Hydroelectric energy storage... mostly earthmoving and construction....'

Heck of a lot of earthmoving and construction would be required here in East Anglia...

Incidentally, and relevant, my QI book of facts to 'Blow Your Socks Off' reckons that all the batteries on earth would power the world for ten minutes...

Aug 27, 2014 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

"they want a return to mythic rural centred past world where people made everything by hand"

Very true, but the government doesn't. The future of UK energy is very likely to be substantially nuclear.


Himmler justifies the invasion of Poland

In December 1942, Himmler released a decree "On the Treatment of the Land in the Eastern Territories," referring to the newly annexed portions of Poland. It read in part:

The peasant of our racial stock has always carefully endeavored to increase the natural powers of the soil, plants, and animals, and to preserve the balance of the whole of nature. For him, respect for divine creation is the measure of all culture. If, therefore, the new Lebensräume (living spaces) are to become a homeland for our settlers, the planned arrangement of the landscape to keep it close to nature is a decisive prerequisite. It is one of the bases for fortifying the German Volk.

Quoted in Heinz Haushofer, Ideengeschichte der Agrarwirtschaft und Agrarpolitik im deutschen Sprachgebiet, Band II, München, 1958, p. 266.

http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/germany/sp001630/peter.html

Aug 27, 2014 at 1:47 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Roman civilisation succeeded without the internal combustion engine.
Rome relied on slavery, as did all ancient civilisations. Slavery was only abolished in 1833 across the British Empire. This was only possible because of the industrial revolution. Do we really want to return to some imagined simple life ?

Aug 27, 2014 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterClive Best

The calculations of EROI are too assumption-laden to be of any use. The value for nuclear power is somewhere between 5 and 100 depending who you talk to. It matches the IPCC carbon budget calcs for innumeracy.

Aug 27, 2014 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Willis Eschenbach made a nice point about slavery:

"The existence of electricity is perhaps the one thing most emblematic of human development. With electricity, we get refrigeration to preserve medicines and foods, light to extend the day, electric heat, power to run machinery, the list goes on and on. Now, as I showed above, we can hire somebody to generate electricity for us, at the rate of a kilowatt-hour for each ten-hour day’s work. Where I live, this day’s worth of slave labor, this thousand watt-hours of energy, costs me the princely sum of about thirteen cents US. I can buy an electric slave-day of work for thirteen cents.

That is why I live well. Instead of having slaves as the Romans had, I can buy a day’s worth of a slave’s constant labor for thirteen measly cents. That is what development consists of, the use of electricity and other forms of inexpensive energy in addition to and in lieu of human energy."

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/01/02/the-cost-in-human-energy/

Aug 27, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaleC

Dalec

As much as I despise extreme American capitalism, one of the high points of human civilisation is the sight of two SUV's in the driveway of a large suburban house owned by the descendants of slaves. Even if some of the low points may not be far away.

Aug 27, 2014 at 2:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterE. Smiff

Phillip
'I would take the results of Weißbach et al with a large pinch of salt. There is considerable uncertainty in his results. '

I don't see where there can be uncertainties? There will be sensitivities; for example, on-shore EROEI will be better for a windmill in Hyde Park than one near Wick, the cost of pumped storage will depend on scale of build, closeness to load centres, etc., but all these variables are well understood - I think.

Aug 27, 2014 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Capell: There are considerable uncertainties in the numbers that go into the calculations and the EROEIs will also be sensitive to such factors as those you mention.

Putting on my PC hat, the bottom line from this work for the UK is:
1 Whichever way you look at it solarPV is NOT SUSTAINABLE.
2 When account is taken of integration into the grid wind is NOT SUSTAINABLE.

Aug 27, 2014 at 3:09 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

It would be interesting to require that, for example, wind turbines and all associated equipment be made entirely with "renewable" energy and materials as opposed to relying on the existing "dirty" infrastructure. If renewables are indeed mankind's future, let's run the experiment before traveling too far down that road...

Aug 27, 2014 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterRich B.

Clive Best : I take the point but our slaves are the numerous electrical devices which take a lot of labour from our lives. The Greens want to reduce our ability to have enough energy to do this. If you want to know how mad they are listrn to the spokeswoman from the Welsh Green Party this morning on Radio Wales - Jason Mohammed 12 -1. Her attitude to everything was either naive or utterly ignorant. Basically, the greens are unreformed Marxists from the dotty world of Fourier.

Aug 27, 2014 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon

There's a possible alternative to storage - conversion of the energy into an alternative form.

If the development reported here actually develops into something useable, then perhaps solar and wind power isn't all hot air.

Aug 27, 2014 at 4:31 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Phillip,
Then we're in total agreement.

Aug 27, 2014 at 4:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

Remember that Greek, Roman, Egyptian civilisation was powered by animal and human muscle. Slavery was essential for a few to enjoy the high standard of living we recognise as civilisation. As Matt Ridley has pointed out modern standards of living are enabled by 100s - 1000s of "virtual slaves" - the human muscle that has been replaced by fossil fuels utilised in ever more ingenious ways. Steam engines were the start, the internet and datacentres are one incarnation of how we now use energy to enrich our lives.

Aug 27, 2014 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterrogue

"It would be interesting to require that, for example, wind turbines and all associated equipment be made entirely with "renewable" energy and materials as opposed to relying on the existing "dirty" infrastructure"

Good luck with that - since the blades are all made from fibre reinforced plastics they won't be generating much power! And whilst I am aware that traditional laminated wood propellers are often superior to FRP (it was certainly the case with my flying machine), I find it hard to imagine the same processes being applied to blades 100 metres (or more) long. Just think of the number of trees which would have to be cut down, and the risk of imbalance due to moisture ingress. With a simple 2 blade prop you can leave it "parked" in the hanger with the blades horizontal, to prevent the lower one becoming heavier - something not possible with 3 blades. Oh, I forgot - turbines draw power FROM the grid to keep them turning when there's no wind....

Aug 27, 2014 at 5:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave Ward

The problem with all these sorts of calculations is that they lead you into unending arguments about how to take account of percieved "externalities", which are very difficult, and frequently impossible, to calculate. Price is the best measure, because it is hard and fast, but it does not give the green progressives the answer they want, so they add in externalities, such as health costs of pollution (based on more fictional studies and extrapolations), the cost of military to guard lines of supply (you can get LOTS of double counting if you follow this path), and even physchological damage to people who fear the future and accidents that , MIGHT happen. So we end up with long sets of competing studies by each side, employing all sorts of intellectual "analysts", and confusing the whole situation.

The green progressives really do want to de-industrialize the earth, starting with the west, and move to their idea of utopia, with THEM as the Smart People (TM) telling the rest of us how to live our lives. Shutting down energy production is one important part of that effort.

Aug 27, 2014 at 5:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterrxc

steveta_uk on Aug 27, 2014 at 4:31 PM

I don't see anything new here, apart from being able to electrolyse water using cheapish materials and with a smallish voltage. The fact that it is powered by a 1.5V battery, I assume a torch battery, is irrelevant. It is a 1.5V source.

There is no attempt to look at the infrastructure that would be required, such as a gas bag for the Hydrogen, or how the green electricity would be generated, but then, it wouldn't as it's a green project, and they do the feasibility after the equipment is in production!

This, though, is amusing:
"Earlier this year, Hyundai began leasing fuel cell vehicles in Southern California. Toyota and Honda will begin selling fuel cell cars in 2015. Most of these vehicles will run on fuel manufactured at large industrial plants that produce hydrogen by combining very hot steam and natural gas, an energy-intensive process that releases Carbon Dioxide as a byproduct."

Hot steam? Where does the heat come from? And natural gas? I hope it isn't from fraccing! And they produce CO2 without burning carbon. It must be the non-green-house-gas variety for it to be mentioned in the article.

"There's a possible alternative!"
You are joking. I would have enjoyed reading the article if it was about what they had discovered, with some detail, but to drown in it in Green propaganda makes it unbearable. It is why I cancelled my subscription to several 'Scientific' magazines years ago.

And it has destroyed my expectation that we would be able to power a family car with AA battery. Doooooh!

Aug 27, 2014 at 5:56 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

The green progressives really do want to de-industrialize the earth

I wonder how many of them realise that this will start with definding the arts, followed by reduced healthcare and education spending. Not, I suspect, what they would hope for ;(

Aug 27, 2014 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Trefjon

If the sustainable population of Earth is 1 billion, the population crash that follows the final depletion of our resources will not be managed, but an uncontrolled disaster. A population crash is a normal biological phenomenon when a species goes beyond the carrying capacity of its environment. This applies to humanity just like anybother animal. The trick is not to manage the unmanageable, it is to try and make sure that your descendants are among the survivors.

Aug 27, 2014 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

I enjoyed reading this:

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/bihar-village-dharnai-nitish-kumar-clamours-for-real-electricity/1/375733.html

The first comment, by some patronising ecofascist, is put down in the most sublime way by the second commenter. These comments represent the truth of what renewables means.

Aug 27, 2014 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Aug 27, 2014 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Please show your working and proof of the assertion in your first sentence. I will then decide whether or not to panic over what you wrote subsequently.

Aug 27, 2014 at 7:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Entropic man is simply parroting the exact same eco fascist arguments so brilliantly exposed by the recent Ch4 programme Utopia. The plot involves a ruling elite using a flu virus to cull the population down to 500 million.

http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/brutal-tense-and-darkly-comic-brace-yourself-for-new-tv-thriller-utopia-8445406.html

Most greens are too naive (stupid) to know the difference between right and left wing politics. They are usually ultra conservative and their policies regressive.

http://alturl.com/xxmqe

Aug 27, 2014 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Greens are incredibly single-minded and boring in their perpetual demands to halt all human progress and for humanity to regress to short and brutish lives.
I find their lack of intelligence and their anti-humanity incredibly depressing and don't understand why anyone with even a modicum of intelligence bothers listening to them. I am convinced their own blatant stupidity and rank hypocrisy will soon bring them to an end as a social force.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

Esmiff

You miss my point. I was not a politician , but a biologist.

A population crash is not a choice, it is a consequence. You choose to run a society as though its resources are infinite and it will collapse with massive casualties when the resources run out.

What sustains our current and growing population is large scale energy use in mechanised farming, distribution networks and the Haber process. That energy comes from fossil fuels.

Bishop Hill's headline is correct. Renewables cannot sustain our current population. The correct deduction is not that we should not use renewables. It is that at some time in the future the fossil fuels will be depleted and our population will perforce be much smaller.

Given our current success(sarc) at population control and environmental management I expect the transition to be uncontrolled violent and very bloody.

Historically most wars have ultimately been about overpopulation exceeding available resources. When this happens with ten billion people fighting over enough land for one billion, whether you are right or left, green or red white and blue, will make no difference.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

About 70% of the Earth's land surface and 90% of the Earth's population live in the Northern Hemisphere. Much of the Northern Hemisphere prime bread basket agricultural land lies in the continental temporate climatic zone.

Evangelical greens have always portrayed an increase in atmospheric CO2 as an evil pollutant and the prospect of a warming as a crisis, and politicians have believed it. In reality an increase in atmospheric CO2 is known to dramatically improve crop growth and grain yields. Any CO2 induced warming is looking more and more likely to play second fiddle to natural cyclicity and in any event incapable of exceeding the net positive benefit window of 1.5-2 deg C warming - further assisting crop yields by producing longer frost free growth seasons along the cooler northern margins of agricultural belts.

Far from renewables assisting the supply of abundant affordable energy, and crop sustainability, the greens are campaigning to suppress it.

Aug 27, 2014 at 11:54 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Steve Jones

I am not sure what level you want to work at, but this is a start.

One of the classic population studies is on the lynx and snowshoe hare. The hare population varies widely on a roughly decadal cycle. This is driven by food availability and several predators, but is essentially a boom and bust cycle in which ample food supply allows the hares to build up a large population which then overgrazed the food supply and then triggered population crashes when the food ran out.
The lynx are aapecialist predators feeding on the hares. When the hare population crashes, so do lynx numbers.

Our situation is similar. Exploiting fossil fuels allows us to produce artificially high food production and an artificially high population. Once the fossil fuels go, so does the food supply and the large population.

Offhand I can think of three human examples in which human populations crashed.

In The Pleistocene a volcano named Toba caused a good supply reduction with an associated human crash

In Ireland in the 1840s the food supply for the lowest classes collapsed due to the potato famine, accompanied by an estimated million deaths and mass emigration. In the Horn of Africa smallpox eradication allowed the population to grow beyond the capacity of the local agricultural land.

For more recent examples research the relation between population and food supply in Rwanda, the Sudan and Ethiopia. Note also the political , social and military consequences

Aug 28, 2014 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Entropic man

The only overpopulation war I can think of is when your Nazi chums invaded Poland. The success of technology had bred too many Aryans for all of them to have land to farm in Germany. See 'Himmler justifies the invasion of Poland' in the comment above.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebensraum

Lebensraum (German for "habitat" or literally "living space") was an important component of Nazi ideology in Germany. The Nazis supported territorial expansionism to gain Lebensraum as being a law of nature for all healthy and vigorous peoples of superior races to displace people of inferior races; especially if the people of a superior race were facing overpopulation in their given territories.

Aug 28, 2014 at 12:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterE. Smiff

Entropic man

Most wars were fought for opium, gold, oil or slaves.

The Irish potato famine happened because Britain refused to interfere in the market to save the Irish peasants.

Aug 28, 2014 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterE. Smiff

Flow batteries are the only alternative to pumped hydroelectric. There are several chemistries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery

The only issue is cost: how expensive is it to store several hours of off-peak power from a windmill. If it is more the cost of the windmill, it is not practical.

Aug 28, 2014 at 3:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterEric Gisin

Entropic Man is probably right to say that renewables will not support present population levels. They certainly will not support present consumption levels.

But the subsequent argument is not clear. What one usually hears is, therefore we must invest in huge amounts of renewables and limit emissions.

Why?

Aug 28, 2014 at 7:34 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel

So does anyone have a basic assesment of various energy systems' costs, with everything (storage etc) factored in ?

Aug 28, 2014 at 7:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterTuppence

Entropic Man and his ilk need to look at a Hans Rosling talk (http://www.ted.com/speakers/hans_rosling). They would learn that most academics know even less about the numbers/facts around population, resources and human development than the general public, who in turn know less than chimpanzees (ie random guesswork). Too many people just recite notions taught in the 70's that were subsequently disproven by real events. The trouble with using simple logic is that nature apparently follows a more complex set of rules which are also logical but a lot less pessimistic.

Aug 28, 2014 at 8:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

There is a simple test for the viability of wind and solar: remove the subsidies.

Aug 28, 2014 at 10:49 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Aug 28, 2014 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

The level I work at is to assume that humans are, generally, very inventive and have a track record of solving the problems they face.

The green answer, as stated above, is to surrender and make plans to sacrifice a large chunk of their own kind.

Aug 28, 2014 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Michel

There are three components in the upcoming ropadope.

They are overpopulation, resource depletion and climate change. They interact, but tend to be politically considered in isolation.

Thus measures like the encouragement of renewables helps with climate change and resource depletion and climate change, but not with maintaining a high population.

Worldwide affluence based on high resource use (probably the default policy among BH readers) would probably stabilise population around ten billion, but at the cost of bringing resource depletion and damaging climate change sooner.

Killing people to take their land is the current solution to overpopulation in Rwanda, the Sudan and Ethiopia. This may become the new default solution. Note that this is happening in more subtle form in the Arab Spring. The current unrest in Egypt and Syria was triggered when a Russian grain harvest failure made it impossible for the governments to maintain heavily subsidised bread prices. In Egypt the subsequent food riots brought down the government.

I would also suspect that Russia's eagerness to regain hegemony over Ukraine is related to their status as a large grain producer.

Look for many more resource wars over land, oil etc. I could mention two US/Iraq wars in 20 years and China's recent attempt to plant an oil drilling platform in Vietnam's economic zone but enough for the moment.

Aug 28, 2014 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Hate to say this, but: Ayn Rand, "Anthem".

Yeah, yeah, I know...

Aug 28, 2014 at 11:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterUncle Gus

I see no reason to assume that the 'sustainable' human population is only 1 billion - or 10 billion - or 50 billion, for that matter. Of course, it depends what you mean by 'sustainable' (usually not much). We need fixed nitrogen to grow crops, but the air is about 3/4 nitrogen. Presently we fix this using fossil fuel, but in the longer term we shall get micro-organisms or plants to do this for us, using solar energy.

Aug 30, 2014 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterosseo

Thus measures like the encouragement of renewables helps with climate change and resource depletion and climate change

Since when have renewables, sorry, "the encouragement of renewables" (all those articles in the Guardian) changed the climate, or had any significant effect on resource depletion?

Aug 30, 2014 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Conclusion:
Sustainability is not Sustainable.

Which might be an environmental science equivalent to Gödel's incompleteness theorems

Aug 31, 2014 at 4:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Rasey

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