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Chapter 2.  Emergy and Economics

It is a fact that:

Real wealth is food, fuel, water, wood for houses, fiber for clothes, raw minerals, electricity, information.

A country is wealthy that has more of this real stuff used per person.

Money is only paid to people and is not proportional to real wealth.

Prices and costs are inverse to real wealth.

When resources are abundant, standard of living is high, but prices are low.

When resources are scarce, prices are high, more money goes to bring resources, a few people get rich, but the net contribution to prosperity is small.

Real wealth is mostly the work of nature and has to be evaluated with a scientific measure, EMERGY.

                                                                                             – Howard T. Odum

Table of Contents


Appendix on Thermodynamics

Main Text


Propaganda Is Not Educational

Why We Need this Chapter

What We Hope To Accomplish in this Chapter

Odum’s Theory


Material Wealth

Spiritual Wealth

Money and Other Forms of Surrogate or Paper Wealth

The Fall of the Paper Empire

Ground rules

What Goes Wrong

Emergy (with an M)


Matching Problems


Determination of Feasibility of Nuclear Fission

Improving Efficiency


Emergy Analysis of Economies

The Emergy Cycle

The Money Cycle

Business and Government

Does the Government Do Anything Useful?

Can the Government Solve Social Problems?

A Humanistic Economy

Economic Activity: Emergy Supply and Demand

The Availability Supply

Energy Flow Diagram for Earth

Sustainable Energy: How Much Can We Expect?

Fossil Fuels

Large-Scale Alternatives

Non-Renewable But Very Extensive

Nuclear Fission





Tidal and Waves


Ocean Thermal Electric Conversion

Lunar Power Station


Solar Chemical Reactor

Passive Solar

Biomass: Fermentation and Pyrolysis


Our Energy Budget


Comfort Heating and Cooling


Waste Treatment


Wasted Energy

Drawbacks and Advantages of a Large Energy Budget

A Little Arithmetic


Important Questions




Appendix on Thermodynamics

In Appendix I, I have tried to provide a brief review of – or introduction to – thermodynamics.  Readers will determine the usefulness of my efforts.  Many readers will wish to skip this appendix; and, if they are familiar with thermodynamics, they might not miss it.  I recommend that everyone read it first however.  Alternatively, one might read the words and skip the equations – employing the procedure suggested in the preface.  Even the expert might gain an insight or two (or find an error).  (However, no one should blame himself if he cannot profit from this attempt to explain thermodynamics in about thirty pages.  Undoubtedly, the fault lies with me.  In any case, one can render Appendix I completely harmless by simply ignoring it.)

My introduction to Appendix I discusses some suggestions by leading theoreticians concerning the appropriate names we should give to the various divisions of the subject.  This brief review doesn’t get beyond the basics of the simplest types of problems.  The next main section defines some important concepts, namely, the control volume, what is meant by the properties of a substance and the state of a systemProcesses, including cyclic processes, and what is meant by a pure substance and a simple compressible substance are discussed.  Next, a generic balance equation is presented, e.g., the increase in the population of the United States is the births minus the deaths plus the immigrants minus the emigrants (during the period of interest).  To define work in a slightly novel way, I have defined entropy using a definition of entropy developed by Prof. David Bowman, after which I present the energy balance that represents the First Law of Thermodynamics for the easier cases.  (Entropy is defined before energy!)  The Second Law is presented as an entropy balance, with the entropy created represented by a thermodynamic-lost-work term, the meaning of which is illustrated by an illuminating example.

The appendix ends by combining the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics to get definitions of the Gibbs availability function and the Helmholtz availabilty function.  These terms are not even in common use, which shows the low esteem in which the concepts are held – even by scientists who ought to know better.  I have removed the section in which availability analysis is used to compute the maximum quantity of reversible work that can be performed sustainably within the Earth’s control volume; but, I do present a simple availability analysis to determine the break-even efficiency for burning fossil fuels without emitting CO2.  I will present the availability analysis of the entire Earth in a separate paper later.

Main Text

I begin this brief introduction with my chronic complaint that practically every author is calling his propaganda educational whilst I am actually presenting material of an educational nature that is nearly guaranteed to be mistaken for propaganda.  (Of course some of it is propaganda, but not all of it is propaganda.)  With that off my chest, I begin establishing the need for emergy analysis.  Next, I present Odum’s theory of emergy and transformity.  When I discuss emergy analysis, I shall employ the rough definition of availability given above.  That definition will satisfy some lay people.  (Many readers will be satisfied with a qualitative definition and leave the thermodynamics, presented in Appendix I, to experts.  One might consult a friend who knows thermodynamics to determine how many mistakes I have made – if any – and whether the mistakes are fatal to my thesis or not.)

Using a departure from Odum’s computation of emergy, I outline my methodology for determining the feasibility of sustainable energy technologies in terms of a modified emergy efficiency that I find satisfactory except that the transformity doesn’t have always a unique value in this new setting.  In ecology, nature decides what shall be transformed into what and the pattern is basically immutable.  For industrial purposes, the matching problem, i.e., what primary energy resource shall be used for what purpose, is considerably complicated by scarcity and abundance and is by no means God given.  This explains why Odum finds transformity so useful in ecology whereas I find it troublesome (to keep track of) in determining the feasibility of sustainable primary energy technologies.  I indicate how one might go about determining the primary energy costs, including the indirect costs that are normally overlooked, that go into primary energy production facilities (when the transformities are unknown) using nuclear fission as an example.

In the next section, I use a system diagram approach to model the U.S. or world economy and to speculate on an improved humanistic economy.  We then look at energy flows on the earth to estimate how much sustainable energy (availability) we can hope for in the best possible case (short of cold fusion).  I speculate that renewable energy from biomass is likely to be the major provider of energy toward the end of the next century.  [The reader understands by now that, whenever I use the word energy loosely, I am nearly always referring to high-grade energy, availability, or emergy.]

We, then, look at how energy is likely to be distributed in a one-kilowatt-per-capita, neo-tribal, decentralized society that employs advanced technology in an appropriately humanized manner of which, perhaps, even the Unabomber might approve.  The Unabomber confessed that he had been unable to distinguish “good” technology from “bad” technology; therefore, he recommended eliminating all technology – and, just imagine, burning all of the technical literature.  I believe I have solved the problem of determining which technologies might be safely retained; and, needless to say, if my system were employed, we could dispense with book burning! 

Probably, we can retain (i) technologies that consume only moderate quantities of high-grade energy; (ii) that do not dehumanize anyone; (iii) that can be produced locally in plants small enough to fit in two-car garages, which, clearly, will not be needed for cars; and (iv) that can be understood by the average undiminished user, provided he expend a modicum of effort to understand the world he lives in – quite unlike you and me, who are content to utilize dozens of devices we couldn’t repair if our lives depended on it.  Shame on us.  With a little more time and effort I might be able to sharpen my characterization of sensible technology – guided by the Schumacherian dictum [2] to behave “as though people mattered”.

Next, we revisit the matching problem for a society in which we have a large menu of sustainable energy technologies to choose from.  Finally, we consider under what conditions sustainable energy is likely to be sufficient to permit sustainable happiness – at least absence of unbearable misery – for ten billion people.  I draw some conclusions of my own and, then, present a series of extremely important questions that I submit for the reader’s consideration and for further research.


Propaganda Is Not Educational

Definition (Education) [from Random House Dictionary (RHD) [3]].  1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge and of developing the powers of reasoning and judgment.  2 - 5.  (Irrelevant in the sense of which we are speaking).

Definition (Educational) [from RHD [3]].  1. pertaining to education.  2. tending or intended to educate, instruct, or inform: an educational TV show.

My claim is that the greater part of this chapter (together with Appendix I, which, in an earlier draft, was part of this chapter) qualifies as educational under any reasonable (dictionary) definition of the word because, first, what I tell you is factual (unless I make an error, which, of course, is always possible despite my best intentions) and is not propaganda or indoctrination; and, second, systems diagrams, emergy analysis, and balance equations, especially availability balances that account for lost work – but really all balance equations – are powerful tools for reasoning and making judgments.  (In this draft, balance equations are banished to Appendix I.)  All of the material given here and in Appendix I is easily checked, therefore the dangers of unintentional errors are minimized.

This is in contradistinction to many other discussions of the environment (whether pro or con), which are referred to as “educating the public” but amount to nothing better than propaganda.  Why must scholars, even successful scholars, abuse the word education so shamelessly?

The lack of understanding exhibited by politicians is appalling; but, it is simply incredible how poorly the subject of this chapter is understood by the “experts” who teach college students, write books, head institutes that collect public funds, express their views on TV, and speak in scientific symposia.  As of this writing, I have neither heard nor seen the situation stated at all correctly – present company excepted.  I’ve heard and read a lot of nonsense – mostly from people who are “soft” on markets, commerce, and capitalism.  I am prepared to refute the conventional wisdom in debate – anytime, any place, and against any odds despite a painful awareness of my own limitations.  The reader understands that I have no illusions about the extent of my own mastery of the subject, which I recognize as inadequate.  Perhaps, though, I can convince someone that I have made a modest start in the right direction.  This is a subject about which practically nothing useful has been said.  One should not expect my remarks to be the last word.

Quite distinct from the educational material presented in this chapter is my preference for the soft-energy position in the soft-energy / hard-energy debate, which may be viewed as a matter of personal taste.  The consequences of a hard-energy scenario, however, can be derived scientifically; and, I do not see how anyone acquainted with these results could prefer the hard-energy position, which, by the way, is part and parcel of the American Dream.

Why We Need this Chapter

We need this chapter to understand the Environmental Axiom, which is presented in the next chapter.  That’s why this is Chapter 2, but excellent reasons can be given for presenting this material even if it were not used elsewhere in the book:

Industrial civilization has been based on fossil fuels.  Currently, society is challenged by two opposing trends: (1) fossil fuel is running out and (2) developing nations (and poor people in rich nations) want to live the “American Dream”.  Americans have been bingeing on fossil fuel for 150 years – particularly on oil since World War II.  We have behaved like the heir who squanders in a day a large fortune built up over dozens of generations.  Even conservative analysts such as Wolf Häfele [4] predict severe oil shortages beginning around 2030.  The most “optimistic” estimates of total reserves – both discovered and undiscovered – would have us running out in about 400 years at the present rate of consumption assuming (1) no population growth and (2) continued disproportionately low use of oil in the third world.  This scenario is in severe conflict with the aspirations of many people.  Americans use 25% of the world’s energy budget while comprising only 5% of the world’s population.

Moreover, the American Dream is an environmental nightmare.  (This claim is justified somewhat near the end of this chapter when I discuss the unlikely plentiful energy scenario.  I should say more about the evils of a highly commercial, consumerist society supported by heavy industry, which, in the usual case, is hard on the environment and, in any case, requires costly measures to prevent serious environmental damage.  For now, I shall have to let the Unabomber speak for me despite certain discrepancies in our views.  Do not make the mistake of depriving yourself of reading his brilliant Manifesto [5] simply because you don’t approve of his marketing methods.  This is one of the best analyses of the harmfulness of heavy industrial technology I have seen.  Not reading the Unabomber Manifesto because the author had to kill people to get it published is like not reading Mein Kampf because you don’t approve of the Beer Hall Putsch.  Even if it’s wrong, you could save yourself a lot of grief by knowing what it says.  (Hitler outlined his plans fairly straightforwardly in Mein Kampf.  Why, then, were intellectuals surprised when he began killing Jews?  Answer:  They didn’t read Mein Kampf!)

Some people (usually not technologists) believe that shortages of fossil fuels will be relieved by technological breakthroughs.  It has been noted that these people are like smokers who won’t quit because by the time they get cancer a cure will be found!  It has taken nature millions of years to evolve the tree.  The likelihood of man developing technology superior to a tree is only slightly greater than the likelihood of developing an artificial human being.  Actually, the horrifying plentiful energy scenario (described below) with its excessive motion, alienation, and stress, if not pollution and the wiping out of nearly every species of plant and animal, is unlikely.  Nevertheless, reasonable quantities of renewable energy will be needed to support human life.  At the present time, as far as I know, despite my involvement with the mainstream scientific and technological sustainable energy communities, I have not heard of anyone who knows, or is trying to find out – even, if any renewable energy technology is feasible.

Normally, when technologists discuss the viability of alternative energy sources, they give us energy costs in cents per kilowatt-hour, for example.  But, money is an inappropriate measure to determine which sustainable energy technologies will be feasible.  As far as primary energy is concerned, we need the cost in kilowatt-hours per kilowatt-hour produced.  Prices are distorted by fossil-fuel subsidies.  According to Odum and Odum [6], we purchase the 1700 kilowatt-hours (kWhrs) in a barrel of oil with the money obtained by expending only one-sixth of 1700 kWhrs.  Money does not account for the work done by nature; moreover, it does not satisfy useful conservation laws.  We need an energy-based measure of value such as emergy – with an m.  The Odums claim that nuclear fission and, for that matter, photovoltaic cells are net consumers of energy; i.e., if nuclear fission were the only primary energy source and all of the energy costs of producing it – the direct costs and the indirect costs – had to come from nuclear fission and nowhere else (not fossil fuels), eventually the nuclear plant would grind to a halt because it had not produced enough energy to keep itself going.

We need a methodology that is independent of money for evaluating alternative sustainable energy technologies.  Money won’t work (i) because of the distortions in the prices of fossil fuels, (ii) because it can be created too easily by governments, for example, and (iii) because money-based economic theories do not account for the work done by nature.  In this essay, we use emergy analysis (1) to assign an immutable measure of value to manufactured articles, capital goods, and energy sources; (2) to understand the economic “facts of life” that reveal why almost all public policy is irrational; and (3) to determine good policy and provide arguments toward widespread acceptance of reasonable social goals.  The Odums and other practitioners of emergy analysis use emergy theory for many other useful applications, especially in the field of ecology [7,8,9,10].  I have applied (and modified) Odum’s methods in a different setting, which is not to say that the Odums have not anticipated my efforts in these areas as well.  They are true visionaries.

This, then, is an attempt to establish methodologies to put public policy on a firm scientific basis.  Unfortunately, this chapter, with or without Appendix I at the end of the book, is likely to be more demanding of the reader than other chapters in the book.  If you find the writing inaccessible, please refer the material to a scientifically inclined friend and try to get a judgment of its validity, after which – hopefully – you can accept (or reject) its conclusions.  Do not be too hasty to dismiss my remarks, though, if your scientific friend has a vested interest in the status quo, e.g., is an employee of a U.S. or multi-national corporation.  Be especially skeptical if your “friend” dismisses these concerns with a cursory glance at the material and what sounds like a Rush Limbaugh quote.

What We Hope To Accomplish in this Chapter

I hope to show that we consistently underestimate the social changes required to achieve sustainable happiness for all of humanity.  We shall consider three cases: (i) the case where our supply of high-grade energy keeps pace (approximately) with population, (ii) the case of scarcity, and (iii) the case of abundance.  I hope to use the results of this analysis to convince the reader that the Fundamental Theorem is probably true.

Fundamental Theorem.  The complete abandonment of competition for wealth, power (and negotiable influence), and negotiable fame is a necessary and sufficient condition for sustainable happiness for all of humanity – under certain conditions that will be stated later.  (Hopefully, these conditions can be satisfied, in which case the theorem can be stated without the proviso.)

I hope to prove this as well as social questions are ever proved, but we shall need the entire book to do so.  In this chapter, we shall see one reason for the necessity to abandon materialism and, hopefully, we will get some idea of the sufficiency – although much research needs to be done to determine if we can produce enough sustainable energy to support ten billion people in comfort.  (“One can never prove a theorem too many ways – especially when no one believes it.”)  The terms sustainable and happiness have definite technical meanings that are close to ordinary usage.  When the reader has heard the argument given here he or she might accept the idea that, in all probability, economic growth is inconsistent with sustainability.  We need economic shrinkage (probably).  Also, the reader should be convinced that using money as the basic unit of economic analysis leads to confusion and poor political decisions.  Using emergy leads to clarity and understanding.

An interesting new development has begun in the environmental debate.  Some overtly anti-environmental activists have entered the fray despite the unpopularity of overtly anti-environmental statements.  What does it mean?  (Normally, everyone pays lip service to the environment regardless of his true intentions.)  In my opinion, it means that some conservatives are beginning to understand the true picture; namely, if we really want to protect the environment, we will have to abandon the American economic system.  These anti-environmental zealots are willing to sacrifice nature, which is real, to an economic system, which is a failed abstraction!  These people are talking such madness that they may convince some people who have been neutral to join the environmental movement and to adopt the radical and scientifically sound position advocated in this essay – but at least they are not kidding themselves.  They understand that environmentalism means the end of the American way of life.

In the old days, conservatives used to say that, if wealth were divided equally, the average wealth would decline and all of us would be poor – at least by the standards of middle-class Americans.  The conservatives are correct.  What they do not take into account is that, if we do not divide the wealth equally, those who receive less than the average will live lives of misery or simply perish.  The point of this chapter is that, according to our best scientific guess, there is not enough to go around unless the big consumers reduce their consumption drastically.  The criterion of successful living is to consume as little as possible!  We must construct institutions, indeed a new form of community, that will make this possible.

Hopefully, when you have finished this chapter, you will have a strong grasp of the following notions, i.e., sufficiently strong that the first clever conservative you meet cannot talk you out of what you know:

1.         The so-called energy crisis is much worse than our leaders say.

2.         The end of the petroleum era is the most awesome deadline facing humanity.

3.         When petroleum is scarce, our diesel farm machinery will stop, which could mean starvation for billions – not millions.  Conceivably, nine billion people could die of starvation before the year 2100.

4.         When the average emergy per capita is no greater than the emergy consumption just sufficient to live without undue misery, sharing wealth equally becomes a moral imperative.  Every individual who consumes a modicum of emergy in excess of his fair share will be directly responsible for the deaths of the people who sink below minimum subsistence.  The number of people who die depends upon how the deficit incurred by that one person is apportioned among few or many.

Odum’s Theory


Material Wealth

Money is not equivalent to material wealth.  I can say this 2000 times and every time I say it it will be true.  Material wealth consists of the things we need to live, including art to enhance our spiritual lives, and a few luxuries to take the drudgery out of life.  It can be measured in units of emergy – with an m.  Examples of material wealth are (i) food, (ii) clothing, (iii) housing and other infrastructure, (iv) tools and other capital goods (things used to make other things), (v) medicine and drugs, (vii) stockpiles of high-grade energy, (viii) works of art, (ix) books, (x) computer programs, (xi) correct, useful, and non-trivial information, etc.

Spiritual Wealth

Naturally, the wealth of the intellect in its vast accumulations of knowledge and mental powers, the wealth of the psyche in its deep understanding and love, and other forms of spiritual wealth are not what we are referring to in our discussion of the evils of inequality of wealth.  Indeed, by eliminating differences in material wealth, we hope to make greater spiritual wealth, consistent with one’s capacity, available to everyone.  This is why it is so difficult to distinguish one’s final goals.  Every goal can be a means to something more and every intermediary stage is someone’s personal goal.  These intermediary stages can be taken to be the means to an end by someone else.  Thus, Popper’s thesis in “Utopia and Violence” [11] is untenable.  He imagines that one can distinguish means from ends, which is impossible.  (“Utopia and Violence” was discussed at the end of Chapter 1.)

Money and Other Forms of Surrogate or Paper Wealth

When I speak of surrogate or paper wealth nowadays, I may be talking about entries in computer files.  Sometimes there is no paper involved, but the dynamics are the same whether it be paper money, stock and bond certificates and other fiduciary instruments, or simply entries in a computer, e.g., John Doe owns 100 shares of General Motors.  Paper wealth is not considered wealth in this theory, despite the terminology.  However, as long as people have faith in it, it is a surrogate for real wealth, which means it can be converted into real wealth.

Paper wealth, which is normally negotiable, has brought down empires.  It can be accumulated without owning a treasure chest – let alone a storehouse for wheat, cotton, lumber, and drugs.  Large differences in paper wealth between citizens who own comparably sized homes can occur.  Paper wealth can create massive poverty and it can mask serious underlying difficulties in an economy that is not producing food, clothing, and shelter in adequate amounts.  The exact way in which catastrophes occur because of such vast accumulations might be extremely complex.  On the other hand, it may be no more difficult to comprehend than our own recent savings and loan debacle.  Permit me to describe an imaginary simplified scenario that indicates the type of thing that can happen.

The Fall of the Paper Empire

The claim is that an empire or nation can fall because of large accumulations of paper wealth in the hands of a few individuals – less than 1% of the population, say.  The best I can come up with is a thought experiment where this happens.  I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not the following scenario is plausible.  This point is not crucial to my thesis and I do not absolutely insist upon it.

Ground rules

This is supposed to be a hypothetical society the needs of which are few.  The people eat food produced domestically by about 1% of their population, but they do not require dwelling places or health care.  The fuel for their cars, trucks, trains, boats, and planes is processed practically automatically from imported crude oil.  Their communication is done using amazingly high-tech imported gadgets that practically run themselves.  Indeed, everything they need except food is produced abroad and they consume all of the food produced by the tiny minority engaged in that once-noble pursuit, who now eke out a bare existence on practically the lowest level of the social ladder.  After all, every adult who does not produce food is a college graduate, normally with a masters degree in something – usually some highly specialized aspect of commerce – The Art of the Deal or something even deeper!?

The accumulation of paper wealth (freely convertible to old man’s toys until the pyramid crashes) comes from business done in connection with foreign trade and the sale and distribution of foreign goods, including primary energy, e.g., petroleum, to domestic customers most of whom are employed in (i) negotiating deals, (ii) selling the goods at the wholesale, retail, and street level (mostly to each other), (iii) marketing, (iv) the government, (v) personal-salvationism; i.e., they are spiritual counselors, lawyers, consultants, presenters of seminars on (a) how to manage people, (b) how to comply with the new government regulations, (c) how to succeed in business without really trying, and (d) how to lose weight while eating as much as you want and never exercising, (vi) managing any of the above.  These are a sorry crew.  They produce not one single thing that anyone needs to live.  They call their society THE INFORMATION SOCIETY, but they might just as well call it the paper money society.  [To call what they know information is to call excrement food.]

To show you how simple (and therefore amenable to analysis) this hypothetical society is, I shall divide it into four sectors and four classes.  The sectors are (i) business, government, and academia, (ii) service, and (iii) agriculture.  Please forgive me for lumping business, government, and academia together; but, really, they are barely distinguishable from one another.  It’s easy to distinguish them from service, though, because the service sector pays minimum wage.  Agriculture depends on the market, however, so prices are high whenever crops fail, i.e., when there is nothing to sell.  If it weren’t for government subsidies, the members of the agriculture sector would make less than minimum wage!

I have saved the fourth sector for last.  It is, of course, the military.  It is difficult to live off the efforts of the citizens of other nations and their natural resources without a military sector.  They enforce business contracts negotiated by men and women who couldn’t pass basic training if their lives depended on it.  In other words, the army, navy, air force, and marines “persuade” the trading partners to accept paper currency in exchange for real wealth.  This is what petty hustlers and crooks call “a real sweet deal”.

The four classes, then, are (i) white collar criminals and tyrants, (ii) their lackeys, (iii) military personnel, who, with the exception of a handful of lunatics, would not work without pay (but will do anything for a price) and have no interest whatever in the agendas of those who pay them, and (iv) dropouts (usually heavy drug users, artists, and philosophers), the homeless, the hopelessly handicapped and deficient, the elderly, the terminally ill, and people who are kept around, mostly in jails, in case someone of consequence needs a spare part, etc.

What Goes Wrong

1.         The agriculture sector must suffer economically so that the rest can eat.  Moreover, they tend to be social pariahs and, by induction, so do their children.  They resent this and their children refuse to enter the field; moreover, they begin to sell their farms to housing and business developers.  Pretty soon some of the food has to be imported.

2.         Business and government begin to eliminate middle management and appropriate more and more unto fewer and fewer.

3.         The military can barely be paid (the interest on the national debt is staggering) and soon the nation is scarcely able to defend its “vital interests”.  Soldiers grumble and desertions start.  Also, contrastingly, people who are less willing and less able to fight want to become a part of the military because things are worse elsewhere.

4.         In emulation of business, many of the lower paid workers, usually in the service sector, and many of the disenfranchised resort to crime and violence where a few opportunities to become wealthy through drug sales, say, still exist.  Soon, enough of these disillusioned people become politicized and organized terrorism begins.  The military and police are practically powerless.  (The police are outgunned!)

5.         The small professional class (not mentioned separately above) is infiltrated by foreigners who nucleate, e.g., hire only people of the same nationality as themselves, and soon control entire areas of expertise.  These foreigners have been brought in by predatory businessmen to keep the wages of their lackeys low.  Eventually, the lackeys of the tyrants and businessmen are reduced to wage slavery.  Natives are no longer attracted to the professions and attempt to become businessmen themselves rather than lackeys.  This is a big drain on professional talent.  Some of the most gifted people begin to plan a revolution.

6.         The rest of the world is loath to accept devalued paper money and the supply of oil and manufactured goods begins to slow down.

7.         Agriculture no longer can feed everyone because it is entirely dependent on foreign oil and machinery.

8.         Rebellion begins in the military and spreads rapidly.  Some military remain loyal to business and the most powerful elected officials and bureaucrats, so civil war spreads throughout the land – mostly in the cities.

9.         Resentment of foreigners escalates essentially to pogroms.  The foreigners fight back, quickly organizing into “benevolent societies” and “tongs”.

10.       Alienation, anomie, and dissolution of all social order is complete.

11.       The Four Horsemen saddle up and ride.

Emergy (with an M)


Definition (Availability).  Availability (or available energy) is energy [enthalpy, H, or internal energy, U] corrected for entropy, S.  Rigorous definitions of the Gibbs availability function [H – ToS], the Helmholtz availability function [U - ToS], and entropy are given in Appendix I, Fundamentals of Thermodynamics, where the symbols and technical terms employed in this paragraph are explained.  [To is  the  temperature of the environment, usually taken to be the temperature of the coldest body of water or the atmosphere into which the waste heat of a heat engine can be discharged.  For Earth, 300 K will do.  The effect of entropy on the availability function of sunlight is to reduce it by the ratio of the temperature of Earth to the temperature of the Sun – a factor of  about 19/20.  Since the enthalpy of a proton is 4/3 times the energy, the Gibbs availability of sunlight is about 76/60 times the energy.]  The reader understands that by the word “energy”, as it is used in ordinary parlance, we mean availability.

Definition (Exergy) [1].  In an environment whose ambient temperature and pressure are known, such as the atmosphere or a large body of water, exergy, with an x, is an exact measure of the maximum reversible work that can be obtained from a fixed quantity of material, such as a fuel, the sole use of which is to supply available energy to a process under investigation.  We define the exergy per fixed quantity of material to be the difference between the Gibbs availability of the material and the Gibbs availabilty of the same quantity of the same material reduced to ambient temperature and pressure (generally lower) and, especially in the case of fuels, brought into chemical equilibrium with the surroundings by reacting chemically to obtain products from which no additional work can be extracted.  In this treatment, I shall neglect any additional work that might be extracted by allowing combustion products, for example, to diffuse from their high concentration in the combustion chamber to the concentration at which they are found in the atmosphere far from the site of the combustion.

Thus, the exergy of one kilogram-mole of octane at 500°C and 10 atmospheres is the difference between the Gibbs availability of 114 kilograms (one kilogram-mole) of octane (the fuel) at 500°C and 10 atmospheres minus the sum of the Gibbs availability of 352 kilograms of carbon dioxide and the Gibbs availability of 162 kilograms of water (the products of combustion) all at 300 K and one atmosphere.  This is the most degenerate state that this collection of atoms can attain in a world where temperatures lower than 300 K and pressures lower than one atmosphere cannot be found except by actually doing work, which would defeat our purpose, namely, to discover the maximum amount of reversible work that we can extract from the 114 kilograms of octane at elevated temperature and pressure.  We are assuming here that 400 kilograms of oxygen is obtained from the ambient air and that it does not contribute additional availability; i.e., its exergy is zero – just as its Gibbs availability, which is equal to the Gibbs free energy at atmospheric conditions, is zero.  As stated above, we are neglecting any possible work that might be extracted from the high concentration of carbon dioxide and water vapor just after combustion by allowing it to diffuse (through some sort of machine) to the average (low) concentration of carbon dioxide and water vapor normally found in the atmosphere.  (Presumably, we could invent some sort of device that would harness the differences in partial pressures using a semi-permeable membrane, say.)

Odum’s original definition of emergy.  Odum defined emergy, measured in emjoules, to be the Gibbs availability of the sunlight, measured in joules, required to produce, by an optimal process, (1) fuels; (2) other energy sources such as wind or fresh water in mountain lakes; (3) natural resources such as grass and trees, (4) manufactured objects, (5) human resources; (6) information; and (7) any other objects of economic interest that can be associated with an identifiable quantity of sunlight.  This is a sunlight-based emergy.  It leads to large numbers for the emergies of primary fuels that are known only approximately; therefore, we shall modify the definition slightly to give common industrial energy products emergies that are known precisely and that are close to 1.0 in magnitude.


Table 2-1.  Solar Transformities

(solar emjoules per joule) [7]





Wind kinetic energy


Unconsolidated organic matter


Geopotential energy in dispersed rain


Chemical energy in dispersed rain


Geopotential energy in rivers


Chemical energy in rivers


Mechanical energy in waves and tides


Consolidated fuels


Food, greens, grains, staples


Protein foods


Human services




The transformity of sunlight is, of course, unity.  The entry for wind kinetic energy says that 623 joules of sunlight are required to generate 1 joule of kinetic energy in wind.  (Wind has about 40 joules of thermal energy, which is not available to us, per joule of kinetic energy.)  Each joule of geopotential energy in dispersed rain requires 8,888 joules of sunlight according to Odum.  Presumably, some portion of this falls into mountain lakes, etc., which, in turn, feed mountain streams and rivers and may be used to produce hydroelectric power.  The entry for geopotential energy in rivers is 23,564.  (How it can be known to five significant figures I cannot say.)  The emergies of food, greens, grains, and staples must account for the rain they require, the sunlight they absorb in photosynthesis, any fossil fuel that is used in their cultivation and transportation, etc.  Each joule (of availability) such foods contain requires from 24,000 to 200,000 joules of sunlight – depending, I suppose, on whether they grow wild in the consumers backyard or are farmed by a giant agri-business and shipped half way around the world.  The reader realizes that a meal of greens from the green grocer, which might contain 21 million joules of Gibbs availability, has an emergy that might be as high as 4.2 trillion solar emjoules.  The case of human labor is interesting too.  I consume energy at the rate of about 0.1 kilowatts when I work.  That’s 100 joules per second.  If I work one hour using all of the knowledge I have acquired through some very expensive (no doubt overpriced) schooling, the emergy cost of that hour could be as high as 5 E9 solar emjoules per joule times  3600 seconds per hour  times 100 joules per second times 1 hour  =  1.8 E15 solar emjoules.  (That’s 1.8 million billion emjoules.)  So, these are some pretty expensive words you are reading!

Sunlight-based emergies have the disadvantage that they are large and known only very roughly.  Moreover, gross estimates are used to evaluate the fuels we use most frequently.  We don’t know how many joules of sunlight must be expended by the most efficient process to produce one joule of alcohol from biomass.  Undoubtedly, the optimal process has yet to be discovered.  These are deficiencies in emergy analysis.  They can be remedied somewhat as will be shown.  Howard Odum recognized that the value of manufactured goods can be quantified in terms of the energy consumed to produce them.  What we owe to the genius of Howard Odum is beyond our powers to compute (even in units of emjoules) – it is truly priceless.  That said, I must warn the reader that the use to which I put his gift is my responsibility alone.  If my implementation of his ideas, which, for the most part, corresponds to my personal taste and inclinations, turns out to be defective, the blame lies solely with myself and does not reflect upon the merit of his original conception and the great body of his vast and rapidly growing scientific legacy.

If we wish to do economics based upon emergy, we need to assign emergies to capital goods and other manufactured objects.  Let us see how to do this in a thought experiment involving an imaginary ideal process.  In this process, the only input is energy (availability); no raw materials are used or, put another way, the raw materials are not considered to have any value – maybe negative value – like toxic waste or raw sewage, but we won’t take credit for it.  The process produces one product.  We wish to compute the emergy of that product produced by an optimal process.


Figure 2-1a.  Energy balance for ideal process

Figure 2-1b.  Availability balance for ideal process

Figure 2-1c.  Emergy balance for ideal process


In Fig. 2-1a, we depict the energy balance for our process.  We don’t show the product coming out, which is assumed to carry negligible energy.  All of the energy entering is reduced to junk heat.  In Fig. 2‑1b, availability enters and nothing comes out, since junk heat has no availability (in this analysis) and neither does the product, which can’t even be burned.  The lost work term provides closure for the availability balance.  Finally, in Fig. 2-1c, the emergy balance is shown with the transformed availability entering, measured as emergy, and the product carrying an equal amount of emergy along with it into the economy – even though all of the availability was consumed as junk heat.

In the case of a similar process that produces the same unit product but is less than optimal, more emergy is required at the input, and the difference between the input and the output is lost.  Thus, as in the Combined First and Second Law (Appendix I, Eq. I-6), emergy can be destroyed.

In their earlier work [6], Howard and Elizabeth Odum measured emergy in fossil-fuel equivalents.  Emergies used to evaluate industrial economies might be computed more easily by taking the transformity of crude oil or even methane as unity.  If we are moving toward an electrical basis for energy analysis, it might be better to take one joule of single-phase, 60 cycle (Hz), 110-volt alternating current (AC) as the unit of emergy – or, perhaps even better, 3,600,000 joules ( = 1 kWhr).

Definition (Standard Electricity).  In this paper, single-phase, 60 Hz, 110-volt alternating current is taken to be standard electricity.

Definition (Emergy Unit).  My arbitrary – but well-defined – choice for one unit of emergy (1 MU) is 1.0 kilowatt-hours of standard electricity.  Although electrical current carries a small amount of entropy manifest in difference currents, for all practical purposes, that is, for engineering purposes, electricity is pure work.  The availability of electricity is equal to its energy; and, with this choice of emergy unit, the emergy of electrical current is numerically equal to its energy in kilowatt-hours.  The transformity of sunlight, wind, biomass, and other energy products will be less than – but close to – 1.0.

Definition (Transformity).  The transformity of a primary fuel is the number of kilowatt-hours of standard electricity one can obtain from 1 kWhr of the primary fuel by an efficient process, the tradition of reporting the availability of fuels in BTUs per pound or kilocalories per gram mole notwithstanding.  Any unit of energy can be converted to kilowatt-hours.  This is an electricity-based transformity, the units of which are emergy units per kilowatt-hour.

Definition (Emergy).  The embodied energy or emergy of a primary fuel is the Gibbs availability of the fuel in kilowatt-hours multiplied by the electricity-based transformity.  The emergy of anything else is the sum of all the emergy that went into producing it by an efficient process minus the emergies of any by-products formed.  The emergy of an activity is the average rate of expenditure of emergy times the time.  These definitions are easily extended to include the dependence of emergy on location and time.  The concept of nemergy or negative emergy can be introduced to aid in the discussion of environmental damage.

Definition (Emergy efficiency).  Emergy efficiency is emergy out divided by emergy in.  This efficiency is 1.0 for an optimal process because the emergy of the output is defined to be the emergy of the inputs.  For a less than optimal process, the emergy efficiency is the emergy of the inputs to an optimal process over the emergy of the inputs to the process under investigation.  Emergy efficiency lies between zero and one.

The transformity of any fuel can be determined by using it to generate standard electricity by an efficient process.  The most efficient process might be a fuel cell.  Therefore, the emergy of any fuel is the Gibbs availability of the fuel multiplied by the electricity-based transformity.

Balance Equations.  Sholto Maud suggested working out energy, availability, and emergy balance equations for simple extraction and conversion processes.  Writing balance equations for extraction and Type 1 conversion helped me to understand what must be included in the definition of emergy and what may not be included without encountering inconsistencies.  Many other people can improve their understandings by studying the balance equations discussed at

Extraction.  An example of extraction is the production of petroleum from the well to the refinery.  Extraction is discussed in

Type 1 Conversion.  The first type of conversion is the production of primary energy from energy supplied by Nature for which we do not compensate Nature.  This is a sustainable process provided the energy from Nature (natural energy) comes from a source that is continuously renewed by the Moon or by the Sun shining on the Earth.  The input to such a process includes other types of energy, material goods, transportation, labor, taxes, etc.  The output includes the principal product, by-products, waste heat, and pollution.  Normally, pollution is not considered; however, the concept of nemergy (negative emergy) should be employed to account for pollution of every type even, for example, the extent to which animals are deprived of habitat by the mere existence of the energy production facility.  Examples of Type 1 conversion are the production of electricity by windpower and solar power.  The emergy balance equation for a Type 1 process is illustrated in Figure 2-1d:

Figure 2-1d.  Emergy Balance for Type 1 Conversion


Let us define some symbols to be used in connection with Figure 2-2:

Table 2-2.  Symbols used in this discussion


Gibbs availability of fuel produced by process


electricity-based transformity of fuel produced


emergy of fuel produced by process = λR · ER


the algebraic sum of all of the emergy inputs (except for MN) minus the by-products


Gibbs availability of stream MI


ratio of EN per unit mass to ER per unit mass


Gibbs availability of energy from Nature = μ · (ER + EI)


the electricity-based transformity of the energy supplied by Nature


emergy of energy from Nature = λN · EN


Energy returned over energy invested (EROI) = ER/EI = MR/MI


the Gibbs availability of primary energy in Type 2 conversions


the transformity of the primary energy source in Type 2 conversions


the emergy of the primary energy supply in Type 2 conversions


Each of the input emergies, except the emergy supplied by Nature, is to be transformed into a product-equivalent emergy.  Then, the emergy invested, MI, is imagined to have been produced by the same process that produced the fuel.  In this way, it will be apparent immediately if the process consumes more emergy than it produces.  All indirect energy expenses should be included in the MI term, in which case EROI is a good measure of the effectiveness of the process.  (See  [An example of an indirect cost is the pro-rata share of the commuting costs of the tax consultant (A) that should be charged to the worker (B) who maintains a windpower installation because the man (C) who serves B lunch had his taxes done by A.]

Then, since


In the first approach, the transformity of the product is determined by the generation of standard electricity with a well-known, efficient process and the transformity of the energy from Nature, whether it be from the tides, from biomass, from wind, from sunlight itself, or from some other natural source, is determined from the emergy balance.  Normally, this transformity is well established.  Therefore, two separate cases obtain:

Case 1.  If λN, the value we compute, is greater than λN*, the accepted value of the transformity of the natural energy, then we should report that our process is part of a more efficient route to standard electricity, and λN should be considered for a new value of the transformity of the energy supplied by Nature.

Case 2.  If λN is less than λN*, then our process is less efficient than the process that established the larger value and we must report an emergy efficiency, η, for our process because we could have generated more emergy with the same quantity of natural energy if we had used the standard process.  The reader should remember that the energy from Nature is “free”, but the area of the solar collector or the size of the windmill is not.

In the second approach, the well-established value of the transformity of the energy supplied by Nature is accepted and the transformity of the product is computed from it.  Call it λR'.  If λR' is less than λR, the true value, we should revert to Case 1 and recalculate the transformity of the natural energy.  If λR' is greater than λR, then the efficiency is λR over λR'.  This is in agreement with Equation 2 above.

Let us imagine the process in the configuration illustrated by Figure 2-1e.


Figure 2-1e.  Alternative Diagram for Type 1 Conversion

If the algebraic sum of the emergy inputs to a process minus the emergy supplied by Nature exceeds the emergy of the product, that is, if MI > MR, then the process is wasting energy resources.  This is the case for some alternative energy projects that seek venture capital, government subsidies, donations, or unwary buyers.  If they were not subsidized by fossil fuel, they would not work.

Type 2 Conversion.  The second type of conversion is the production of secondary energy from primary energy.  The production of hydrogen from methane or from electrolysis of water is an example of Type 2 conversion.  Figure 2-1f is the same as Figure 2-1d except that MP, the primary energy, is substituted for MN:


Figure 2-1f.  Emergy Balance for Type 2 Conversion

In the first approach, the transformity of the product is determined by the generation of standard electricity by a well-known, efficient process and the transformity of the primary energy is computed from the emergy balance equation just as we did in the case of a Type 1 conversion, mutatis mutandis:

Case 1.  If λP, the value we compute, is greater than λP*, the accepted value of the transformity of the primary energy, then we should report that our process is part of a more efficient route to standard electricity, and λP should be considered for a new value of the transformity of the primary energy.

Case 2.  If λP is less than λP*, then our process is less efficient than the process that established the larger value and we must report an emergy efficiency, η, for our process because we could have generated more emergy with the same quantity of primary energy if we had used the standard process.

In the second approach, the well-established value of the transformity of the primary energy is accepted and the transformity of the product is computed from it.  Call it λR'.  If λR' is less than λR, the true value, we should revert to Case 1 and recalculate the transformity of the natural energy.  If λR' is greater than λR, then the emergy efficiency is λR over λR'.  This is in agreement with Equation 3 above.  These results are worth deriving in a different way:

If a fuel the emergy of which is known is produced by the process under investigation and the sum of all of the emergy costs – both direct and indirect – that go into the process (computed with the true transformity λP*) minus the emergies of any useful by-products is greater than the algebraic sum of the emergy inputs for the process that determined the known emergy of the energy product, the process under investigation is sub-optimal and the emergy efficiency, η, is

and, the transformity of the product we would compute from

is higher than the true value λR.  The only justification for the process is that we cannot do without the product and there is no other way to get it, which is not the case when electricity is used to produce hot water (discussed below) since hot water can be produced with less emergy by burning fuel under normal circumstances.  Nevertheless, the process may be needed in extraordinary circumstances where the burning of fuel is prohibited, e. g., on a space satellite.

If the algebraic sum of the emergy inputs for the process under investigation is less than that of the older process, the transformity of the primary energy should be recalculated.  It may not be expedient to discontinue production by the older process immediately because of compelling reasons not to shut down the older facilities – not the least of which is the time delay before new facilities can be built.  The emergy efficiency of the older process is now less than 1.0.

Type 3 Conversion.  The third type of conversion is the manufacture of non-energy goods.  The manufacturing process has inputs of energy, material goods, transportation, labor, taxes, etc., and outputs that include a principal product, by-products, and waste heat.  This is best illustrated with a diagram such as Figure 2-1g.


Figure 2-1g.  Emergy Balance for Manufacturing Process


Table 2-3.  Symbols for Figure 4


emergy of direct energy supplies


emergy of inputs of material, transportation, labor, taxes, etc.


emergy of principal product


emergy of by-product


emergy of waste heat stream


The emergy, MW, of the waste heat stream is its availability times the number of kilowatts of standard electricity that can be generated efficiently by one kilowatt-hour of waste heat.  The emergy of the sum total of all direct energy inputs to the process is determined in the usual way.  The emergy of the sum total of all non-energy inputs must be available from past studies or must be determined during the analysis.  It may include contributions from pollution etc. in which case negative emergy in the output is added to the input.  Unlike the case of energy production, the transformities of the inputs cannot be influenced by the process.  The emergy of the principal product and the by-product must equal the emergy of the inputs minus the emergy of the waste heat.  In the case of a principal product as the sole output, the determination is trivial.  However, when one or more by-products are present, the emergies of the by-products and the principal project must be apportioned in a canonical manner that should be determined by the analyst on a case-by-case basis.

If the emergy of a by-product is known in some other way, it may be appropriate to use the known value.  In a case where the emergies must be distributed equitably, the relation between market price, either instantaneous or averaged over time, and energy or emergy may be useful.  See “The Relation of Energy to Money”.  Thus, the emergy is apportioned according to market value.  This is a singular intrusion of money into the physical realm of emergy analysis and may not be advisable.  In a non-market economy, some combination of energy, labor, capital expenditures, product mass or heat of fusion (even) might be of use.  In any case, the sum of the emergies of the products must close the emergy balance.  The consumer may find it expedient to compare the emergy of any given product with the emergy of a comparable product to minimize his impact upon the environment.

Note.  The EROI defined in this essay is sometimes denoted EROI-1 because it is one less than the usual EROI which equals (MR + MI)/MI.  The reader should realize that the terms Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 Conversion have no currency outside of this essay.

Matching Problems

At this late date, we still have no idea if even one sustainable primary energy technology exists other than firewood itself.  (We would prefer not to burn firewood directly, because of the smoke, even if it turns out that global warming (from carbon dioxide) is not a problem.)  In any case, when we analyze our first sustainable energy process, we have no right to imagine that a less expensive sustainable energy source exists that can be “matched” to that process.  We cannot make use of predictions concerning the distribution and usefulness of our form of primary energy (call it Eo) or any other.  In other words, we must do our determination of feasibility with only occasional reference to the matching problem that will be solved subsequently.

Thus, it is, in fact, Eo, itself, that must carry the burden of the direct and indirect costs with few exceptions.  If we have sustainable electricity, probably we would use electric cars, which are much more efficient consumers than gasoline or diesel cars, regardless of the emergy costs associated with building the cars and providing the electricity.  Workers commuting back and forth to work will consume about one-third the energy budget of a gasoline-powered car.  We do not use electric cars currently because, with 1997 technology, we would consume more fossil fuel making electricity for electric cars than gasoline cars consume on the road.  [A good case can be made that the reason we do not use electric cars in 1997 is that oil companies have conspired to prevent us from doing so, but it is not necessary to make so reckless an accusation to advance the thesis of this essay.  This book is about radical social change.  It is singularly lacking in sensational conspiracies.]  It takes about three kilowatt-hours of fossil fuel to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity in a modern power plant even with cogeneration.  Thus, one-third (of the energy consumption of a comparable gasoline-powered car) is the break-even point for cars powered by electricity from power plants – not that we wish to use fossil fuel even when we can use less of it than the comparable budget for sustainable forms of energy.  [Probably, in an economy whose only primary energy is electricity, hydrogen from electrolysis of water would be the fuel of choice (or the precursor of the fuel of choice) for applications that cannot use electricity.]


Consider Process A, which produces a continuous stream of hot water at 500 K.  The inputs to Process A are cold water, whose Gibbs availability may be taken to be zero, and 1 kilowatt of 110-volt, 60-Hz AC.  Since electricity can be converted to work with an efficiency close to 1.0, we set the power term in the rate form of the energy balance equation to precisely 1 kilowatt.  It may be used to lift a weight or it may be converted to heat completely.  Let us divide Process A into two control volumes to facilitate analysis.  The first control volume, A1, consists of an ideal electric heater.  The energy balance equation, presented in Appendix I, is


It is easy to see from Eq. I-1 that, for A1, which is a steady-state system, Qout = Win, or, in terms of  rates,

Next, consider a control volume, A2, consisting of the space within Process A through which the water flows.  The inputs to Process A2 are cold water with zero availability and the heat from the electric heater, which for the water should be written Qin.  The output is hot water at 500 K.  To see that the availability of the hot water is the output of a Carnot engine the high temperature reservoir of which is the hot water and the low temperature reservoir of which is cold water at 300 K, we write the Availability Balance (Combined First and Second Laws) for Process A2.  The Availability Balance Equation is

or in rate form

where, for a steady-state process, the term to the left of the equal sign is zero; and, for a reversible process, the rate of lost work term is zero.  Moreover, the availability of the water entering is zero, the heat out is zero, and both work terms vanish to give

This shows that the Gibbs availability of the hot water is equal to the exergy.  (To find the exergy for fuels one must subtract the Gibbs availability of the combustion products from the Gibbs availability of the fuel.)  If, instead, we had transformed the availability of the hot water to standard electricity, we would not have been able to do it with anything like the efficiency of a Carnot engine.  Perhaps we would have been able to obtain 0.2 kilowatts, i.e., one half of the Carnot efficiency, which is rather optimistic. 

Suppose we wish to produce standard electricity (call it Eo) by means of photovoltaic cells.  One emergy unit then is one kilowatt-hour of Eo.  An emergy flow diagram for this thought experiment appears in Figure 2-2 below.  Since, ultimately, we must determine if this technology is feasible or not, we will assume that Eo is the only form of primary energy available.  Therefore, we will employ this form of energy for most of our production needs.  Moreover, we must assume that the suppliers of goods and services will employ our product as well.  Also, most suppliers have some known emergy costs associated with manufactured items – from paper clips to electron scanning microscopes.  Since the emergies are known, either because Eo has been used always or because it is easy to convert the emergies to what they would be if Eo were used, no further emergy analysis is required.  Let us denote these emergies Cn, where it is understood that Cn will take different values depending on where the symbol appears.  Some of the emergy inputs are not even labeled; i.e., they may include indirect costs that are rarely considered in the peer-reviewed literature.  For example, it is assumed that the pro-rata emergy expenses of all people involved in the project in any way whatever are included among these inputs including their living expenses.  For a detailed discussion of this point see “Energy in a Mark II Economy”.


Figure 2-2.  Illustration of complex primary energy process to demonstrate EROI calculation

Suppose, though, that, in some process that supplies one of our inputs, passive solar energy can be employed to provide hot water, E1.  The manufacturing facilities that produce the passive solar energy apparatus must be assumed to employ standard electricity; nevertheless, under this assumption, we might be able to produce hot water (E1) the availability of which is 1 kWhr by employing only 0.1 MU, say, of EoSince the transformity of hot water is 0.2 MU/kWhr, we have obtained two emergy units for the cost of one.  Suppose, further, that 0.1 kWhrs of E1 is required for each MU of Eo produced.  The emergy cost of this input is only


All such emergy inputs will be summed.  If they exceed one, the process under investigation is infeasible (under present circumstances).

Determination of Feasibility of Nuclear Fission

To compute the total emergy input of nuclear fission, we must consider all phases of the operation from discovery of uranium to the disposal of the decommissioned plant and the storage of radioactive materials for thousands of years.  If the sums of the emergies of the inputs, calculated according to the author’s modifications, exceed the a priori assignment of one MU per kWhr of primary energy (electricity), the process is infeasible.  (On December 27, 2005, we still don’t know if it’s feasible, since no nation has used nuclear energy without a generous infusion of fossil fuel.)  Even in the case of feasibility, if the emergy costs overwhelm the emergy costs of sustainable routes to electricity, nuclear fission should be rejected, unless our energy consumption has exceeded Maximum Renewables.


Figure 2-3.  Rough proportional partition of economy into sectors

For the sake of simplicity, we divide the economy into four sectors, namely, energy, production (including agriculture), service, and business as shown in Fig. 2-3 and Fig. 2-4.  (Government is considered part of business; but, probably, we should separate transportation from other service categories because of the dramatically greater energy use in that sector.  The purpose of these pages is merely to suggest a methodology.)  In Fig. 2-3 we divide the sectors roughly proportionally to the share of the economy they represent, but in Fig. 2-4, to make further division of the sectors easier to see and draw, we divide the sectors into equal quarters.  To the ith sector one assigns an emergy relation for each hour worked: ei = ew,i + aieP,i , where e is the average total emergy expended per person-hour, ew is the emergy expended at the job, and a is the fraction of the personal emergy budget, ep , that must be charged to the job.  (In the case of some participants, a might be 1.0.)  This methodology is promising because employment figures are readily available and the average emergy expenditure per employee can be estimated closely enough.  One can dispense with the individual ew terms in favor of the total emergy budgets or the appropriate pro rata shares, of the participating enterprises.  (It is the sum of the aieP,i portions that is conspicuously absent from the standard Energy Returned over Energy Invested analysis in 2005.  Please see my study of a theoretical simplified economy in “Cash Flow in a Mark II Economy”.)

We then count the person-hours expended within the energy sector, Eo, both nuclear and non-nuclear that should be charged to nuclear.  For example, the work done to discover uranium, mine it, refine it, comply with regulations including getting the plant permitted are part of Eo .  (This is not the Eo of the Example (above).)  Also, the employees at a nuclear power plant drive back and forth to work and part of their personal emergy budgets, coming mostly from fossil fuels, would not have to be expended if they did not work on nuclear emergy.  But, the nuclear sector is serviced by equipment manufacturing and plant construction, which we place in the production sector.  Therefore we must count the hours expended in the production sector, P1, that must be charged to the energy sector.  The transportation of uranium ore, fuel rods, and production equipment belongs to the service sector, but the people who feed energy and production workers their lunches away from home, do their income taxes, etc. – all of those people spend emergy that must be charged to nuclear fission.  Thus, we must count hours in the service sector, S1, that must be charged to the energy sector and the production sector.  This service may include scientific research and engineering as well as window washing.  Finally, nothing gets done (in this crazy economy) without a huge amount of sales, bargaining, deal making, accounting, shuffling paper, counting beans, hiring and firing, scheming, forecasting, and telling other people what to do.  All of which costs emergy, especially the fossil-fuel emergy required to carry these people around in cars, trains, and planes.  So, we count the hours in the business sector, B1, that must be charged to the energy, production, and service sectors.

Figure 2-4.  Accounting for emergy costs of nuclear fission

But, P1, S1, and B1 must be serviced by additional person-hours, E2, from the energy sector, which hours, in turn, must be serviced by the production sector, P2.  For example, accountants need computers and copying machines, paper and ink and many other manufactured items.  Economists add this to the Gross Domestic Product, but it is really overhead and should be counted as a debit – not economic growth.  This second level of hours spent in the energy and production sectors entails additional work, S2, in the service sector and all three require additional hours, B2, spent in the business sector.  Secondary person-hours are followed by tertiary hours until no new hours can be identified.  (One must count the gasoline expended by the person who cleans the floors where the paper is printed to do the income tax of the person who delivers the sandwiches to the cafeteria where the man eats who services the copying machine of the person who does the taxes for the truck driver who carries the fuel to the garage where the truck is fueled that carries the steel to the construction site where the equipment is built to maintain the nuclear power plant.  The reader gets the idea.)

[Note in proof (2-5-97).  In accounting for emergy inputs to transportation, for example, we may take credit for the increased efficiency of electric vehicles over internal combustion vehicles, since we may assume that the emergy from the nuclear power plant is the only primary energy available.  Alternatively, we may use that emergy to produce hydrogen for fuel cells if that process reduces the proportion of emergy production that must be charged to overhead.]

This iterative accounting procedure must converge eventually because the total person-hours in the economy is finite over a finite length of time, which may not exceed the period of decay of the radioactive materials.  This difficult calculation can be carried out in principle; but, undoubtedly, excessive emergy costs will be encountered in many cases early in the process.

I cannot emphasize enough that this calculation should actually be done – at least roughly – for nuclear energy, photovoltaic energy, energy from biomass from both biological and other processes, such as pyrolysis of biomass.  The first two technologies produce electricity, my favorite choice for an absolute emergy standard; i.e., one kilowatt-hour of 110 volt, 60 Hz AC is one emergy unit (MU) even though electricity is not primary energy.  Only the assumed emergy of one MU per kWhr of pyrolysis products (or pyrolysis products that have been reacted with hydrogen to produce diesel fuel) is inconsistent with the practice of choosing electricity to be the universal standard to which all emergies should be referred.  Inevitably, some electricity must be employed in any biomass process; therefore, we must assign an emergy of 3 MU to one kilowatt-hour of availability from electricity, since we shall require (approximately) 3 kilowatt-hours of pyrolysis product to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity, as estimated previously.  We have reverted to Odum’s original definition; and we have established a transformity of 3 for electricity.  We may not employ this emergy or transformity for electricity outside of this calculation without endangering our hope for a universal (electrical) standard for emergy.  Alternatively, we could begin this calculation by assigning an emergy of one-third MU for pyrolysis products.

If electricity were abundant, but the scarcity of diesel fuel (needed to run essential farm machinery that we could not afford to replace) had become a life-and-death crisis, we might be pressed into converting electricity into diesel fuel at a loss.  Suppose diesel fuel were produced by reacting pyrolysis products of biomass with hydrogen.  What is the transformity of diesel fuel in that case?  The analyst will want to consider carefully the assignment of emergies, exergies, and transformities in every application.

Improving  Efficiency

Suppose nuclear emergy proves infeasible under the circumstances described above.  Nothing stops us from recomputing the emergy input costs in a society that has already abandoned materialism.  Suddenly, the huge overhead of business and government is gone, e.g., licensing, regulation, inspection, (graft?), exorbitant executive salaries for people who contribute about as much as Dilbert’s manager (the pointy haired guy).  (“Dilbert” is a comic strip, written by Scott Adams, that ridicules non-technical managers who “manage” technical workers generally without a clue as to what they (the “techies”) are doing.  The reason this is funny is that it is true.)

If decentralization has occurred, the costs of workers commuting will have been eliminated.  If money has been eliminated, the costs of accounting, collecting taxes, paying wages, collecting bills – even grocery bills – will have been eliminated.  If delegislation has occurred, all legal costs will have disappeared.  Ninety percent of the population will have been freed from drudgery and, since economic contingency would have vanished, they could afford to do as they pleased, which might include building a primary energy provider.

Indeed, eliminating materialism can make the infeasible feasible.  And, if the infeasible is essential to our survival, I don’t see what there is to decide (politically).


The results of the calculations are not critical for my case unless a per capita energy supply of 1 kW, on an electricity basis (110 AC, 60 Hz), cannot be supplied.  High-energy scenarios are rejected for reasons other than their expected impossibility.  The very low energy prognosis must be countered with much more stringent birth-control policies – one child per couple, say.  Again, one can only hope that this could be achieved voluntarily if it were necessary.  People have got to be made aware of the urgency of the situation.  They must be convinced that they are personally responsible for the outcome – and might be held accountable for their behavior.  Dissenters should be encouraged to speak openly and should be defeated soundly in public debate wherever it occurs.  Pointing out the fallacies of policies that promote population growth is one way, perhaps the best way, to teach the lesson.  Please do not let anyone make a casual remark, even, that the earth is not really over-populated without making a strenuous objection, even if you are classified thereafter as a crashing bore.

Emergy Analysis of Economies

The Emergy Cycle

Figure 2-5.  Odum’s emergy diagram for economy

Regardless of the basis chosen and in spite of the difficulties, we can use emergy to analyze the U.S. or, indeed, the world economy.  This is represented in Fig. 2-5 as a system diagram.  In Fig. 2-5, the emergy from fossil fuel is represented by a thick arrow entering production from the left-hand border.  The emergy of manufactured objects is stored in a capital pool and, in part, is recycled to production.  If the portion recycled is sufficiently great that the means of production can be enlarged so that more emergy can be drawn from the environment and more products produced, we say that we are capitalizing; i.e., we have capitalism in the strict sense.  Capitalization can occur globally when the supply of emergy from the environment is essentially infinite, but what we are experiencing now is a gradual shrinkage in the net amount of emergy available from the environment; i.e., we must go out to sea to find oil or transport oil over long distances.  Also, we must pay more emergy to restore the environment in case we spill oil or strip mine coal, for example.  Pollution is represented by an arrow on the left-hand side of the drawing entering the system.  If we wished to represent pollution by an arrow leaving the diagram, we might coin the term nemergy, which would be defined to be negative emergy.  In addition, we have a very expensive government (lumped together with business in the center of the diagram) that consumes emergy that might have gone toward improving production.  The arrows going to junk heat represent depreciation, consumption, and excess emergy used by less-than-optimal processes.  In an emergy limited world (this world), capitalism cannot exist!  [Note in proof (10-22-06).  It has been proved in my short essay “On Capitalism” that capitalism requires an expanding economy.  Conservation measures may counteract the increase in energy budget one would expect in an expanding economy to some extent; however, the extent of conservation is bounded below and economic expansion is unbounded.]

The Money Cycle

Business and Government

Nevertheless, business people (the money people) do their best to keep the money cycle (shown in Fig. 2-5) turning counter to the emergy cycle as fast as possible.  The faster the money cycle turns the more money they acquire even though they produce less than no emergy.  Since the emergy cycle cannot be accelerated, we have what is known as inflation, i.e., less emergy per dollar.  Odum’s diagram is the first explanation of inflation that ever made sense to me.

In this type of economy, the people are regarded as belonging to production, business, government, etc. by virtue of their jobs.  The proportions are represented by the percentages on the drawing.  Clearly, an inordinate effort is consumed by business and government.  (What is the fraction of the population that belongs to the health-care sector?  Is health-care overhead?  Is it wealth?)  Eventually, people begin to lose jobs; the infrastructure begins to decay; and society reverts to barbarism.  This is a dog-eat-dog economy.

Let us agree that businesspeople and government employees, with the exception of astrophysicists, particle physicists, space researchers, etc. do not spend as much energy per hour on the job as do people in the production sector; i.e., ew,B in the formula ei = ew,i + aiep,i , where i replaced by B in the case of business (and government), is smaller than ew,P.  Normally, they operate low wattage computers and even the cost of air-conditioning and lighting their offices is insufficient to overwhelm the cost of forging steel, for example.  However, the part of their personal energy budgets that must be charged to the job might be greater as they often wear suits that must be dry cleaned and, if they receive high salaries, undoubtedly they consume too much high-grade energy in consumer goods and in the operation of their homes.  I know a businessman in Houston whose monthly electric bill is approximately $500.  The excess over 1 kW per person is enough to sustain two third-world people for each of the four members of his household, some of whom must starve to death no matter what else is done if he should maintain this expenditure.  In fact, we might make the case that, if he reduce his consumption to his fair share, more than twenty-four people in Bangladesh who consume 0.1 kW less than subsistence could be spared a horrible death (starvation) each month.  In a very real sense, he is responsible for their deaths, which might rise to a staggering debt of 8640 before he dies or is killed.  (I don’t suppose it is legal to kill him now to save so many people and to spare him a harsh judgment if God is watching and is at all vindictive, which I very much doubt.) 

Now many readers believe that the man (with the $500 electric bill) paid for the use of the electricity and is, therefore, entitled to use it.  Nothing could be further from the case.  To quote Tom Pinch in Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, the “money is the least important part of the transaction”.  All Americans are responsible for the deaths that are caused by America’s imperialistic policies because all of us – even the poorest of our poor – benefit from them.  A moment’s reflection, or, in my case, comparison of my expenses when I am unemployed with my expenses when I have a job, should convince us that ep,i  is much smaller for unemployed people than it is for job holders.  E.g., I don’t need a car when I am unemployed.  Do you?

Perhaps I have mentioned already that this general culpability (“for all have sinned”) exonerates terrorists from the oft-made charge that they have injured innocent people.  No one is innocent – which indictment quite naturally includes the terrorist himself (lest anyone suppose that I approve of him.  I don’t judge him either – no more do I judge the “money creeps”.  “Judge not lest ye be judged”  Don’t worry; you will be judged whatever you do or don’t do.  People are really into judging one another, don’t you think?  “What do you care what other people think?”  Even if there were no God, we would have to imagine one who knows everything we think and do!  We had better please God – imaginary or not!

To continue the indictment of business, a large proportion of the population is employed by business or government, including those who serve business and government indirectly – perhaps as high as 90% or higher.  How many people do you know personally who produce something with their own hands that is needed to sustain life?  Don’t count the products consumed by business and government.  The paper consumed by government is an overhead on our standard of living.  My philosophy claims that this expenditure is more than what the human race can afford.  (This book is overhead; but, in my view, an essential overhead.)  The resources of the earth and the sun have been bequeathed to the human race in common.  They must be expended for the common good.  No one is entitled to a greater share than another.  Nearly everyone agrees that the government spends too much.  What I am claiming is that business spends too much and produces practically nothing of value.  This is a new idea for most readers.  I claim we must find a way to replace business and government.  They are cruel, ugly, base (as opposed to noble), immoral, which won’t impress many Americans; but, when the majority of “nobodies” like me realize that we flat-out cannot afford them, they, the majority, may begin to pay attention.

Many people depend on the jobs supplied by business and government.  The jobs and wages aspect of current economic practice virtually guarantees that these people will suffer from the increase in efficiency resulting from the elimination of wasteful business and government activities.  Why should these people not receive their fair share of the benefits to the economy achieved by eliminating wasteful business and government activities?  For example, when an army base closes, the victims might receive a fair share of the money saved – even under our ridiculous capitalist economy.  Why should the budget be balanced at the expense of a few and not all?

It is easy to see that the concept of a job is absurd and should be replaced.  Whenever I hear a politician call for more jobs, I know that he or she hasn’t got a clue as to how the economy works.  One day (DV), I will list the contradictions derived from the notion that people must have jobs to live.  For now, consider the conflict between cutting government spending and providing jobs for everyone.  Now, imagine what the idea of “free-trade” does for that situation.  The notion that we must have a global economy is used to get people (you?) to accept lower wages and be glad that they are employed at all.  Why should everyone be employed if a small percentage of us can produce locally everything we need – not what we are led to think we need but what we actually need!

Does the Government Do Anything Useful?

I have drawn a thin line with a question mark in Fig. 2-5 to indicate that, through the sponsorship of scientific research (not all scientific research is as mindless and wasteful as space research) the government could provide something useful to the economy.  It does not have to supply much useful information to have a large impact because the transformity of information can be very high.  If the government were to supply an equation of state that would govern the two liquid phases found in mixtures of oil and water, we should be very grateful.  Unfortunately, that has not been done.  If the government would compute the emergy input (using the author’s methodology) required to produce 1 kWhr of nuclear electricity, I would be delighted.  Apparently, this is not even thought of.  On the other hand, one can dial (as of June 18, 1993) a phone number (1-303-497-3235) in Colorado and obtain a very good approximation to the value of the solar flux for that day.  One also obtains a report and prediction of solar activity and the magnetic field for yesterday and today.  [Note (7-21-2004). That phone number still answers today, however the information imparted is different.  I did not hear the value of the solar constant stated explicitly.]  This must be enormously useful to someone, but I can’t imagine to whom.  I have discussed the National Science Foundation in my essay “On Honor in Science”.  My comments have not been favorable.

Can the Government Solve Social Problems?

The “liberal” approach to ameliorating the terrible misery inherent in the American system is to institute government programs to correct the worst defects of materialism.  (Admittedly the government is not monolithic, but it is centralized sufficiently that no one should expect it do anything truly helpful for the poor of our country after seeing it bomb the poor people of other countries, cf., Iraq, to protect the business interests of the wealthiest Americans.  The purpose of government is to serve business; but, when its own interests conflict with those of business, it takes care of itself first.)  Regrettably, I find that I must agree with conservatives in the observation that these programs almost never have the effect that is intended.  A variation of Odum’s diagram with some hypothetical figures as in Fig. 2-6 might help us understand why this might be the case.

Figure 2-6.  Emergy flows in a thought experiment

One imagines that the economy produces 100 emergy units (MU), whatever an emergy unit turns out to be (obviously 1% of the emergy produced).  Also, we suppose that the economy is being maintained by only 10% of its production rate, i.e., 10 MU, and that it operates with the amazing emergy efficiency of 50%, i.e., it is half as efficient as the optimal production system, which, of course, has not been invented yet.  In this model, we imagine the consumers drawing their livings directly from the pool of capital rather than from the enterprises to which they are attached by virtue of their jobs.  We further suppose that only 20% of production has to be recycled to maintain business, government, and production.  Let us suppose that this is a conservative number.  The 80 MUs corresponds to the fraction of each person’s emergy budget that cannot be charged to his work, namely, (1 -  ai ) ep,i .

Suppose, now, that, according to a proposal to eliminate poverty, government decides to collect an additional 6 MUs in taxes to pay for programs for the poor, which might even include job training, as in Fig. 2-7.  I believe that an overhead of only 1 MU for this program is a very conservative estimate and accounts for the fact that the total emergy available for distribution to the consumers is reduced by only 1 MU.  The careful reader will notice that I have not increased productivity to account for more educated workers.  This makes perfect sense as the worker will be converted from a fruit picker to a paper shuffler – in all likelihood.

Figure 2-7.  Emergy flows in a thought experiment

In Fig. 2-7, government absorbs an additional 6 MUs from the economy in order to pass 5 MUs of its increased input to needy people.  Therefore, since the total emergy input to the economy doesn’t change (perhaps because it is already at its upper limit) and production can’t increase its efficiency, 74 MUs, rather than 80 MUs, reaches the consumer in the normal manner, namely, as wages after taxes.  The government supplies another 5 MUs, but the net result in this conservative scenario is only a 1.25% drop in the average standard of living of the citizens.  Since the rich take theirs out first, the brunt of this minor hardship would fall on the poor who were supposed to benefit.  Even if the 5 MUs were aimed directly at the poor, the rich would get at the money by starting drug rehabilitation centers, correspondence schools, etc.  Of course, private “charities” would not do better.  Non-profit private charity has become profit oriented.  Witness the exorbitant salaries paid to United Way executives.

I cannot resist injecting a little first-hand anecdotal evidence.  An acquaintance of mine was fired (unfairly, according to him) from a major charity.  He fought fiercely to regain his position, going to court, etc.  I was puzzled and asked him why he should care about being employed in such a place.  Surely, with his Ivy League education and background (and prodigious intelligence), he could do much better.  He answered, “Are you kidding?  This job is extremely lucrative!”

A Humanistic Economy

In the humanistic economy diagrammed in Fig. 2-8, competition for wealth and power has been abandoned.  People receive their fair (equal) share of the national (or world) dividend regardless of the activities they pursue, therefore they are no longer regarded as belonging to their jobs and the overhead of business and government is saved.  The only wealth is true wealth (emergy), which cannot be hoarded.  The economy is intentionally permitted to reach steady state; production serves people who belong to themselves; and the only motivation is intrinsic motivation – as opposed to greed and fear.  Involvement replaces employment.

Figure 2-8.  Diagram for a humanistic economy

The Availability Supply

Energy Flow Diagram for Earth

Let us now turn our attention to the flow of energy within the earth’s system.  The energy flow diagram in Fig. 2-9 is a modified version of Fig. 6-1 in the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) 1981 study [4], therefore some of the numbers may not be the latest available, but that should not invalidate our rough calculations.  Some of the numbers on the drawing are given with greater precision than would be warranted by the accuracy of the energy balance; nevertheless, the arithmetic does not quite work out.  (Old joke:  “The melody is terrible, but the words aren’t good.”)  But that is of no importance to us.  We need just a rough idea of where the energy is going.  We know that these numbers do not represent availability because, if they did, the number representing radiation from the earth would be more or less, but not equal, to the figure given.  The only concession to availability analysis is the designation of some of the flows, e.g., agriculture, as high quality.  We would like to have an availability analysis, but we shall have to forego that luxury for now.

The solar constant is about 1353 W/m2.  That means that where the straight line joining the center of the sun to the center of the earth crosses the outermost layer of the earth’s atmosphere, 100 miles above sea level, say (since we wish to calculate an upper bound on the rate of energy transfer), the mean energy flux due to sunlight is about 1353 Joules per second per square meter.  The solar constant isn’t quite constant, but we shall use it for very rough calculations; so, we may safely ignore the variations.  The atmosphere is a very thin shell surrounding the earth and whatever we take to be the outermost layer has a radius less than 100 miles or 160,934 meters greater than the radius of the earth, which we shall take to be 6,378,000 meters.  Further, we shall assume that the sunlight strikes the earth in a plane wave.  Actually, the sun is more like a point source in the sky subtending just over a half of a degree, but the calculation of the total energy entering the earth’s system is simpler if we assume all of the photons are traveling in paths parallel to the aforementioned line connecting the centers of the two bodies, which gives a value for the total power from the sun entering the earth’s system that is slightly high.  (The earth’s system is all of the mass contained within a large (concentric) sphere just beyond the furthest reaches of the earth’s atmosphere and outside the smaller (concentric) sphere representing the depth beneath the earth’s surface that is, for all practical purposes, unreachable.)  The projected area of earth, then, is:


Therefore, the total energy striking earth is less than 1353 W/m2 · 134.3 E12 m2 =  181,710 TW, in excellent agreement with the 178,000 TW that Häfele [4] obtains.  We could have done a fancy calculation using integral calculus to account for the actual spherical nature of the wave fronts of the sun’s radiation, but it wouldn’t have affected our answer by more than a few percent; so, we would have felt foolish for wasting our time like that.  (Actually, I did do the fancy calculation and I did feel foolish.  This was a counter-example to the well-known “principle” that no person whose age exceeds 40 can evaluate the integrals of integral calculus.)

Notice that the reflected sunlight is about 30% of the incident radiation.  Continued population increase and economic “development” could drive that figure higher.  Highways and rooftops reflect sunlight “better” than forests do.  Another 46.2% of the incident radiation maintains the temperature of the air and water.  The mechanical energy of the wind and waves amounts to about 370 TW.  This is a high-quality flow; but, for each joule of mechanical energy extracted from the ocean currents, the flow of about 10,000 joules of thermal energy is interrupted.  This would have an unpredictable effect upon the weather.  The ratio of thermal to mechanical energy is only about 30 or 40 in the case of wind and we should harvest some of that.  The 5 TW of run-off is where we get our hydroelectric power, but it’s not worth killing off all the salmon for a fraction of a terawatt additional power.  The ecological effects of damming rivers must be taken more seriously.  The giant Ashwan Dam project in Egypt was catastrophic, which could have been predicted in advance by the engineers and constructors who used it to line their pockets.

Figure 2-9.  Energy flows in the environment

Planetary and lunar motion and geothermal energy can play a small role under very restricted circumstances, but the big renewable contributor is photosynthesis and that amounts to only 100 TW.  The rate of energy capture by photosynthesis could grow if we let it; but, again, population growth and economic development will have the opposite effect as we cut down forests for housing and urban sprawl.  Thus, in Fig. 2-9 the only “high-quality” flows, other than the extraction of fossil fuels, are from wind, run-off (hydroelectric), heat convection (geothermal), and agriculture (biomass, including silviculture).  Is it realistic to expect to harvest even 10% of the energy captured by photosynthesis without extinguishing animal life?!  Please remember that the human race has been sustained by photosynthesis throughout its existence.  This is the fundamental way in which the sun’s ability to reduce the entropy of the earth sustains life.  A change from this fundamental fact of life is very unlikely on the face of it.  I have not proved that a fundamental change in the way in which life is supported is impossible.  After all, this essay assumes fundamental spiritual change is possible.

Sustainable Energy: How Much Can We Expect?

We would now like to use the concept of emergy to estimate the standard of living in an economy driven by sustainable energy – a world where fossil fuel has been exhausted or may not be used because of global environmental effects or where prudence and common decency dictate that fossil fuel be preserved for future generations and better uses.  The best estimates (hard technological limits) for sustainable energy were evaluated in a massive effort by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis [4].  A few crucial results appear in Table 2-2.

By 2030, the population of the world is expected to exceed ten billion souls [13].  We have approximately 10 billion kilowatts, which must be distributed equally among 10 billion people to avoid widespread famine and misery, i.e., 1 kilowatt/capita.  Besides the obvious immorality of policies that tolerate widespread misery, Machiavellian pragmatism dictates that large numbers of miserable people will be a continuous danger to people who are well off – unless genocide is employed.  Moreover, we have assumed that reasonable people (homo sapiens) cannot be happy while others are miserable.

Unless we take economic development to mean economic shrinkage to manageable and humanistic pre-industrial levels, but with a post-industrial soft technological basis, the idea of sustainable economic development is absolutely idiotic.  Anyone who uses the term without qualifying it to refer to a level of interaction with nature that is no more violent than the economy of the North American Indians before the advent of Europeans is a fool or a liar.  I am afraid that takes in a large class of people, especially people in high places, in particular, every head of state of every nation whose policy is known to me.  Who am I too denigrate the high and mighty?  Who are they to wield power with so little knowledge and understanding?  I am willing to debate anyone anywhere on these issues.  The debate must be sufficiently protracted that I can make all my points and refute a torrent of rhetoric backed by tons of irrelevant statistics.  (In science, the idea is to extract the sharpest conclusions from the least data.  If the scientist can reach a conclusion by pure logic, so much the better.)

Fossil Fuels

The fossil fuel extraction shown on this 1975 chart (Fig. 2-9) is 7.5 TW.  Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), directed by Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize [14], predicts 4.8 TW oil production during 1994 [15].  Presumably, natural gas and coal use could bring the fossil fuel extraction up to a level comparable with 1975.  I don’t know if we are using more or less fossil fuel today compared to 1975.  We are probably extracting less per capita.  Also, we probably expend more energy per kWhr recovered since we have to go out to sea to drill for oil, or transport it from far away places, e.g., Alaska, or dig deeper mines, or satisfy more stringent environmental constraints imposed by people who won’t allow strip mines to be abandoned without repairing the surface of the earth.  If these things be true, and we certainly need more research to determine if they are true, then we have already begun the long “recession” that will take us back down to a level of energy consumption that can be sustained by nature.

Most experts believe we shall run out of petroleum by 2030, 2050, or 2093, i.e., soon.  Taking 10,000 billion barrels of oil as a generous upper bound on the total reserves both discovered and undiscovered (more than twice the highest estimate I have seen in the literature) and using the CERA estimate of 68.3 million barrels per day or 24.93 billion barrels per year, we would run out in approximately 400 years.  This assumes no American-style economic development anywhere in the world, no population growth, and no additional expenditures to reduce pollution.  Neither does it take into account conservation measures that might counterbalance some of the other effects.  We shall consider these effects below.  In any case, the petroleum will be gone in a remarkably short time when compared with all of human history.

We have large reserves of coal, but the coal that is easy to get is nearly gone.  People will no longer submit to having their neighborhoods strip-mined and deep-shaft mining might consume more energy than it produces – if it be done safely.  Besides all that, the enormous difficulties of converting coal into clean energy must be overcome.  Perhaps these difficulties are not entirely separate from the difficulties of consuming renewable biomass, but coal is not renewable.  Also, the emergy cost to deliver coal to the consumer on an appropriate scale may be greater than the emergy cost to deliver forest and farm waste, municipal solid waste, and other forms of renewable biomass.  Research must be done to see how competing technologies stack up on an emergy basis rather than on a dollar basis.  I hope the reader understands by now that energy costs in dollars per kWhr are meaningless.

Of course, we are going to burn non-renewable natural gas.  It is clean but does not avoid the greenhouse effect – if it exists.  Perhaps we must use it or lose it; I’m not sure.  But the important thing about natural gas is how small the reserves are.  The known reserves amount to our energy budget for only a very few years.  Even the most improbable upper bound on total available natural gas both discovered and undiscovered amounts to a very short period assuming today’s usage pattern.  Please do not let anyone convince you that natural gas is the answer.  Proponents of natural gas are either pitifully naive or else have a sinister hidden agenda.  Remember that the natural gas is the common heritage of the entire human race – including posterity.

We have additional sources of fossil fuel such as shale oil, but the difficulties of recovering them may prove insurmountable and, in any case, they are not renewable – regardless of the size of the reserves.  Let us now turn to alternatives to fossil fuels.

Large-Scale Alternatives

These remarks are going to be uncharacteristically brief.  I do not view any of these options favorably, but I have insufficient data to prove that one or the other is infeasible.  I must emphasize at least one more time the need for more research to determine how much emergy is required per unit of emergy produced by each technology.  I suggest that we choose 1 kWhr of 60 cycle 110 volt AC as the unit of emergy (MU).  This is easy to convert to fossil-fuel equivalents (FFE); namely, 3 FFE = 1 MU – approximately.

The most efficient manufacturing technology will produce 1 MU per MU input.  We have discussed why this will not be the case in the modification of Odum’s methods that seems to be necessary to determine the feasibility of sustainable primary energy production technologies.  If the emergy consumed over and above the emergy (1 MU = 1 kWhr) provided by the primary emergy source, i.e., if the emergy consumed by overhead exceed the (hypothetical) emergy produced by the most efficient primary energy technology we can find, the most efficient process would not be good enough and sustainable primary energy would be impossible!

A simple way to express whether or not an energy technology meets the criterion of the methodology for determining efficiency described above is as follows:  If this technology were the sole energy source, could society sustain itself or would it wind down to the complete absence of all economic activity?  Is the technology a net producer of energy of its own kind or a net consumer?  We know that firewood, coal, and petroleum have produced sustainable economies in the short run.  Around 1850, population growth and urbanization led to the first firewood crises.  Coal and the railways saved the day for urbanization and industrial civilization, i.e., civilization itself (in the sense of urbanization).  We are now in the age of petroleum, but that must end soon unless we permit the enormous disparities in wealth to persist with their concomitant control of population growth by famine, epidemic disease, and war.  In point of fact, we do not know if any other energy technology can sustain a large population.  I have not done nor has anyone else done the research to determine if a sustainable primary energy technology is possible.  Therefore, the rest of this chapter amounts to no more than my best scientific guesses based on the limited information I can afford to gather.

Although no technology could be found to sustain a large population, we know that firewood can sustain a smaller population – perhaps as large as two billion souls.  Even the pollution caused by burning wood might be tolerable, especially if we used the wisest and most considerate combustion technologies in a moral world informed by a humanistic minimal proper religion.

In this worst-case scenario, where we go back to a primitive sustainable technology such as firewood with the concomitant shrinkage in population to firewood-society limits, how this shrinkage in population would occur is unclear.  Several possibilities suggest themselves:

1.         Systematic birth control is the most humane route back to a sustainable population size, but it would be nearly as difficult to implement as anything suggested in this essay.

2.         Survival of the fittest in a fair competitionistic society.

3.         Make no changes in our behavior, which would probably lead to one of the following:

4.         Brutal wars of extermination.

5.         Intervention by nature, i.e., famine, epidemic disease, etc.

But, the survival of the most brutal seems most likely.  Undoubtedly, in that case, the extinction of the human race would be preferable as some things are worse than death.  This extinction might be facilitated by knowledgeable people (micro-biologists, perhaps) holding themselves to the highest moral standards.

Non-Renewable But Very Extensive

Nuclear Fission

We have discussed nuclear fission by way of explaining the methodology to be applied to each technology to determine feasibility.  Moreover, it is insufficient to store nuclear waste unmonitored.  The storage of nuclear waste should be an active process with on-going energy costs for thousands of years.  Also, it is unclear that people motivated by profit are morally capable of running a nuclear plant safely.  This will be documented in a special chapter listing the documented sins of business, government, and industry – all taken from the establishment (corporate) press, which is not likely to exaggerate the sins of its advertisers or their clients.


As far as hot fusion goes, we are waiting.  It will have to be justified according to the same methodology applied to other technologies.  It has one serious drawback to begin with; namely, no working fluid can be found for the power cycle that is not considerably colder than the plasma.  That means that heat must be transferred through a large finite temperature difference, which, according to thermodynamics (and discussed in Appendix I), results in a large lost-work term.  The term lost work is nearly self-explanatory.


Geothermal is not really renewable energy.  When the temperature of the core of the earth reaches the temperature of the surface, it will be gone.  And, for that matter, so might we, since the cycles of volcanism and continental shift are necessary to sustain life on earth [6].  Moreover, we do not know what the effect might be of tapping large reserves of geothermal energy near the surface of the earth as in Yellowstone Park.  The IIASA (International Institute of Applied System Analysis) estimates that we can capture at most 1 TWyr/yr from geothermal.  I suppose we should use geothermal lightly on a personal or local (non-commercial) basis in the few places where it can be done, but it certainly does not represent a solution to our problem.



One of the benefits of having a large pro-industrial / anti-environmental class in our country is that they save us the trouble of debunking the less workable sustainable energy schemes.  Dixie Lee Ray, the former governor of Washington, is a good example.  She wrote an anti-environmental book that is used in environmental classes at the University of Houston [17].  (I guess that makes the University of Houston officially anti-environmental, although it is innocent until proven guilty.)  In her book, she shows that wind power is not the answer and I believe she is right.  Most of the wind energy is above 200 meters.  Can you imagine the capital (emergy) costs that go into building a 200-meter-tall wind machine, which may be toppled in the next good windstorm!  That’s a real problem.  One wants the wind to blow hard but not too hard.  The wind may not be willing to cooperate.  Moreover, only a few places in the world are suitable places for large-scale capture of mechanical energy from wind.  However, windpower can be used locally on an individual (non-commercial) basis to do something – at least pump water or grind grain (that’s why we call them windmills) as in olden times.  IIASA allows 3 TWyr/yr for wind.  I think that’s wishful thinking.  Again, we need a complete economic analysis on the basis of emergy.

Tidal and Waves

We have already discussed the large thermal to mechanical energy ratio in waves.  Not many locations in the world are amenable to harnessing the tides.  IIASA allows only 0.045 TWyr/yr, which we may safely ignore in our long range planning.


Hydroelectric turns out to have more adverse ecological effects than we previously imagined.  Besides, the magnitude of the run-off is very small – only 5 TWyr/yr.  The IIASA allows 3 TWyr/yr from this technology.  They imagine that we can convert 60% of the run-off to electricity.  I can’t imagine how that can be true.  Nevertheless, where large hydroelectric plants are in place it might do even more harm ecologically to remove them.  The power station at Niagara Falls is likely to be running into the foreseeable future – barring the complete collapse of our economic system as in numerous apocalyptic novels and movies, e.g., Road Warriors starring Mel Gibson.

Ocean Thermal Electric Conversion

It is a well-known undergraduate thermodynamics problem to determine the Carnot efficiency of a heat engine operating between the (relatively) warm surface waters of the ocean and the (relatively) cold depths.  The efficiency is pitifully small.  Now as I understand it someone intends to place multi-million dollar floating power plants in the ocean subject to the corrosive effects of seawater and the destructive effects of the ocean itself to operate at this pitifully small Carnot efficiency, which, if you remember, can be approached but never attained.  I wonder what Lloyds of London thinks about this.  I do not, in general, admire scoffers, so I shall say no more about this idea, except that it must be subject to the same analysis as every other technology.

Lunar Power Station

Criswell and Waldron [18] suggest placing solar collectors on the moon and beaming energy to the earth as microwaves.  Only two transmitters are required and a lunar satellite or two to account for the short period of time when neither of the moon’s antipodes is in line of sight with the earth.  Hundreds of decentralized collectors are required and I like that idea very much, but I am terrified of whoever will control the transmitters.

Criswell claimed privately that he did an energy efficiency analysis, but none appears in his papers.  I am afraid this imaginative scheme would not stand up to the scrutiny required by the methodology recommended above.  People working in space will need frequent rest and rehabilitation.  (Space sickness is real.)  Imagine the cost of shuttling hundreds of workers back and forth from the moon to the earth – even with a permanent space station (which I believe is beyond our means as well).  But, I now wish to give one of my heretical arguments for rejecting this technology.

Space is the common property of all of humanity or of a population larger than humanity or of no one.  To invade space, especially with commerce (viewed metaphorically as a disease like cancer in this essay), would be improper even if every single human being signed off on it.  But that is quite impossible as I shall not sign off on it and when I am gone someone will take my place.  In effect I am saying that I share the custodianship of space and you may not invade a domain of which I am the steward.  Just stay out of my space; I don’t permit it.  What’s that you say?  The common will must prevail.  Only if it can be defended according to the principles of aesthetics, reasonableness, and utility, and the intrusion of commerce into space is guaranteed to be defeated on all three counts.  Someone said that the exploration was a joint international effort, therefore it was sanctioned by all of humanity.  My reply is that the leadership of the sovereign states of the world and of the United Nations does not represent all of humanity.  On the contrary, it is opposed to it.  Leadership represents essentially – itself.

The bottom line, though, is that we can’t afford the emergy to go into space.  A scientist who represents NASA at scientific meetings (twice while I was in attendance) was unable to tell me how many kWhrs are consumed on a typical space-shuttle mission.  That’s something he should know.  That’s the first thing I want to know.  You can bet the number of people who have to starve to death to pay for a shuttle mission is shocking and, as previously shown, it is proper to view it from that perspective.  (There may be a thousand problems that would have to be removed before one could say that space research was the cause of their deprivation; but, when all those problems were removed, space research would stand between themselves and life itself.)

Permit me to make one more observation with respect to who has the authority to permit the exploration of space.  Let us begin by asking who has the authority to permit the exploration of earth?  We all know the famous explorers, e.g., Columbus, were not truly explorers but rather invaders.  America had already been “discovered” by the people who lived there.  When I bought my five acres in Upstate New York, I did not buy the mineral rights.  Who retained the mineral rights and why?  But, what about the deed to the property that I did obtain?  A title search was made (at my expense) and the history of the transfer of ownership was traced back through several “owners”, but not very far back.  What would have been discovered if the title were searched back to Columbus?  On the wall of the local barbershop hung a map with huge areas of the county ceded to John Doe, say, by King George III.  Where did King George get the authority to cede parts of Upstate New York to anyone?  By the sword, that is, illegally and immorally by every rational law of God and man.  Now, if the title to every piece of land in the United States is in doubt, how can authority to explore outer space be valid?  Outer space is unoccupied, so you say.  I’m sorry, but that won’t wash.  Who has the authority to give one person the right to occupy it rather than another?  The answer is no one.  I have provided a short essay in Vol. II [12] of my collected essays elaborating my position on space research.


Odum and Odum [5] claim that photovoltaic solar energy is a dead loser.  I believe them, but I would like to see the data.  I think the methodology suggested here should be employed.  A cursory calculation seems to indicate that it might be feasible – at least locally on a non-commercial basis.  In any case, I think it is a viable means for transporting energy from biomass-rich regions to biomass-poor but sunny regions, such as deserts.  Even if more energy goes into the cell than comes out, this unusual mode of transferring resources may be superior to other methods of pipelining energy.

Solar Chemical Reactor

The work of Jim Richardson of the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Houston and co-workers [19] will be discussed here.  In solar chemical reactors sunlight converts reactants with lower Gibbs free energy (CO2 and CH4) to products with higher Gibbs free energy (2CO and 2H2).  These products are pumped to a chemical reactor where the reaction is reversed to release the energy to the consumer.  The original reactants are returned to the solar reactor to repeat the process.  Even if this technology cannot produce net energy taking into account the pumping costs and the construction and maintenance of the equipment, it certainly can be used to transport energy and, in some cases, it might be the best choice.


Table 2-4.  Sustainable Energy



Geothermal  (not renewable)


Solar  (passive)


Solar (photovoltaic)


Wind (very questionable)


Hydroelectric (ecological. danger)


Tidal and Waves


Ocean Thermal Electric Conversion.


Biomass (pyrolysis and fermentation)


Improbable Total


Conservative Total


Passive Solar

Passive solar for pre-heating bath water in tanks on the roofs of our homes, for example, definitely should be used.  It is not clear that the effect is large enough to include in Table 2-4.

Biomass: Fermentation and Pyrolysis

These are the technologies that seems to have the most promise – in my opinion, however they must be subjected to the same rigorous analysis as the others.  The reason I favor biomass technology is that the producers of biomass are alive, therefore they reproduce and maintain themselves “automatically”.  It must be admitted that the percent of incident radiation that is absorbed by living plants is very small; but, since plants take care of themselves and would essentially cover the earth if we let them, who cares?  (This business of planting trees as an environmental act is almost silly.  If we leave trees alone, they can plant themselves at a rate that puts to shame anything we can do.)

The area of the United States is about 9,363,397 sq km.  According to L.W. Atkins, a political conservative, the area of the forests amounts to 2,954,310 sq km, which gives 31.6% of the U.S. covered with forests.  That is a respectable figure and, perhaps, a source of hope.  I don’t know if the rest of the world is doing better or worse.  We have all heard about de-forestation in the Amazon Basin, which is considered catastrophic by most environmentalists.  Whenever we find a conflict between the economic benefits of cutting forests and environmental concerns, we shall have found a contradiction in our conventional economic theories.  I shall use these contradictions to discard the institution of The Job and other old-fashioned and obsolete economic notions.  After careful analysis the IIASA has come up with a figure of 6 TWyr/yr (maximum) from all forms of biomass.  This is insufficient to support a population of ten billion people.  We shall need to supplement this with other forms of renewable energy and, perhaps, improve upon that figure – somehow, perhaps, as I have suggested, by turning the earth into a garden.  (Place me squarely in the soft-energy camp.)

I do not favor large-scale energy farms of a single biomass crop because nature loves diversity and dislikes monocultures.  A single disease or parasite could wipe us out completely if we build commercial monoculture energy plantations.  I picture this technology used on a decentralized non-commercial basis where human labor does not enter the economic equation because the people who do the labor will consume the energy.  (I do not charge my usual hourly rate when I chop wood gathered from forest debris on my own lot.)  The sun supplies about 100 TW according to the IIASA chart – perhaps more (certainly more if we turn the earth into a garden and abandon industrial civilization as in my fondest dreams).

Two promising approaches to energy from biomass are (1) alcohol from biomass [19-22], and (2) pyrolysis of biomass [23-27], but no emergy analysis has been done as far as I know.  An advantage of alcohol from biomass by fermentation is that the reactors are living creatures that reproduce and maintain themselves.  This is the same advantage enjoyed by biomass as a whole.  The advantage of pyrolysis is that the reaction times are very short, perhaps a tenth of a second; therefore, the equipment should be smaller and cheaper.  I am hoping that either technology can be constructed in a small shed a safe distance from the consumer’s home and barn but definitely within walking distance of the biomass source and the end use.  The conversion of pyrolysis to diesel fuel [28] could save the world from mass (perhaps total) starvation because when the petroleum runs out we will be stuck with tons of agricultural machinery that runs on diesel fuel.

Much of municipal solid waste is amenable to pyrolysis and the interesting thing is this:  The compositions of the pyrolysis products are almost completely independent of what is pyrolized – whether it be agricultural wastes, whole trees, or garbage!  The fundamental design parameters are simply reaction time and temperature.  It should be mentioned, though, that some of the energy input to the pyrolysis process is consumed by the process.  Of course the fermentation bugs need energy to live and increase their population, but I don’t know how the efficiencies stack up.

The pyrolysis or fermentation of agricultural products and waste is another possibility.  About 100 TWyr/yr of solar energy is absorbed by photosynthesis, but only 2.5 TWyr/yr is harvested as agricultural and sylvicultural products and much of that is not available for energy.  Odum and Odum [5] claim that Florida agriculture is fossil-fuel subsidized by a factor of 3.5.  (I’ve heard of factors as high as 7.0.).  Clearly, this availability-intensive agriculture cannot persist.  Extracting energy from agricultural waste might reduce this ratio of kilocalories in the fossil fuels expended to kilocalories in the food we eat; but, clearly, new agricultural methods are needed.  (The calories we count when we diet are kilocalories, i.e., the energy required to raise one kilogram of water one degree Celsius.)

I have not mentioned biogas.  A burnable gas, absolutely suitable for cooking without fear of bacterial contamination, can be recovered from human and animal excrement.  Part of the food that we eat still contains useful energy when our bodies are through with it.  Biogas is used in India and it should be used everywhere.  It is easy to implement in rural areas and, with any luck, the deurbanization of America will be complete in a few decades, even though we might need much of our remaining petroleum to achieve it.

When deurbanization is complete, almost all of the world will again be – rural.  If we wish to play with words, we can refer to this as the end of civilization – since civitas is the Latin word for urban society.  And, if you ask me, good riddance.  I lived in New York City for twenty-five years; and, at one time, I would not have considered living elsewhere, mainly because of the art and music, especially, for me, jazz.  But, after living four years in the country (upstate New York, 100 miles from an interstate), it was much harder to move to Houston than it had been to move to the country.  In the society of the future, as I envision it, we will have as good art and music (and better) in the country than we ever had in the city (and I am not referring to what folks call country music, most of which is just commercial trash and bears no resemblance to any kind of music.).  That’s one of the reasons I am hoping we can afford the recent advances in communications technology and even more exciting advances over the horizon as discussed below.  From an emergy viewpoint, communication is cheap; transportation is dear.


Table 2-5 shows a conjectured expenditure of a 1-kilowatt (kW) energy budget without any attempt to solve the emergy matching problem, which, of course, will vary from region to region.  (We would not want to use biogas to generate electricity for electric stoves, since nearly everyone prefers to cook with gas.)  For the sake of argument, let us suppose that the matching problem, which will require a little thought and the continuous application of good judgment, is solved.  If we need 0.05kW for cooking, we will have 0.05kW of biogas; if we need 0.15kW for bathing and comfort heating, we will have 0.15kW geothermal or passive solar.  We actually eat slightly more than 0.1kW biomass, although some energy remains after we have eaten it; but, for this analysis, it is assumed that somehow we can restrict our use of liquid fuels and other energy costs for agriculture to another 0.1kW.  (Currently, we consume between 0.25kW and 0.6kW overhead on food.  Ten gallons of gasoline per week amounts to 2.0kW of availability, which neglects the emergy costs of producing gasoline.  This is high-emergy consumption.)


Table 2-5.  Per Capita Energy Budget 2030

Energy Use












Hot water



Comfort heating



Comfort cooling






Health care






Communications, etc.



Manufactured objects






Space travel/research







Our Energy Budget


Modern agriculture consumes an excessive amount of energy according to our latest data, but we might recover some of that by pyrolizing or fermenting agricultural waste.  In addition, we must decentralize and deurbanize.  Probably, every family should have a garden.  The giant agri-businesses should disappear.  From an emergy viewpoint, they are extremely inefficient.  The most absurd practice of which I am aware is the trucking of honeybees from location to location, using precious fossil fuel, to pollinate fruit trees.  Pardon me, but what’s wrong with local bees?  In Table 2-3, I am assuming no more than 0.2 kW to supply the average consumer with 0.1 edible kilowatts, i.e., 2072.5 kilocalories per day.

Comfort Heating and Cooling

I think we should try to afford comfort heating and cooling.  That seems to be a real advance provided by industrial civilization that we would be loath to give up in post-industrial society.  The Houston area would be virtually uninhabitable, at least for the elderly, in the summer months without air conditioning, although, if you ask me, they overdo it.  (During the summer of 1988, I ran an electric heater in my office in July.  Talk about thermodynamically inefficient!)  We can improve the efficiency of comfort heating considerably by the use of heat pipes and heat pumps to transfer heat back and forth to the moderately deep earth, which maintains a constant temperature during the entire year.  But, above all, we can build houses that are designed to last longer than thirty years and, in addition, have walls that do not transfer heat readily, in particular, because they are four feet thick.  Most of that bulk can be simply earth, which, presumably, is cheaply available.  The Mexican adobe houses come to mind.  My wife and I stayed in a house in El Chimayo, New Mexico, that was about 400 years old and had thick adobe walls that beat modern construction hands down in nearly every category, except, perhaps, profit to the builder.  Once again, let me emphasize that the cost of labor is not a big issue when the laborer and the consumer are one and the same person.  This is a big advantage of the decentralized post-industrial (nonmaterialistic) economy.


As stated above, I hope we can retain the best of our communications technology including computing.  [Note in proof (4-12-97).  My reservations about the usefulness of computers are beginning to occupy more and more of my lucubrations.  Also, see “Some Unintended Effects of Computers” [12], which contains a good reference to Clifford Truesdell’s argument that computers are ruining mathematics and science!]  I believe in a worldwide communications highway and the amazing technology we have come to expect centered around it.  I have a number of provisos though.  (1) It must not be used for commerce.  (2) It must not be used to keep tabs on people – even so-called undesirable people.  (Everyone is undesirable to someone.)  (3) It must stay within a reasonable emergy budget.  (4) It must be distributed equally to everyone, in which case it can be a force for democracy and virtually eliminate the need for the corporate media.  News stories could come from eyewitnesses in far-flung lands who have absolutely nothing to gain by spreading lies.  One just turns on one’s computer and begins telling the story to one’s favorite bulletin board, say.  (5) Increased communication does not lead to increased transportation even though we would like to meet face-to-face with the person on the other end of the line.  (I am concerned about interlocutors falling in love.  Perhaps, we could cut down on that by avoiding video telephony.  In the worst case, one may walk halfway across the world.  Personally, I would be willing to provide a sailboat for the short distances that cannot be walked for anyone who was willing to walk nearly all the way.)

Imagine a television that is truly interactive.  Anyone can begin broadcasting on one of millions of channels.  But, and this is a blessing, he shouldn’t expect his name to become a household word like Peter Jennings, say, because thousands of others – perhaps millions – are broadcasting at the same time.  One could watch a kids’ baseball game (not one of the disgusting Little League games with their excessive adult involvement) or a game played by experts whose names you don’t know because they are playing in one game out of millions of games; but they might be as good as the major-league players of today.  And why should they not be good; they are not concerned with the rat race; they have time to do the things that allow them to excel in transcendental disciplines such as art, music, sports, mathematics, and so on!  Can you imagine watching a world-class mathematician (one of millions, so you can’t remember her name) doing math at a computer blackboard (or a real old-fashioned blackboard) right in your own home?  She doesn’t care if you look over her shoulder and watch her make a mistake because you might enjoy watching her find her mistake and correct it or you might enjoy pointing out her mistake if her incoming port is open and she is willing to be interrupted.  Moreover, if she makes a mess, it doesn’t matter because there is simply no such thing as a reputation in the “modern” sense.  Use your imagination.  There’s no limit.  But, we must be able to afford it for everyone without any deprivation anywhere.

Waste Treatment

Nowadays, human waste is one of our most serious problems.  It is one of the chief symptoms of overpopulation, which, itself, is a symptom of materialism, (because, without materialism, no one would have anything to gain by indoctrinating as many of his own children as possible in his own particular religion, no one would need a large pool of unemployed workers to take up the slack in boom times and keep wages down, no one would need large numbers of children to support him in his old age (or imagine he did), etc.).  Nonetheless, for the present, disposing of human waste is a serious problem.  We recommend recycling everything that can be recycled without draining the energy supply and we recommend increasing the energy supply with as much of the residue as is possible.  Currently, economic feasibility is done in terms of money, which, as we have shown, is incorrect.  When the efficiency of energy from waste is analyzed from the emergy viewpoint we hope the results are favorable.  I am accustomed to saying that, in my (former?) profession (chemical engineering), we should consider garbage and sewage as our primary feedstocks and forsake petroleum – unless, of course, petroleum must be used to save even more petroleum in the future.  We should use garbage, sewage, and agricultural and silvicultural waste for primary feedstocks for energy and manufactured chemicals including pharmaceuticals.  I see no reason why this should not be completely feasible, but research and analysis is needed.

On the other hand, research in superconductivity strikes me as, at best, amusing and, at worst, frivolous.  Lost work at low temperatures (and the “high” temperatures in high-temperature superconductivity are still cryogenic, i.e., very low) is excessive.  Perfect heat insulators don’t exist, although, to be fair, maybe one will be found.  Anyway, I’m willing to bet a quarter that superconductivity will never benefit anyone other than the scientists who do the research and their associates.  (I think this is the case with most science and constitutes part of the argument I have given for distributing research resources equally to all scientists, provided their work be not wrong, not a repetition (except to verify), nor trivial.)  I hate to stand in opposition to an entire field of scientific research and I do so with great reluctance; however, I shall make exceptions in this case, in the case of all space research (except for space research on paper), and the superconducting super-collider (SSC), and ... oh, never mind.

[Note in proof (9-26-96).  A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the heat transfer loss to liquid nitrogen might be very much less than the i2R losses that would be saved by even moderately high-temperature superconductivity; therefore, I am no longer willing to write that area of research off quite so hastily.  In fact, I may have to eat my words.]


I do not believe we can afford mechanized transportation except to a very limited extent to effect economies of scale over moderate distances.  (I am not sure that every county should have a plant that produces fourteen-inch deep I-beams.)  For this application, I choose single-track railroads (or barges hauled by professional athletes).  (Since I am a rail buff, my friends will not be surprised that I choose rail, but they may be shocked to discover that I favor eliminating all but a tiny percentage of existing rail.)  As far as agricultural machinery is concerned (and the tractors that haul dead and blown down trees out of the forest) I think they should be designed so that the operator walks along next to them so that they will not be abused.  How about transportation for war?  I have an idea.  Let’s adopt dematerialism and eliminate all the causes of war – including improper religions (the ones that make claims of absoluteness and which are, by definition, intolerant of others).

Please do not imagine that I do not like cars.  I love cars: the old Auburn, the Duesenberg (It’s a Doozy!); the great Cadillacs, Jaguars, Ferraris, Bugattis.  The only Bugatti I have ever seen was where all the cars belong, namely, in a museum (The Museum of Modern Art in New York), except I would allow anyone, in turn, to take the car of his or her choice for a short spin over a short scenic track to experience the thrill as an aesthetic pleasure – not as a means of transportation.  Ditto planes.  The flying of planes must be restricted to small areas away from housing – so they don’t interrupt Mozart, for example, and they must land where they took off.

The use of helicopters, especially over cities, is ridiculous.  What if everyone did it?  That’s a moral criterion if there ever was one and I shall expand on it by deriving it formally from the three moral axioms.  (I confessed to my thesis adviser, Prof. Bob Seader, that I often worked on research at seminars.  Without so much as drawing a breath he remarked, “What if everyone did that?”  He made his point.)

What about travel and wanderlust?  Are you aware that with the exception of a couple of short boat trips over the Bering Straits, between Scotland and the Shetland Islands, etc. one can walk around the world.  At about twenty miles a day (very do-able for ordinary people) it would take about four years and you might actually see something.  Look at your globe.  There are very few places you can’t get to by wind or muscle power or both.  Perhaps no place.

But, people would have to live within walking distance of where their lives are conducted – for the most part.  What are the advantages of this?  They are considerable.

1.         No one really wants to move over the whole world disrupting family ties and other friendships usually creating conflicts between the needs and desires of people who are bonded in pairs (married, say).  One can maintain the same friendships one’s entire life.  I am reminded of the local fellows who congregated in the barbershop in Potsdam, New York.  They were hanging out with friends they had known their whole lives.  It might improve our behavior, too, if we knew we could not escape from people we had treated badly or made fools of ourselves in front of.  These folks sure as hell never forgot the guy who shot the sleeping bear at point blank range and then claimed it as a trophy despite the powder burns on the fur.  He will never live that down, although the local society accommodates him and knows that we all do things we are ashamed of later.  (He’ll never do that again, as Johnny Carson said after he was arrested for drunk driving.)  Near the opposite extreme, I have kept track of perhaps one person from grade school, five from high school, and twenty-five from college.  I have known most of my immediate associates less than six years.

2.         Transportation consumes inordinate amounts of emergy.

3.         All of life’s little chores are simplified by proximity.  Commuting to work takes an average of 400 hours a year for Americans.  That’s like ten extra weeks of vacation!  Don’t tell me sitting in traffic on Loop 610 gives you more freedom.

4.         Truly democratic societies can be established in eco-communities or sub-communities that are no wider than a day’s walk.  The enormous creates insurmountable obstacles to democracy and freedom.  I find myself in agreement with Aristotle in this rare instance.  He wrote that, if a village couldn’t be seen in its entirety from the top of a low hill, it was too big.

Wasted Energy

We defined emergy in terms of an optimal process.  Regrettably, an optimal process cannot be a reversible process, as reversible processes require infinitely large heat exchangers, for example, and must, therefore, consume an infinite amount of energy at some stage in their construction.  (See Appendix I or any good thermodynamics book for an explanation of the important thermodynamic concept of reversibility.)  Thus, the importance of looking at every phase of the manufacture of everything is emphasized.  Since our optimal process is not reversible, it must have some lost work associated with it.  This is not what we mean by “wasted energy”.  Perhaps this section should have been called availability conservation.  The closer to optimal each process becomes, the more availability we save.  Some conservationists hope to solve our environmental crisis and maintain “sustainable economic development” by conserving availability, i.e., building more efficient processes including automobiles that get better gas mileage.  I am not advocating that these things not be done as a temporary measure; but, by now, I hope, it is abundantly clear that the type of availability conservation normally considered by industrialists is absurdly inadequate.

Cogeneration, waste management, and other laudable efforts by industrialists can save at most 50% of our availability budget – and I am being generous to a fault in allowing such an exaggerated figure.  Fifteen percent is more like it.  This will not solve the problems of depletion of high-grade energy supplies, worldwide deprivation and famine, and horrifying global conflicts (wars).  Nevertheless, we must strive to make such processes as we deem worth having as close to optimal as possible.  Wasted availability is an evil to be rooted out with all of our skill and perseverance.  We have discussed which processes are “worth having”; we shall discuss it further; and we shall expect long and acrimonious debate as people struggle to avoid giving up their favorite frivolities and their insane and destructive ways of life.

Drawbacks and Advantages of a Large Energy Budget

It is not necessary to prove that every technology capable of supplying plentiful high-grade energy must fail.  It is clear that plentiful energy would not be a blessing in a materialistic world.  When I was first told of cold fusion, I hoped it would turn out to be a failure.  The first thing that popped into my head was traffic on the interstates multiplied a hundred-fold all over the globe.  Do we really want to turn the world into Loop 610?

On the other hand, in a cooperative world, (I have claimed) energy would be used wisely as there would be no incentive to use it selfishly and stupidly.  (You see; I, too, make use of incentive arguments that presume some knowledge of human nature.  I claim that the knowledge I profess has a better basis in fact than theories that deny intrinsic motivation.  After all, I am claiming only what everyone believes.  We have never given intrinsic motivation a chance, but we can see for ourselves – even feel for ourselves – the power of intrinsic motivation when it is allowed to function.)

For a change, I shall present only an outline of the drawbacks and advantages of a plentiful (high-grade) energy budget – even though I believe that, unless the population be reduced considerably, energy shall continue to be scarce.  Thus, I haven’t much hope for a large population; however, a small population might encounter serious obstacles too.  Perhaps a small population would have difficulty harvesting even a large supply of biomass and scarcity would persist.  As far as those large readily available fossil-fuel reserves are concerned, soon they shall be gone forever.

Outline of Likely Effects of a Plentiful Energy Budget under Contrasting Social Conditions

I.  Wrongful Use ( competition for wealth and power)

       A.  Health risk and discomfort

               1.  chemical and radiative pollution

               2.  space pollution (junk in outer space)

               3.  noise

               4.  light pollution (we can’t see the stars, which is all we wanted of them)

               5.  information pollution (lies, propaganda, drivel)

               6.  excessive motion leading to stress

               7.  crowding

               8.  disappearance of wilderness

               9.  extinctions of species

               10. population growth

               11. ugliness

               12. urbanization

                       a.  garbage

                       b.  sewage

               13. crime

               14. insanity

               15. etc.

       B.  Useless consumer products and deceptive marketing

       C.  More junkpiles and less space

       D.  Wasted effort

       E.  Unpleasant jobs



       H.  WAR

II.  Proper Uses (cooperation)

       A.  Population control

       B.  Pollution control

               1.  Purification of all waste streams

               2.  Separation and recycle of all junk

       C.  Decentralization (deurbanization)

       D.  Mass communication

       E.  Equality of wealth, power, and fame

       F. Abundant living without excessive work, perhaps none for people who hate work.  Of course, many people will work on personal projects interesting to themselves only, one of which might save the world in some easily imagined scenario.

       G.  Etc.

[Note in proof (1-26-97).  Even supposing that we have abandoned materialism, an excessively lavish emergy supply will only make it harder to abide by the spirit and the letter of the social contract derived from our minimal proper religion.  Overconsumption and population growth might be hard to resist. Nevertheless, in keeping with the view of humanity that, in Chapter 4 of this essay, is assumed to be a good enough approximation to the correct view, I shall continue to trust humanity to do the right thing.  Undoubtedly, this point is moot as emergy will always be scarce.  In case it turns out that I am wrong, I hope future generations forgive my lack of prescience, as I forgive past and present generations who can’t read the future or who can’t see the world as it actually is.  Remember, many of you have acted (or continue to act) unwisely; however, I will have acted prudently.  It is better to have planned for a calamity that doesn’t occur than not to have prepared for one that does!]

A Little Arithmetic

It is easy to see that fewer than 10% of the projected population of the earth in 2030 can spend high-grade energy at the current American rate, under the condition that the remaining 90+% subsist on 0.3kW.  Moreover, for each person within the subsistence class who exceeds his allowance someone must die!  If the current populations of the U.S., Europe and Japan survive and all else perish, the surviving population must still spend less than 90% of the current American energy budget.

Suppose the existing oil reserves extend to the generous upper bound of 10,000 billion barrels.  (The highest estimate I could find was 5,600 billion on Page 53 of Häfele’s book [4].)  Suppose, further, that the population of the earth stabilizes at ten billion people for the next one hundred billion years – until the sun burns out.  [Some experts suggest a shorter period.  Pick your own number.]  Given a long life span of 100 years, 100 million people are born in each of 100 billion years giving a grand total of 10 × 1018 people who are entitled by every natural and moral law to share the 10 × 1012 barrels of oil.  That gives one millionth of a barrel per person, i.e., essentially none.  (In this calculation we neglect new petroleum created constantly, but slowly, by nature.)

Suppose everyone alive in 2030 spent energy at the present American rate, assuming that only half of our energy comes from oil.  (This corresponds to the estimate given by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, as discussed above.)  This would require an increase of five times (to account for the “improvement” in the lives of non-Americans) and an increase of double (to account for the increase in the population) giving a factor of 10 without counting increased energy use to prevent air and water pollution.  Even with the generous estimate of 10,000 billion barrels of oil left, we would run out in fewer than 40 years, i.e., before 2070.  Of course, the environment would be destroyed before then – unless perhaps half of the energy were devoted to reducing pollution, in which case we would run out in twenty years, i.e., about 2050.


Fossil fuels should be used to eliminate the need for fossil fuels.


1.         Barring a highly improbable “technical” solution, energy budgets in the future will be much lower than they have been during the industrial era.  Probably, industrial civilization is ending.  Nevertheless, I believe that we shall be able to afford low-impact (on the environment), humanized, but extremely sophisticated, technology.

2.         Due to moral, aesthetic, and pragmatic considerations, wealth (measured in emergy) will be distributed equally among all people in the world.  A weak world federalism may be needed to redistribute natural resources appropriately.

3.         Political changes have to occur to prevent the rise of tyrants and totalitarian systems of government.

4.         To achieve these political changes, to minimize transportation costs, and to manage ecologies effectively, people will live in decentralized eco-communities.  The new societies might be referred to as low-impact, neo-tribal, firewood societies – not because firewood will be burned (although it might be) but because renewable biomass is likely to be the energy basis of human activity, just as it was before this bizarre, alienating, dehumanizing, but blessedly short, period in human history known as the industrial revolution.  (This is the soft-energy viewpoint.  Other viewpoints exist.)

5.         Because of likely barriers to deurbanization and other steps necessary to reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy sources, we should maintain a very large reserve supply of fossil fuel, especially petroleum in the ground.  We should not rely on more expensive fossil-fuel alternatives such as shale oil as they might be, in fact, inaccessible.

Important Questions

Clearly we need to answer many questions if we are to carry out the methods for determining the efficiency of various technologies to provide primary high-grade energy.  We need to answer additional questions to determine how much human labor might be needed and how much might be available in a cooperative world.  After all, we do not wish to embark upon a social experiment, however noble, whose result is the end of the human race – although our animal friends might be grateful if we did.

1.         What proportion of human effort is engaged in energy, production, business, and service?  What proportion of each sector serves each of the other sectors?  We might ask these questions for a finer division of society into more sectors.  For example, we have already suggested that we need to discover precisely who is in the health-care sector both directly and indirectly – counting fractions of a person wherever appropriate.

2.         What are the factors in the equation ei = ew,i + aiep,i , used to determine the efficiency of energy technologies?  (These were defined earlier in the chapter.)  Suppose that, in a plant that manufactures solar panels, the liquid fuels bill is L MU/hour, the gaseous fuels bill is G MU/hour, and the electric bill is E MU/hour, where the units are emergy units per hour.  (We don’t look at dollars and cents anymore, remember?)  Suppose, in addition, that workers from four economic sectors are employed in this enterprise; i.e., i = 1,2,3,4 .  Thus,

Similarly for gas and electricity.  Also, the ith sector employs Ni workers per shift.  Thus,


1.         How much effort (person hours) is required in the economic sectors required by a cooperative society?

2.         How much effort could be freed up by eliminating business?  Government? transportation?  professional sports!?

3.         How much is consumed by people who contribute useful things to our economy, i.e., food, clothing, shelter, health care, and the few simple luxuries that take the drudgery and misery out of life?

4.         How much is consumed by everyone else (the vast majority)?

5.         How much space can be allotted for dwelling, gardening, energy cultivation, etc. to each individual or family (or extended family) in an egalitarian, isoplutic (having equal wealth and income), cooperative society?

6.         How much emergy can we afford to build a dwelling that would last a thousand years?  forever?

7.         How will living space be apportioned?  Should all waterfront property be public?

8.         How much emergy can we afford for health care?  How much emergy should be budgeted for the last year of a person’s life or, shall we say, a dying person?  Currently, we spend something like 27% or 28% of our Medicaid budget for the last year of each beneficiary’s life.  Is that too much?  about right?  too little?

9.         How will health care be rationed?

10.       These questions can be the basis of future work by this author and others.  Everyone is welcome to participate.  I have no special territorial prerogatives connected with my past work.  Communication, discussion, and cooperation are encouraged.

November 23, 1996

Revised February 26, 1997

Revised July 2, 1997

Revised December 25, 2005

Revised September 14, 2006

Revised October 28, 2006



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