In the case of alcohol from biomass, the best methodology for determining EROI can matter very much to people who are directly involved, however it will probably not have any effect upon the rest of us unless this technology plays a substantial role in the energy economy of the United States. Moreover, for farmers, for example, who try to anticipate their motor fuel requirements by local action in the shadow of Peak Oil, conventional analysis will work fine, as they shall not incur business costs in connection with the local use of biomass technology.
However, suppose the same discussion were to be applied to nuclear power installations. In a capitalist economy, such as some people still believe will be part of America's future, nuclear would become the principal source of power to “keep the train rolling”. The conclusion would be a matter of life and death for a huge population. The effects would be felt locally whether one approves or disapproves of national policy.
Piecing together various types of alternative energies – unless nuclear energy be considered an alternative – cannot “keep the train rolling”. Personally, I favor the soft-energy, “Earth as a Garden”, natural economy, but this requires a political sea change that must sweep the entire nation. It cannot be managed locally. We can act locally, but we must communicate globally. If we do not effect political change nationally, global events will swamp local action, which will be viewed as nothing better than Personal Salvationism.
Rapidly introducing energy-saving and renewable-energy technologies will have enormous energy consequences that many of us will not like. Many people believe that the necessary technological changes cannot occur without the help of entrepreneurs, and they may be right. See, for example, for a rebuttal to some remarks made by me.
The ultimate goal is to prevent Die-Off. I am trying to convince the reader – not necessarily with EROI studies; but by showing that, if commercial activities are not included in the EI computations, society will be left with many activities that have no energy to support them. If this is not recognized a priori and the required political changes do not take place, commerce will continue to suck the blood out of the economy to the detriment of feeding the poor, for example. Commerce won't stop simply because no energy has been provided to carry on its activities. It will continue to misappropriate the energy needed for vital activities, since commerce has been and will continue to be a predatory economic parasite.
Traditionally, socially progressive thought has tried to effect change by appealing to our moral natures. Peak Oil presents us with a challenge and an opportunity. Perhaps, for the first time during my lifetime, it is possible to demonstrate mathematically the need for social change. (The single most powerful intellectual tool of which I am aware is a properly closed balance equation.) Perhaps, very few people are accessible through their mathematical propensities, but those who are can be stunningly convinced of a need to change their minds when confronted with mathematical proofs. I wish to take advantage of that. Unfortunately, I shall put a number of people to sleep who do not wish to be bothered by mathematics however elementary. (I know people who are bored by their children's grade school math homework.) I hope that people like you take the trouble to understand the mathematical argument presented here and make it evident to people who are bored by mathematics by making it interesting in some other way.
Thomas L Wayburn
July 16, 2006
Revised August 4, 2006
Revised October 16, 2006