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Synthesis/Regeneration 52   (Spring 2010)

No Combination of Alternative Energy Systems Can Replace Fossil Fuels

by Tod Brilliant

An alarming new study jointly released by two prominent California-based environmental/economic think tanks concludes that unrelenting energy limits, even among alternative energy systems, will make it impossible for the industrial system to continue operating at its present scale, beyond the next few decades. The report finds that the current race by industries and governments to develop new sustainable energy technologies that can replace ecologically harmful and rapidly depleting fossil fuel and nuclear technologies will not prove sufficient, and that this will require substantial adjustments in many operating assumptions of modern society.

The new study Searching for a Miracle: Net Energy Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society is the first major analysis to utilize the new research tools of "full life cycle assessment" and "net energy ratios" (Energy Returned on Energy Invested, EROEI), to compare all currently proposed future scenarios for how industrial society can face its long term future.

Energy supply problems are..worsening as primary fuels become scarce and costly.

The report analyzes 18 of the most viable power production alternatives, from traditional fossil fuels and nuclear, through wind, solar, wave, geothermal, biomass, et al. to identify their "net energy" ratios-the amount of energy that must be invested in them vs. the amount of energy they will be able to produce-as well as their environmental, social and geopolitical impacts. It also considers such important factors as resource and materials supply, resource location, transportation, waste disposal issues, and others to create a full life cycle picture of each technology's impacts.

Searching for a Miracle was published by the International Forum on Globalization (IFG). The content was largely provided by the Post Carbon Institute, a think tank that works toward a transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.

The principal author of the report is Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow of Post Carbon Institute, and the best-selling author of such books as The Party's Over, Peak Everything, and Blackout. The editor of the project - part of the IFG's False Solutions program - is San Francisco author Jerry Mander, who is Founder and Distinguished Fellow of IFG. His previous popular books on economics and technology include: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, The Case Against the Global Economy, and Alternatives to Globalization.

Following are a few of the main conclusions of this report:

These factors must all be taken very seriously by policy makers in all countries, and by global institutions that have thus far failed to be realistic about what will be required to avoid future social and economic breakdowns and geopolitical crises, as countries and peoples compete for dwindling energy resources, raw materials, and agricultural space. While it is not yet too late to change course, the opportunities to avoid catastrophic economic, environmental, social, and political impacts are few and quickly dwindling.

Tod Brilliant serves Post Carbon Institute as Communications Director. For further information, or for copies of the Searching for a Miracle report, contact:

Post Carbon Institute
500 N. Main St., Suite 100
Sebastopol, CA 95472 USA
Tel: +1.707.823.8700 . Fax: +1.866.797.5820
http://www.postcarbon.org email media@postcarbon.org

The International Forum On Globalization
1009 General Kennedy Avenue, Suite 2
San Francisco, California 94129 USA
Tel: +1.415.561.7650 . Fax: +1.415.561.7651
http://www.ifg.org". email ifg@ifg.org

[3 sep 10]

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