The theory, of course, is that eventually an inflection point in renewable production *might* be achievable, after which point total gobal energy consumption would decline. The fact, unfortunately, is that we’re nowhere near achieving such an inflection point, as Tad Patzek carefully points out:
The rate of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions are virtually identical and have grown exponentially over the last 40 years.
The impact of large dams and nuclear power plants has been barely visible, and disappeared by 2007.
The renewable energy sources, wind turbines, biomass cogeneration, and biofuels (photovoltaic panel area is too small to be relevant), are barely keeping up with the deforestation and general paving of the world.
Increased efficiency leads to more energy use and the ratio of the slopes has remained constant (3.8) over the last 40 years. Thus, just as Stanley Javons predicted, higher efficiency leads to more energy use which leads to still higher efficiency.
The visuals are particularly damning, as are the implications. And this leaves out the question I’ve been asking for years, which is – even if we were to do a world-scale WWII style build out, would the increased carbon emissions created by that build-out push us past any critical carbon thresholds and tipping points we aren’t already past. In an exchange of columns I had with George Monbiot a few years ago, Monbiot had to admit the possibility, even though he argued in favor of renewable production.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m in favor of renewable development, but I don’t see how renewables could possibly change our ecological predicament – the only thing that can change that is radical shifts in our behavior and way of life. It is, of course, increasingly unlikely that we will do this as a society in an organized and voluntary way. It is, of course, increasingly (in fact, the two likelihoods run precisely in parallel) likely that we will have no choice but to change our lives radically – involuntarily and painfully.