Insight from Civil Society Engaging
with Science and Technology
humans going to be self-destructive in the 21st
Dhara, Cerena Foundation
All is not very well with the world and we are not going
to be able to fix the bigger picture. We better start debating these
issues right from now if we are to save what ever rump of human society
that is left after climate change or peak oil takes us down.
For over 30 years we have had several major streams of
thinking which have been pointing out that we are overusing our natural
capital. This process began a long time back but we have crossed the
ability to support human life some time around 1975-85, that is twenty
years ago or so.
And you can see here
who is consuming those resources
Now let me come to a major issue – climate change. Today
after the fourth assessment of the IPPCC, it is confirmed that that
climate change is there. Many critiques of the IPPCC report indicate
that there has in fact been an under assessment. Research papers by
Hansen indicate that the kind of impact climate change will have is
much larger than what the IPPCC says.
This is what the
Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change has told us - we already
have a .7 degree Celsius increase in temperature. We have glaciers
melting and we have changes in precipitation. We are going to have huge
impacts in several areas of the environment for example water scarcity,
ecosystem and climate which can result in a 30% loss of species. A huge
amount of water scarcity is predicted particularly in Africa and in
India because we are dependent on glaciers, and have extreme weather
Already the sea has come in to Orissa by a kilometre or
so in certain parts. And a good part of the Sundarbans is just going to
be washed away. Whether it is eco-foot printing techniques or whether
it is multiple regression analysis or any such so called scientific
method, they essentially point in the same direction. We are not just
going towards a completely unsustainable situation, we are already
I look at
this whole problem in terms of throughput – throughput of energy and
throughput of knowledge in society. In the system you have an input, a
throughput (of both energy and knowledge) and then you have an output.
When we talk about Climate Change, the focus in the last decade or so
has been on the output.
I - End of the pipe control
& Fuel In use
They are either trying to do
some supply-side management like saying okay we take the Carbon dioxide
out or try and treat the CO2 to get some so called “green
energy” outputs. Again it is a technology which is up in the air
and has not been grounded.
We are now beginning to
recognise that the problem is at the other end of the pipeline- the
Replace fossil fuels with non-carbon based energy systems
Nuclear power reactors
Where are we getting our energy from? We get it from
fossil fuels which are depleting day by day. This is not what some so
called ‘eco–terrorists’ are saying, it is what the financial
newsletters, written by people at the New York stock exchange are
saying. In simple terms, peak oil is almost here.
| Peak oil is
expected to occur in the next 5-10 years, at most 2 decades. Peak
gas will follow soon after.|
No viable energy source—green, nuclear, – is available to replace fossil fuels.
Peak oil means soon
the maximum rate of global oil production will be reached and after
that, the rate of production will start declining. This means that oil
production will fall shortly, and gas will be the next.
Whatever goes up has to come down. So crash will happen –
already there are predictions of a crash happening, both in terms of
climate change as well as in terms of fossil fuels getting over. The
attempt so far has been to replace oil and coal with green
technologies, nuclear power, look at clean coal, etc. But in every case
we are going to run into a huge number of problems.
We really do not have anything much at the ground level
except a few experiments. And there is nothing which tells us that
these little experiments can be up scaled. This huge upcoming
crisis is not amenable to technical fixes, legal fixes or economical
fixes. The fact remains that we do not have any fuel today (even green
energies) that could replace oil and coal.
Besides the issue of techno-economic feasibility there is
the question of energy density, which fossil fuel has, and most current
uses, like transport need. In fossil fuel if you put in one Jule you
can get back maybe 30-40 even 50 Jules. In ethanol, you have to
put in 1.5 Jules to get one Jule back. In hydrogen you have to put 6
Jules to get one Jule back; so none of these will be able to replace
fossil fuels. This is beside the issue of gestation period, cost
factors, other risk factors as in nuclear energy, and so on.
The whole problem is with the carbon cycle and the
tampering of the carbon cycle. Currently we are using up 3000 extra
Jules from the primary energy production (photosynthesis) each
day. We are also doubling our energy consumption every 30 years.
As against an energy consumption of 6000 million tonnes of oil in 1971,
we are today consuming 12000 million tonnes of oil in a short period of
just 35 years and that is only accelerating. So, we are
accelerating growth that is completely unsustainable. Essentially we
have gone against the laws of nature.
In short what I am trying to say is that human society
over the last few centuries has amassed energy from other bioforms and
has used it for itself. It has grown and colonized the world. More
importantly it has colonised the larger section of human society
itself, which comes to the third part of the problem – namely the auto
escalating of the problem both in terms of resources as well as
economically within human society.
I would like to introduce a term eMergy, which
has gained currency in the last couple of decades or so. It means
accumulated embodied energy. Every thing has energy. This table has
energy. We have energy because we have been brought up as children and
so on. The creation of embodied energy is through knowledge. The whole
process of owning an energy converter and saying this eMergy is mine is
the crux of the problem.
Human society has taken energy, has used knowledge that
rightfully belongs to other biota and used it for itself. And in turn a
part of society has become energy ‘haves’ and a part of society has
become energy ‘have-nots’ and in the whole process it has gone and
created a concept of a state which is also nothing but in fact an
We have completely lopsided energy consumption, energy
production pattern. As against the 600 units we consume per capita per
year in this country, the USA consumes about 12000 units per capita and
Sweden and Norway consume around in the region of 25,000 to 30,000
So actually this is
only growing. This is all about carbon dioxide emissions and which
places have how much carbon dioxide and the focus is on population.
Actually the US emits nearly 30% of the CO2.
There are many ways in which this energy transfer
happens. In a recent study, we looked at three coastal power plants. In
the power plant which is supposed to come up in Udupi we found the
primary energy loss in a 25 km radius is 15% of the capacity of the
plant. This means that for every 100 kilowatts of power which goes to
Bangalore, there is a loss of an equivalent of 15 kilowatts energy to
Udupi farmers. I was looking at statistics of global conflict and I
found that the greater the difference in the holding of eMergy, the
greater the conflict in the world. We have lost something like 75
to 100 million people in the last decade from1900 to 2001 due to
Essentially the driver is energy and knowledge of what
is happening in the world.
all political borders. It will save a significant
amount of energy consumption by dismantling:
Embassies, Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Customs,
Immigration, CIAs, RAWs, ISIs, etc.
Abolishing borders will also reduce energy
consumption as :
It will allow for population migration to such
areas that are better endowed in energy and natural resources
negative entropy on earth by relying more on cheap and
unlimited solar energy
Negative products should be charged for the energy
required to neutralize them
Relying more on animal/human power
Reducing global energy consumption drastically?
But, with the Jevon’s paradox,
will this reduction be effected?
in One World
LOW footprint challenge
Saying “reduce per capita” footprint is
easy. Translating it into a programme is not …
It requires the social management of energy
and knowledge for common good
Powering down energy throughputs to pre-1971 levels
or even less.
Use of renewables. How to get them into place
Sustainable energy permits. Luxury energy
Creating a society that will not permit the
accumulation of embodied energy on a large scale in private hands. How?
Restoring natural resources and the global commons
to people. How?
Technology down-sizing. How?
Will nano-technology come into place fast enough?
Decentralized power generation?
Cannot meet current base requirements
Equity in decision-making, access, control in the
use of energy and other natural resources. How?
Sustainable use of resources (renewable and
non-renewable) and generation of wastes. How?
Re-localization alone? Or along with true
globalization (sans borders)? How?
How, without tackling poverty simultaneously?
Generation and management of knowledge for the
benefit of all humanity. How?
So how do we go about solving this problem?
Let us get rid of borders. Let us start working
with nature, working with knowledge that does not go against nature.
Let us not have knowledge which destroys nature.
Let us be clear that the trickle down model has not
If development is growth with equity, before the
benefits of growth can trickle down, our fossil fuels are going to get
Thus we have to talk about equity in the here and now -
equity between people, between generations of people and equity between
I opt for the last.
Currently we are not
in a happy situation. Small experiments seem to be very good
because they develop our confidence in what we call
“recovering our environment”. It allows us to talk about our
environment without talking about equity - or vice versa.
If we have to
recover our environment, essentially we have to also change our outlook
from a maximisation of the fuel, to a kind of outlook of risk
minimisation of the species. That is a huge challenge. I don’t
have the road map so I am sharing my thoughts with you with the hope
that together we can come up with a slightly better roadmap than what
is before us at the moment.