An engineer, an economist, and an ecomodernist walk into a bar and order a free lunch . . .

by Stan Cox,
July 30, 2018 08:25 AM

Billions of people around the world need more energy than they can afford, while [m]illions of others can afford to buy far more energy than is required to meet their [basic] needs.

The ecological economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, in his 1971 book The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, and those who followed him have shown that no technology can repeal the Entropy Law — that there is not and will never be a free lunch. Today, those realities are being studiously ignored by innovators, disruptors, and other perpetual-motion specialists.

[Some] ecomoderns foresee humanity retreating entirely into high-tech, self-sufficient, nominally carbon-neutral urban areas connected only by bullet-train corridors, while ostensibly turning the rest of the Earth’s surface over to “nature.”

But…There is simply not enough land in and around cities even to grow the nation’s vegetable crop, let alone the cereal, grain legume, oilseed, root & tuber crops that cover the bulk of our cropland and make up the bulk of our diet (by comparison, vegetables occupy less than 3% of U.S. cropland).

Other ecomodernists support 100%-green-energy-for-growing-demand. It [might be] possible to achieve 100% renewable energy but only if affluent nations and regions come to operate on far less energy input. Those who were left out of the fossil-fuel bonanza will never be able to indulge in the kind of gluttonous consumption we now practice (although they — in fact all of us — could achieve improved life circumstances in a low energy economy, provided there is production for use rather than profit, greater equality, better public policy, and fair-shares rationing.)

I see the 100-percenters — Stanford’s Mark Jacobson,’s Bill McKibben, and others — as siblings of the ecomodernists in every aspect but one: that they want 100% renewable energy while the self-proclaimed ecomodernists want 100% nuclear energy. But neither variant of ecomodernism acknowledges the necessity for a low-energy, low-production economy that ensures sufficiency for all and excess for no one.

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