Monday, February 08, 2010


Complexity, Chaos, and Solar Energy

The Oil Drum has so many great articles that I encourage people to visit the site occasionally. One really fine recent contribution is “Energy Flow, Emergent Complexity, and Collapse,” which discusses how energy flows allow societies to achieve higher levels of organization and complexity until the point of diminishing returns, whereupon collapse ensues. Very relevant to the present point in time, and we can in fact observe these processes at work in our midst. Although slightly long for busy people, I think it’s well worth the time.

Perhaps I’m tooting my own horn, but I have in the past touched upon some of these things here. One example, from last year, is “The New World Order,” in which I noted that declining energy will precipitate the slide toward chaos. Another, from 2008, is “Stored Solar Energy vs ‘Real Time’ Solar Energy,” where I attempted to show the profound difference between the amounts of energy we are able to access through stored solar energy, i.e., fossil fuels, and real-time solar energy, or that which arrives at our planet on a daily basis. These two concepts are part of the overall fabric of the TOD article.

Now that all the “easy oil” has been found, we will find ourselves moving at an accelerating pace toward what is known as the “net energy cliff,” which is the time when there is a rapid increase in the amount of energy we must expend to obtain energy, leaving us with progressively less energy to run the economy. That obviously translates into decreasing organization and complexity, whose concomitant is increasing chaos, and eventual collapse.

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