The Sower’s Way

There are huge problems trying to understand a transition to sustainable energy in terms of politics. Who is for; who is against; what corporate business models would it screw up? Oh, Jobs! Oh, Economy! Not in this election, because THIS election is CRITICAL! We have more IMMEDIATE problems to deal with!

That’s why the Green Party candidate for President is the only candidate trying to make this an issue in the election. The other candidates, supported wholeheartedly by the corporate press, ignore, evade and dismiss the issue or occasionally make rhetorical gestures not substantiated by actual policy.

Essentially, there is so much BS on the subject that trying to approach it from a political angle is like Grant’s army trying to approach Vicksburg by wading through swamps. It’s a hopeless task. We had better find another route.

There are also huge problems trying to approach the subject by way of economics. First off, the basic assumption of all conventional economics is that a growing economy is a healthy economy, and the role of fiscal policy is to promote and control growth without allowing an excessive degree of inflation. Yet it is obvious that the fossil fuel-burning industrial economy is the main cause of climate change, and that stopping the burning of fossil fuels is essential to preventing even worse climate change. Shrinking the emitting economy may well mean shrinking the whole economy, and that is anathema to economists.

In short, the goals of economists are directly opposed to the goal of responding to climate change by not causing more of it. Approaching it from this angle is like Grant’s army approaching Vicksburg by getting on boats and sailing there directly on the river – straight into the enemy’s cannons. We had better find yet another route.

Sgouris Sgouridis, Denes Csala and Ugo Bardi, three European scientists, have mapped out this other route for us. It’s not an easy route, but it is far better than fighting through the swamps or sailing straight at the cannons. The route map is published as “The sower’s way: quantifying the narrowing net-energy pathways to a global energy transition.” You can read the whole thing for free at the IOP Science website.

The title of the paper is explained on Ugo Bardi’s blog, “Cassandra’s Legacy.”
The idea is one you should have heard of before: no successful society should eat its seed corn. Enough must be saved so that it can be sown for next year’s crop. We are coming to the end of the 300-year season of using fossil fuels for whatever we want. Now we should save much of the remaining fuels to build a self-replicating renewable energy infrastructure.

This is not the first academic study to look at the possibilities of converting our society to 100% renewable energy in the next generation or two. Perhaps the one most familiar to us would be professor Mark Jacobson’s “Solutions Project,” which demonstrates the technical feasibility of making this transition. The “sower’s way” is certainly similar, and it is valuable because it takes into consideration net energy; both the net energy that will be available to sustain society during the transition and net energy available to the society when the transition is complete.

I believe the “sower’s way” paper is worth reading through several times, and then keeping as a reference for further discussion. There’s no question that there will be further discussion of the subject, much of it complete BS from politicians and economists, because we will be experiencing more climate disasters (and more intense ones). That will force the topic center stage again and again, until we actually come to some way of coping with it or become a failed state.

In the United States, Jill Stein’s “Green New Deal” is a decent approximation of a political program consistent with Jacobson’s Solutions Project and with the sower’s way. If Jill can break into the televised “debates,” the American public in general could find out about it, and support it with their vote. If you agree that opening the debates to all the candidates on the ballot is a good idea, you might want to sign the petition, write letters to the editor, call your congressperson or local news source, or otherwise demonstrate for that goal.

If we are ever to have a program that does something effective about climate change, it has to become a dominant political issue in an election. If not this election, then the next – but NOW would be great.

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One thought on “The Sower’s Way

  1. Great message. The timing for me was incredible. I was just thinking about the IMPORTANCE of our Grassroots pillar in the Green Party. The tie in with your message made me smile.

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