ecology and the human predicament

date: 2013-10-07

archive_section: words

tags: essay

Energy Systems Theory

Energy Systems Theory is meant to be a more comprehensive view of the state of the economy and its relationship with the biosphere. Generally speaking, the economy is defined exclusively in terms of human capital (Environmental Stewardship and Economic Prosperity, Donald L. Adolphson, p. 6-7) in part (according to Adolphson) because measuring the value of “natural capital” is difficult and unconventional. According to Daly this is due to us failing to recognize that the economy operates within a finite biosphere, we act as if there were infinite resources and energy at our disposal when, in reality, these are available only in fixed amounts. The idea of Energy Systems Theory is to take this “natural capital” into account along with human capital in terms of energy throughput. Adolphson, however, does not propose that we attempt to build a sustainable economy, rather, that we use this model to aid us in being responsible stewards of the Earth.

Personal Stewardship

I reject the idea that true sustainability is futile. The earth is certainly going to receive celestial glory one day but that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to build a sustainable economy. Assuming that the world is going to end before sustainability becomes important is simply an excuse to ignore the pressing issues at hand. We don’t know when the world is going to end: it could be soon, it could be in five-hundred years or more. Even if we’re going to call ecological responsibility “stewardship” we have to realize that we don’t have a fixed timescale to work with, the only way to handle our resources responsibly is to assume the system will have to function indefinitely.

It could certainly be said that the prophecies concerning the end of the world are being fulfilled as we speak, and a Christians we look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but it is important to remember the following detail: “[h]eaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:35-36) Nobody, except the Father, knows exactly when the Second Coming and the end of the world will be, we can’t predict that and unless we work towards a truly sustainable future we may run the planet dry before the End. We have to accept the fact that we live within a finite biosphere, we don’t have infinite resources and we need to learn to work within those constraints.

The planet can only take so much abuse, eventually we are going to be forced into some sort of equilibrium with the ecosystem and unless we take steps to move towards that now the planet is going to do it for us and we may not like the results. We are obsessed with growth but nothing can grow forever, especially when its constrained by resources. Obviously we want to keep improving and I think we can, perhaps not in terms of growth but perhaps by fixing the system. There are enough resources available on this planet for everyone to live comfortably but unfortunately our capitalist game has done a terrible job at distributing those resources evenly. The top 1% controls nearly 40% of the nations wealth, if we focused on development rather than growth we could do something about that. We could work towards cleaner, ecologically sound industrial practices, sustainable farming techniques, conservation and restoration of damaged ecosystems. All of this is possible if we make it the focus of our economy.