The Coming Crash: Our Addiction to Endless Growth on a Finite Planet [With Photo Slideshow]
This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
If you want to understand how much energy costs, don't look at your electric bill; instead get a copy of the new book Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth. This massive coffeetable book contains hundreds of arresting images showing the effects of our energy choices, including oil spills, nuclear accidents, massive solar arrays, tar sands mines, fracking operations, transmission lines, and more. The photos are complemented by essays from leading writers like Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, Sandra Steingraber, Douglas Tompkins, Bill McKibben, Lester Brown and many others, which put into context our growing energy problems and what we can do about them.
The book is a collaboration of great minds, including editors Tom Butler and George Wuerthner and contributing author Richard Heinberg. It's also a partnership between the Post Carbon Institute and the Foundation for Deep Ecology, copublished by PCI and Watershed Media.
While the book delves greatly into different energy sources and their limitations, the heart of the book is really not so much about what kinds of energy we use but how much. To get a clearer understanding of this AlterNet spoke with contributing writer Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow at PCI and the author of numerous books including The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality (June 2011), Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis (2009) and Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines (2007).
Tara Lohan: How did this book project come about? I know it started out as a book about tar sands, but then it evolved into so much more.
Richard Heinberg: The economy is all about energy. Almost all of our environmental issues relate to energy in one way or another. Certainly, climate change does. War and peace, it's all about energy. Upping the energy literacy of the American people and thought leaders is a pretty high priority.
TL: Explain a little bit more what you mean by energy literacy, because I know you talk about that in the book as well.
RH: Well, surprisingly few people have really looked at or thought about or studied what energy is. It's in all of our lives. We all depend on it for everything we do, but energy is pretty allusive. You can't hold a jar of pure energy in your hands. Useful energy comes to us in various forms. All of these different forms of energy, whether it's coal, oil, natural gas, wind, hydropower, nuclear, each has its own characteristics. Environmental characteristics. Economic characteristics. It takes a while to sort of wrap your head around all of that, and there are some basic concepts like the laws of thermodynamics. The ideas of energy density and return on energy investment that are absolutely fundamental to evaluating different forms and sources of energy.
Again, not too many people have really studied or given much thought to these. Well, over the course of the next few years, we're going to be making absolutely critical decisions about our energy future, our environmental future and our economic future. Unless we have these basic elements of energy literacy, unless more of us understand the criteria by which to evaluate these different sources of energy, we're going to get a lot of things wrong. We think energy literacy is really important.
TL: Right, it's not as easy as just replacing all the coal and oil with solar and wind, because they differ in terms of the energy returned on energy invested.