Citizen Action Monitor

Think about it — No natural resource energy stocks are renewable on human time scales – Nate Hagens (3)

But we consume these geologic stocks like they are inexhaustible energy flows such as rivers, rain, sunlight, wind.

No 2227 Posted by fw, June 1, 2018

To access links to all other posts in this series, click on the Tab titled “Where Are We Going? by Dr. Nate Hagens” in the top left margin. 

“There’s two kinds of energy and resources — there are flows and there are stocks. … So, our society is built on stocks that are depletable [exhaustible] on human timescales. Yet our cultures treats these as if they were [inexhaustible] flows. A flow is something like sunlight [solar], or a river [hydro] or rain. So, there’s a disconnect here. Now, if you look at me and my horse, those are flow-based in human history. Those were things that could be supported by flows. You can’t easily support my truck or my utility vehicle on flows, but [you can] on [stocks of] this energy dense carbon in fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas.”Nate Hagens

In part 1 of this series, Dr. Hagens emphasized that things in our world are not black and white, they’re gray. Moreover, people take pro and con positions on things along a continuum.  In his talk, Hagens is going to “suggest 40 of these continuums that will have  bearing on our collective future.” He is presenting his 40 continuums in five categories: The Economy; Human Behavior; The Environment; Our Culture; and Individual.

In yesterday’ post, part 2, titled, Most people don’t know that EVERY societal good and service requires an energy input — the first continuum of the first of Hagens’ five categories, The Economy — Dr. Hagens stressed that “We cannot have any good or service produced in our economy without using energy.” 

Today’s post, part 3, he clarifies the difference between energy stocks and flows in this, the second continuum of his first category, The Economy.

A cautionary note — Don’t let Hagens’ mix of energy terms — e.g., horsepower, BTUs, calories, barrels and math units and calculations — throw you. If necessary, just skip them. Here’s my selection of the top 3 takeaways from this post:

1/ The above passage excerpted from Hagens’ talk captures the essence of the difference between energy stocks and energy flows;

2/ We are living during what might be called ‘the Carbon Pulse’, a once-in-geologic-time gift of fossil productivity injected into the human ecosystem; and

3/ 98% of physical labor in the modern world is done by machines which in turn are 85% powered by energy-dense carbon compounds.

For those who may wonder why I am presenting each of 40 short continuums in separate posts, my experience is that Dr. Hagens’ challenging content is best taken in small doses. As well, printed text is a way to slow down his rapid-fire, spoken delivery style.

There is a brief bio-sketch about Dr. Hagens at the bottom of this post, along with a link to his website.

Below is the embedded video of Hagens’ 60-minute address, followed by an 18-minute Q&A session. My transcript of Pt. 3 runs from 08:40 to 11:13 minutes. The transcript has been edited for enhanced readability.

Alternatively, a video of Hagens’ talk, along with a “loosely related” essay on the talk, are available by clicking on the following linked title. This version, published by Resilience, also includes excellent readers’ comments, including responses by Hagens.

NOTESelected parts of the Resilience essay are included in my transcripts, bracketed as [Resilience Supplement].

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Where are we going? by Nate Hagens, Resilience.org, May 8, 2018

TRANSCRIPT (from 08:41 to 11:13)

[THE ECONOMY]

08:41[Continuum 2: Stocks vs Flows] — There’s two kinds of energy and resources — there are flows and there are stocks. This is a picture of me and one of my draft horses. My draft horse is 1 horse. I’m about an eighth of a horse. My little utility vehicle does the work of 45 horsepower, it has the power of 45 horses, with just a few of this amount of cups of diesel fuel in there. And then my truck does the work of 150 horses. So one barrel of oil, which we currently pay around $60 for, has 5.7 million BTUs* worth of energy. [*BTU, British Thermal Unit, is the unit used to measure the amount of energy (heat) needed to raise 1 pound of water 1°F at sea level. BTU’s counterpart in the metric system is the calorie.]

If you translate that into human work output, it’s 4½ years of me plowing the fields, digging ditches, putting up insulation, hammering in boards – 4 ½ years of my labor, which at the average American wage of $31,000 [a year] is around $130,000 of work we get for $60. All we had to do was pay for the extraction [of oil] out of the earth.

09:57So, our society is built on stocks that are depletable [exhaustible] on human timescales. Yet our cultures treats these as if they were [inexhaustible] flows. A flow is something like sunlight [solar], or a river [hydro] or rain. So, there’s a disconnect here.

10:17 – Now, if you look at me and my horse, those are flow-based in human history. Those were things that could be supported by flows. You can’t easily support my truck or my utility vehicle on flows, but [you can] on [stocks of] this energy dense carbon in fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas.

10:37The average American today uses 54 barrel-of-oil equivalents of energy every year. And we import another 15. So each of us, without knowing it, has approximately 300 years worth of fossil slaves [stocks] standing behind us doing our bidding. So each of us consumes [uses] 200,000 calories a day, but our bodies only consume [eat] 2,000. So this is a 100 to 1 ratio that is supported by these geologic stocks.  

*****

[Resilience Supplement] Flows vs Stocks – The human economy runs on natural resources like copper, iron and phosphorous. Globally $1 of GDP results in about 1KG of extracted minerals, energy and materials.  We are particularly dependent on high density energy resources like oil and natural gas and from a long term perspective we are living during what might be called ‘the Carbon Pulse’, a one time bolus [dose] of fossil productivity injected into the human ecosystem.  98% of physical labor in modern world is done by machines which in turn are 85% powered by energy-dense carbon compounds. Few think about it, but 1 barrel of crude oil, at 5.8 million BTUs, for which we currently pay about $66 [as of today, June 1, 2018], contains the work equivalent of 4.5 years of human labor, for which we pay (in USA) $140,000. The average American uses 54 of these ‘barrels’ per-year directly, with an additional 10-20 via imported goods, equating to about 300 ‘fossil slaves’ supporting our lifestyles.  In effect, though we eat about 2,500 calories via food, we each ‘consume’ over 200,000 calories per day overall.  Our culture effectively treats all these geological inputs as ‘flows’ (like rivers, rain, sunlight, tree growth) but they are depletable stocks.  No natural resource stocks are renewable on human time scales. Drilling holes is not sustainable. Our cultural stories conflate* stocks with flows. [*conflate – to equate or confuse meanings of two terms]

*****

About Dr. Nathan John Hagens – Hagens, 51, worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers for 10 years before closing his own hedge fund in 2003 to develop a systems synthesis approach to the human predicament. At present, Dr. Hagens is a professor at the University of Minnesota where he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar called Reality 101, A Survey of Human Predicament. The readings and lectures cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole.

Visit Nate Hagens’ personal website at The Monkey Trap.

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