Citizen Action Monitor

Recent trends show more net energy being used to find/extract from gross energy stocks – Nate Hagens (5)

The impact will be higher costs, lower benefits, tougher choices for people and economies.

No 2288 Posted by fw, June 3, 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. 

“As we [continue to deplete] these fossil stocks, they’re going to become more expensive. We’re going to have to use more net [fossil stocks] toward their own extraction, which will leave less [net fossil stocks] for the rest of society. So that [GDP spending] … is going up in our lifetimes.”Nate Hagens

In yesterday’s post, part 4, Hagens pointed out that what underpins modern economies is not money, but depletable fossil fuel energy stocks.

In today’s post, part 5, Hagens considers the negative impact of his fourth continuum, declining gross versus net energy supplies, on GDP spending, and on the costs and benefits for people and societies.

To be candid, this is not one of Hagens’ clearest explanations; as a result I have tried to enhance clarity and understanding by inserting/substituting my own words [in parenthesis] into his text. As well, in my opinion,’s supplement provides a clearer explanation of the “gross versus net continuum”.


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. 5 runs from 12:11 to 13:54 minutes. The transcript has been edited for enhanced clarity and 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, also includes excellent readers’ comments, including responses by Hagens.

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


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

TRANSCRIPT (from 12:11 to 13:54)


12:11 – [Continuum 4: Gross vs Net] — Gross versus net, [with] which you’re all familiar from paying your taxes. If you make $50,000 a year you don’t get to spend all 50, you have to pay some to the government. The same way that a cheetah has to expend energy when it’s attacking a prey, and if it goes 15 times in a row without getting prey it might have a problem because it doesn’t have the metabolic output in order to go fast and kill its prey.

12:39 – In the same way, our civilization has energy underpinning everything that we do. And this graph on the right shows the last 700 years of what percent of the income of the GDP of England went towards energy and food. And for many of those years it was 100% — a 100% of a person’s income during the year went towards their energy and food.

13:12Until 1999 we were at 5% — 5% of our [society’s GDP] was spent on the energy [to] find the energy, refining the energy delivery. The other 95% [of GDP] was [spent on] NASCAR, and shopping centers, and Disneyland and airplane trips and all the other things.

13:32As we [continue to deplete] these fossil stocks, they’re going to become more expensive. We’re going to have to use more net [fossil stocks] toward their own extraction, which will leave less [net fossil stocks] for the rest of society.

13:48So that [GDP spending] curve on the far right is going up in our lifetimes.


[ Supplement] — Gross vs Net – We commonly count on the absolute amount of a resource, stock or reservoir available without considering the amount of it that can be technically or economically extractedAs we access the deeper, harder to find and more environmentally damaging resources, we spend an increasing amount of the key resources to get at the key resources. (E.g. static field decline for US shale oil is 30-40% per year, so production will now largely be a function of how many new wells are drilled). We have now left the era where our culture spent [about] 5% of our energy on finding and delivering energy, to one where we will be spending [about] 10% or even 15% to 20%. This all manifests in higher costs and lower benefits for people and economies. As more energy is redirected to the energy sector, which sectors will get less/none?  The net is ultimately what we are able to spend.


Dr. Nate Hagens

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.

FAIR USE NOTICE – For details click here


This entry was posted on June 3, 2018 by in academic counterpower and tagged .
%d bloggers like this: