6th idea: Make ourselves aware of the complexity of our energy systems & their limits

Our 6th idea to do on Mondays is to bring awareness to the growing complexity of global systems that most of us rely on to meet our basic needs, like food, and therefore the limits and fragilities entailed.

To give an idea what we mean, this is an example from David Korowicz’s 2010 paper, On the cusp of collapse: complexity, energy, and the globalised economy:

“Our daily lives are dependent upon the coherence of thousands of direct interactions, which are themselves dependent upon trillions more interactions between things, businesses, institutions and individuals across the world. Following just one track; each morning I have coffee near where I work. The woman who serves me need not know who picked the berries, who moulded the polymer for the coffee maker, how the municipal system delivered the water to the café, how the beans made their journey or who designed the mug. The captain of the ship that transported the beans would have had no knowledge of who provided the export credit insurance for the shipment, who made the steel for the hull, or the steps in the complex processes that allow him the use of satellite navigation. And the steel-maker need not have known who built the pumps for the iron-ore mine, or how the oxygen for the furnace was refined.
Every café has customers like me who can only buy coffee because we are exchanging our labours across the world in ways that are dependent upon the globalised infrastructure of IT systems, transport and banking. The systems and the myriad businesses upon which they depend are only viable because there are economies of scale. Our global infrastructure requires millions of users across the world, the ship needs to carry more than coffee beans, and my café needs more than a single customer. The viability of my morning coffee requires the interactive economic and productive efforts of the globalised economy.”

Being aware of the complexity of the system is important because:

  1. It is a systems issue that needs to be addressed i.e. it can’t be fixed just by blaming people or changing politicians.
  2. When there are current problems with the system (economic, social, housing, food etc) the tendency has been to want add even more layers of complexity (e.g. bureaucracy and technologies) and use yet more energy. This is understandable, but it is then causing more, largely unacknowledged problems.
  3. For instance, it locks us in to depending more than ever on net energy from oil always being available to access all other forms of energy, yet we see the looming end of the oil industry (see Resources).
  4. At the very time we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and simplify our system, the system requires more and more complexity which will use much more energy to keep functioning.
  5. We need to understand and introduce ways of simplifying our systems so we can keep on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels as we transition to an era when they are no longer available.

Do you think the question of how to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel energy, given our reliance on a complex, globally interrelated system based on energy, could be usefully discussed locally and nation-wide on Transition Mondays? Let us know if you think such Monday conversations could be a useful way to move together towards a future that works for all?

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