This article by Ethan Goffman is part of a series of articles drawing inspiration and ideas from the 2016 SCORAI conference that has just been happening in Maine, USA. Enjoy the reading!

Transitions Beyond a Consumer Society, SCORAI Conference Blog #2

Apocalypse opened the afternoon of the second day with William Rees uttering what have become standard warnings of doom.  We are breaching planetary boundaries, heading toward tipping points, into the abyss.  Fish stocks are collapsing, bird populations are 30% lower than 50 years ago, forests are disappearing.

The heart of Rees’ speech was that we are living in a bubble made possible by fossil fuels which have allowed the titanic human growth—both in population and affluence—of the last 150 years, a historical anomaly.  “We are product of abundant, cheap energy, pillaging nature’s storehouse,” exclaimed Rees.  He described the megalopolises of today as completely impossible once we get beyond this era, since they have an environmental footprint several hundred times their physical dimension.  “Today’s city is the most vulnerable social structure ever conceived by man,” exclaimed Rees.  He argued that, once we inevitably move beyond fossil fuels, we can’t possibly generate the energy needed to keep cities going.  This is because the return on energy investment is too small. During the height of the fossil fuel it was up to a hundred units of energy generated for every one invested; today the ration is more like ten to one.  With renewable energy it is more like three to one.

Read more at Apocalypse Soon | SSPP Blog