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The Ingenuity Gap and You

Toronto-based author of Thomas Homer-Dixen has written an excellent article called The End of Ingenuity for the International Herald Tribune. You might also recognize Homer-Dixen as the author of The Ingenuity Gap, a book on a similar theme with a broader scope, which is currently on my “to-read” list (after I finish the other 10 new books I’ve purchased recently).

In the article, Homer-Dixen outlines plainly and sensibly why society cannot continue to consume and destroy without paying consequences. Eventually, he says, the deadly combination of dwindling natural resources and degrading climate will put an end to the economic party we’ve enjoyed for the past 100 years. Others have predicted similar things in the past — read up on Thomas Malthus to see why all such predictions are now mocked as “Multhusian”. However, Homer-Dixen argues that many of these previous predictions were not so much wrong, just a little slow in coming true.

Human inventiveness has managed to mask the true situation for a number of years; for example, even as the total amount of oil available in the world steadily decreases, we’ve been able to overcome that by finding oil in ever more remote places and extracting it with ever more complicated machinery. That method of dealing with the problem, however, cannot continue forever. Eventually there will be nowhere left in the world where we have not drilled, and eventually there will be no technology that is cheap enough to warrant scraping out those last few drops. Then, finally, we will have no place left to go.

Then why have oil prices been dropping over the past few months? Homer-Dixen points out that oil prices are affected by many things, including volatile international politics, so they are probably not a very accurate way to measure supply. He suggests that measuring the amount of energy we need to invest to obtain a barrel of oil (EROI) is a better indicator of the problem. As you can probably guess, that form of measurement makes the situation look much more grim.

But don’t take my word for it. Go, read. He makes it all sound so sensible. Yet scary.

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