“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cultures of Energy Liveblog 4


Q: Any lessons? 

A: Fuel transition not merely a market operation. 
A: Skeptical of tech solutions re: energy transition. It is often presented as THE solution. 
There is the rebound effect. More energy efficiency >> more energy used >> more ships. Loop. Jevons on the corporation. 
Cheap energy (eg nuclear fusion): fossils have given unlimited powers and look at what we’ve done. So look at what that might do! Biodiversity loss. We need something more than tech. We need to rethink the way we live. 
A: Jevons was about Scotland. Over time costs came down and there was 10 times coal consumption! Sometimes the loop can be smaller. One can disempower by saying “there’s nothing we can do, because of this feedback loop”
A: half per capita energy consumption of USA. Political economy is different! 
A: idea that tech solutions can solve world problems seems overconfident. 
A: Energy transitions and the Jevons paradox. >> increased consumption. Local food movements as a reaction against fossil fuel economy. 

Q: debates on economic growth 30 years ago like this--encouraging. 

Q: Connections between first two papers. Need for machines that solve problem of labor. Labor is a problem in industry. You have to organize it but you have to satisfy it. Enormous waste in both categories. 30% of food is wasted in developed nations. Government involved in subsidizing fossil fuel industries. Underwriting transport. Consumption of things you don’t need. Food and energy must be cheap to buy things that drive our economy. There are a lot of cultural problems; what is a good life? Consumption that doesn’t depend on unlimited growth? 

A: I do think that if you think the environmental movement, there is a focus on big companies. Blaming big corporations. But there is also our human nature, ourselves. It’s still useful to talk about our profound desires. On paper it looks great: the Marxists of early 20th century. The strategy didn’t work. We need to complexify the stories, as historians. 
A: I’m very interested in disconnect between economic theory and thermodynamic theory. Economics: greater integration << consumption. Thermodynamics >> greater disorder. Economic theory introduces a level of fiction into this, money. Profit << entropy. 

Q: OECD countries expected to have no growth in energy consumption for forseeable future. Emerging countries will account for almost all the demand. What does that tell us? Arguments that these countries have the right to grow. China: coal fired power plants on a weekly basis. Cutting edge of solar. 

A: there is a social equity argument. But it’s hard to escape the energetic constraints that India and China will run up against. 
A: this conundrum is fundamental to face today. Case of Haiti. If you don’t have fossil fuels...Border of Haiti and Dominican Republic in Inconvenient Truth. Haiti completed deforested. Dominican lush forest. Example of bad governance by Al Gore. Problem with the story is that it doesn’t tell the full story. Haiti relies almost entirely on renewable fuel, wood. Charcoal. 70% of energy needs are fueled by charcoal. I was focusing on the disadvantages of fossil fuels to protect our forests. West is blamed for burning fossil fuels. Asking for reparations. We cannot judge back in time to when we had no idea... (Slippery slope) [hmm--this is like, as he says, reparations for slavery]
A: recall that China is not a monolith. One guy can’t decide what to do. 

Q: all the papers demonstrate the changing value of human labor. But can I push all of you to reflect a little more on a classical theme: theories of labor value. Ricardo vs Marx. Human and machine distinction? Question to Francois. Labor doesn’t exist in the USA [what?] and yet there is real slavery in the world...
[isn’t that what he said???]
food riots are not something in the past [but he didn’t say that]

A: I was talking about this briefly before dinner. Worldwide drought 2010. Three of grain exporters are Arab Spring countries where primary importer is government. One of precipitating events of Arab Spring esp in Egypt: prices shoot up. Most people can’t afford the food they have become accustomed to. Mubarak loses legitimacy. 
A: I also agree on that point. I’ve written a bit about this too. Construction of dam in Egypt hailed as tech solution. Most energy produced by this >> artificial fertilizer that was once free, delivered by the Nile! I did mention in my talk that there is human slavery today, possibly more alive than at any point in history. Some figures say around 40 million. This doesn’t contradict my argument at all. Cheap fuel enables you to export slavery far from you. And of course there are pockets in the US. In that respect we act like slaveowners of the past. It’s not a one way street between humans and machines. I did oversimplify but you didn’t contradict my argument. 

Q: Interesting work of David Graeber on value, in anthropology. Reconciling Marxian value with semiological value. >> what constitutes value is the capacity to make a difference in the external world. Idea of making less impact in the world is somehow anathema. 

A: impact of fossil fuels on slavery. General improvement of people’s lives. Few sources for this. Changed human perception of value of labor. Inhuman Bondage (about slavery). C16-C17 low life expectancy. Rising consumption and standards of living. 

Q: analogy of slavery of humans and machines. Seems to require a theory of difference between humans and machines. You have to say that machines to labor. If the distinction breaks down then does it start to go the other way--humans enslaved by machines? It’s a sci fi scenario with a long history. 

A: as I said, it’s not a one way street. Seeing human as machine; expectations about efficiency. My analogy is not comparing slaves with machines. It’s comparing slaves with machines powered by fossil fuel. You don’t immediately see the consequences of suffering when you use these machines. Remote or far away consequences. There were absentee plantation owners. Jefferson was never directly involved in the disciplining of slaves. 

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