Climate change is a disaster for millennials, an inconvenience for the boomers

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Vaclav Smil
credit: Energy and Civilization

This year I read Vaclav Smil's new book, Energy and Civilization: A History and it completely changed my views of the problem we face; he proves that basically, energy has always been the driver of our economies back to the stone age, that essentially, energy is money. So as we moved from wood to coal to petroleum, society's wealth and capabilities expanded.

By turning to these rich stores we have created societies that transform unprecedented amounts of energy. This transformation brought enormous advances in agricultural productivity and crop yields; it has resulted first in rapid industrialization and urbanization, in the expansion and acceleration of transportation, and in an even more impressive growth of our information and communication capabilities; and all of these developments have combined to produce long periods of high rates of economic growth that have created a great deal of real affluence, raised the average quality of life for most of the world’s population, and eventually produced new, high-energy service economies.

All of which puts out increasing amounts of CO2, and that could be impossible to dial back down.

I have always argued for more rational ways of consumption. Such a course would have profound consequences for assessing the prospects of a high-energy civilization— but any suggestions of deliberately reducing certain resource uses are rejected by those who believe that endless technical advances can satisfy steadily growing demand. In any case, the probability of adopting rationality, moderation, and restraint in resource consumption in general and energy use in particular, and even more so the likelihood of persevering on such a course, is impossible to quantify.

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