When demand for energy exceeds what the world can supply, everything will begin unwinding, sending us back to local communities – or perpetual war

The word “energy” conjures up old memories of science class. But that’s only until the true value of energy to our daily lives is keenly felt. It’s easy to feel with a simple exercise: think of how to supply one’s own energy requirements.

When you do this, the word takes on much more than a new meaning; it embodies a mind-set focusing on efficiency and sustainability. The irony of this is striking, for energy is currently the world’s most wasted resource.

To understand, first see life for what it is: Life is simple. This may be difficult to comprehend at first. For many, life is very complicated by the roles played by materialism, debt and status, among other things. When simplicity is the focus, life is about survival only. Three needs are required for survival and they are: water, food and shelter.

The delusional world employs abstraction to meet these needs. Water comes from a tap. Food from grocery stores. Homes from mortgages. This abstraction allows society to focus on the extracurricular, like careers and consumption. The underlying significance of energy goes unnoticed until one takes a deeper look.

Magnifying past the abstract reveals a chain of dependencies. At every level, for every need, the common entity of energy is apparent. Without it, water cannot be pumped, filtered or treated. Food cannot be grown and its transport to the store is not possible. Cooking and heating would not exist.

For a person to supply all this energy themselves would be impossible. The amount of energy used day-in and day-out is staggering. The only way that society currently meets its total energy needs is through the harnessing of energy stored within fossil-fuels.

Without using this accumulated and stored source, the world would be a much different place. Imagine that world, where each individual must supply for their own needs, using their own hands to provide for their own water, food and shelter, their only source of energy coming from the digestion of food. The importance of careers would be lost, and materialism would have no place. Globalisation would not exist. Instead, belonging to a local community would become very important.

This of course is how communities once were, when modern technology did not exist—people lived within their energy means and energy was not something that was wasted indiscriminately. Planning and critical thinking were employed first before any actions were taken. Maximum efficiency was always the goal.

In today’s world, it is much different. All forms of energy are assumed to be both readily available and guaranteed. The only limiting factor is cost, which leads to the conclusion that unlimited money must mean unlimited energy.

But interestingly enough, no government or private body has ever guaranteed energy. Society has made the assumption of a guarantee simply because the availability has been there for such a long time. Having gone unquestioned for so long, it is now so ingrained and accepted, the world has become completely dependent on technology, technology that only works if energy is available. When technology stops working, homes become non-functional and needs can no longer be met. The value of energy then becomes clear.

The law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only transformed. Most of the stored energy on this planet originally came from the sun. Some of these resources are non-renewable and finite. This is the case for fossil fuels. Continued use of fossil fuels eventually leads to depletion of that resource. A responsible society would make energy its top-priority and would maintain a stable source by prudently identifying limitations and addressing depletion issues before catastrophic problems can occur.

Looking at today’s world, a pattern of irresponsible energy management comes into clear view. Oil exploration peaked during the 1960s then steadily declined year-after-year thereafter. The consumption of oil, on the other hand, has steadily increased year-after-year from the beginnings of the Industrial Age. A study done by British Petroleum in 2004 revealed that, of 54 oil producing countries, 22 are already in decline and 14 others are entering decline, leaving only 18 to follow.

The world has passed a major milestone and is now setting out to explore the last remaining areas for this resource: Off-shore, polar-regions and protected reserves.

Logically, with the looming end of exploration, the end of new supplies follows. The issue, though, is not about running completely out. The problem occurs much earlier, when demand first surpasses supply.

At that point, a percentage of society will have to do without. As the demand grows and the supply declines further, the proportion doing without will only increase. The phenomenon is known as “Hubberts Peak” named after the geophysicist Marion King Hubbert who first documented its existence during the 1950s. The exact date when peak production of world oil will be passed is of little concern. The fact that needs will not be met and survival will be in question is a colossal one.

When one realizes that the fundamentals of the world are not based on reason makes for a very tough pill to swallow. The attractiveness of denial provides for an easy way out. To protect against this, society must be well aware of what denial is—an unconscious defence mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.

Even still, the true significance of energy will be lost on many: Energy is life, after all.