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Should EROEI be the most important criterion our society uses to decide how it meets its energy needs?

Adam Dadeby, The Oil Drum: Europe

What is EROEI?

Energy returned on energy invested (EROEI or EROI) is a concept that mirrors the financial metric, return on investment (ROI). In order to make an energy gain or “profit”, energy or work must be consumed or exerted (Cleveland, C.J., 2001, p.11). The energy gain or profit often referred to as “net energy”. EROEI is usually expressed as a ratio, or occasionally as a percentage.

… How widely is EROEI-analysis currently used?

EROEI is understood by some of those campaigning on environmental issues, mostly those who focus on fossil fuel depletion issues. The concept of EROEI has been defined by Cleveland, Costanza, Hall & Kaufmann, (1984)3 and Odum (1996)4. However, within society’s key decision-making mainstream – financial markets, governments, parliamentarians and those advising them within the civil service and policy-making and lobbying bodies – there is little evidence that the concept and significance of EROEI is grasped or accepted. Instead they appraise different energy investment options applying financial, political and environmental criteria.

… Conclusions and limitations of this essay

EROEI is, or should be, the most important physical criterion used to assess the practicability of a proposed energy system for two reasons:

First, if the EROEI of an energy system is 1:1 or lower, it is no longer an energy source. As the EROEI drops below 1:1, it becomes an energy sink. This is important now, because society currently benefits from such high EROEI from fossil fuels that the low EROEI of alternatives may not be as obvious as it would otherwise be. The growth in use of corn-based ethanol as a substitute for fossil fuel in the US vehicle fleet is an example where it is uncertain that the biofuel-based energy system delivers any net energy (Cleveland et al, 2006)20.

Second, the energy choices made now, if they are not made with a grasp of the wider implications of a reduction in our energy systems’ overall EROEI, will cause a profound, painful and largely unexpected and apparently inexplicable reduction in the complexity of society: in other words, an unmanaged and protracted collapse.

Adam Dadeby … is currently studying towards an MSc in Renewable Energy and the Built Environment with the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, UK.
(20 August 2008)

The Source of Hope

Peter Sawtell, Orion Magazine
In the face of global warming, I live deeply in hope. Because of hope, the indisputable evidence of rapidly accelerating climate change motivates me in urgent work for dramatic action.

By hope I do not mean optimism. There are times when I am not at all optimistic about the ability of the world’s most polluting nations to make hard decisions and to alter their behaviors. The hope that sustains me is the trust that I place in what is most real and most important. As a Christian minister, I dare to speak about “hope in God”—and then I usually have to clarify that I don’t expect a supernatural intervention to make everything okay…
(August 2008)

David Holmgren and (Part 2)
Jason Bradford, Reality Report
The Reality Report interviews David Holmgren. David co-invented permaculture over 30 years ago and has been a practitioner and teacher ever since, both at his home in Australia and as a consultant around world. In 2002 he published the book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability that reviewed permaculture in the context of peak energy. More recently, David created a web site called Future Scenarios, see This interview is based on that web site and was recorded on July 14, 2008.

The complete interview is nearly two hours long and is therefore broken into two segments. The first installment (link) discussed a broad view of history as related to ecology, energy and societal complexity. The development of permaculture in the context of 1970s economic woes was reviewed. David explains why he created as an alternative to the predominant beliefs in either business as usual or a smooth steady state transition towards “sustainability,” as well as the simplistic notion of a “Mad Max” type collapse.

This second installment covers four “energy descent” scenario groups that correspond to potential variation in the severity of both peak oil and climate change. Scenarios are also viewed as choices, with certain factors, such as social scale and resource availability, influencing the descent path.
(14 July 2008)
An earlier version of this audio seemed to have technical problems. This one sounds better. Jason Bradford says a transcript is on its way. -BA

Ghost Town & Land of Wolves (Chernobyl)

Filatova Elena Vladimirovna, blog
Ghost Town – Introduction

My name is Elena. I run this website and I don’t have anything to sell. What I do have is my motorbike and the absolute freedom to ride it wherever curiosity and the speed demon take me. This page is maintained by the author, but when internet traffic is heavy it may be down occasionally.


I have ridden all my life and over the years I have owned several different motorbikes. I ended my search for a perfect bike with a big ninja, that boasts a mature 147 horse power, some serious bark, is fast as a bullet and comfortable for a long trips.

I travel a lot and one of my favorite destinations leads North from Kiev, towards so called Chernobyl “dead zone”, which is 130kms from my home. Why my favorite? Because one can take long rides there on empty roads.

The people there all left and nature is blooming. There are beautiful woods and lakes.

In places where roads have not been travelled by trucks or army vehicles, they are in the same condition they were 20 years ago – except for an occasional blade of grass or some tree that discovered a crack to spring through. Time does not ruin roads, so they may stay this way until they can be opened to normal traffic again…….. a few centuries from now.


To begin our journey, we must learn a little something about radiation. It is really very simple, and the device we use for measuring radiation levels is called a geiger counter . If you flick it on in Kiev, it will measure about 12-16 microroentgen per hour. In a typical city of Russia and America, it will read 10-12 microroentgen per hour. In the center of many European cities are 20 microR per hour, the radioactivity of the stone.

1,000 microroentgens equal one milliroentgen and 1,000 milliroentgens equal 1 roentgen. So one roentgen is 100,000 times the average radiation of a typical city. A dose of 500 roentgens within 5 hours is fatal to humans. Interestingly, it takes about 2 1/2 times that dosage to kill a chicken and over 100 times that to kill a cockroach.

(23 August 2008)
BA: Many more photos and commentary accessible via Filatova’s home page.

Contributor TVeblen writes:
If you haven’t visited this site before, be prepared to be overwhelmed. Chernobyl occurred more than 20 years ago so perhaps time has dulled my recollection of the enormity of Chenobyl’s consequences – an area approximately 200 miles in diameter centering on Chernobyl rendered uninhabitable for a thousand years, perhaps much longer.

It is simply incomprehensible that a supposedly intelligent species could be contemplating hundreds, perhaps thousands more potential Chernobyls.

Economic growth mongering and its apologists

Jan Lundberg, Culture Change
One might think that our malfunctioning world would start to look at the clear causes of critical problems. Instead, we are besieged and bamboozled by the usual business-press and governmental focus on economic growth. This form of denial is not limited to capitalists and their reporters and regulators.

The only visible opposition to business-as-usual is actually a Team-B group of cheerleaders for a different shade of growth mongering. In this camp are some politicians and organizations that many progressive people would prefer to love unconditionally. After all, fundamental change, however overdue, is nice to put off or to pretend that it might be smooth.

“With the US awash with unsold homes, builders began work on 965,000 properties last month — a 30% fall on July 2007.” That revealing statistic [seasonally adjusted] was highlighted by The Guardian UK newspaper in an Aug. 20, 2008 article titled, “Economic Slowdown: World Markets Fall Sharply Amid Fears that Credit Crunch Has Further to Run”

Work on properties would not be so bad in itself, but “everyone” is hoping for more home-construction and higher prices for homes. It’s insane that we depend on money-growth and infrastructure-growth when we should be concentrating, for example, on decent housing for those needing it. This may mean using existing dwellings and property more fairly, such as repairing buildings and making many smaller homes out of some of the larger, less efficient ones.

… The growth economy and the policies of government ignore the twin Achilles Heel issues of climate chaos and petrocollapse. Of the two, climate is starting to be understood, but we’re still in kindergarten regarding understanding fast-dwindling petroleum’s pervasive role in society and enabling economic growth. Even without the upending threats of climate chaos and petrocollapse, the only direction an overbuilt economy can go — debt-ridden, masses of people disenfranchised — is way down, fast. But instead of a correcting recession or depression, part of the normal “business cycle” of the modern capitalist economy, we see no end of stratagems to prop up never-ending growth. Cancer grows never-endingly, to a certain fatal point.

The house of cards will of course crash, but preparing for it openly at “high levels” would be an even more unpopular sin than admitting there’s an elephant.

… Environmentalists promoting a green technofix for the present consumer economy of this population size or greater are also apologists for growth. They may vociferously or privately deny it. But when we look closely at these promoters of “clean” cars and their sensible-sounding hope for replacing today’s electric power with renewables, these “activists” are basically business boosters making a living as de facto representatives for technology corporations. This is because they are not seriously advocating vast, immediate curtailment of both energy use and economic growth.
(22 August 2008)
This month marks 20 years of activism for Jan Lundberg. Jan was one of the first to write about the implications of peak oil. He’s also been an indefatigable campaigner for non-car transportation. -BA