Our Energy Story
Humans Like Stories
We tell stories. Our lives are part of stories. But what if our cultural stories about the future are flawed? What if they are both too positive and too negative? Science increasingly converges on a different story than we hear in the news or watch on TV. This story science tells involves energy, but not just energy. It also involves anthropology, human behavior, economics, the environment, and ultimately … you.
Billions of years ago, primitive life forms emerged on Earth, and they absorbed sunlight to use as energy to reproduce and grow. Over the eons, a vast tree of life evolved. Each branch and twig is connected. Energy is why we are here. Energy streams from the sun in the form of visible light bathes our planet and nourishes our biological systems.
Creatures that were alive in Earth’s past were condensed under pressure and vast amounts of time into deposits of energy-dense materials. Today, we pull these materials – coal, oil, and natural gas – out of the ground and add their “productivity” to the human ecosystem. What they accomplish is akin to magic.
Cost vs. Value
For each barrel of oil, we get thousands of human worker equivalents. No one thinks about this when they fill up their tank or fly in a plane. The average American consumes over 60 barrels of oil equivalent per year. In coal equivalent, that is over 24,000 lbs of coal.
The Core of Macro Economics
This leads to the greatest flaw in modern economic theory: We don’t pay for the creation of, nor the pollution from, the most valuable input to our economies. We only pay the cost of extraction. Economic theory treats $1 worth of gasoline the same as $1 worth of crayons or ice cream, but its effect is vastly larger.