Monday, 7 March 2011

We need a new economic model, says Heinberg, oil can no longer sustain the current one

Richard Heinberg, author and Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the Post Carbon Institute, presented at Ecobuild last week. He argued we mustn’t simply be weaned off of oil but that our entire growth-based economic model, based on abundant sources of fossil fuels, must change. Alternative energy sources, he contends, must be found to provide the basis of a very different economy.

Richard Heinberg explained that humanity had moved from muscle power to fossil fuel-based power over the past few centuries. This shift had triggered significant changes in our way of life and had given rise to an economic model based on growth.

Heinberg explains:

“Energy is not a factor of the economy, energy is the economy. Oil is the basis of our economy take it away and global trade ceases to exist”

There are no credible scenarios, he argues, where an alternative source can replace fossil fuels in terms of factors such as the return on investment, scale and convenience. Instead, what we need is a different money system to reflect a move towards a sustainable energy system.

As oil runs out and prices rise, the shift in our economy, he posits, is inevitable, the true work is to create the alternative tools to surpass the wall that our current systems face.

His riveting hour-long lecture did leave us feeling, in the words of the chair, the Today's Sarah Montague, that “We are doomed!” But Heinberg nonetheless manages to maintain a positive and uplifting tone.

I asked him afterwards, “How do you manage to give a lecture like that and still be smiling?” “I play the violin”, he said, “I take things slow, I try to enjoy the beauty in life.” If that doesn’t contain the seeds of an alternative approach to ever-increasing consumption and growth, I don’t know what does.

(Pic courtesy of Richard Lord of who attended Ecobuild and blogs for Sustainable Guernsey)

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