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Renewable Energy Will Not Support Economic Growth


Renewable Energy Will Not Support Economic Growth

Richard Heinberg

The world needs to end its dependence on fossil fuels as quickly as possible. That’s the only sane response to climate change, and to the economic dilemma of declining oil, coal, and gas resource quality and increasing extraction costs. The nuclear industry is on life support in most countries, so the future appears to lie mostly with solar and wind power. But can we transition to these renewable energy sources and continue using energy the way we do today? And can we maintain our growth-based consumer economy?


“The world needs to end its dependence on fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

Not that I disagree; however that is like saying, “the American press must stop writing about Bruce Jenner,” or “America must end its anti-drug war immediately,” or “Americans must stop watching football, now.” Well, OK. Israel, America, North Korea, and every other nuclear-armed state must disarm as soon as possible.

“Growth must no longer be the economy’s goal; rather we must aim for the satisfaction of basic human needs within a shrinking budget of energy and materials.” Nice.

Is copulating to have children a basic human need? Maybe not, but I would hate to see what exponential population growth would look like without economic growth. Mass production is in service of mass societies.

:“Small is Beautiful.” I have no argument with that.


There is a virtual blackout of discussion (even by supposedly “progressive” people) about the root cause of just about all of our problems - human overpopulation. It is considered a non-problem by supposedly smart people, something that can be solved by more and more technology. I call BS on that. Every layer of additional complication that is added to our problems, the further away we get from solving the core problem.

Please allow a reasoned discussion of the problem without the name calling. If we do not drastically reduce human population below pre-Industrial Revolution levels, Homo Sapiens will deserve the extinction it is headed for. The real tragedy is the mass number of other species we will take with us before we finally suffocate in our own waste, or some other unanticipated cause for our demise.

I’m not going to give my specific remedies to cut our population. I will say that China’s one child policy was a start, but even they have caved on that in recent years. For ignoring the problem for nearly 50 years, we now face very drastic and gut wrenching solutions - like MOST people not being allowed to procreate for decades. That is how dire the problem is.


Of the 3 basic electric vehicle technologies (all-battery BEV Tesla/Leaf, Plug-in Hybrid PHEV, and hydrogen fuel cell), the PHEV has by far the most potential to reduce overall fuel/energy consumption for driving and household use. The short driving range of 10-20 miles on the small PHEV battery pack creates more economic incentives to drive less, whereby more trips become possible without having to drive, whereby walking, bicycling and mass transit become more viable modes of travel.

The problems associated with today’s utter dependence upon long-distance driving are mirrored in globalization which serves manufacturers shipping the longest distance. Just as the automobile undermines other fundamental modes of urban/suburban travel, the global economy undermines the more important local, regional, state and national economies.

Herein is a basic outline for reducing fuel/energy consumption in planning future economies. Drive less, fly less, truck and ship goods around the world less. No doubt, Big Oil, Auto and Boeing would rather cities remain places citizens seek vacations elsewhere, only to find more of the same demoralizing traffic.


Yes, how do you “cut consumption” when the number of consumers keeps growing all the time?

Change our life styles? Excuse me, but I have been urging that for over 40 years.


i love Richard Heinberg! So straightforward, so consistent, zeroing in on simple truths and basic math.

i have been trying for 40-plus years to get people’s attention regarding this bolded theme from Heinberg’s article:

“… the preponderance of research literature supports the conclusion that the all-renewable industrial economy of the future will be less mobile and will produce fewer and more expensive goods.”

i know, i’ve spent my entire life with my jaw hanging slack in disbelief… but still, my jaw drops (and all my friends just love me for it!) whenever one of my friends announces they are flying somewhere for some personal pleasure, family event, wedding, vacation, meeting, etc. It’s one thing for corporate executives in boardrooms at Airbus and Boeing to business plan their fantasy scenarios of continual growth in airline travel and airplane sales. But can’t we on the ground recognize the hell that is being created by the industrial fossil fuel economy, and start acting like it?

Like i said, all my friends love me!


i think it’s absurd to talk about human overpopulation as “the root cause.” 7.5 billion humans was only made possibly by the industrial fossil fuel economy! They are synergistic, intertwined processes.


oh, oh, someone doesn’t like us genedebs.

Actually, the population growth started long before the fossil fuel age. Ooops. I suppose I will get an argument about a fact. Must be Reaganites on this site.


Seems like i read somewhere that 20 percent of the worlds population use 80 percent of the recources … how does this get balanced ? the documentary “Happy” compares those with the basics , food , shelter , love … with those who have have have, and it seems the wealthy are no more happy , if not less ,than those with much less. perhaps some of us need some economic stunting ?? (yes including myself thankyou)


No argument about that fact. Agriculture was the first major transformation that enabled the beginnings of the human population explosion 15,000 years ago.

But if you pretend we live in a make-believe world where the development of the industrial fossil-fuel economy over the past 250 years, and the capitalist power structure, are to be swept off the table and under the rug, so we can focus on human overpopulation as “the root cause” of ecological dis-integration, you rightly deserve derisive laughter.

And if you pretend we live in a make-believe world where, without the development of the industrial fossil-fueled economy over the past 250 years - the time period when the vast spike in human population occurred, far out-stripping the much more gradual increase enabled by the development of pre-fossil-fueled agriculture, and you can look at a graph if you dispute that fact - a make-believe world where without that fossil-fueled development, we would today be looking at a population of 7.5 billion, then you rightly deserve derisive laughter.


I don’t think anyone’s claiming they should be “swept off the table”.

But saying that overpopulation is the root cause is simple fact. One way to demonstrate that is by thought experiment: presume the human population is fixed (by magic, let’s say, to avoid bickering) at 1000 individuals, and then ask yourself whether Earth can source their needs and sink their wastes.

The answer, obviously, is “yes” because in fact Earth did just that around 70K years ago (when the pop is thought to have been twice that: 2000). There was plenty land, plenty fresh water, plenty everything – for a human population of that size. There was even a sort of re-play of that situation when a ship transporting colonist-slaves to North America was destroyed in a storm, landing the survivors in the Bahamas, where at first they seriously wondered whether they too had died and this was paradise. They could live in luxury without working! Pick fruit from trees, catch fish by hand, drink from any stream.

Next ask yourself whether feudalism of any kind including Capitalism, is possible at that population level. The answer is almost certainly “no” because even in a population of 1000 there’d be a few, maybe 10 or so, individuals who would try to make themselves the rulers of the rest, and be killed for it. Feudalisms, including Capitalism, didn’t appear until the human population was much larger. We saw that play out in the Americas, where there were big feudal Inca and Aztec empires alongside small, egalitarian communities like the Apaches and Nez Pierce.

Finally ask yourself why the Americans didn’t develop that industrial, fossil-fueled economy. They certainly had plenty raw material for it, as the Europoids subsequently proved to everyone’s cost. Why didn’t the Americans do it? I’d suggest that it was because they didn’t need to. They already had the lives they wanted.


Gee, I did not get on this site today to derisively laugh at anyone at all. Is that your purpose?

This is from a person who was born and is living in India, a citizen of India:

"The root cause of India’s dwindling resources and escalating pollution is the same: the continued exponential growth of humankind.

“In India, where the dynamics of overpopulation and overconsumption are most acute, where the lifelines between water, food, fuel, and 1.17 billion people–17% of humanity subsisting on less than 2.5% of the globe’s land–are already stretched dangerously thin.”

This was not written by a European person.


We don’t need to dis each other or laugh derisively here, do we? We North Americans use a grossly disproportionate share of the world’s resources. If I recall correctly, we are 6% of the population and use 30% of the resources. Whether or not there are too many people in other parts of the world, there are definitely too many of us using more than our fair share.
We need to move somehow from an economy based on buying more stuff to a society where we live a more moderate lifestyle and contribute to the general welfare in many ways. I have no idea how we could do that, but I’m pretty sure we have to start where we are.


Boeing lobbyists make sure high speed rail will never happen in North America.


The Nuke Shill takes his cue right on schedule while the “blame population numbers” chorus adds their own chorus line. Of course these views are designed to take the spotlight off of actual patterns of consumerism which work like a pyramid starting with the global elites, and then moving down the pyramid, involving the disproportionate usage share of the well-to-do who reside in a number of modern nations.

It’s a long way to the bottom where the world’s greater population lives on virtual pennies a day. Those who push the NUMBERS item do so to mask the CONSUMER patterns that are driven by prestige, power, and financial privilege. But then, it’s entities from the latter categories who finance the think tanks that pay these opinion shapers’ checks.


Recall Indira Gandi’s forced sterilization program that ended in her assassination.


Although nuclear waste continues to be one of the nuke industry’s hottest potatoes, the industry is counting on the states (that create serial corporate welfare programs subsidizing industries in the name of job creation) inviting them in to dump nuclear waste as part of the next phase of economic development…a major milestone on the path of America becoming a third world nation.


I think you have the tense wrong: Boeing lobbyists have so far succeeded in preventing high-speed rail in North America.

Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior in individuals, but not across individuals. If Boeing wants to stay in the aviation business, they’ll have to start designing airships.


“But saying that overpopulation is the root cause is simple fact.”

No, it is one of a group of synergistic intertwined “root causes”.


i flew once, partly to show that my decision to not fly isn’t due to a personal terror of flying, because i have no such terror; and i was flown across the country to a conference, so it cost no money. It remains the only time i ever flew. Must have been 2000 or so, while i was in school.

i did travel once, mostly by bicycle but also partly by bus and train, around N America to Guatemala and back over 16 months. i think the grass is pretty green everywhere.