Comment by Gail Tverberg:
One point that many people have missed is that there are really two different thermodynamic limits that we are approaching:
1. The limit of a depleting battery, if a person thinks of fossil fuels and uranium as being temporary resources that decline as we use them. This is what EROEI has been concerned about.
2. The continuous rise in energy consumption, required to keep the economy from collapsing. The economy is a dissipative structure. It is like plants and animals, and hurricanes, ecosystems, and stars. All of these temporarily grow in systems that are thermodynamically open. They cannot continue forever, however, because their energy supply is not infinite. They come to ends of different types, depending on how they are structured. We know that economies have collapsed in the past–I won’t go into the details, but it is not too different from what we are seeing today.
EROEI researchers grabbed on to the first limit described above, and have assumed it is the only one. If a person can assume it is the only limit, then a person can spin a story about how decline will be slow. All we need is to manage the transition to a lower-energy economy. A person can assume that we can move to a lower energy economy. Falling EROEI is sort of OK–we just gradually move to lower EROEI.
Our problem is indeed greater and greater overhead. But the greater and greater overhead is not simply the greater energy use in making energy (in other words, what EROEI measures). The story isn’t right. We cannot slide down to lower EROEIs. We really need an EROEI of over 50:1, or we need to keep adding more debt to temporarily cover up the problem.
By the way, I am using BP’s inflation adjustment. My point was that oil prices were less than $20, not that they were actually $20 per barrel.
We really have to solve the thermodynamic problem of not enough energy to keep the economy going. No amount of money printing will fix this.