Energy is and always will be the currency of life.
Most people believe that money is real wealth. Yet, everything we spend money on requires energy to mine, create, deliver, run, maintain, and dispose of. In this way, money is ultimately a direct claim on energy and resources. Our economic stories assert that, with more money, we can create more of anything. The truth is we cannot create energy. We both extract it and burn it faster by using technology and printing money. Natural capital, particularly energy, is the true foundation of our monetary systems.
The price of money is wrong, because we grow it with a keystroke with no tether to finite natural capital. The price of energy is wrong, because we don’t treat it as the extraordinary, irreplaceable resource it is.
The market’s compulsion to grow outcompetes any alternative paths of wisdom or constraint.
The superorganism is an emergent phenomenon of the animals that comprise it—us.
As a carryover from ancestral tribal life, we are highly tuned to social signals: comparing ourselves to others, seeking approval, acceptance, and jockeying for status. With material and now digital wealth as today’s primary status signal, consumerism is now largely based on having as much or more than those around us rather than focusing on what we may actually need.
We have rich, creative, and colorful imaginations that reside in the virtual worlds of our minds. The human brain can imagine and verbalize limitless combinations of physical impossibilities: sustainable outposts on Mars, self-perpetuating energy machines, and an economy based on physical consumption growing continually for centuries.
Our core economic and environmental challenges stem from a mismatch of hunter-gatherer minds inhabiting a competitive consumer-growth culture. Together, these human universals have led to incentives and behaviors which have created a metabolic superorganism whose objective is disconnected from the well-being of its parts—us.
If we were to grow the global economy at three percent a year—as most governments and institutions expect—we would use as much energy and materials in the next thirty years as we have in the past ten thousand.