Thursday, December 16, 2010


A new apartment building rises high above a line of diesel trucks bringing fuel to a thermal electric plant in Rio Branco.

Cheap energy realized either through lower-cost sources (like hydro, solar, wind, etc), or more production, or greater efficiency inevitably stimulate development and increased consumption which leads to an even greater demand for even more energy and even more destruction of nature's resources and services. This short-term energy benefit and longer-term increased consumption was first recognized 150 years ago and is known as the "Jevons Paradox". It has been brilliantly applied to modern times in a new analysis by David Owen.

The only way to counter the long-term negative effects is to make all forms of energy (new and old) more expensive either by taxing them or making them pay fully for environmental and social side-effects or by limiting supply. The reason that even so-called "sustainable development" destroys is because it stimulates greater consumption of stuff and all stuff comes from the earth.

I watch this great drama of energy, development and consumption playing out from a small city state capital in western Brazil where the local newspaper is already noting that the regional plans for more energy from hydro may need to be revised because climate change and expected longer and more frequent droughts will limit the anticipated energy production of the new and proposed dams.

In the longer-term dams lose efficiency because the associated roads, human migrations and forest degradations drive a positive feedback of forest fragmentation, drying, vulnerability to fire and ultimate deforestation that further extends the frequency and intensity of drought and further limits energy production from hydro. Put simply, if governments or individuals don't limit energy consumption, nature will -- the shift from forest to cerrado (which has happened before) is nature's form of deforestation.

The greatest tragedy of all will be that the new hydro-electric projects in western Amazônia will supply energy primarily to the distant industrial and population centers of Brazil's South while the local land and its peoples will suffer the costs.

1 comment:

Eric said...

I couldn't agree with you more: the only solution is to impose a huge worldwide tax on energy consumption. Quadruple energy prices, say, and lo and behold people and companies would learn overnight to use energy sparingly.