The energetic metabolism of societies and the degrowth paradigm: analyzing biophysical constraints and realities
Alevgul H. Sorman, Mario Giampietro
The implications of planning for degrowth and its societal impact
Many, finally start to perceive that an “economic degrowth” entailing a downscaling of the current size and pattern of socio-economic systems seem unavoidable. In this paper we analyze the implications, the feasibility and the desirability of possible trajectories of downscaling from an energetic perspective. The quantitative analysis is based on the methodological approach of societal metabolism, and it provides a dynamic accounting of the profile of energy flows required and consumed by societies in relation the expression of a given set of societal functions. This analysis makes it possible to check two types of constraints: external constraints (supply and sink side limits for the whole) and internal constraints (the feasibility of energy budget of the various parts of the society expressing the required functions). The analysis of the metabolic pattern of a sample of developed countries is used to discuss possible implications of: (i) demographic changes; (ii) the declining supply of net energy sources, and (iii) the effects of the Jevons’ Paradox. Within such an analysis, a few assumptions and recipes of the degrowth movement seem problematic: (i) population is and will remain as a relevant variable to be considered; (ii) the proposed reduction in working hours seem to be impractical unless a major catastrophe will reset current civilization to pre-industrial standards; and (iii) voluntary reduction of personal energy consumption, even if a welcome adjustment, alone will not solve the existing problems. In the final part of the paper, future energetic road maps are questioned within the realm of post-normal science.
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