Moving From A Fossilized Economy To A Solar Economy
modern economic age is shaped by a rapid succession of scientific
and technological breakthroughs which are transforming individual
and collective ways of life and economic and political structures.
They exceed physical, geographical, intellectual and ethical limits
(especially nuclear weapons and genetic engineering). They also
exceed the limits of those time periods over which we are able to
act responsibly. And yet this constantly accelerating and far-reaching
modernity is a fossil construct. Measured against its claim to shape
our future, it is stuck in the past, fossilized at its core, based
on excavations and ancient depositsin reality, without a future.
We are living in a fossil global economy. The fundamental contradiction
between a constant stream of new technological achievements driving
the world economy and their lack of a future due to the current
method of energy supply is supremely ironic.
choice of a particular resource base is fundamental to economic
and social development and is more determining than the economic
system concerned, whether it be more capital- or labour-oriented,
economically liberalistic or socialistic. It is one of the peculiarities
of the twentieth century that this fact has been discussed less
and less as the consumption of energy and materials and its consequences
have become greater.
towering importance of energies and materials has been reduced to
a secondary question, because the fossil basis of energy and materials
is considered irreplaceable. This is why economics treats only the
factors of the energy question that influence pricing. Energy and
raw materials are considered as fundamentally available, regardless
of where they come from. Thus, the choice of raw materials and sources
of energy is viewed by politicians and economists as an engineering
and business management problem--and, more recently, as an environmental
oneto be dealt with by specialists.
of the social and political consequences of economic actions has
led to the development of "political economy" in the modern
age. But even so, overall economic analyses, relationships between
the laws of nature and technology, are largely ignored, despite
the fact that industrial wealth and the technological advances and
developments of the modern age are based on the productivity of
the material and biotic ecosystems.
and commercial players lack the knowledge of these matters and the
natural and engineering sciences have become so specialized that
they have lost the overall view. But, the recognition that our ever-growing
dependence on finite resources gives rise to global ecological dangers
and drastic social catastrophes, together with the awareness that
technology dominates economy and society, have made a "political
natural economy" essential. The fossil character of the world's
economy, and the thus-programmed ruination of all our vital resources,
make a comprehensive reorientation to solar sources of energy ever
more urgent. The global economy has flourished thanks to this fossil
energy base—but now this is driving it to destruction.
THE MODERN GLOBAL economy, which credits itself
with unlimited openness and sees itself as developing from an "open
global market" to an "open global society", in reality
is operating in a limited system and making itself into a "closed
Earth is an open and a closed system at the same time: it is open
to the constant flow of energy from the Sun, the force of gravity
of the Sun and Moon and cosmic radiation; it is closed with respect
to the potential of fossil resources, of matter, water, soil and
air. As long as the global economy operates on this limited base
of energy and raw materials, it has only a very restricted outlook
left, for two irrefutable reasons: on the one hand, because fossil
resources are finite, and on the other, because during their conversion,
the finite, but indispensable elements of life on our globewater,
soil, and the atmosphereare unavoidably overburdened, damaged
second reason has become quite literally a matter of burning urgency
in the spectrum of energy consumption. Of the statistically registered
world consumption of energy, 32% derives from the combustion of
petroleum, 25% from the combustion of coal, 17% from the combustion
of natural gas, 5% from nuclear fuel, a mere 6% from water power
and 14% from combination of biomasswith only a minor portion
of this latter consumption being sustainable.
use of biomass, which can become a perpetual source of energy by
planting vegetation to equal use, is still limited mainly to rural
areas of so-called "developing countries". The real global
economy is fired mainly by crude oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear
fuels. Thus, the world's economy and with it the world's society
is dominated by pyromaniacs who burn ever more gigantic amounts
of fossil fuels and wish to cling to this system as long as possible
because of vested interests. In the face of all scientific warnings
and environmental promises, at present everything suggests that
the amount of fossil fuels "put to the torch" will increase
by half between 1990 and 2010 alone.
economy will enable the total demand for energy and raw materials
to be met from solar sources of energy and solar raw materials.
The inexhaustible potential of solar or renewable energy includes
light and heat directly from the sun, thermal winds and waves, hydro-electric
power, and energy from plants and other organic substances. By the
systematic use of solar raw materials the majority of all material
needs of humanity can be satisfied on a permanent basis.
fundamental ecological reasons, there are also economic and other
social reasons, such as ensuring peace, that make it urgently necessary
to introduce solar resources on a broad scale. Resource crises are
becoming graver due to the approaching exhaustion of fossil fuels.
It is not just a question of how long these resources will be available,
but where they lie. These questions of access can provoke dramatic
conflicts. They involve the danger of war. The second Gulf War of
1990-91 and the Chechenian war of 1994-96 are preludes to increasingly
sharp struggles for resources. Since resources of energy and raw
materials are deposited at relatively few locations around the globe,
but are needed everywhere, they have shaped political and economic
structures throughout the world. It is this resource dependence
which compelled the "globalization" of economic activities.
Therefore, the global access of solar power is an essential precursor
is that resources are playing a less important role since the economy
is "dematerializing" and "deindustrializing"
through breathtaking new technological advances. But, in fact, this
has only evoked a new recklessness and tendency to ignore the fossil
resource question, whilst reinforcing the misconception that a technological
fix can be found for anything. There is no contradiction between
actually occurring dematerialization and reindustrialization and
high demands for energy and materials due to increase in the world's
population and the copying of the fossil industrial model in India
global fossil economy continues its work of destruction, unimpeded
by any international resolutions supposed to brake and redirect
itthat is, despite international policies initiated by Agenda
21 at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The constitution
of the World Trade Organization (WTO) treaty agreed upon in Marrakech
in 1994 is intended to guarantee a largely unhindered flow of capital,
goods and services, globally. The governments which negotiated and
signed this treaty had all signed the Agenda 21 treaty two years
before without apparently seeing the contradiction between the two.
contrast to the vague resolutions on global environmental protection,
the WTO rules are pretty specific and binding, and a mechanism of
sanctions against treaty violators is even provided. The WTO treaty
makes the transfer and consumption of resources easier and cheaper,
and it speeds up the input of energy into transportation with the
explicitly desired acceleration and increase in the exchange of
goods. The WTO treaty is supposed to increase the productivity of
the world's economy, but it actually increases the speed of its
destruction because of the continuing dependence on exhaustible
aspects of globalization in its present form are irreconcilable:
the ecological aspect and that of economic competition. The protection
of global competition has been sanctified and given political priority
over the protection of the climate or biodiversity; and the WTO
over Agenda 21; competition law over environmental law; the interests
of the present over the future. This contradiction can only be resolved
with a solar resource base. It is not the massive employment of
which has led world civilization into a dead end, but the current
choice of natural resources and the orientation of technical developments
and their infrastructures to fossil fuels.
the deliberate replacement of fossil-fuel consumption by solar energy
will end the destructive dynamics of the fossilized global economy
and its economic structure, and create a viable, varied and human-scale
dynamics of development.
Scheer's article is reprinted with permission from Resurgence magazine.
For a free copy contact, Lynn Batten, Resurgence, Ford House, Hartland,
Devon, EX39 6EE, UK
+ 44 (0) 1237 441293