In my last article Enerconics II I introduced the concept of the energy multiplier. In other words, we effectively create a pseudo-perpetual motion machine in the sense that the total apparent energy available to society is far higher than the amount of energy we sue.
However, the explanation is very simple: we consume energy once (thus abiding by the laws of science) but we use it – or at least the things produced by it – many times. We can measure this multiplier by:
n = (GDP per capita) / (Cost per KWh * KWh per capita)
And in modern society n is about 4.
The original purpose of enerconics was to devise a way to assess societies that is independent of money. And as such the concept was to use the close relationship between energy used and money to create a form of economics in which energy took the place of money so I could apply the laws of economics to societies without money. Can that be done? That question depends on whether we can compare societies across the ages from the simplest to the most complex today.
The furthest we can get from our modern society is that of the animal kingdom:
Here, solar energy is captured by grass – in something akin to mining for oil or coal. Then herbivores eat the grass, which have a similar role to that of manufacturing. Then we have the tertiary consumers: the predators and they are clearly closely related salesmen and retailing. And finally at the “top” of the pyramid – or as I prefer to draw it as the sun comes in the top and they are the bottom, we have the fungus, moulds and other parasites – and they are clearly akin to bankers.
So, the primary energy capture in grass is reused several times. For argument if we say half the energy of grass is taken up by herbivores (the other half is lost in some way), and then half the energy in the bodies of herbivores is consumed by predators (the other half is used in the activities of living like walking). Then half the predator’s energy goes to the parasites and then half their energy is recycles …. the total energy being consumed in all the levels is around twice that originally captured by the grass. But obviously like our society there’s also a recycling of energy.
However, I only chose half because it makes the calculation easy. The actual quantity called “Ecological efficiency” is closer to 10%:
Energy transfer between trophic levels is generally inefficient, such that net production at one trophic level is generally only 10% of the net production at the preceding trophic level (the Ten percent law, first formulated by Raymond Lindeman). Due to non-predatory death, egestion, and respiration, a significant amount of energy is lost to the environment instead of being absorbed for production by consumers.
So, the overall energy multiplier in a natural environment is likely to be not much greater than 1.1. This means our modern economy with a multiplier of 4 is a massive improvement on nature. If you want to find a system that completely wastes its resources: it’s nature. And if you want to find a system that is close to the pinnacle of reuse and recycling energy it will be a modern economy with a energy multiplier around 4.
(Greens eat your cabbage !!!)
How do we do this? How is it when we as a society are constantly under attack for the amount of energy we use, that we appear to be the best recyclers of energy around? The answer is that a huge amount of our resources go into capital investment: roads, houses, schools. To a large extent these are consume energy once, and reused multi multi multi tumes. There can be few animals in nature who reuse the same energy investment so prestigiously as humans. Possibly termites, possibly some burrowing animals?
The ancient enerconic multiplier
OK, big pat on the back for modern society. But the implication is that the further back we go in time, the lower the enerconic multiplier will be. That is to say, when the only consumer goods were a few skins and flint tools and we lived in simple huts that could be built in a few days, the enerconic or energy multiplier would have been much closer to nature and ~1.1.
We’re not cannibals
However, another huge issue is that unlike nature, where animals eat each other – and finally the bankers … sorry I mean fungus … get you. In human society we tend not to eat each other. So, if we are only discussing energy flows within society and count energy flow to the vultures/fungus as being beyond society. Then potentially the enerconic multiplier can be 1 (That is the only energy flow is what we eat – there is no energy flow into consumer goods of any form). Thus it is all the more amazing that for each KWh we consume, it appears to be reused in some shape or form 4x.
Use of Enerconics in ancient societies
When I started looking at enerconics, I was attempting to find a way to easy compare societies across the ages. In contrast, I now realise that there must have been a significant change in enerconic multiplier across the ages and so we cannot simply compare the modern and ancient without taking into account the change in enerconic multiplier.
So, the next logical step, would be to try to assess the change in this societal parameter. It may have been very stable over long periods until the industrial revolution. If this is true, then perhaps we can relatively easily use enerconics to compare e.g. Roman and Chinese Neolithic society. However, it is also possible there has been a steady change …. indeed, it may be that the enerconic multiplier is an indicator of social change – perhaps even the key indicator of society’s progress?
Increasing the Enerconic Multiplier – the Free Market
If we were to take the enerconic multiplier as being a sign of “social advancement”, what does this mean in terms of how we “advance” society?
The apparently obvious answer (and one the cabbages will love) is more recycling … but I know a lot of the recycling we do is highly wasteful in terms of energy. And if recycling is a net consumer of energy it will reduce the enerconic multiplier not increase.
Instead, increasing the multiplier, probably means fairly mundane things, like building roads that can be used for a millennium and not just a few decades. Building houses that will still be standing when climate alarmist finally admit the climate changes naturally (or a thousand years whichever is shorter). It may mean cars that do not fall apart but are handed down through the generators, machinery that is built to last. Or maybe not … maybe it means using materials that are cheap to put up and cheap to reuse. Whatever the answer, because energy and money are closely related in an economy, the best way to reuse energy will be close to financial astuteness … and almost certainly anything imposed on society will be less than optimum enerconically compared to what the financially optimising free market will achieve.