The Inconvenient truth on energy transition: an evolutionary and ecological viewpoint
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The evolution of our species required increasing energy to support practices that contribute to hypersociality. This was crucial to the success of Homo sapiens and eventually led to the formation of our global superorganism. An autocatalytic process between human biology and culture started in the Pleistocene, accelerated in the Holocene and became paroxysmal in the Anthropocene, thanks to the access to fossil fuels. Today we seem blind to the contribution of this pulse of energy to our way of life. However, the impact of fossil fuels on the atmospheric greenhouse gases and on local air pollution is now forcing our industrial economies to plan a transition to renewables, such as solar and wind energy, buffered with battery and hydrogen systems. Recent evaluations suggest that this task is much more difficult than predicted. The availability of minerals, technological innovation and economic viability will put serious constraint to the effort. Furthermore, new energy sources with a suitable energy return on energy invested will not be available soon enough. Meanwhile, finance is decoupling from the real gross world product and allows our energy obligations to the future to grow faster than we are growing our economies. The only alternative is a plan for a sustainable and less energy intensive way of life. This is still feasible, but it is hindered by our neurohistory and addiction to energy. A detox therapy is urgent but fiercely resisted. On top of the most evident vested interest, this may also depend on our behavioural traits, inherited from our deep past.