All forms of economic production and exchange involve the use of energy directly and in the transformation of materials. Until recently, cheap and seemingly limitless fossil energy has allowed most of society to ignore the importance of contributions to the economic process from the biophysical world as well as the potential limits to growth. This paper centers on assessing the energy costs of modern day society and its relation to GDP. Our most important focus is the characteristics of our major energy sources including each fuel's energy return on investment (EROI). The EROI of our most important fuels is declining and most renewable and non-conventional energy alternatives have substantially lower EROI values than traditional conventional fossil fuels. At the societal level, declining EROI means that an increasing proportion of energy output and economic activity must be diverted to attaining the energy needed to run an economy, leaving less discretionary funds available for “non-essential” purchases which often drive growth. The declining EROI of traditional fossil fuel energy sources and the effect of that on the world economy are likely to result in a myriad of consequences, most of which will not be perceived as good.
Hall, C.A.S.; Lambert, J.G.; Balogh, S.B. EROI of different fuels and the implications for society. Energy Policy (2014) 64: 141-152. [DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2013.05.049]