Joseph Tainter: Utah State Historian Discusses Changes to U.S. Energy Future

Utah State University anthropologist and historian, Joseph Tainter spoke on Tuesday about energy gain and issues dealing with our future energy.

Tainter discussed the immediate future of energy in our uses of oil. He said that half of the oil consumed by the human race was used since 1984.

Tainter began by showing several examples of energy and energy yields. He discussed ants in South America as well as the Roman Empire to compare the effects on society during changes from high gains to low gains in energy.

"A future based on low gain, renewable energy may be more damaging than our current energy system," Tainter said.

When the energy yields high gains, the resources are abundant, concentrated, but use is inefficient and may be quickly depleted. However, with low gains, the resources are scarce, dispersed and may last a very long time with little surplus per capita.

For example, if the U.S. would change its energy from petroleum to ethanol it would need 75 percent of global agricultural land to replace petroleum.

"Costly problem solving undermines fiscal strength and can leave a society vulnerable to further challenges," Tainter said. "89 percent of our resources are non-renewable."

Some thoughts given about the future of our global energy future will be "a matter of human behavior, not just resources," it will be expensive and thus will affect our standard of living, he said. We need real leadership in energy and resources arena, and not impediments.

"I think the future will not be handed to you on a platter," Tainter said. "You need to step up and make some things happen, and the best way to start is through awareness."

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