Category:Thermodynamic Efficiencies

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= "many basic ecosystem services and ecological resources are driven by areas where photosynthesistakes place, showing in this way how humanity is constrained by nature’s negentropic capacityto transform low quality solar energy into high quality chemical energy and living matter". [1]

This section is dedicated on the general premise that we need to transform the production for human needs within a framework that preserves the Planetary Boundaries and resource constraints, which require a new relationship between humanity and the rest of the web of life.

The particular hypothesis of the P2P Foundation is that the smart mutualization of our human provisioning systems, can substantially reduce our Ecological Footprint, while maintaining the complex systems we have learned to rely on. This is sometimes called Factor 20 Reduction.

Our research project is to calculate the potential reduction in the use of materials and energy for our production systems, if the peer production stack would be applied integratively. Our general claim is that Commons-Based Peer Production, with its intensive mutualization of knowledge and material infrastructures, is a key ingredient to achieve Quasi-Circular Growth, and "subsidiarity in material production'. The latter, producing closer to the place of human need, combines 'Design Global, Manufacture Local' (DGML) strategies to achieve the Cosmo-Localization of production, which is based on the combination of three elements 1) what is light is global and shared; 2) what is heavy is as local as possible; and 3) this new distributed model is as cooperative as can be. It is therefore distinguishable from neoliberal globalization, nation-state economic protectionism, but also from simple localization strategies.

What we aim for therefore, is Perma-Circularity, i.e. a systemic approach of the circular economy to the system as a whole.


Contextual Quote

"Thresholds and Allocations are the new supply and demand in an age of scarcity. Without them, true sustainability .. doesn’t exist yet, and will never exist in the future."

- Ralph Thurm [2]

Key Reports by the P2P Foundation

For the result of our first research project, focusing on the analytical part, see the report on the Thermodynamic Perspectives on Peer to Peer and the Commons as a Path Towards Transition, by Xavier Rizos and Celine Trefle. (Provisional and 'rough' documentation via [3]).

  • Report: Peer to Peer and the Commons: a path towards transition. A matter, energy and thermodynamic perspective. Céline Piques and Xavier Rizos. P2P Foundation, 2017. [4]

Our second report focused on describing a potential cyber-physical infrastructure for producing for human needs within planetary boundaries, by focusing on 3 emerging forms of distributed accounting, which potentially enable a three layered economic infrastructure, which combines 1) the achievements of commons-based peer production, i.e. stigmergic collaboration in open collaborative systems; 2) generative market mechanisms that take into account all types of externalities; 3) orchestrated planning that sets limits to human production based on Global Thresholds and Allocations; all integrathed through shared accounting and logistics.

* P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival: Towards a P2P Infrastructure for a Socially Just Circular Society. By Michel Bauwens and Alex Pazaitis. Foreword by Kate Raworth. P2P Foundation, 2019. [5]: How shared perma-circular supply chains, post-blockchain distributed ledgers, protocol cooperatives, and three new forms of post-capitalist accounting, could very well save the planet.


The aim of this project is to calculate the 'savings' that could be obtained through a full use of peer production as the mode of production and exchange, and to quantify some of the following effects:

1) moving artificial scarcity driven design (generalized planned obsolescence) to global open design communities and their sustainability driven motives saves x percent of matter and energy

2) moving towards more shared physical infrastructures saves x percent of matter and energy

3) moving to open supply chains and open book accounting and its speed up effect on circular economy integration saves x percent of matter and energy

4) moving to a cosmo-localized production (4a) for on demand (4b) distributed production saves x percent of matter and energy

Please read: James Quilligan on Carrying Capacity as a Basis for Political and Economic Self-Governance.

Jason Moore's work on World-Ecology

Natural Step's proposed scientific definition of a sustainable society

"In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing …

… concentrations of substances from the earth’s crust (such as fossil CO2 and heavy metals),

… concentrations of substances produces by society (such as antibiotics and endocrine disruptors),

… degradation by physical means (such as deforestation and draining of groundwater tables),

…and in that society … … there are no structural obstacles to people’s health, influence, competence, impartiality and meaning." (

Potential background documentation of interest

  • Open Source Circular Economy: "from the current linear system (we take resources out of the ground, and transform them into (often hazardous) waste. We consume and destroy our own planet faster than it can possibly recover) to a circular economy in tune with the cycles in the natural world.


  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): “regulatory principle based on the life-cycle approach, and aims to implement ownership patterns that encourage stewardship and conservation of resources.” [8]


"The defining question of our age is not whether we can achieve the impossibility of sustaining more than nine billion people on a western industrial model of development, but how to deliver prosperous lives for the global population within the regenerative biocapacity of one planet."

- Sharon Ede [9]

"Today mankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future [by way of] diachronic competition, a relationship whereby contemporary well-being is achieved at the expense of our descendants. By our sheer numbers, by the state of our technological development, and by being oblivious to differences between a method that achieved lasting increments of human carrying capacity [agriculture] and one that achieves only temporary supplements [reliance on fossil fuels and other mined substances], we have made satisfaction of today's human aspirations dependent upon massive deprivation for posterity."

- William Catton, 1982, from the book Overshoot [10]

From Value-Added to Value-Restorative

"The present political economy is geared entirely toward "value-added" operations within a worldview of exponential growth. As you identify policies or activities that are geared toward *value-restored* or *value-replenished* operations within in a framework of logistic growth (e.g., carrying capacity), I think we may find the leverage points we are seeking."

- James Quilligan [11]

The tradeoff between efficiency and resilience is confronted by every sector of society.

"Resilience is the capacity to experience an interruption in the supply of a required input without suffering a serious, permanent decline in the desired output. Humanity lives on a finite planet that started with a fixed amount of each resource input. To support population and economic growth, consumption of the planet’s finite resources has increased. As a result, the resources have been continuously depleted and deteriorated. The fertility of agricultural land, the concentration of mineral ores, the quality of surface waters, and the populations of marine fish are among thousands of indicators that show the long-term average quality of resources is declining. Producing ever greater output from ever diminishing inputs has forced production to become more and more efficient. However, even enormous technological advance has not altered the fact that consumption deteriorates resources. It has merely reduced the rate of deterioration by reducing the rate at which we use resources to produce each unit of what we want."

- Dennis Meadows [12]

The Two Criteria to Increase the Health of the Planet

"Valerie Brown lists two criteria that should guide human behaviour if we hope to avoid serious damage to the natural processes that maintain systemic health. We need to i) “consume nature’s flows while conserving the stocks (that is, live off the ‘interest’ while conserving natural capital” and ii) “increase society’s stocks (human resources, civil institutions) and limit the flow of material and energy” (Brown et al., 2005). Both are central aspects of a regenerative culture."

- Valerie Brown (as summarized by Daniel Christian Wahl) [13]

Without Structural Reforms, Increased Efficiencies are Useless

"Gains in resource and energy efficiency have never led to a sustained decrease in humanity’s raw materials and raw fuels consumption with a stationary level of GDP. Invariably, in waves, the engineers’ contribution to shop-floor efficiency in production processes have been used by the businesses that employ these engineers to save on costs so as to be able to produce and sell more. In fact, what we call economic growth is the long history of the diversion of efficiency gains into production increases. And quite often, this also ends up leading to more, rather than less, raw material extraction and consumption. If any engineer ever had the illusion that they would be working to improve the world through efficiency, he or she should think again — and take a good, hard look at how businesses and industries are, by the very logic of single-minded profit-seeking that moves them, hijacking the efficiency gains and transforming them (when 'successful') into gains in sales and in profits, and usually also into increases in global resource consumption. More fuel-efficient automobiles or airplanes, for instance, are a total scam — not in themselves or as feats of cutting-edge engineering, but because they make driving or flying cheaper per kilometer, so that all of us car or airline users can do more kilometers than before with a 'clean conscience', all the while helping companies reap profits from diverting their engineers’ well-meaning micro-level efforts into ecologically deleterious impacts at the macro level."

- Christian Arnsperger [14], 22/06/16

Peter Pogany on the Emergence of a Third, Thermo-Dynamically Stable, Global System


""History has recorded two distinct global systems thus far: “laissez faire/metal money,” which spanned most of the 19th century and lasted until the outbreak of World War I, and “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” which began after 1945 and exists today. The period between the two systems, 1914-1945, was a chaotic transition. This evolutionary pulsation is well known to students of thermodynamics. It corresponds to the behavior of expanding and complexifying material systems. The exhaustion of oil and other natural resources is pushing the world toward a third global system that may be called “two-level economy/strong multilateralism.” It will be impossible to get there without a new chaotic transition. No repeated warnings, academic advice, moral advocacy, inspired reforms, or political leadership can provide a shortcut around it. But if it took “1914-1945″ to make a relatively minor adjustment in the global order, what will it take to make a major one?” (


"His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s." (

Energy as a Measure for the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

"The history of empire, I argue, isn’t written in the speeches and proclamations of elites. Instead, it’s written in the language of energy. Although the motivations for empire building differ between societies, the end result is always the same. A successful empire centralizes the flow of energy. This means that energy use (per person) in the empire’s core will dwarf energy use in the periphery. The degree that this is true marks the degree that the empire is successful Energy use, then, provides a window into the rise and fall of empires. Let’s look through this window and see what we find. We’ll look first at the grandest scale of all — the 10,000-year history of civilization. Permanent settlements first arose in the Mediterranean basin in an area that anthropologists call the ‘Levant’. It was here that agriculture started. And it was here that agriculture was first intensified using irrigation. Not surprisingly, the Levant was where the first empires emerged. The rise and fall of these proto-empires should be written in the language of energy. Unfortunately, the ‘book of energy’ has long since been lost. The first civilizations kept few written records. And most of their physical artifacts have been destroyed. So how can we estimate the energy use of early empires? We make an educated guess. That’s exactly what Ian Morris does in his book The Measure of Civilization."

- Blair Fix [15]

Maintaining Natural Capital

"‘For the management of renewable resources there are two obvious principles of sustainable development. First that harvest rates should equal regeneration rates (sustained yields). Second that waste emission rates should equal the natural assimilative capacities of the ecosystems into which the wastes are emitted. Regenerative and assimilative capacities must be treated as natural capital, and failure to maintain these capacities must be treated as capital consumption, and therefore not sustainable.’"

- Mathis Wackernagel [16]


Thermo-Dynamic Cycles in Human History

  • Secular Cycles, by Peter Turchin et al., finds a 3-century long cycles in agrarian civilizations; his theoretic model combines demographics (population size exceding regional carrying capacity); elite dynamics (class theory dynamics between producer class and managerial class), and state formation (capacity of state to react to challenges).

Via Integral Permaculture: [18] ;

  • Gebser looked at human history in terms of Epochs with wave like movements, very much like Odum’s model. In mythic, oceanic reasoning, there was always a return, never a progression. More like cycles and less like development. Gebser saw Epochs developing through four stages from Defficient to Latent to Efficient back to Defficient.
  • Perhaps there are parallels to Holling’s Four Phase Model of Ecosystems, from Pioneer to Conservation to Collapse/Release to Reorganization.
  • Odum, following Holling, spoke of Four Stages of the Growth Cycle: 1) Growth; 2) Climax and Transition; 3) Descent; and 4) Low Energy Restoration.


"to-do-list that data & information needs to contribute to:"


Key Resources

Key Articles

* James Quilligan: Why Biocapacity Accountability Needs To Replace Disembodied Supply and Demand Pricing

here:, an excellent summary critique of the limitations of the Circular Economy;

[19]: "The paper ultimately reflects on what role society can realistically assign to technology for resolving its ecological concerns. While environmental engineering undoubtedly has something to offer, it will end up chasing its tail if the social and economic forces driving up production and consumption are not addressed."

  • Peak Metals, Minerals, Energy, Wealth, Food and Population; Urgent Policy Considerations for A Sustainable Society,%20Minerals,%20Energy,%20Wealth,%20Food%20and%20Population.docx_%20Urgent%20Policy%20Considerations%20for%20A%20Sustainable%20Society.pdf

On the general ecological crisis of humanity

* Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene: Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies.

  • Steffen et al. (2015) Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 13 Feb 2015: Vol. 347, Issue 6223, 1259855 DOI: 10.1126/science.1259855
  • Ceballos et al. (2015) Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction. Science Advances 19 Jun 2015: Vol. 1, no. 5, e1400253 ; DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400253
  • Key and must-read essay on the Ecological Transition in China: Richard Smith, “China’s drivers and planetary ecological collapse”, real-world economics review, issue no. 82, 13 December 2017, pp. 2-28, [20]

Supply-chain and transportation costs

  • How Hyper-competition leads to inefficiencies in the supply-chain [21]

On (the need for a) Biophysical-Based Paradigm in Economics

  • THE NEED FOR A NEW, BIOPHYSICAL-BASED PARADIGM IN ECONOMICS FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE AGE OF OIL. By Charles Hall and Kent Klitgaard. International Journal of Transdisciplinary Research Vol. 1, No. 1, 2006, Pages 4-22 [22]

The role of peer production, open design, etc...

The Energy basis of our economy and civilization

Four crucial studies, summarized here:

and yet:


Key Books

* John Thackara's Thermodynamic Bibliography: 13 suggestions, the best book and resources for understanding the biophysical limits of the human economy.


  • Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen: The Entropy Law Entropy Law and the Economic Process, 1971, and La décroissance - Entropie – Écologie - Économie, 1979
  • Reiner Kummel's The Second Law of Economics, Energy, Entropy, and the Origins of Wealth

* A Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies. By Howard T. Odum and Elisabeth C. Odum. University Press of Colorado, 2001.

"Consider the future with less fossil fuel and no new natural or technological energy sources. How can it be peaceful and prosperous? More and more leaders concerned with the global future are warning of the impending crisis as the surge of unsustainable growth exceeds the capability of the earth's resources to support our civilisation. But while history records the collapse of countless civilisations, some societies and ecosystems have managed to descend in orderly stages, reducing demands and selecting and saving what is most important. Although some scientists predict disaster, this book shows how our world can still thrive and prosper in a future where we live with less and charts a way for our modern civilisation to descend to sustainable levels. The authors make recommendations for a more equitable and co-operative world society, with specific suggestions based upon their evaluations of trends in global population, wealth distribution, energy sources, conservation, urban development, capitalism and international trade, information technology, and education. This thoughtful and provocative book will force us to confront our assumptions and beliefs about our world's future, which is all too often taken for granted." (publisher)

* Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy. By Howard Odum. Columbia University Press, 2007.

"Howard T. Odum possessed one of the most innovative minds of the twentieth century. He pioneered the fields of ecological engineering, ecological economics, and environmental accounting, working throughout his life to better understand the interrelationships of energy, environment, and society and their importance to the well-being of humanity and the planet.

This volume is a major modernization of Odum's classic work on the significance of power and its role in society, bringing his approach and insight to a whole new generation of students and scholars. For this edition Odum refines his original theories and introduces two new measures: emergy and transformity. These concepts can be used to evaluate and compare systems and their transformation and use of resources by accounting for all the energies and materials that flow in and out and expressing them in equivalent ability to do work. Natural energies such as solar radiation and the cycling of water, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are diagrammed in terms of energy and emergy flow. Through this method Odum reveals the similarities between human economic and social systems and the ecosystems of the natural world. In the process, we discover that our survival and prosperity are regulated as much by the laws of energetics as are systems of the physical and chemical world." (publisher)

Recent Books


"Peter Pogany examines the problems we face and argues that human culture is governed by thermodynamic cycles of steady states interrupted by chaotic transitions. Specifically, he postulates that a steady state was interrupted by World War I, with a chaotic transition following World War II, which has led us to the current world order. His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s." [29]

  • Classical Econophysics. By by Allin F. Cottrell (with contributions by Paul Cockshott, Gregory John Michaelson and Ian P. Wright. Routledge, 2011

Routledge, 2014

Key Policy

Proposed measures:

Key Research Projects

"Studying alternative provisioning systems, in both their physical and social aspects, is necessary to understand how well-being may be decoupled from resource use. Depending on social and physical supply chains and efficiencies, more or less energy may be required to reach high levels of well-being. Interestingly, some of the most important decoupling opportunities are likely to be found at the community level: economies of scale through provision of efficient networks of energy service delivery or collective demand-side measures. Examples of socio-technical provisioning systems between energy and well-being could be the existence of collective systems (local supply networks, public transit …), in contrast with highly individualised systems, where each household has to use its own forms of energy to procure goods and services. Such collective systems may also provide more resilience to shocks in energy supply or prices than highly efficient, but individualised, technologies." (


  • see our entry on the Possibility of Rapid Transition, which feature the booklet: HOW DID WE DO THAT? THE POSSIBILITY OF RAPID TRANSITION. By Andrew Simms and Peter Newel. STEPS Centre & New Weather Institute, 2017 [31]

See also:

Individual Researchers in our networkks

See also:

  1. Jose Ramos: cosmo-local production
  2. Anna Seravalli: distributed manufacturing
  3. John Thackara: territorial resilience

Individual Researchers outside of our networks

Compiled via [32]:

  • Aguinaldo Dos Santos <[email protected]> ; Distributed Design & Distributed Manufacturing [33]; Curitiba, Brazil
  • Andrea Broom <[email protected]> ; Distributed Renewable Energy, Distributed Manufacturing, Distributed production of Software, and Distributed production of Information [34] ; (CPUT), Cape Town, South Africa
  • Sandra Molina <unasan[email protected]>; Distributed Design & Distributed Manufacturing ; (UAM) Azcapotzalco, Mexico City, Mexico

Key Statistics

  • Criteria to combine an ecological roof (resource limits) with a social ceiling (minimal human needs): "Sustainable development can be assessed using the Human Development Index (HDI) a an indicator of socio-economic development and Ecological Footprint as a measure of human demand on the biosphere. The United Nations considers an HDI of over 0.8 to be ‘high human development’. An Ecological Footprint less than 1.8 global hectares per person makes a country’s resource demands globally replicable. Despite growing adoption of sustainable development as an explicit policy goal, most countries do not meet both minimum requirements." Mathis_Wackernagel [35]

  • "between 2000 and 2014, twenty-one countries, including the us, Germany, the uk, Spain and Sweden, all managed to absolutely decouple gdp growth from co2 emissions—that is, gdp in these countries expanded over this fourteen-year period, while co2 emissions fell." [36]

  • "Our results indicate a significant acceleration of global material flows since the beginning of the 21st century. We show that this acceleration, which took off in 2002, was not a short-term phenomenon but continues since more than a decade. Between 2002 and 2015, global material extraction increased by 53% in spite of the 2008 economic crisis." [37] ; Summary Graph

[38]: resources have peaked or will peak within 50 years.

  • to accomplish significant and sustained reductions will likely require imposing a Cap on Annual Material Use and tightening it year by year until it reaches what ecologists identify as sustainable levels (50 billion tons per year on a global scale, or 6-8 tons per capita)." - Jason Hickel.


How to achieve the necessary Factor 20 Reduction of our modern matter/energy usage ?

John Thackara:

"When pressed, technical experts I have spoken to tell me that for our world to be ‘sustainable’ it needs to endure a ‘factor 20 reduction’ in its energy and resource metabolism – to five percent of present levels. At first I believed, doomily, that Factor 20 was beyond reach. Then, by looking outside the industrial world’s tent, I realised that for eighty per cent of the world’s population, five per cent energy is their lived reality today – and it does not always correspond to a worse life.

  • Take as an example, healthcare. In Cuba, where food, petrol and oil have been scarce for of 50 years as a consequence of economic blockades, its citizens achieve the same level of health for only five per cent of the health care expenditure of Americans. In Cuba’s five percent system, health and wellbeing are the properties of social ecosystems in which relationships between people in a real-world local context are mutually supportive. Advanced medical treatments are beyond most people’s reach – but they do not suffer worse health outcomes.
  • Another example of five per cent systems that sustain life is food. In the industrial world, the ratio of energy inputs to the food system, relative to calories ingested, is 12:1. In cities, up to 40 percent of their ecological impact can be attributed to their food and water systems – the transportation, packaging, storage, preparation and disposal of the things we eat and drink . In poor communities, where food is grown and eaten on the spot, the ratio is closer to 1:1.
  • My favourite five percent example – a recent one – concerns urban freight. In modern cities, enormous amounts of energy are wasted shipping objects from place to place. An example from The Netherlands: Of the 1,900 vans and trucks that enter the city of Breda (pop: 320,000) each day, less than ten percent of the cargo being delivered really needs to be delivered in a van or truck; 40 percent of van-based deliveries involve just one package. An EU-funded project called CycleLogistics calculates that 50 percent of all parcels delivered in EU cities could be delivered by cargo bike. According to ExtraEnergy’s tests over several years, an average pedelec uses an average of 1kWh per 100km in electricity. Once all system costs are included, a cargo cycle can be up to 98 percent cheaper per km than four-wheeled, motorised alternatives. Some e-bikers reckon that electric bikes can have a smaller environmental footprint even than pedal-only bicycles when the energy costs of the food needed to power the rider are added."

- John Thackara [40]

The relationship between global energy and global GDP between 1971 and 2016

  • "Though there has been a trend to a falling level of energy per unit of GDP in some countries, at the global level, the relationship between energy consumption and GDP between 1971 and 2017 is stunningly linear—see Figure 5. A rising global GDP requires a rising level of energy, and since energy is the motive force, if we are forced to abandon carbon-based energy forms, then GDP has to fall by much the same fraction as carbon-based energy is of total energy.

Figure 5: The relationship between global energy and global GDP between 1971 and 2016 "

- Steve Keen [41]

How would we calculate the effect of commons-based mutualization on reducing the human footprint

Proposal by Michel Bauwens:

1) moving artificial scarcity driven design (generalized planned obsolescence) to global open design communities and their sustainability driven motives saves x percent of matter and energy

2) moving towards more shared physical infrastructures saves x percent of matter and energy

3) moving to open supply chains and open book accounting and its speed up effect on circular economy integration saves x percent of matter and energy

4) moving to a cosmo-localized production (4a) for on demand (4b) distributed production saves x percent of matter and energy

The Circular Economy is only sustainable under 1% raw material consumption growth

Post-Growth Institute, by Sharon Ede:

"In 2011, a study commissioned by the CEO of Veolia was published in a peer-reviewed journal focused on sustainability, with the objective of assessing the business opportunities of the circular economy and recycling. It found that the ability to ‘decouple’ is only possible if the total annual raw material consumption growth rate is under one percent, and that ‘the influence of recycling on resource preservation is negligible for any raw material with a greater than 2% per annum increase in world production’.

Even then, growth in material consumption kept below that rate is still insufficient to decouple, and requires a high rate of recycling (60% – 80%). Economist and Professor of Sustainability and Economic Anthropology Christian Arnsperger of the University of Lausanne analyses what this means:

Efficiency gains…become themselves the ‘raw material’ for generating new economic growth thanks to lower raw material requirements…and it explains why the circular growth economy attracts so much enthusiasm among businesspeople and industrialists: The mirage is that of perpetually expanding markets along with perpetually contracting raw material consumption…we have no use for a pseudo-circular metabolism that is actually a steadily widening spiral: circling, yes, but spinning slowly out of control nevertheless, in ever-broader circles of ever-growing circumference. We need a genuinely circular metabolism…one that doesn’t spiral outward but, rather, promises to keep the same circumference… " (

Global Footprint Network: biophysical accounts of over 200 countries

Post-Growth Institute, by Sharon Ede:

"Biophysical accounts for over 200 countries dating back to 1961 maintained by the Global Footprint Network show that humanity uses around 1.5 planets’ worth of bioproductive space, meaning the Earth takes one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. If population and consumption trends continue on their current trajectory, we will need the equivalent of two Earths by 2030. There are billions of people whose material living standard needs to increase, and many who wish to emulate consumerist lifestyles, yet we are already in overshoot — using more human demand on nature’s capacity exceeds what nature can supply." (

Intensive Industries costing society 10% of GDP

"A ground breaking report commissioned by the United Nations in 2013; ‘Natural Capital at Risk‘ found that our most environmentally intensive business sectors - cement, chemicals, energy, farming, fishing, forestry, mining, paper, steel and utilities - were costing society around $7.3 trillion a year (more than 10% of global GDP) in pollution-related health costs, natural resource degradation and climate change impacts."

- Alastair MacGregor [42]

It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income

"The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who don’t. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not. Why? Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had “relatively small benefits”.

- George Monbiot [43]

The world’s richest 1% produce about 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%


"Research by Oxfam suggests that the world’s richest 1% (if your household has an income of £70,000 or more, this means you) produce about 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%. How, in a world in which everyone is supposed to aspire to high incomes, can we avoid turning the Earth, on which all prosperity depends, into a dust ball?"

- Oxfam [44]


"The wealthiest 1% of the world’s population were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015, according to new research.

Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 60% over the 25-year period, but the increase in emissions from the richest 1% was three times greater than the increase in emissions from the poorest half.

The report, compiled by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute, warned that rampant overconsumption and the rich world’s addiction to high-carbon transport are exhausting the world’s “carbon budget”.

Such a concentration of carbon emissions in the hands of the rich means that despite taking the world to the brink of climate catastrophe, through burning fossil fuels, we have still failed to improve the lives of billions, said Tim Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research at Oxfam International.

“The global carbon budget has been squandered to expand the consumption of the already rich, rather than to improve humanity,” he told the Guardian. “A finite amount of carbon can be added to the atmosphere if we want to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We need to ensure that carbon is used for the best.”

The richest 10% of the global population, comprising about 630 million people, were responsible for about 52% of global emissions over the 25-year period, the study showed."

- Oxfam [45]

Both absolute and relative decoupling from the use of essential resources is impossible, because of the physical limits of efficiency

"By decoupling, the economists tell us: detaching economic growth from our use of materials. So how well is this going? A paper in the journal Plos One finds that while, in some countries, relative decoupling has occurred, “no country has achieved absolute decoupling during the past 50 years”. What this means is that the amount of materials and energy associated with each increment of GDP might decline but, as growth outpaces efficiency, the total use of resources keeps rising. More important, the paper reveals that, in the long term, both absolute and relative decoupling from the use of essential resources is impossible, because of the physical limits of efficiency." [46]

Unequal per capita access to the Atmospheric Commons

"As of 2015, the USA was responsible for 40% of excess global CO2 emissions. The European Union (EU-28) was responsible for 29%. The G8 nations (the USA, EU-28, Russia, Japan, and Canada) were together responsible for 85%. Countries classified by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as Annex I nations (ie, most industrialised countries) were responsible for 90% of excess emissions. The Global North was responsible for 92%. By contrast, most countries in the Global South were within their boundary fair shares, including India and China (although China will overshoot soon).

These figures indicate that high-income countries have a greater degree of responsibility for climate damages than previous methods have implied."

- Jason Hickel [47]

$111 of growth is required for every $1 reduction in poverty

"a paper in the World Economic Review finds that the poorest 60% of the world’s people receive only 5% of the additional income generated by rising GDP. As a result, $111 (£84) of growth is required for every $1 reduction in poverty. This is why, on current trends, it would take 200 years to ensure that everyone receives $5 a day. By this point, average per capita income will have reached $1m a year, and the economy will be 175 times bigger than it is today. This is not a formula for poverty relief. It is a formula for the destruction of everything and everyone." [48]

Global Scenario for Providing Decent Living with Minimal Energy

"Here, we develop a simple, bottom-up model to estimate a practical minimal threshold for the final energy consumption required to provide decent material livings to the entire global population. We find that global final energy consumption in 2050 could be reduced to the levels of the 1960s, despite a population three times larger. However, such a world requires a massive rollout of advanced technologies across all sectors, as well as radical demand-side changes to reduce consumption – regardless of income – to levels of sufficiency. Sufficiency is, however, far more materially generous in our model than what those opposed to strong reductions in consumption often assume." [49]

On the need to move towards a CHON future by 2050

Daniel Christian Wahl:

"Ian Page and colleagues on the long-term outlook for the circular economy within an energy restrained world where humanity cannot afford to burn all existing fossil fuel reserves if it wants to avoid global warming to rise beyond 2.0 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The startling insight from material depletion curves and the economic, mineralogical and energetic limits of efficient mining operations is that by 2050 we will have to be a long way towards a circular economy that almost entirely creates products from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen (CHON). These are the only abundant materials that nature recycles at relatively low energy inputs." (

Report: Achieving the Good Life For All Within Planetary Boundaries: Biophysical Boundaries Transgressed versus Social Thresholds Achieved by Nation

"No country in the world currently meets the basic needs of its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use. Our research, recently published in Nature Sustainability (and summarised in The Conversation), quantifies the national resource use associated with achieving a good life for over 150 countries. It shows that meeting the basic needs of all people on the planet would result in humanity transgressing multiple environmental limits, based on current relationships between resource use and human well-being." (

Satisfying Human Needs at Low Energy Use

  • Article: Socio-economic conditions for satisfying human needs at low energy use: An international analysis of social provisioning. By Jefim Vogel, Julia K. Steinberger, Daniel W.O'Neill et al. Global Environmental Change, 29 June 2021 [50]

"Based on the international trend (regressions), all assessed needs could be sufficiently met at 60 GJ/cap of final energy use. Beyond that level, additional energy use comes with little to no improvements in need satisfaction: a doubling in energy use is associated with less than a 5% increase in need satisfaction."

Key People

Biophysical Economics

  1. Podolinsky
  2. Frederick Soddy
  3. ? Alfred Lotka
  4. W. Fred Cottrell
  5. ? M. King Hubbert
  6. Howard T. Odum
  7. Robert Costanza
  8. Earl Cook
  9. Robert Ayres
  10. Herman E. Daly
  11. Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen

Key Research Projects


Pages in category "Thermodynamic Efficiencies"

The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 409 total.

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