Report Number




Energy Consumption; Buildings; Energy Conservation


"The more we get out of the world the less we leave, and in the long run we shall have to pay our debts at a time that may be very inconvenient for our own survival." - Norbert Wiener

Introduction: The world's energy and environmental crises are inextricably linked. The processes of extracting, processing, and burning fossil fuels generates copious pollution of air, water, and land. Fossil-fuel-derived energy lies at the heart of other environmental problems. Fossil energy powers the bulldozers clearing rainforests. It runs the tractors and other farm equipment of industrial agriculture, compacting and mineralizing soils thus increasing their susceptibility to erosion. It provides the fertilizers and pesticides used by intensive food production systems, 'freeing' people for other pursuits. It enables the spread of cities dependent on motor transportation, and their attendant environmental impacts. The depletion of our fossil resources over the course of the twenty-first century is a serious concern requiring considerable attention by individuals, organizations, and governments.

Most leaders seem to think that science, technology, and some minor alterations in public policy will be sufficient to prevent these problems from adversely affecting humanity as a whole. Even solar enthusiasts seem to think that most of these problems will go away if everybody would just buy (or make their own) solar energy systems.

Other people believe that the threats facing mankind are much more serious and need more urgent attention and deeper action. These persons are concerned that leaders in all sectors of society are failing to see the long-term threats and refusing to do much about them, save for some recycling, a few pollution restrictions, a little energy conservation here, some solar energy there. Growing evidence is leading us to believe that the pessimistic view is the correct one, that current reforms will be insufficient for the long term.

Energy and Population: As illustrated in Fig. 1, world population expanded only gradually until the Industrial Revolution, reaching about one billion around 1850. Then came oil, and later gas, added to already established coal production, enabling the Industrial Revolution, the machinery of which was driven by abundant cheap energy from fossil fuels. In the three-or-so million year span of human life, the current spurt of fossil fuel use and depletion will have occupied only a tiny portion.

The recent exponentially rapid growth of world population (See Fig. 1) tracks growth in use of fossil fuels. Campbell described it thus: The abundance of energy has allowed the human population to expand greatly, multiplying three-fold during the lifetime of the present Queen of England. A new subspecies, called Homo hydrocarbonum, evolved... [and] will certainly be extinct by the end of this century.... We are not about to run out of oil, but production is close to peak. The transition will represent an unparalleled discontinuity as the growth of the past gives way to decline in the future.1

"Homo hydrocarbonum" will be replaced by "homo somethingelseonum". What that something else will be is the subject of this chapter.

Date Published



McCluney, Ross, "Renewable Energy Limits", Invited chapter manuscript for The Final Energy Crisis, Andrew MacKillop, ed., Pluto Press, expected 2004 References, Figure captions, Key words, Figures are at the end, June 14, 2003

Local Subjects

Buildings - Energy Conservation; Buildings - Energy Consumption


FSEC Energy Research Center® Collection



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