The Global Energy Crisis - We're Running Out Of Ancient Sunlight

A global energy crisis looms because of the world's reliance on fossil fuels (coal and oil) for its energy needs.

However most people don't quite fathom the reasons for this crisis and what to do about it.

We naively assume that someone somewhere will figure something out.

We figure life will carry on as normal. But this is not necessarily the case. Each and everyone of us needs a new understanding of the problem.

We Are All Made Out of Sunlight

Thom Hartmann frames the problem in a very thought provoking way in his book "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight." He explains that all of earth's energy comes from the sun. Plant matter is the only thing that can directly harness the sun's energy. It captures the sunlight through a process called photosynthesis and stores the energy in itself. That energy can then be transferred as light or heat through burning or it can be made into animal tissue through eating. 

Animal bodies, including humans, are literally created out of sunlight. It is the same energy that has merely been transformed into a plant, and then consumed by the animal. 

Human are literally created out of sunlight.

In order to understand the global energy crisis we need to understand that our energy doesn't come from wood or coal or oil; it comes from the sun. 

For most of human history we never used more energy than the sun provided. Sunlight would fall on the ground to be temporarily stored by plants. Humans would use that stored energy by eating the plants, eating animals that ate the plants or by burning the wood. But our total usage never exceeded the amount that was falling on the earth. 

Fossil Fuels Are Stored Sunlight

Fossil fuels are merely forms of ancient sunlight that have been preserved in the earth for millions of years. The sunlight was absorbed by plant matter which was then compressed at great pressure within the Earth. They are giant storage vats of sunlight energy.

By tapping into these stores of ancient sunlight we were no longer limited by the amount of sunlight that ordinarily fell on the ground. We could use the trapped ancient sunlight to fuel the growth of the human species.


Before agriculture we had obtained our food by harvesting whatever we could find, always reliant on current sunlight. We also relied on current sunlight in early agriculture, using human or animal labour. But now we can fuel our farms with oil. And we can generate heat from coal rather than wood. Without the need for firewood forests could be razed for farmland. And the farmland was more productive because it was driven by oil. 

Food production spiked exponentially and with it so did the human population. Our economy gradually became more and more intertwined with the use of oil. 

The End of Ancient Sunlight 

As the last reserves of fossil fuels begin to dry up we face a global energy crisis. The current human population and economy can only survive due to the availability of these stores of ancient sunlight. If we had to revert back to relying on current sunlight, there would not be nearly enough for everyone. 

This is the predicament we face. At present there is no source of energy that will satisfy the world's demand once fossil fuels are gone. People are hopeful that one will be developed but nobody knows for sure. 

Running out of energy was inevitable for our culture.

But even if we discovered a method of generating sufficient amounts of energy the problems would not be solved, only delayed. 

We didn't get into this situation because oil reserves are running out. We got into this situation because we belong to a culture that is fixated on growing, expanding and controlling the planet and its natural processes. 

Running out of energy is an inevitable result for a culture like ours. If we do find a new supply of energy all it will do is provide us with a means to continue with our destructive behavior.

The real issue behind the global energy crisis is the culture. It is the world-view, the mindset we hold about what it is we are doing on earth. An energy crisis is merely a symptom of a hidden problem. The culture is what needs to change.

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