Proper 29: Light Bulbs

Five light bulbs

Appointed Gospel

This week’s lectionary gospel reading is from Luke 23: 33-43.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This is a tough passage. It tells us that Christians can anticipate having to suffer for their faith. But it also tells us that such faith, if it is as strong as that demonstrated by the second criminal, has its reward. In the context of climate change and related issues, maybe the message is that are heading into difficult times, but, if we have sufficient faith, a new world can open up. Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday.

Aha! Moment #3: Light Bulbs

Light bulbs not available with alternative energy

In the posts from the previous two weeks I have described the first two of my “Aha! Moments”. These are times when “something clicks”, when suddenly “we get it”. I have had five of these Aha! Moments. They were:

  1.  Predicaments, Not Problems
  2.  Augustine’s City of God
  3.  Light Bulbs
  4.  The I-10 Freeway
  5.  Isaac Asimov’s Psychohistory

We took a look at the first two on this list in the posts Proper 27: Complexity and Proper 28: The City of Man. This week I will spend a few moments on Aha! Moment #3: Light Bulbs, which came to me when I was reading an early blog from James Kunstler. In one of his fictional works he describes society in upstate New York fifty years from now. The people are living in a post-industrial society, one in which Peak Oil has occurred, so they are having to live a much more basic lifestyle than they did two generations previously.

The people in the community that he describes have energy generated by alternative energy sources, but they do not have light bulbs. The factories and supply chains needed to supply manufactured goods have broken down. Kunstler’s point is that it is not enough to simply find alternative sources of energy, we also need to develop manufacturing and supply systems that effectively use those energy sources. In his book that goal had not been achieved.

The challenges that we will face go beyond finding and deploying alternative energy sources. We also will need to maintain the extraordinarily complex manufacturing and supply chain systems that we have created. We will have to move from a business mentality of efficiency and Just in Time (JIT) management to a way of thinking that stresses resilience and adaptability. Whether we will be able to do so in time is dubious.

It’s All About ERoEI

red queen alice symbolizing peak oil peak water

I recommend viewing the YouTube video How to Enjoy the End of the World presented by Sid Smith. It lasts for over an hour, but Smith makes some important points as to where we are headed. In particular, he notes that our core predicament is one of declining ERoEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested). It is only about halfway through the video that he even mentions climate change. (An explanation of ERoEI, and of its importance. is provided in our ebook Age of Limits – 1. One of the chapters in that ebook is Alice and the Red Queen. Like the Red Queen, we are running faster and faster just to stay in one place.) Smith shows that alternative sources of energy are not going to replace fossil fuels, at least not on the scale and convenience that we need them to do.


Author: Ian Sutton

Ian Sutton is a chemical engineer who has worked in the chemical, refining and offshore oil and gas industries. He is the author of many books, ebooks and videos.

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