Thomas Homer-Dixon: Civilization Far From Equilibrium – Energy, Complexity, and Human Survival

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM ET
June 7
Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas, Perimeter Institute

Human societies use complexity – within their institutions and technologies – to address their various problems, and they need high-quality energy to create and sustain this complexity. But now greater complexity is producing diminishing returns in wellbeing, while the energetic cost of key sources of energy is rising fast. Simultaneously, humankind’s problems are becoming vastly harder, which requires societies to deliver yet more complexity and thus consume yet more energy. Resolving this paradox is the central challenge of the 21st century.

The increased consumption causes a greater demand for energy. For example, to meet this demand, 64 million barrels per day of additional oil production capacity must be brought on stream by 2030.

One way we have attempted to resolve it is by reducing redundancy. For example, two companies make all large jet liners. Three companies make all jet engines. Four companies make almost all microprocessors. If we were do talk about companies that make tires, glass bottles, sparkplugs, etc.. you would find the same situation.

Here is his talk:

Thomas Homer-Dixon: “…from distributed renewables, especially wind and solar… I’m not convinced that enormous solar farms are the way we’re going to generate huge amounts of power for our civilizations in the future.”

Thomas Homer-Dixon holds the CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, and is a Professor at the University. His research areas include the links between environmental stress and violence in developing nations, global security in the 21st century, and how societies adapt to economic, ecological, and technological change.