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Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical Economy Hardcover – November 4, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1441993977 ISBN-10: 1441993975 Edition: 2012th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 407 pages
  • Publisher: Springer; 2012 edition (November 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441993975
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441993977
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

From the reviews:

“This is an important book. It should also prove of use to many involved with energy-related issues, and to students … . main strength and argument of the book is indicated by its sub-title. … the importance of energy as a factor of production, its relevance to the rise and fall of past cultures, and the stresses that the provision and use of energy will place upon the world in future are well argued in this book and for that reason it can be recommended.” (Michael Jefferson, Energy Policy, Vol. 42, 2012)

“A centrally important book for sustainability educators, upper division and graduate students, and members of the general public who are interested in understanding and addressing some of the fundamental challenges to socio-ecological sustainability. … Faculty and students from multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds will find Energy and the Wealth of Nations to be a highly accessible, informative, well-argued, well-supported, insightful, and important read. … I highly recommend this book principally as a course text but also as a relevant book for anyone interested in sustainability.” (Tina Lynn Evans, Journal of Sustainability Education, March 2012)

“This book should be brought - free of charge - to the attention of NGOs and political leaders worldwide. It is certainly recommended for college students taking courses in sustainability, the environmental sciences, and sustainable engineering. In particular, it is highly recommended for all leaders involved in Earth Day 2012, the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.” (Luis T. Gutiérrez, Mother Pelican – A Journal of Sustainable Human Development, Vol. 8 (3), March 2012)

“It offers such a compelling story about how our world economy is so completely empowered by the ability to find, extract and consume energy. … Energy and the Wealth of Nations is worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the ‘science’ behind economic growth and the critical yet often misunderstood role that energy plays in our world economy. Engineers involved in the electric power industry may be especially interested in the influence of biophysical economic principles … .” (Jim MacInnes, Today's Engineer, June 2012)

“This book on economics is quite readable, addressing many difficulties that the energy world (including renewable energy) faces … . This book is about the economic facts of life, in renewable energy and in the rest of the energy world. The facts presented are quite revealing, and reading the book is a must if you want to understand the past, current and future problems in energy.” (Francis de Winter, Solar Today, March/April 2012)

“This book is focused on energy and economics. This book seems to be aimed as a text book, or at an audience who is already familiar with some of the issues, and wants to dig deeper. … Readers will find that the Energy and the Wealth of Nations contains a wealth of information and a lot of useful references. There is also an extensive index. … Many sections are more historical in nature, or more narrative, and are easy for anyone to understand.” (Our Finite World, April 2012)

“When our society relies on an understanding of economics that did not predict, prevent, or mitigate the current economic crisis, and that, more importantly, does not effectively address climate change or resource depletion, it is time for a new and different approach to understanding the economy. That premise is the foundation of Energy and the Wealth of Nations, an important book by ecologist Charles Hall and economist Kent Klitgaard, who together are pioneering the new discipline of biophysical economics….Hall and Klitgaard’s work has important implications for financial planners....The more planners understand about how the world works, what constraints may be looming, and how to evaluate various scenarios, the better will be the advice we give our clients. Just as planners have embraced behavioral economics for the insights it provides, learning about biophysical economics will add considerably to our skills and our wisdom.” (Richard Vodra, Peak Oil Review, June 2012)

From the Back Cover

For the past 150 years, economics has been treated as a social science in which economies are modeled as a circular flow of income between producers and consumers.  In this “perpetual motion” of interactions between firms that produce and households that consume, little or no accounting is given of the flow of energy and materials from the environment and back again.  In the standard economic model, energy and matter are completely recycled in these transactions, and economic activity is seemingly exempt from the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  As we enter the second half of the age of oil, and as energy supplies and the environmental impacts of energy production and consumption become major issues on the world stage, this exemption appears illusory at best.

In Energy and the Wealth of Nations, concepts such as energy return on investment (EROI) provide powerful insights into the real balance sheets that drive our “petroleum economy.” Hall and Klitgaard explore the relation between energy and the wealth explosion of the 20th century, the failure of markets to recognize or efficiently allocate diminishing resources, the economic consequences of peak oil, the EROI for finding and exploiting new oil fields, and whether alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar power meet the minimum EROI requirements needed to run our society as we know it. This book is an essential read for all scientists and economists who have recognized the urgent need for a more scientific, unified approach to economics in an energy-constrained world, and serves as an ideal teaching text for the growing number of courses, such as the authors’ own, on the role of energy in society.

  • Integrates energy and economics
  • Uses predictive tools and measures, such as EROI, to show how the economy is embedded in a biophysical world subject to scientific rules and constraints
  • Provides a fresh approach to economics for those wondering “What’s next?“ after the Great Recession and the recent increases in oil prices
  • Assesses energy sources from the perspective of peak oil, the role of alternatives, and potential impacts such as climate change

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Tankus on December 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
disclaimer:I am currently a student of Professor Klitgaard. adjust for that bias as needed

Energy and the Wealth of Nations is quite a unique book that analyzes past and current economic history and history of economic thought from the perspective of energy. That is, by analyzing how and what work is preformed in a society. At a center of their analysis is the concept of the Energy Return on Investment. This is defined as "the ratio of energy returned from an energy gathering activity compared to the energy invested in that process" (pg 310). they express this as an equation: EROI=Energy returned to society/energy required to get that energy. although, as they note, "the devil is in the details". This book contains all those details

The strength of this book is the ability of the authors to wrap a very thorough understanding of past economic theory (neoclassical and otherwise) with a very deep understanding of past scientific theory and the science behind the natural world. They explain quite a lot of science and are able to do so in relatively simple terms. Indeed, I learned more science from this book then I've learned from pure Science textbooks, let alone economics textbooks.

More importantly, the authors are able to convincingly show why all this science is relevant. For example in chapter five, "The limits of conventional economics" the authors argue that economic theory, as it is currently constructed, ignores the biophysical laws. the circular flow between consumers and producers that is presented in all economics textbooks makes absolutely no reference to the second law of thermodynamics. it is a model of perpetual motion, where no value is lost to entropy and no input of energy is required.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By K. Stech on May 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am mainly writing this review to warn everyone that this is probably the most poorly edited book they'll ever read. There are loads of typos, misspellings, sentence fragments, run-ons, awkward phrasing, and other errors that the editor should have caught. It seriously impacts the reader's ability to absorb what is otherwise a great book. Another mistake the editor, proof readers and authors all make is citing things like "sustainablemiddleclass.com" for US Census and BEA data. That is pretty embarrassing. Somebody should have known to go to the source for this data, not some random web site that apparently doesn't even exist anymore.

All that said, I still gave the book four stars. The authors are on to something, and the ideas they express are important. They should get this work republished by a publisher who will give them a proper edit.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Richard H. Burkhart on March 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This very readable advanced college text by Hall and Klitgaard lays out a scientific approach to economics. This is truly a breath of fresh air for a profession mired in simplistic concepts and models that often defy common sense and that sometimes lead to equally wrong-headed predictions and policies. A prime example would be the financial crash of 2008, unforeseen by mainstream economists, and in defiance of Alan Greenspan's belief in the magic of markets. Yet the crash itself and the current anemic recovery were no mystery at all to biophysical economists.

In fact, their dictum is that the best way to understand any geological or biological process, including the human ecosystems known as economies, is to first analyze the sources and flows of energy for that process. Markets are secondary. Since the current global economy is driven mostly by fossil fuels (around 85% of all energy), and since oil is by far the most critical of these, any good oil resource geologist is in a far better position to forecast the overall performance of the economy the coming decades than all the Nobel Prize winning economists put together.

The most prescient of these geologists, such as Colin Campbell, understand that the first half of the "Age of Oil" (cheap oil, growing production) is now over and that we are entering the second half (expensive oil, stagnant then declining production). And that the global economy will decline in tandem. Thus the financial crash of 2008 was due in part by the failure of world oil supply to meet the demand caused by financial inflation (oil reached $147 a barrel in July, 2008), radically decreasing the discretionary income available to the public. And now there is no more cheap oil to fuel the recovery.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By jon jerome montague on May 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
author broke down all life,affluence and civilization to its fundamental form....the flow of energy. Should force mainstream economics to alter its approach.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By BenH on June 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I suppose it was inevitable that some aspiring academic(s) would write an overly LONG and EXPENSIVE economics TEXTBOOK that incorporates and is based on the seminal work of Howard and Elizabeth Odum--instead of a 20-25 page essay that could achieve the same result at much lower cost for all concerned. Such is not the way up the ladder of the academic professions, however.

But surely it would be only fair to prominently acknowledge the Odums' foundational work up front (along with Tainter and Diamond) instead of merely citing the Odums often in the text (see "Odum" in the index).

I strongly recommend reading "A Prosperous Way Down" by the Odums FIRST, then read this new econ textbook--or browse it--to see if all those many additional pages are better than a really good 25-page summary of the Odums' book would be.

Economists really do have a terribly hard time stepping away from the absurd ideas and assumptions of their unrealistic, narrowly focussed inherited theories and literature. But convention rules, and shackles the mental ankles of practitioners in the land of academia!

Why not just LEAVE THE OLD STUFF BEHIND, for heaven's sake, and analyze observable real-world phenomena with something like the scientific method--as medicine has left behind the theory and practice of curing human illness with bloodsucking live leeches.

A minor point: Putting "wealth of nations" in the book's title is a rather obvious and cheap way to hitch a free ride on Adam Smith's undeserved reputation as an economist. (He was primarily an ethical philosopher.)
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