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ISBPE 2018 Schedule, Wells College, Aurora, NY, USA

Wednesday - June 13, 2018

Conference Welcome Address and Reception 

Reception Starts at 3:15 and End 5:45

Welcome Address

Jessica Lambert, President ISBPE

The Haudenosaunee Welcomes ISBPE

Neil Patterson, Assistant Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, SUNY - ESF

Welcome to Wells College

Cindy Speaker, Dean and Provost, Wells College

Sustainability and BioPhysical Economics at Wells

Marion Brown, Director, Center for Sustainability and the Environment, Wells College

BioPhysical Economics So Far

Kent Klitgaard, Vice President, ISBPE

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Thursday - June 14, 2018

New evidence for the end of growth?

Morning Session: Energy, Climate Change & Sustainability

A Little Bit about Dynamics and Perception

Tom Stiadle

The Paris Agreement under the lens of biophysical economics

Albert Bates

Article II of the Paris Agreement requires signatories hold the increase of global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to hold to 1.5°C. These goals cannot be achieved merely by substituting renewable energy. They require carbon dioxide removal (CDR). The present range of CDR options includes:


changes to land use management;

accelerated weathering;

marine phytoplankton;

bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS); and

direct air capture (DAC).


Quantitative assessments have been undertaken for each of these options. Prior studies have largely externalized the labor and energy required to bring these methods to scale. Applying a biophysical economics analysis, we conclude that it would be possible to economically scale four of the five techniques to achieve drawdown (net sequestration over emissions) by mid-century if fossil emissions reductions were also forthcoming. The fifth technique (DAC) fails on net energy grounds.


BECCS would also fail were it limited to its common conceptualization relying upon low EROI biomass energy to pay for fragile and suspect geological storage of carbon dioxide. However, by substituting pyrolysis for combustion and adding biochar and carbon co-products, both feedstocks and storages diversify and the finance becomes favorable.

How much wind and solar are needed to realize emissions benefits from storage?

Energy storage is widely cited as a solution to enable increased usage of non-dispatchable and intermittent renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. While energy storage is essential to increase the penetration of the renewable energy, it may not be always inherently green and its environmental implications could depend on other factors such as the grid mix, energy storage capacity, and the effects of storage operation on the overall electricity generation. 

If operated to maximize profit, in many grid situations storage will increase carbon dioxide emissions by enabling a high carbon emitting technology (e.g. coal) to displace a lower one. While some research has been conducted so far on emissions vs. energy storage, effect of bulk energy storage operation as a price maker on the total grid emissions has not been investigated.

This work models the deployment of large, non-marginal quantities of both bulk storage and wind/solar to determine their combined effects on system emissions. Two different grid environments are analyzed: a coal-heavy grid (Midcontinent ISO in the Midwest region) and non-coal grid (New York region), deploying storage as a price-maker. For the current grid mix in New York, adding storage can slightly reduce carbon emissions, while storage increases emissions in the Midwest region. We estimate that adding storage operated to maximize revenue in the Midwest region will not be carbon neutral until renewables reach around 18% of the generation capacity from the current 10%. Different operation patterns for storage could realize higher carbon reductions. For example, a carbon price on emissions from generators would shift operation to make energy storage carbon

neutral even with current wind and solar capacities. Sensitivity analysis shows that a slightly higher natural gas price ($5 per MMBtu) yields much higher storage-induced carbon emissions in both New York and the Midwest. In this case, storage in the Midwest will not be carbon neutral unless 35% of total generation capacity is from wind/solar. This illustrates that low cost, efficient natural gas generation is important to realize emissions reductions with storage under economic arbitrage.            

Graham Palmer

The following presentation is an analysis of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), specifically in relation to Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs). I focus on the key drivers of economic growth, how these are derived, and whether IAMs properly reflect the underlying biophysical systems. Since baseline IAM scenarios project a three to eightfold increase in GDP-per-capita by 2100, but with consumption losses of only between 3 to 11%, strong mitigation seems compatible with economic growth. However, since long-term productivity and economic growth are uncertain, they are included as exogenous parameters in IAM scenarios. The biophysical economics perspective is that GDP and productivity growth are in fact emergent parameters from the economic-biophysical system. If future energy systems were to possess worse biophysical performance characteristics, we would expect lower productivity and economic growth, and therefore the price of reaching emission targets may be significantly costlier than projected. Here I show that IAMs insufficiently describe the energy-economy nexus, and propose that those key parameters are integrated as feedbacks with the use of environmentally extended input-output analysis (EEIOA).

Biosphere, the Great Acceleration, and the Global Crisis of Unsustainable Energy Utilization

Accounting for the Laws of Thermodynamics, the updated Great Acceleration socio-economic and biophysical reaction curves published by Steffen et al. in 2015 require additional clarification including in particular the role of primary energy consumption and also the key differences afforded to the resultant Earth system biophysical reactions. When these clarifications are made, the Great Acceleration more clearly defines a system in exponential decline where humans are perhaps focusing on the wrong metrics. This systems-level approach properly recognizes humans as prime movers and their primary energy consumption as the sole enabler driving the remaining socio-economic activities including for example water consumption, transportation, fertilizer consumption and gross domestic product. Then, faced with an exponential forcing function, the Earth’s reactions are also exponential as expected. However, the Earth system reactions are also not all equal where any biomass losses like biodiversity and phytomass losses or declining marine fish captures are far more serious than rising CO2, methane or NO levels. When the Great Acceleration is quantified and clarified on an energy centric perspective, consequences to the near future of humankind are real and eminent. An updated assessment of Earth system stability is provided with this new perspective. 

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Afternoon Session: The next step in BioPhysical Economic Modeling

Sustainability system development on the base of dynamic pattern recognition theory: evidence from Russian gas industry

A Biophysical-Economic Framework for Understanding Collapse in Modern Society

David J. Murphy

Energy and food represent essential items for complex societies, as energy is required to maintain societal function – i.e. the societal metabolism – while food is required to feed the population. Deficits in either one of these categories can quickly lead to destabilized societies. Modern societies utilize globalization and trade to survive, and in some cases flourish, despite large deficits in either energy or food production (sometimes both) by specializing in the export of one or a handful of commodities and using the revenue gained from their sale to pay for the deficits in either energy or food. Though this strategy may work temporarily, it reduces resiliency and is becoming increasingly risky in an era of a changing climate. This paper presents a framework for analyzing which modern societies are more vulnerable to collapse. We apply our framework to recent events in Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia to illustrate how the confluence of internal economic, external economic and biophysical factors can lead to crisis. Our analysis builds on previous work, merging theories from the collapse literature and net energy analysis. 

A Long-Term Growth Model with Endogenous Biophysical and Economic States

Long-term economic growth models often assume that energy resources and technology are not constraints on the economy. Energy transition scenario models often assume that economic growth will not constraint an energy transition. Both types of models often neglect fundamental dynamics and the influence of debt and subsequent interest payments. This paper discusses a newly-developed dynamic long-term growth model that endogenously links biophysical (population, resources) and economic (debt, wages, capital) states, in a stock-flow consistent manner for resources (energy, matter) and money. The model helps explain very important and broad-scale historical macroeconomic trends such as 1) the tremendous decline in energy spending relative to net output during the fossil energy and industrial transition, and 2) the post-1970s decline in wage share for Western economies.

Creating An Energy Analysis Concept for Oil and Gas Companies: The Case of the Yakutiya Company in Russia

Yan Jun

Recently, energy analysis has been added to Russian gas companies’ annual reporting system. This new practice indicates that corporate reports are improving their analyses by addressing energy issue and the financial efficiency of energy production. However, the use summary energy indicators is limited in these annual reports. In this paper we review the history of energy analysis in Russia from the early USSR period to today. Under the guidance of Energy Return on Investment (EROI), we compare energy efficiency indicators with financial efficiency coefficients. The results show that the value of the return on cost of sales (ROCS) is negative in certain instances, while the value of the energy return on cost of sales (EROCS) is extremely high under the example of the Russian energy company JSC "YATEC". Money-based indicator values (ROCS and return on fix assets (ROFA)) fluctuate with internal company financial management goals, and from the outside depending on market prices. Meanwhile energy-based values (EROCS) remain stable. Added financial analysis and energy analysis in companies’ annual statements will supplement each other in practice and will present the full picture for company efficiency analysis.

Hubbert linearization: a "new method to estimate petroleum reserves and its applications to U.S. "shale" resources

Charles Hall

Hydraulic fracturing for shale (tight) oil in the United States, commonly known as “fracking,” has postponed (or extended) the global peak of oil, and, for some, discredited the concept of “peak oil”.  The multi-trillion dollar question for the global economy is for how long will this “revolution” in unconventional oil (and gas) last?  Official government and industry predictions are for many decades of continued high production, but tend to use procedures that assume that most areas of a play will continue to have relatively high levels of exploitable oil.   Other analysts suggest much less.   Both use procedures that are not or are barely explicit or repeatable.   In the hope of deriving a more scientifically explicit, and hopefully more accurate, estimate of the EUR (Estimated Ultimate Recovery) for the main “tight” plays of the United States, we use the Hubbert Linearization (HL) method.   The Hubbert linearization is a means of predicting the long term behavior of an oil or gas play from the data of production from the play.  The approach was derived in an obscure conference proceedings (Hubbert 1982) that to our knowledge has not been published in the reviewed literature.  The important properties of theHubbert Linearization is that it makes one’s analysis explicit and uses essentially the only "hard" information that one has about a petroleum play,  which is production over time, data that is usually of reasonably good quality because it is used for taxation purposes.    The method has predicted to within 10-30 percent the EUR (Estimated Ultimate Recovery) of many completely depleted plays in the past, even from data before peak production, and even when the mechanisms are not fully understood.   Applying this method to U.S. shale gas and light tight oil plays predicts far lower EUR than is estimated from other approaches.  If we accept the HL as a good means of making predictions of future EUR for shale oil and gas plays, the United States will soon be facing serious oil and gas shortages.

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Friday - June 15, 2018

Integrating biophysical science with political economy for a non-growing economy

BioPhysical Economics and Education 

Practical Economics for the Anthropocene: Education for Resilience

Sustainability Studies from a Social Science perspective is an emerging field and thus, has no traditional nor universal course requirements.  Bristol Community College has created both an Associate Degree and a Certificate Sustainability Studies Program which has as its starting point - and woven throughout its curriculum - the unsustainability of continuous economic growth as is endemic to corporate capitalism, especially in the face of ecological destruction, resource depletions and climate disruptions. Within this track of study is a course specifically focused on Sustainable Economics: The Rise of the New Economyin which students explore the character and practices needed to establish a steady-state economy.  Practical and grassroots in its orientation, this course emphasizes relocalized economic activity taking as examples the development of worker cooperatives, local banks and credit unions, micro-lending schemes, local currencies, time banks, community supported agriculture, repair shops, and tool-machine-household item libraries. The theme throughout the course – and the program – is the need for reduction-minded consumption, reestablishment of community and its networks, and enhanced quality of life through “being” rather than “having.”  While this course is new and undoubtedly in need of adjustments, it is a beginning in rethinking “economy” toward resilience in a resource constrained world. 

Engaging millennials in big-picture issues through the use of instructional technology

Marcie Belfie

Professors can employ instructional technology and strategies that will spark increased interest and engagement in their students, especially as regards big picture issues such as declining resource quality and climate change. Today’s students are constantly interfacing with information, online social networks, friends and communities around the world through expanding digital technologies. Engagement of students in the university classroom has been widely discussed across fields of discipline, with scholars such as Therrell and Dunneback (2015) and West (2017) arguing for the use of real-world problems with active learning practices embedded in instruction. This session addresses millennials’ desires for interactive learning experiences with special attention to group work and online technologies to engage students who are more comfortable “behind the screen” (Bauman, Marchal, McLain, O’Connell & Patterson, 2014, p. 307) Specifically, in the session I will demonstrate examples of emerging instructional technologies in order to increase student participation and engagement.

A Taxonomy of Efficiency

Brian Stewart

The work of educating the public about the multiple interlocking issues faced by humanity is a daunting task, unsupported by government, the media, or the educational system. I have given public lectures on environmental issues for a decade and am now experimenting with a new approach to directing people’s attention to the importance of the limits faced by society. 

Using the example of efficiency, I can talk about desirable and undesirable efficiencies, externalities, diminishing returns, EROI, and a host of other important concepts. Efficiency is ordinarily understood as desirable and positive; this approach can jar audiences into reflection and introspection with examples of harmful “efficiencies”. 

In my presentation, I will give details of my efforts, report on my experience with this new organizing narrative, and engage the session participants to strengthen the approach. 

Teaching Economic and Environmental Sustainability

Kent Klitgaard

Few things jolt students to attention more than the simple question: Do you think there will be enough energy available to power your phone in the near future?  The future for a typical student at Wells College (basically neither desperately poor nor exceedingly wealthy) seems not quite as bright as it did for students of my generation. It is likely to be energy short and climate compromised, with an increasing number of jobs eliminated by globalization and robots. The consequences of continuing to use fossil fuels spells potential catastrophe. As an economist, I live in a world of theory and evidence, and the evidence for peak oil and catastrophic climate change mounts daily.  However many of my students do not share the same commitment to theory and data that I do. How does  one get today’s students to look at the evidence and the theory and take seriously the consequences of their high-energy, disposable lifestyles, especially when the economic consequences of living within nature’s limits might mean fewer jobs at lower wages, more physical labor, and fewer conveniences?

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Biophysical science and political economy

Jevons’ Paradoxes

Kent Klitgaard

In 1865, at the behest of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, British economist William Stanley Jevons published The Coal Question. In this work, he raised many issues familiar to contemporary biophysical economists. The maintenance of British prosperity and industrial power depended upon the expansion of heavy industry, which itself depended upon an increase in the scale of coal production. For Jevons, coal was not just any commodity but the commodity which enabled all else. Jevons applied a Malthusian model, by substituting coal for corn as the limiting factor of economic growth. As mining depleted accessible coal beds, deeper seams must be mined raising the cost of coal and reducing economic growth. In the chapter on “The Economy of Fuel,” Jevons argued that neither technological change nor resource substitution would solve the problem of more expensive coal as increases in efficiency are likely to lead to expanded use, and greater overall consumption. This known as Jevons’ Paradox


In 1871, Jevons published The Theory of Political Economy, replacing an objective theory of value grounded in production, and requiring human labor and the throughput of material and energy, with a subjective theory of value based on exchange a marginal utility. This theory of value formed the basis of neoclassical economics, which many biophysical economists reject. This paper asserts that there was no epistemological break between The Coal Question and The Theory of Political Economy. Jevons had enunciated marginal utility theory before he commenced work on The Coal Question, and his paradox makes most sense in the context of marginal utility.

The need for, and a plan for, a biophysical analysis of the Mexican economy

The presentation explores the importance of petroleum in the development of Mexico. Special emphasis is made on the economic aspects of development, but also we analyze the impact of petroleum exploitation in population growth, land use change, and public health. 

We argue that the new reality of Mexico's oil situation inevitably leads us to the need to understand the relation of less cheap oil to all things economic in Mexico and to start thinking of what kinds of economic tools would be needed to face it. 

In the final section we discuss the inadequacy of current economic theory and approaches to deal with the new energy context, and then we develop a case for biophysical economics as a good place to start to understand, face up to and perhaps deal with these new economic problems that are coming at Mexico.

The History and Future of Western Mainstream Economics from Perspectives of Teleology and Nature

What Drives Urban Sprawl in the United States: Rising Population or Falling Population Density?

To neoclassical economists, urban sprawl represents economic growth and dynamism. To ecologists, in contrast, it represents unsustainable, environmentally-damaging appropriation and displacement of critical natural ecosystems.  In biophysical terms, sprawldegrades or eliminates natural habitats and their ecological services as well as productive agricultural land; it also increases fossil energy consumption, climate-altering carbon emissions, water demand, and emissions of “criteria” air pollutants (VOCs, NOx, PM, etc.).  


In a series of studies on urban sprawl spanning nearly two decades, researchers with Arlington, VA-based NumbersUSA examined the relative contributions of the two fundamental factors that drive sprawl: population growth and increasing per capita land consumption (or decreasing population density).  Our findings in a number of studies contradict the conventional wisdom that falling population density – rather than population growth – is the main cause of sprawl.  In our first national-level study of the 100 largest U.S. cities back in 2001, we found that while there was significant variation between cities and regions, in aggregate, population growth and decreasing density each accounted for about half of sprawl. Overtime, while the pace of sprawl has slowed somewhat, the percentage of sprawl attributable to population growth has increased.  If current large population projections to 2050 and beyond for the U.S. are realized, development pressures on undeveloped rurallands will increase immensely in the years ahead.

 In a previous paper (cite) we examined the link between declining EROI and quality of life indicators for average citizens within a select group of societies and found that EROI is correlated with standard of living; suggesting that decreasing net available energy adversely impacts the standard of living of an average citizen. This work extends the analysis of this possible link to a larger group of countries.  As noted in our previous work, inadequate empirical data is a considerable ‘stumbling block’ to examining and understanding the link between a decline in the net energy available within a society and an average citizen’s standard of living and well being.  We employ our previous methodology using four separate estimated measures of energy availability: (1) EROI at a societal level, (2) energy use per capita, (3) multiple regression analyses and (4) LEI (the Lambert Energy Index), and multiple standard indicators of standard of living-quality of life (HDI, percent of children under weight, health expenditures, Gender Inequality Index, literacy rate and access to improved water) to examine the correlation between net energy availability and quality of life indicators.  Our findings suggest that these energy indices are highly correlated with standard of living within a wide variety of societies and that there is a saturation point where further increases in per capita energy availability (greater than 150 GJ) or EROI (above 20:1) are not associated with further improvements to society.  

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Saturday - June 16, 2018

BioPhysical Economics' role for the financial community and agriculture

BioPhysical Economics' Role for the Financial Community

The Biophysical Economy and Central Bank Risks

Nicholas Walldorff

The modern central banking system is responsible for many activities including payment settlement and regulatory oversight of the modern financial system. Central bank policy seeks to optimize macro economic output around certain unique mandates however control over the economy is limited. Currently a prevailing mandate among central bank institutions is the objective of “price stability”, the idea that price levels should grow at predictable rates anchoring the inflation expectations of economic agents. To the extent that traditional macroeconomic models fail to account for the biophysical constraints to sustainable production, central banks will face significant unanticipated policy risk in determining optimal policy directives. 


Central banks have a history of model misspecification and associated policy errors, now biophysical resource constraints pose a new and expanding class of risks to our central banking system. These constraints will have broad implications for the evolution of price level indexes as currently measured as well as policy decisions that will follow. As history has shown, the outcome of a central bank policy error carries significant cost to human well-being and resource allocation. Central banks must evolve to properly account for risks identifiable through the biophysical economic lens. 

The Modern Global Financial System Is an Ecosystem

This presentation will outline an argument that the modern global financial system is, in fact, a new kind of ecosystem in its own right, and not just an analogy of one.  It is an ecosystem of a slightly different form – a hybrid biophysical and logical ecosystem constrained by additional laws that do not constrain the well-known biological ecosystems.  Based on a paper by Boulanger and Bréchet, it will be argued that stochastic agent-based models are the best scientific tools available to study the dynamics of such persistent stochastic biophysical/logical ecosystems.   The money-energy link between the logical ecosystem and the biophysical ecosystem will be noted.  Then the hypothesized phenomenon of the conservation of money will be examined with a focus on its cause, its implications, and the research needed to validate and/or elaborate the hypothesis.   If validated, the benefits should be obvious.  As time permits, other previously presented insights into the functioning of the financial ecosystem will be mentioned, such as the dangers of discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis, Galbraith’s theory of the firm, the banking disequilibrium, and the stock market mythology.

A theoretical framework to study the economic importance of energy

Using marginal analysis, we develop a theoretical framework to study the economic importance of energy without considering it a factor of production. Instead, for an autarkic agent, energy is considered a constraint in consumption and an objective in production. Despite such roles, which are meaningfully justified, the framework implies that power —and not energy— is generally the limiting resource. Among other implications of this perspective, we show that initially autarkic agents establish commodity prices when they exchange, and that under perfect competition, market prices arise as social representations of the marginal embodied energy of goods.

Resource productivity in theories of cost-share induced technological change

Insights Regarding the Operation of the Energy-Economy

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Biophysical Realities of Agriculture

Grow-serious Stores: Can Food Retailers Develop Policies That Drive Sustainable Agriculture?

Robert Guillemin

One of the most fascinating questions for proponents of a sustainable food system is whether large-scale food retailers can develop environmental policies that drive agroecology practices on the farm. Can Walmart or Whole Foods incentivize their agricultural supply chain to grow food in a way that respects and upholds biophysical realities?


This presentation explores this question by comparing two recent efforts, the Responsibly Grown program by Whole Foods and a farm-based technical assistance program by the South African food retailer Woolworths.  The Responsibly Grow program unraveled after substantial opposition from organic farmers, who felt threatened by Whole Foods’ “beyond organic” approach. In contrast, the Woolworths technical assistance program allowed farmers to address their own interests, resulting in measurable benefits that out-performed other African farms. 


The presentation will describe the differences between these two approaches, providing relevant background information to illustrate the relationship between retailer and food producer. Based on these findings, the presentation will suggest opportunities for large food retailers to leverage their purchasing power and champion a regenerative agricultural system, or at least one that is increasingly less extractive, energy intensive, and polluting.

Achieving provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes

Agricultural landscapes comprise approximately 50% of global habitable land cover. Maximizing yield is often the dominant goal in agricultural landscapes. Given the extent of agricultural lands, it is important to manage agricultural landscapes to produce a range of ecosystem services. Agroecological approaches to food production balance crop yield with support for: 1) nutrient cycling and retention, 2) soil formation, 3) ecological pest control, and 4) biodiverse and multifunctional landscapes. Supporting diverse ecosystem services in addition to yield ensures the long-term productivity of the land-base and improves resource availability for human and non-human organisms living in the watershed. 

Agroecological management goals that support the production of ecosystem services include: 1) increasing soil organic matter (SOM) production and retention, allowing retention of nutrients (such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)) and accumulation of soil organic carbon (SOC), 2) reducing greenhouse gas emission (GHG), especially N2O or CH4, 3) reducing soil erosion, or 4) increasing the biodiversity of crop rotations. This presentation will discuss the potential for agricultural management to provide diverse ecosystem services, and present a new ecosystem services accounting tool - a statistical model of N2O emissions accounting developed to support farmer participation in voluntary GHG reduction programs.

Impact of agricultural production systems on the energy efficiency of agro-bioenergy systems

In light of possible future restrictions on the use of fossil fuel, due to climate change obligations and continuous depletion of global fossil fuel reserves, the search for alternative renewable energy sources is expected to be an issue of great concern for policy stakeholders. This study assessed the feasibility of bioenergy production under relatively low-intensity conservative, eco-agricultural settings (as opposed to those produced under high-intensity, fossil fuel based industrialized agriculture). Estimates of the net energy gain (NEG) and the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) obtained from a life cycle inventory of the energy inputs and outputs involved reveal that the energy efficiency of bioenergy produced in low-intensity eco-agricultural systems could be as much as much as 448.5–488.3 GJ·ha−1 of NEG and an EROEI of 5.4–5.9 for maize ethanol production systems, and as much as 155.0–283.9 GJ·ha−1 of NEG and an EROEI of 14.7–22.4 for maize biogas production systems. This is substantially higher than for industrialized agriculture with a NEG of 2.8–52.5 GJ·ha−1 and an EROEI of 1.2–1.7 for maize ethanol production systems, as well as a NEG of 59.3–188.7 GJ·ha−1 and an EROEI of 2.2–10.2 for maize biogas production systems. Bioenergy produced in low-intensity eco-agricultural systems could therefore be an important source of energy with immense net benefits for local and regional end-users, provided a more efficient use of the co-products is ensured.

A world tour of farm systems in light of biophysical economics

The global primary food production system needs reconfiguring over the next 25 years to feed a growing human population under increasing resource constraints, energy in particular. 
Drivers of this reconfiguration are very different from food production drivers of the last 25 years. 

Nuffield agricultural scholarships enable recipients to travel widely and learn from food production experts around the world. 
Through March and April 2018 our group of nine scholars engaged with over 100 experts while visiting numerous farms and food production chains. We travelled throughout the Netherlands, Oregon and Washington DC, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Kenya, and South Africa. 
A diverse range of farm systems exist in many countries, some under utilised and others we agreed were not sustainable.  The correct mix of these systems could undoubtedly meet the physical and logistical changes necessary. The impact of political and culture elements, along with current popular economic thinking represent separate challenges.
My presentation highlights key themes from this experience and begins to explore them from a biophysical and EROI perspective.

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Sunday - June 17, 2018

BioPhysical Realities of Agriculture

Energy Return on Investment of “living off the land”: natural production, human labor, and petroleum subsidies required support a rural Maine homestead

Stephen M. Coghlan Jr.

As projected by Limits to Growth and other biophysical analyses, economic shocks from resource depletion, pollution, and debt overload threaten our current standard of living. The prospect of ecological overshoot and impending economic decline has motivated some people to find alternate means to produce economic surplus, increase their self-sufficiency, withstand climate disruption, and disentangle themselves as much as possible from fossil-fuel-based monetary and financial systems. Generating wealth directly from nature via homesteading and other types of “living off the land” may hold promise, but energetic profitability and thus viability is largely unknown and likely varies tremendously among regions, technological implements, subsidies required from the main economy, and skills possessed by homesteaders. 


We constructed energy-flow systems diagrams to model energetic costs and benefits of three activities typical of a representative Maine (USA) homestead: sustenance ice fishing, lightly-mechanized firewood harvesting, and artisanal maple syrup production. The fishing model is calibrated with empirical data on angler effort, harvest rate, and purchased inputs, along with assumed trophic relations in a lake food web. One scenario simulates unregulated harvest of warmwater fish in a nearby eutrophic lake, and another simulates regulated harvest of coldwater fish in a remote oligotrophic lake. Fish biomass provides 20% annual protein intake for 2 adults. The firewood model is calibrated with empirical data on human metabolic work, firewood yield, and purchased inputs, along with assumed rates of forest production and mechanical chainsaw work. Firewood meets 100% of home heating needs. The maple sugaring model is calibrated with empirical data on human metabolic work, sap flow, firewood combustion, purchased inputs, and syrup yield, along with assumed rates of forest production. Annual syrup production meets household demand (2 gallons) and surplus can serve as a value-added commodity (8 gallons) as currency for barter with other homesteads. Analyses are underway and results are forthcoming. Estimates of EROI will indicate profitability of activities in meeting sustenance needs and generating surplus for exchange, and estimates of Emergy Yield Ratios will provide non-market valuation of human labor and ecological work more appropriate during times of economic contraction.  Further model refinement will include feedbacks from climate change that affect natural production and economic feedbacks from depleting fossil fuels that increase costs of purchased inputs.

Biofuel Technology and Innovation in the 21st century

Innovation is a key element in the belief of infinite economic growth. With consistent or increasing innovation, economies are able to use resources more efficiently and thus combat the consequences of increasing scarcity. However, it has been shown that when investigating innovation that the theory of diminishing returns does apply within multiple fields and industries. Over the past several decades, interest in alterative liquid biofuels has been recurring due to the price of traditional fossil fuels, research into climate change, and government initiatives. This research uses patent data collected from the United States Patent and Trademark Office to calculate the productivity of innovation within the liquid biofuel sector overtime to see if diminishing returns are occurring. The results show that productivity in innovation in liquid biofuel technologies is not only decreasing overall, but can be detected in each generation at varying rates. It is imperative to understand where on the innovation curve different generations of liquid biofuels fall in regards to their innovation technology since this can inform investors, policy makers, and society. This research can give insight into the industry in respects to future innovation and the best use of our private and collective capital.

More About the Long-Term Energy Future

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