As more and more input energy is required per unit of output energy, we also need to do more work with more and more impurities and toxic waste.
In the material world, the process of the energy extraction from fossil fuels requires more and more input energy.
And as extraction proceeds to more difficult sources, it is also associated with more and more impurities mixed in with the energy resources.
As a general pattern, Georgescu-Roegen and others have pointed out that resources are exploited sequentially, in order of concentration, the easy sources first.
After the easy sources of fossil fuels are exhausted, moderately difficult sources are exploited. Each more difficult source requires the input of more energy (input) in order to extract the sought-after energy resource (output).
These impurities are often toxic to our species (and other species).
Examples include the acidic sludge generated from coal mines and the problem of sour gas in oil and gas drilling (sour gas contains hydrogen sulfi de and carbon dioxide).Under the rules of the neoliberal market system, resources are provided to those who have the ability to pay for them.This is the kind of human behavior that an unregulated or weakly regulated market system rewards.It is not that the planet cannot renew fossil fuels in geologic time—that is, over millions of years—but for all practical purposes, given human life span and our limited abilities, renewal is far beyond our technical and scientific capabilities.For almost all of human history, our species used very little energy, almost all of it renewable, usually in the form of wood fires for heating and cooking.We now know that we face an immediate future of global warming, shortages of usable energy, and rising prices.From a material perspective, the planet is a closed system, and the dwindling stocks of nonrenewable but usable energy are critically important. Impact of Extraction There is currently no social convention to limit the use of nonrenewable energy to essential production or essential services.Because the stocks of fossil fuels took millions of years to create, the ability to extract them is inherently short-run when there is no strong social planning to provide for a human future on other than a very short-range basis.We commit the same error with fossil fuels that we commit with fish stocks—as ocean fish dwindle in numbers, and species after species significantly declines, the main response has been to develop more and more efficient methods and machines to kill and extract the remaining fish. As abundance disappears, and the cost of extraction continues to increase, the primary response has been to find more efficient methods of extraction and to open up previously protected areas for extraction.Up until the middle of the last century, and somewhat beyond, the typical discussion of energy would have linked usable energy with progress, as is the case today.The spirit of the presentation would have been celebratory, however, celebrating the daring risks taken and the hard work of miners and oil and gas field workers in dominating nature to extract resources.