Energy drives the economy, economics informs policy, and policy affects social outcomes. Since the oil crises of the 1970s, pundits have debated the validity of this sequence, but most economists and politicians still ignore it. Thus, they delude the public about the underlying influence of energy costs and constraints on economic policies that address such pressing contemporary issues as income inequality, growth, debt, and climate change. To understand why, Carey King explores the scientific and rhetorical basis of the competing narratives both between and within energy technology and economics.
Energy and economic discourse seems to mirror Newton's 3rd Law of Motion: For every narrative, there is an equal and opposite counter-narrative. The competing energy narratives pit fossil fuels against renewable technologies such as wind and solar. Both claim to provide secure, reliable, clean, and affordable energy to support economic growth with the most benefit to society, but how? To answer this question, we need to understand the competing economic narratives, techno-optimism and techno-realism. Techno-optimism claims that innovation overcomes any physical resource constraints and enables the social outcomes and economic growth we desire. Techno-realism, in contrast, states that no matter what energy technologies we use, feedbacks from physical growth on a finite planet constrain economic growth and create an uneven distribution of social impacts. In The Economic Superorganism, you will discover stories, data, science, and philosophy to guide you through the arguments from competing narratives on energy, growth, and policy. You will be able to distinguish the technically possible from the socially viable, and understand how our future depends on this distinction.
Carey King works at the University of Texas at Austin as a Research Scientist and Assistant Director of the Energy Institute and lecturer in the McCombs School of Business. Formally educated as a mechanical engineer studying dynamics and nonlinear systems, he performs research with scholars across disciplines from physics, geology, economics, and ecology to understand how energy systems interact within the economy and environment as well as how our policy and social systems make decisions and trade-offs among competing factors.
"In exploring the debate between technological optimism and technological realism, concerning the importance of market forces vs. limits, The Economic Superorganism is a book that will endure in relevance."
– Joseph Tainter, Professor of Environment and Society, Author of The Collapse of Complex Societies
"This book is panoramic in its vision of recasting economic discourse [...] the book is readable by the scholar and the informed citizen, willing to question the orthodoxy of natural resources management within contemporary economic doctrines."
– Saleem H. Ali, Blue & Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment, University of Delaware
"This book deserves to be widely read by energy and climate scientists, policy makers, reporters, and economists."
– Richard Heinberg, Author and Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute
"This is a must read for those thinking seriously about our future, but be forewarned, you will likely have to rethink your own views."
– John Day, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, School of the Coast & Environment, Louisiana State University
"Carey King indicates the weak points in the narratives of mainstream economics, which hardly cares about fundamental natural laws. The book is well written, and the reader feels the intellectual fire that moves its author. I highly recommend it."
– Dr. Reiner Kümmel, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Würzburg
"The Economic Superorganism offers a fresh perspective on the sometimes heated, sometimes myopic policy debate over the feasibility of a green energy transition."
– David Spence, Baker Botts Chair in Law, the University of Texas at Austin School of Law
"Growth-addicted politicians and bureaucrats are running planet Earth on premises and principles drawn from the ecological vacuity of neoliberal economics. As Carey King deftly reveals, this is analogous flying a 787 Dreamliner using the intellectual equivalent of a 1955 Volkswagen Beetle driver's manual."
– William Rees, professor emeritus and former director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at University of British Columbia; creator and co-developer of ecological footprint analysis
"The Economic Superorganism provides a refreshing perspective, a wealth of good basic information, and insights into the disagreements and narratives surrounding energy and its role in society."
– Charles A. S. Hall, Professor Emeritus, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
"Carey King has produced a very valuable overview of energy issues, together with their economic, social, general business and financial implications."
– Professor Michael Jefferson, ESCP Europe Business School, Former Chief Economist, The Royal Dutch/Shell Group
"The Economic Superorganism is a deep meditation on the facts and fictions around energy, food, economic and climate systems past and future. King has a deductive approach that assumes nothing but intelligence."
– Raj Patel, Research Professor, University of Texas at Austin
"The Economic Superorganism convincingly explains how and why economics must be forced to confront the essential role of energy, fossil or renewable, in industrial civilisation and the dilemmas that poses for our growth-obsessed social system."
– Professor Steve Keen, Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute for Strategy, Resilience and Security, University College London