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8th April 2006 | Draft

Reframing Sustainable Sources of Energy for the Future

the vital role of psychosocial variants

-- / --

Prepared on the occasion of the Energy Technology Foresight Network (EFONET) Group meeting (Brussels, March 2006) held at the time of the International Conference on Energy Security (Moscow) immediately prior to the G8 Energy Ministerial Meeting (Moscow), and followed by the Spring Summit of the European Council (Brussels, 23-24 March 2006) focusing on energy security issues.

Definitional preamble
Tabular presentation of forms of "energy"
Future dependence on psychosocial energy?
Dematerialization and delinking
"Energy" and "quality of life"
Potential of unexplored forms of "energy"
Psychosocial environments: "low energy" vs "high energy"
"Energy" politics from a psychosocial and developmental perspectives (Table 2: Axioms of Energy Systems Behaviour)
Constraints inhibiting detection of psychosocial forms of energy
Metaphoric clues to detection of unrecognized forms of energy
Institutional mandates in relation to various forms of "energy" (Table 4: Towards a schema for a comprehensive "energy audit" of Europe)
Comprehensive energy accounting


This exploration is an approach to detecting dimensions of understandings of "energy" that may be highly relevant to reflection on the sustainability of a European society of the future -- especially if access to conventional sources of energy becomes highly problematic.

The currently advocated term of "energy footprint" is a measure of the "energy consumption in producing energy, water, food, material and urban" [more]. At issue is whether the current framing of "energy", and the strategies in relation to it, may be inhibiting reflection on forms of energy which are vital to the life of a society -- now and in the future, and notably under turbulent conditions.

The radical nature of the approach taken here is consistent with the call by the European Commission, in a Green Paper on the "new energy realities facing Europe" for radical changes in energy policy if the 25-nation bloc is to meet the challenges of climate change, security of supply and rising prices (A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy, COM-2006, 8 March 2006) [more] [more]. This contrasts with the conventional focus of International Energy Agency (Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, February 2006), and the International Conference on Energy Security (Moscow) immediately prior to the G8 Energy Ministerial Meeting (March 2006, Moscow), and followed by the Spring Summit of the European Council (Brussels, 23-24 March 2006) focusing on energy security issues [more]. All the events had a particular emphasis on energy security that fails to take account of catastrophic failure in energy distribution and the forms of energy on which populations would then be forced to rely. The EU Summit based on the Green Paper focused on common energy policy amid national sovereignty concerns [more]

The focus here in what follows is however on psychosocial forms of energy that may substitute for more conventional forms, or reduce the demand for such conventional forms. The emphasis however is on the recognition of these alternatives as form of energy in their own right rather than as arising from changes in consumption patterns. In this sense energy is understood to be variously locked into and released by behaviour patterns.

Definitional preamble

"Energy" is typically derived from non-renewable material resources such as oil, gas and coal. Energy has traditionally been derived from renewable resources such as wood, water and wind, and their potentials continue to be developed. Considerable attention has been devoted to nuclear energy, whether through fission or fusion technology. The exploration of "alternative" forms of energy has highlighted the potential of sources such as biomass, wave power, solar power, and the like. But all these call for a particular focus on inherently measurable resources and the possibility of extracting energy using developments of particular forms of technology, guided by particular disciplines.

On the occasion of any reflection on the future, through a call for foresight, there is a case for asking whether this framing of "energy" and the associated technologies, does not preclude recognition of other forms of energy potentially vital to the sustainability of society.

Somewhat ironically, major social unrest on the part of students and labour unions in France occurred in parallel with the summit discussions on a sustainable EU energy policy in Brussels (March 2006). Both students and trade unionists were articulate about the need to sustain the "energy" of their protest movement. It might be said that the annual investment in defence and security, notably by EU countries, is a measure of the social "energy" that it is considered necessary to contain.

For the purposes of the following discussion, three types of energy are distinguished. Their nature and relationship is clarified in Table 1 below. The table suggests a distinction between "tangible" and "intangible" forms of energy. "Energy" is however always "intangible", although in some cases it is considered more "measurable" than in others because its relation to the effects on material objects is more measurable. Conventional understandings of energy are generalized across the categories of the table in recognition of the manner in which "energy" is:

More generally, and especially relevant to the emerging knowledge society, it is widely argued that "energy is information" and "information is energy", notably in relation to change and the potential to change -- and especially in learning organizations. Kakali Mukhopadhyay (An Input-Output Study of the Relationship between Information Setor, Energy Use and CO2 Emission in the Indian Economy during 1973-4 to 1996-7) prefaces his study with the comment:

By information technology, we refer to all techniques and know how developed in order to identify, register, process and communicate information. The substitution of information for energy, when used in economic sense, consists of putting more information into an economic activity in order to reduce the quantity of energy required

Peter Drucker (The Age of Discontinuity, 1978) compared the development of the electricity industry with that of the information industry, making the analogy that 'information is energy for mind work' (as noted by Brian R. Gaines and Mildred L. G. Shaw, A Learning Model for Forecasting the Future of Information Technology). As stated by J Gee et. al. (The New Work Order: Behind the Language of the New Capitalism, 1996):

"Knowledge is energy that resides in individuals, groups, practices, technologies, organizations, and nations".

This understanding is absolutely distinct from that implied by the EU 'Intelligent Energy - Europe' Programme as implemented since 2005 by the EU Intelligent Energy Executive Agency (IEEA) and through EFTA (Intelligent Energy for Europe: 2003-2006). (This is designed to contribute to achievement of the European Union's energy policy targets within the fields of "renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, clean transport and alternative fuels" [more].

Tabular presentation of forms of "energy"

Table 1: Forms of "energy"


Large-scale, Depersonalized ("Systemic", "Macro" )

Local, Small-scale
("Community", "Meso" )

Individual, Personalized
("Asystemic", "Micro" )

III: Intangible (embodied, symbolized but untokenized) "Social energy": collective engagement (and identification); democratic participation; "people power" "Group energy": participation in voluntary organization; team energy; cultural life; community projects, collective "animation"; group motivation and enthusiasm "Psychic energy": self-motivation; creativity; personal engagement and identification (ideological, team, cultural); charisma, love, spiritual devotion
II: Intangible (tokenized trust) Monetary systems; voting systems; information systems Local Exchange Trading System (LETS); cooperatives and mutual societies; fidelity systems (air-miles, etc); certified / qualified workforce Markers, "brownie points", giri, credits (academic, etc), medals, awards, prizes
I: Tangible (measurable) "Non-renewable" : oil, coal, gas, nuclear, (wood) "Renewable": Biofuel, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, wave; manpower (community, labour camps, slave labour); animal power Individual physical effort; nourishment (food; "energy drinks")


Table 1 is coloured into zones. The blue cell at the bottom left is the zone of most probable discourse about energy policy. The green cells around it are those of increasingly probable discourse -- when thinking "out-of the box" about energy. The brown cells beyond correspond to zones of improbable conventional discourse about energy -- however relevant those dimensions may prove to be in practice. The yellow cell is the zone of "inconceivable" policy discourse in relation to energy. The political challenge is that each of the cells corresponds to the priorities of a particular constituency. Those centered therein tend to consider the priorities of neighbouring cells to be progressively more irrelevant to their own "energy" concerns -- and will adjust their commitments accordingly.

Group I: Tangible (measurable) energy. These varieties of energy are those most clearly recognized in understandings of what ensures the viability of an economy and of what undergirds the monetary system.

Group II: Intangible (tokenized trust) energy. Especially significant in this case is any disparity in the relationship between any tokens and the value or "energy" they represent. The face value of tokens in any system may become "inflated" such that the tokens effectively lose value. Tokens may however be recognized as corresponding only very inadequately to the "energy" they represent -- which may then be considered as "undervalued".

Group III: Intangible (embodied, symbolized but untokenized) energy. In this case energy is in some way embodied in the bonds and dynamics between people. This may be inferred by observers but is an experiential reality for those involved. By analogy with molecular bonds, how much such "energy" is stored in the social bonds between people -- or in the memetic bonds of the "intelligent associations" characterizing any culture? Its existence may be symbolized by works of art or cultural processes, but it cannot be associated with exchangeable tokens.

Future dependence on psychosocial energy?

The Green Paper for the EU Summit (A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy, COM-2006, 8 March 2006) makes the point that:

Today, roughly half of the EU's gas consumption comes from only three countries (Russia, Norway, Algeria). On current trends, gas imports would increase to 80 % over the next 25 years.

Aside from conventional economic and security concerns, it is curious that such dependence on the importation of energy is not explored in terms of its symbolic and metaphorical implications with respect to the psychosocial forms of "energy" on which the identity and dynamism of society is otherwise dependent.

One point of departure is to focus on the transformation of conventional forms of energy (Group Ia and b) into the forms through which a psychosocial system is sustained. It is clear that in the form of electricity and/or motor power, the operation of a a wide variety of devices can be sustained. Little attention is given to the assumption regarding the dependency on the sustained operation of these devices for the sustainability of the society in which they are employed. The question is the nature of the interface between the motor (or equivalent) power provided by such devices and the "motor" power of the society. What exactly sustains the integrity of a community?

In discussing social energy, John Ikerd (Toward an Economy of Sustainable Energy, 2005) notes, on the occasion of the Second U.S. Conference on 'Peak Oil' and Community Solutions (Sponsored by The Community Solution, Yellow Springs, 2005):

Social capital or social energy is embodied or stored in the ability of people to benefit from relationships with each other, within families, communities, and societies. Kinships within families, friendships within communities, and civility within societies contribute directly to our happiness and quality of life but also contribute to our ability to work together, to be productive and useful to each other.

Industrial organizations are very efficient in producing personal services because they focus on using existing social relationships to facilitate production, but do nothing to regenerate or restore the social capital that is inevitably lost. When families become business organizations, friendships become business relationships, and citizens become nothing more than consumers the social cohesiveness that makes societies productive as well as personally rewarding is lost. Establishing, maintaining, and renewing positive social relationships are non-productive uses of social energy; it is more efficient to find new people, communities, and societies to exploit. Exploited societies, left without a sense of fairness, equity, or justice, are inherently unstable and destructive. They fall into patterns of reoccurring internal conflicts, which result in the senseless destruction of both natural and human resources, as may be witnessed in many parts of the world today. An industrial society inevitably tends toward social entropy. It is not sustainable.

In the language of economics, the "motor" power of society may indeed be described in ways that reinforce assumptions regarding the dependency on Group I energy sources -- notably through widespread use of the term "economic motor", and despite confusion on the nature of the "energy" required for its continuing operation. However discussions regarding the "quality of life" may readily confuse the availability of "energy" as conventionally understood with what exactly it is that is experienced by the individual, or group, as a desirable "quality of life". There is of course every reason, in support of certain agendas, to strongly correlate the availability of such "energy" with "quality of life" -- possibly even to the point of equating them.

The danger of this argument is that, in a future that may be much challenged by the availability of conventional sources of energy, or by the environmental consequences of the uses of conventional technology to obtain and distribute them, the potential of other sources of "energy" may be ignored. This would be highly regrettable if such sources were to some degree independent of conventional sources (Group Ia), or current "alternatives" (Group Ib) that are envisaged -- or of their vulnerable delivery systems.

In a period when there is increasing interest in collective intelligence in response to complex social situations, an interesting argument is made for the relationship between "social intelligence" and "social energy" by Karl Albrechtt (Social Intelligence Theory, 2004):

Social Intelligence (SI) is the ability to get along well with others, and to get them to cooperate with you. Sometimes referred to simplistically as "people skills," SI includes an awareness of situations and the social dynamics that govern them, and a knowledge of interaction styles and strategies that can help a person achieve his or her objectives in dealing with others. It also involves a certain amount of self-insight and a consciousness of one's own perceptions and reaction patterns.... Social energy is the impulse to engage other people, to interact with them, to influence them and be influenced by them

Dematerialization and delinking

In the case of an economic perspective on the future, the focus is typically on how the economic system is to be sustained, notably through development. This is undergirded by a focus on the stability of the financial system, primarily in its monetarized form. It is widely accepted that no economist questioning assumptions regarding these monetary foundations can expect to be assured of a future in that discipline or in the institutions employing such expertise. (Peter Koenig, 30 Lies About Money: liberating your life, liberating your money, 2003). In practice, however, these assumptions are questioned in the operation of over 1,000 complementary currency systems -- of which air miles is perhaps the most obvious.

In considering the monetary system (as noted above), it is important to recognize that it is based fundamentally on confidence and trust -- namely trust that monetary tokens can be exchanged for goods and services later in time at an acceptable rate. Not only is "energy" itself, in any form, essentially intangible, but the forms through which it manifests may themselves be intangible -- rather than tangible in the case of Group I energy, or tokenized in the Group II forms. With the increasing importance of the "service industry", economics has had to come to terms with a process of "dematerialization" of the products with which it is concerned. In 1999, half of Business Week's one hundred biggest global corporations in 1999 were in information and financial services.

Thus for Robert Herman, et al. (Dematerialization, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 37(4): 1990, pp. 333-348):

The word dematerialization is often broadly used to characterize the decline over time in weight of the materials used in industrial end products. One may also speak of dematerialization in terms of the decline in 'embedded energy' in industrial products. Colombo (1988) has speculated that dematerialization is the logical outcome of an advanced economy in which material needs are substantially satiated.1 Williams et al. (1987) have explored relationships between materials use and affluence in the United States. Perhaps we should first ask the question: Is dematerialization taking place? The answer depends, above all, on how dematerialization is defined. The question is particularly of interest from an environmental point of view, because the use of less material could translate into smaller quantities of waste generated at both the production and the consumption phases of the economic process. [see also Iddo K. Wernick, et al. Materialization and Dematerialization: Measures and Trends, Daedalus 125(3), Summer 1996, pp. 171-198)

.The question is whether, in the case of "energy", there are parallels to such "dematerialization", and the unquestioned monetarization of "confidence", in the economic system.

This dematerialization is evident in what might e considered the fundamental energy syllogism of modern economies:

Time is money
Money is energy
Time is energy

The first two lines of the syllogism are well recognized. The last follows logically but is less widely recognized. It has however been related to challenges of energy efficiency (cf Daniel Porras, Time is Energy, Neighborhood Newswire, 15 April 2005), energy aspects of "daylight saving", and concerns with efficient "time management" and punctuality. The cost of deregulated energy is notably time-sensitive. The notion of time as energy also corresponds to an early Indian understanding [more more], to that of the Zohar of Judaism, and to some contemporary scientific arguments [more more].

Sigrid Stagl (Delinking Economic Growth from Environmental Degradation? Vienna University of Economics / B.A. Research Group: Growth and Employment in Europe: Sustainability and Competitiveness, Working Papers, 1999) reviews the controversial literature on the effect of economic growth on environmental quality, notably claims that there exist in some income ranges a positive relation between per capita income and some measure of environmental quality. This suggests the need for analogous research on whether increasing uses of conventional forms of energy (Group Ia) can be effectively delinked from "quality of life".

Given that tangible monetarization obscures, to some degree dysfunctionally, intangible relationships of confidence and trust, is it possible that the "kilo-calorification" of energy obscures others forms of intangible relationship that may well be vital to the psychosocial sustainability of society?

"Energy" and "quality of life"

It is absolutely clear that modern lifestyles are highly dependent, and increasingly so, on energy consumption of the types such as the following:

It is absolutely unclear that the energy resources to sustain the proliferating world population will be available in the near-term future -- according to what are perceived as desirable standards and expectations.

A readily ignored issue is the relationship between "lifestyle" and "quality of life". Measures of "lifestyle", including energy requirements per capita or per household, are readily assumed to be adequate descriptors of "quality of life". As in the case of monetarization, tangibles are assumed to be an adequate measure of intangibles. This is summarized in such statements as "money cannot buy happiness but":

Whether "happiness" is the only dimension of "quality of life" or not, recent research research from Mexico, Ghana, Sweden, the USA and the UK shows that despite vastly different levels of wealth, the citizens of these countries report similar levels of satisfaction. Furthermore most "advanced nations" have seen almost no change to individuals' happiness levels over the last 50 years, despite a huge increase in income [more] (cf Gregg Easterbrook, The Progress Paradox: how life gets better while people feel worse, 2003). Such considerations have resulted in the Government of Bhutan promoting a Gross National Happiness indicator (Sonam Kinga, et al. Gross National Happiness: a set of discussion papers, Centre for Bhutan Studies, 1999).

The increases of income resulting from recent economic development were naturally accompanied by huge increases in the use of energy as conventionally understood. More problematic, to the extent that conventionally understood energy-based lifestyles are endangered by energy shortages, is the exacerbation of any latent dissatisfaction, resulting in social unrest and the consequent destabilization on which their sustainability is dependent.

Potential of unexplored forms of "energy"

The purpose here is simply to point to areas of investigation that may be associated with the detection of other forms of energy more directly associated with "quality of life". The question to be determined is how conventionally understood, energy-dependent lifestyles, interface with the forms of energy sustaining "quality of life" lifestyles.

Curiously it is readily assumed that many of the conventional sources of energy have been easily detectable. This assumption fails to recognize the amount of expertise and effort that has gone into geological surveys and prospection, and the skills required to develop that expertise and the technology that supports its use. Some of the most obvious sources of energy, such as solar and wave power, have required a high order of (only recent) research and development. Given the "groupthink" determining the lack of recognition of other forms of "energy", does this suggest that these may only become apparent when unconventional forms of expertise are significantly deployed to detect them?

Just as much research is now devoted to reducing the "environmental footprint" -- increasingly translated (or mis-translated) as "energy footprint" -- there is a case for seeing unforeseen forms of "energy" as a way of reducing the lifestyle dependence on conventional forms of energy. Such forms of energy are to be understood as substituting for conventional forms of energy.

As an example, a case has been made by Ruth Rikowski (Creating Value from Knowledge in the Knowledge Revolution, Information for Social Change, November 2004) regarding the important relationship between value, in its non-economic sense, and social energy:

However, value also needs to be defined on its own, in abstract from both use and exchange, I would suggest. Michael Neary and Glenn Rikowski explore value at a deeper level and describe value as being 'social energy' . They say that:

Value can be viewed as being social energy that undergoes transformations. Value is a multi- dimensional field of social energy - a social substance with a directional dynamic (expansion) but not social identity. (Michael Neary and Glenn Rikowski, Time and speed in the social universe of capital, in G. Crow and S. Heath (Eds.) Social conceptions of time: structure and process in work and everyday life, 2002)

Furthermore, Glenn Rikowski says that:

Value, within the social universe of capital, constitutes a social force field analogous to gravity as a force within the known physical universe. Value is a social energy whose effects as a social force are mediated by the movements of capital (in its various forms) and the social relations between labour and capital. (G. Rikowski, 2002, p.183)

Psychosocial environments: "low energy" vs "high energy"

Such an exploration calls for reflection on what constitutes a "low energy", "demotivating" psychosocial environment, in contrast with a "high energy", "motivating" environment. However intangible this phenomenon may seem in "energy" terms, it is notably a highly determining factor in the options and preferences of younger generations in the allocation of their resources -- and their engagement in national and regional political processes.

The argument here is that in a "low energy" environment, people are obliged to derive their "psychic nourishment" by a compensatory increased use of conventional forms of energy (Group I a). The process is detectable in relation to the following:

The two previous conditions are to be contrasted with the sense of well-being and "motivation" associated with:

Set out in this manner, three points become clear:

Of particular interest is the recognition, in a "high energy" environment, of the effects of what is metaphorically described as "energy vampirism". This is the phenomenon whereby a particular procedure or process, triggered or catalyzed by individuals or groups, dramatically reduces the energy level of those exposed to it -- whether groups, communities, or individuals. Those responsible may be labelled as "negative" -- in contrast with processes in which the energy level is enhanced, that are described as "positive".

Also of interest are situations in which conventional "low energy" impacts of one form may effectively (even surreptitiously) require "high-energy" compensation of whatever form.

"Energy" politics from a psychosocial and developmental perspective

A healthy political corrective with regard to to "social energy" emerged from an Asia-Pacific Action Plan to put into practice International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) global "Social Energy Programme", launched in 1998 by the world's energy unions. The main points of the Action Plan include:

With respect to Group III (a)and (b) "energy", the Communication for Social Change Consortium, focuses on bringing people together through dialogue and elevating all voices, seen as critical principles of communication for social change. In a case study in Bangladesh rural areas, the "social energy" dimension emerged as significant (Using Communication for Social Change To Build Social Capital for Bangladeshis Who Are Ultrapoor, CFSC, 2004). The programme showed how communication could be used for much more than information dissemination and, when effectively implemented, could drive significant social change.

Despite their socio-economic and psychosocial implications, current framings of "energy" avoid exploring the relationships between:

In "energy" terms, the engagement of suicide bombers and the long-term stand-off situations they have created, need to be recognized as being as "measurably" significant as the tangible forces deployed to contain them. Their challenge to the effective use of conventional energy to reconstruct devastated environments has also been demonstrated.

Given the current link between energy policies and climate change, it is appropriate to note a concern of the Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific (Critical Environment and Sustainable Development Issues of the Region and Measures for Promoting Sustainable Development, including Partnership with Private Sector and Civil Society Groups, UN/ESCAP, 2000):

Innovative environmental policies now stress the complementary roles of communities, markets and governments in creating incentives for improving environmental management. Policy makers are acknowledging that popular sentiment has moved beyond the desire for higher material welfare to include aspirations for accountable government, democratic practices and the translation of economic gains into more liveable urban habitats and socially just societies.... It is fair to say that environmental issues and conflict among special interest groups, classes and communities will drive much of the urban politics of the future. The challenge for governments in the region is to transform this social energy into a positive source of collaboration for enhancing environmental management. (emphasis added)

This challenge is reinforced for developing regions (and perhaps communities within industrialized cultures) by the analysis of Wolfgang Sachs (Development: the rise and decline of an ideal, Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, 2000):

At any rate, development has often failed to grasp the rich complexity of non-economized societies. It could not appreciate that such settings can be regarded as symbolic sites... where communities live out narratives that link them to their divinities or where social energy is first of all invested in the upkeep of a network of friends, relatives or clan members. Indeed, it appears that for non-Western actors the rational is nothing but the relational. In such circumstances, any "modernization" will run quickly into communutarian constraints, as relations to divinities or to fellow citizens are likely to collide with the requirements of functional performance. To put it in more general terms, development has aimed at achieving that decisive shift which distinguishes modern civilization from all others: primacy is not given any longer to the relations between persons and persons, but to the relations between persons and things...

Table 2: Axioms of Energy Systems Behaviour
adapted here to energy security issues from the general systems laws formulated by
John Gall (Systemantics; how systems work... and especially how they fail, 1978;
now re-edited as The Systems Bible, 2002)
with commentary in Why Systems Fail and Problems Sprout Anew (1980) [more | more]

  1. Energy systems in general work poorly or not at all
  2. New energy systems generate new problems
  3. Systems operate by redistributing energy into different forms and into accumulations of different sizes
  4. Energy systems tend to grow, and as they grow, they encroach
  5. Complex energy systems exhibit unpredictable behaviour
  6. Complex energy systems tend to oppose their own proper function
  7. People in energy systems do not do what the system says they are doing
  8. A function performed by a larger energy system is not operationally identical to the function of the same name performed by a smaller system.
  9. The real world is whatever is reported to the energy system
  10. Energy systems attract energy systems people
  11. The bigger the energy system, the narrower and more specialized the interface with individuals
  12. A complex energy system cannot be "made" to work; it either works or it doesn't
  13. A simple energy system may or may not work
  14. If an energy system is working, leave it alone
  15. A complex energy system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works
  16. A complex energy system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work; you have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.
  17. In complex energy systems, malfunction and even total nonfunction may not be detectable for long periods, if ever.
  18. Large complex energy systems are beyond human capacity to evaluate
  19. An energy system that performs a certain way will continue to operate in that way regardless of the need or of changed conditions.
  20. Energy systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being.
  21. Intra-system energy goals come first
  22. Complex energy systems usually operate in failure mode
  23. A complex energy system can fail in an infinite number of ways
  24. The mode of failure of a complex energy system cannot ordinarily be predicted.
  25. The crucial variables are discovered by accident
  26. The larger the energy system, the greater the possibility of unexpected failure
  27. "Success" or "function" in any energy system may be failure in the larger or smaller systems to which it is connected
  28. When a fail-safe energy system fails, it fails by failing to fail safe.
  29. Complex energy systems tend to produce complex responses (not solutions) to problems.
  30. Great advances are not produced by energy systems designed to produce great advances.

Constraints inhibiting detection of psychosocial forms of energy

The question is how to evoke "out-of-the-box" thinking in relation to the forms and sources of "energy" that may be vital to psychosocial processes. It may be the "in-the-box" thinking that is itself inhibiting vital possibilities.

There are disciplinary/sectoral and institutional consequences of the overly-restrictive framing of any issue. In the former case conceptual boundaries are effectively established that fit the comfort zones of certain disciplines normally preoccupied with conventional forms of energy. Anything outside such boundaries is framed as "irrelevant" or of marginal significance. This pattern is similarly observable in the case of the institutions whose mandates are reinforced by the experts from those disciplines.

There is a certain irony to reliance on the sight-vision metaphor in exploring the future in terms of "foresight" -- indicating a dependence on that which can be seen or envisaged (cf Metaphor and the Language of Futures, 1993). This is of course reflected in the institutional segmentation of such future vision into "di-visions".

Table 3: Brainstorming extremes of future "energy" resource scenarios
  • "Living on air": this extreme dietary approach ("breatharianism" or "living on light") has resulted in claims that some people have successfully "lived on air" for long periods. A breatharian is a person who is "nourished by light and has no need for food or drink". [more] Meditation is believed in some cultures to severely reduce dependency on conventional sources of energy [more more]

  • Audiosynthesis: a suggestion that human beings could get all their nourishment from sound in a fashion analogous to plants getting their nourishment from light. This is a theme explored in a work of science fiction by Suzette Haden Elgin (Earthsong: Native Tongue III, 2002) suggested to her by a concrete example documented by Alfred Tomatis involving extensive use of Gregorian chant and its reduction (following a Vatican directive), as well as by descriptions of religious leaders who have consumed almost nothing [more | more]. Elgin also points to the "epidemic of obesity" in western society whose nourishment balance has been shifted by the presence of high quantities of food and constant exposure to music.

  • Energizing military pilots with drugs: the US military makes stimulants available to pilots to sustain combat readiness [more more]

  • Dancing as a partial substitute for recreational transportation: the need for bodily movement, notably expressed through dancing prior to modern transportation, may prove to be an example of an alternative activity to recreational use of automobiles and therefore a means of reducing the drain on non-renewable energy resources

Metaphoric clues to detection of unrecognized forms of energy

Fundamental to all the forms of "energy" mentioned above is the existence of a difference of potential between two states. The challenge for future energy resources may well be to derive "energy" from psychosocial contrasts in the light of disciplines and expertise acquired in deriving conventional forms of energy from more tangible and measurable contrasts. The challenge is exemplified by the need to manage "positive" and "negative" energy in psychosocial processes with skills analogous to those developed with respect to positive and negative electrical current (Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge -- positive vs negative, 2005).

As a stimulus to the creative process of recognizing marginalized forms of energy, there is a case for considering conventional forms of energy as metaphoric templates through which other less tangible forms may be detected -- whether social, group or personal. It has been predicted that in the near future developing eastern cultures will draw upon metaphors inherent in their mode of thought as a means of moving beyond the metaphors conditioning theories of physics -- and energy -- in western scientific models (cf Susantha Goonatilake, Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999). These may offer subtler and more powerful understandings of "energy" and its management. It would indeed be ironic if western science were to scorn insights -- accepted in increasingly industrialized cultures of the east -- and to be met with an indifferent response by those capable of deriving competitive advantage from their use. What indeed would be the consequence of eastern integration of ch'i into a more comprehensive energy balance? (cf Ralph Siu. Mass-Energy, Qi, and QiMass)

Energy metaphors are widely used in organizational life. In considering such a metaphoric exploration for new forms of "energy" and their possibilities, it is appropriate to note the increasing recognition of the role of metaphor in framing European political options:

Metaphor may prove useful in distinguishing the contrasts between the components of the classic sequence -- data, information, knowledge, wisdom -- as they relate to energy:

One possibility meriting exploration is the application of metaphors and models normally applied to distinguishing the various "energies" of personality types -- notably in team-building and organizational development -- to the "energy" types of Table 1 above. This could be especially fruitful if such frameworks point to the transformational relationships between the types of energy -- with implications as to their functionality or dysfunctionality in the pattern as a whole. Such an approach would have the considerable advantage of interrelating the types of "energy" a time when they are often treated as quite unrelated. A good candidate for such an exploration is the enneagram [more]. The diagram might for example be used to provide a systemic interrelationship between the various types of energy -- as very tentatively shown below.

Possible mapping of Table 1 energy types
onto an enneagram pattern
. Group III
(a, b, c)
. Mpping of energy types .
Group II
(a, b, c)
Group I
(a, b, c)

As noted by one commentator, "the application of the enneagram to group dynamics, seems to be a fertile if uncharted area for discussion" [more]. Although almost all recent applications of the enneagram have focused on individual energy typology -- often controversially -- some efforts have however been made to use it in relation to countries, companies, and the family. A specific effort was made by Saul Kuchinsky (Systematics: search for miraculous management, 1985). to articulate its value for management. John G Bennett (The Dramatic Universe, 1956-66) applied it to systems theory, organizational design and group dynamics -- a theme subsequently explored by Anthony Blake (The Intelligent Enneagram, 1997) and related to sustainable development.

With regard to the theme of this paper, it is appropriate to note that Bennett was research director of the UK Coal Utilisation Council (the largest industrial research association in the UK), chairman of the UK Solid Fuel Industry, responsible for drafting the National Fuel Policy of the UK Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, and member of the Fuel Efficiency Committee of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. It would be interesting to discover how he had related the conventional energy (Group Ia in Table 1), with which he was professionally concerned, to the range of other types of "energy" which were the major preoccupation of his other work -- and whether the enneagram was used for that purpose.

Bennett wrote, for example, in discussing "societies as energy concentrations":

All that exists is energy undergoing change. Societies, like everything else, produce, consume, store and transmit energy. They are generators for upgrading energy, engines for the instrumental use of energy and accumulators for the storage of energy....The twelve qualities of energy [in Bennett's classification in Vol. II, ch. 32] from heat to transcendental energy were the principal departure from commonly accepted notions of energy....The complex transformations of energies involved in any purposive activity requires generators, engines and accumulators....When energy is concentrated it becomes available for instrumental use. For example, the energy of consciousness is universal and omnipresent, but it cannot bed effectual in existing organisms unless it is concentrated....The flux of energy, whereby anabolic and catabolic transformations are made possible requires an appropriate apparatus. For many purposes, this apparatus must be consciously constructed as a human society. (Dramatic Universe, Vol III: Man and Nature, pp. 274-5)

Dermot Furlong and David Vernon (Reality Paradigms, Perception, and Natural Science: the relevance of autopoiesis, 1992) offer a reframing of the complete spectrum of energy transformations identified by Bennett.

Unlike much type-focused use of the enneagram, Bennett then used it to provide a comprehensive mapping of the relationships between energy processes involving humans in relation to the environment (p. 278), having previously provided a general description of the systematics of such processes in terms of the enneagram (pp. 63-72). He argued that, as a whole, its counterintuitive pattern of energy relationships takes account of uncertainty in the face of hazard, namely purpose and the uncertainty of its fulfilment. "The overcoming of hazard is by a synthesis of dynamism and coalescence. The dynamism enables the process to work and the coalescence is the integration of the complexity of action as an independent event" (J. G. Bennett and A. G. E. Blake, The Discipline of Systematics, 1966). It would seem that, especially given his responsibilities in the conventional energy sector, Bennett's pragmatic approach to energy integration is worthy of further research -- especially to ensure the design of resilient energy policy to ensure sustainability under the energy crises and instabilities that are foreseen.

Institutional mandates in relation to various forms of "energy"

In the light of the above framework, the following schema provides a (very tentative) summary of the correspondence between current (European) institutional mandates and the forms of "energy" with which they are associated. The Group I types of energy are typically the preoccupation of bodies in the European Energy Network (EnR) and their particular understanding of Energy Audit Programmes in Europe.

Table 4 below points to the possibility of generalizing the notion of an "energy audit" or "energy accounting" to include the full spectrum of "energies" associated with the sustainability of societies and communities. This moves towards highlighting Europe as a "dynamic pattern of energies" rather than a static set of "pillars" (cf. Animating the Representation of Europe: visualizing the coherence of international institutions using dynamic animal-like structures, 2004). It builds on past socio-political learning that "development" extended beyond particular sectoral mandates, or subsequently that this was also true of "environment". From such a perspective, regular "social audits", such as those of UNDP (Human Development Report), could usefully accord recognition, beyond conventional "energy audits", to intangible forms of psychosocial "energy" that are vital to the sustainable development of societies.

Table 4: Towards a schema for a comprehensive "energy audit" of Europe (tentative)
(elaborated on the basis of Table 1)


Institutional mandate

Forms of "energy"


Group I a Energy ; IEA Oil, gas, water, tide, wind, geothermal solar power Pressure on non-renewables; environmental impact
a Environment ; UNEP Cycles of nature, "energy of spring", recycling Waste disposal, constraints on appreciation of nature
a Transportation Mobility, animal power, walking .
c Agriculture / Rural Development ; Fisheries ; FAO Nutrition (calories), taste (?) GM foods, obesity
b Employment / Workers; ILO Manpower (human resources) Unemployment
c Health / Consumer Protection ; WHO Health care costs, absenteeism costs Obesity, substance abuse
.     . .
Group II b Research; Science; UNESCO Investment, brainpower, creativity, innovation "Big science" projects, brain-drain
b Technology / Industry Investment, brainpower, creativity, innovation Brain-drain
a,b Economic / Financial Affairs (Banking); Taxation Confidence, trust. investment Monetary and other tokens, LETS; fidelity schemes; loss of confidence

Enterprise / Industry; Competition ; Market

Confidence, investment, productivity .
b Management (Employers); ILO Motivation, investment, productivity Delocalization, achieving "harmonious labour relations"
b,c Employment / Workers; ILO Motivation, satisfaction, creativity, achievement, qualifications Demotivation of workforce
a,c Health / Consumer Protection ; WHO Health care costs, absenteeism costs Obesity, substance abuse
a,c Information / Media; UNESCO Interesting ideas, "new thinking" Publications, "news", patents, "knowledge society"
c Education; UNESCO Academic credits Brain-drain, knowledge-society
a Politics Popular engagement, democratic participation Voter apathy, demotivation
b,c Sport Exercise, team energy, supporter enthusiasm, records Widespread engagement
b Social Affairs / Equal Opportunities Group energy; collective enthusiasm, local initiatives, self-motivation Rural community decay, social welfare, twinning, urban slums, awards
a,b Security Force, crowd energy Demonstrations, criminality, terrorism, Europol
. . . . .
Group III a,b Communication / Public relations Exciting/attractive image, reputation, status "Cool cities"
a Symbolism Collective identity, "soul energy" European flag / anthem, Eurovision song contest, "cartoons", desecration, "soulless Europe"
b Culture; UNESCO Concerts, popular happenings, commemorations, celebrations, "animation" "European cities of culture", non-institutional enthusiasms
b,c Rituals and ceremonies Collective engagement Ceremonies, pilgrimages (Lourdes, etc), outmoded formalism
a,b,c "Religious affairs" (?) Faith Disaffection, blasphemy (cartoons), spiritual health

Comprehensive energy accounting

Energy accounting: Various understandings of "full cost" energy accounting have been promoted over the years:

Uncommodified forms of "energy": Narrowly restricting the definition of "energy" to conventional sources, whatever lipservice is paid to "alternative" sources, may be judged by the future as a dangerous exercise in "conceptual gerrymandering" -- definitional game-playing in support of vested interests with what is effectively an asystemic disciplinary perspective. Djehane A. Hosni (Manpower for Energy Production, 1986) noted that the human resources aspect of energy had received little systematic attention. Focusing on commodified energy generation and distribution, even at the most tangible (Group I) level, ignores the energy of animal power and manpower (approximately 10% of horsepower) on which industrial societies were highly dependent prior to the industrial revolution -- and on which many developing countries continue to be almost totally dependent in the form of labour -- remains a major source of "energy" even in industrial societies (whether in paid employment or not). Given the proportion of the world population without access to commodified energy systems, and therefore dependent on their own energy resources, a responsible energy balance should surely take account of the forms of "energy" to which portions of industrial societies might be reduced -- if only to work their gardens (as has been the case in war time).

It is unfortunate that estimates seem only to be available for isolated cases. Some illustrative examples of neglected, but measureable, forms of Group I energy include:

Energy efficiency: The current discussion of "energy efficiency" focuses almost exclusively on Group I(a and b) energies, typically as distributed by utility services. There is of course a focus on the efficient use of Group IIa energy -- notably as project/investment funds or information. But the focus has not yet extended to ways that collectivities can use their other Group II and Group III energies more efficiently.

One unusual approach to efficiency is widely practiced in thousands of Indian villages through the Swadhyaya movement. According to R K Srivastava (Swadhyaya: A Movement Experience, 2003) of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (Delhi), this makes particular use of individual and community "efficiency" through a process of dedicating it to God in order to sustain community and its development. Emphasis is placed on using "personal efficiency" and time as a devotional offering, generating, what is called, apaurusheya laxmi ("impersonal wealth") that is redistributed in response to communal needs. These insights are used to generate and sustain self-esteem and counteract conventional ills (alcoholism, domestic violence, practice of untouchability, gambling, petty crime, ethnic violence, etc) [more].

Towards a common energy currency: Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is recognized as the most common energy "currency" of living cells, functioning as an intermediate which drives "energy requiring" (endergonic) reactions. Fundamentally, life is an energy-handling process -- whether in its biological or social forms [more]. Electricity is also recognized as the "common energy currency" [more] -- although the merger of hydrogen and electricity, with the merger of transportation and distributive power, has been predicted to lead to "hydricity" as a common energy currency [more]. Arguably there is a need for a genuinely common currency that reconciles the different energy types identified in Table 1 -- rather than promoting distinct "non-convertible currencies" as though each represented the unique key to the sustainable future of a planetary society.

Of related interest, in the light of recent research, is recognition that the source of energy in biological motion -- the capacity of muscles to generate pulling force -- may be explicable in terms of quantum tunnelling. Living cells are indeed capable of "burning" biological fuel to generate energy for muscle contraction. It is enzymes which accelrate the rate of chemical reactions -- with billion-fold enhancements of chemical reactions being common. Enzymes are now understood -- through research on on the structure and dynamics of biomolecules at the atomic level -- to function in a domain governed by the rules of quantum mechanics and to take advantage of quantum tunnelling to achieve things that would normally be considered impossible. The dynamics of the enzyme activity promote the quantum tunnelling event in order to accelerate the reaction rate -- the enzyme needs quantum mechanics to perform its function. As originally suggested by Erwin Schrödinger, quantum mechanics may be what makes the energy of life so special (cf L. Masgrau, et al. Atomic Description of an Enzyme Reaction Dominated by Proton Tunneling Science 14 April 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5771, pp. 237 - 241) [more]

'Do you know what astonished me most in the world? The inability of force to create anything. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the spirit.' (Napoleon Bonaparte)


1. Recognition of "energy" by population: Institutions, such as those of Europe or of the United Nations that are focused on conventional forms of energy, are faced with the challenge that the populations (from whom they claim mandates) have a vastly greater resonance with forms of "social energy" to which such institutions only pay token lipservice -- however much they seek to be representative of such collective energy. By excluding such "energy" from any concern with sustainable energy for the future, institutional programmes effectively cut themselves off from understandings of the very social energy which could ensure popular support for such programmes. The tragedy is that there is more popular support for -- and energetic engagement in -- transnational sporting endeavours and popular concerts than in the "energy programmes" deliberately divorced from forms of "energy" more widely recognized in society.

Innovative environmental policies now stress the complementary roles of communities, markets and governments in creating incentives for improving environmental management. Policy makers are acknowledging that popular sentiment has moved beyond the desire for higher material welfare to include aspirations for accountable government, democratic practices and the translation of economic gains into more liveable urban habitats and socially just societies. Citizens are also becoming more active in challenging the ways in which their environment is being planned and managed. Environmental movements have emerged in significant numbers over the past decade, and many have gone beyond demonstrations and protests to form their own organizations to demand longer-term planning around environmental issues. It is fair to say that environmental issues and conflict among special interest groups, classes and communities will drive much of the urban politics of the future. The challenge for governments in the region is to transform this social energy into a positive source of collaboration for enhancing environmental management.

2. Emergency dependence on unconventional "energy": Conventional sources of energy are delivered to the population through technically complex delivery systems -- vulnerable to breakdown and problematic to repair (see Table 2). A key issue, in reflecting on the future, is the possible, if not probable, breakdown of such systems under conditions of crisis. When these trigger (or aggravate) the breakdown of associated socio-political systems, people are forced to fall back on other forms of energy and their delivery. Which forms -- and how is that energy to be delivered?

3. Uncommodified forms of "energy": Narrowly restricting the definition of "energy" to conventional sources, whatever lipservice is paid to "alternative" sources, may be judged by the future as a dangerous exercise in "conceptual gerrymandering" -- definitional game-playing in support of vested interests with what is effectively an asystemic disciplinary perspective. Given the proportion of the world population without access to commodified energy systems, and therefore dependent on their own energy resources, a responsible energy balance should surely take account of the forms of "energy" to which portions of industrial societies might be reduced -- if only to work their gardens (as has been the case in war time).

The current discussion of "energy efficiency" focuses almost exclusively on Group I (a and b) energies, typically as distributed by utility services. There is of course a focus on the efficient use of Group IIa energy -- notably as project/investment funds or information. But the focus has not yet extended to ways that collectivities can use their other Group II and Group III energies more efficiently. Yet, curiously, such efficiency depends in part on the possibility of cutting the "demand" for energy -- but without addressing the social and psychological dynamics that are intrinsic to that "demand" (cf George Monbiot, We must cut demand to have any hope of solving the energy crisis, Guardian, 29 November 2005). It may indeed be possible to cut the demand, but there would appear to be a high probability that this will only be achieved by enabling those dynamics to then be sustained to a far greater degree by social and psychic forms of "energy".

4. Challenge of "intelligence failure" and "unimaginative groupthink": In the field of energy:

5. Sustainability of psychosocial communities: With respect to Europe as a psychosocial community:

6. Energy of knowledge-based society: The strategic goal for 2010 set for Europe at the Lisbon European Council - March 2000 is "to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-basd economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion." European society is now defined as an "Information Society", or as a "Knowledge(-based) Society", to stress the fact that the most valuable asset is investment in intangible, human and social capital and that the key factors are knowledge and creativity [more]. From an "energy" perspective, there is therefore a strong case for exploring the psychosocial and economic implications of the widespread insight that "information is energy" and, less frequently, that "knowledge is energy". Otherwise, is there not a danger that conventional understandings of "intelligent energy", currently being promoted, may effectively preclude or marginalize an intelligent approach to unconventional forms of energy -- a classic case of using terminology to reinforce thinking "in-the-box"?

7. New conceptual "language": In a knowledge-based society, there is a need for a new language, of which general systems theory is indicative, to:

8. Towards a common energy currency: There is a need for a genuinely common energy currency that reconciles the different energy types identified in Table 1 -- rather than promoting distinct "non-convertible currencies" as though each represented the unique key to the sustainable future of a planetary society.

9. Assisting developing countries and communities : In considering the "energy" resources appropriate to revitalizing developing countries, notably on the African continent, there is a case for exploring radical alternatives to dependence on conventional approaches to energy with their problematic record of implementation. This is especially the case when people in many of those cultures have for centuries been "energized" to an unusual degree by music -- a factor ignored in imposing western models of development (cf Knowledge Gardening through Music: patterns of coherence for future African management as an alternative to Project Logic, 2000). If energy of psychosocial relevance is derived from skillful management of the potential in contrasts, there may indeed be valuable clues to this process from the theory of harmony, notably as understood in other cultures (cf Enhancing the Quality of Knowing through Integration of East-West metaphors, 2000; Susantha Goonatilake, Toward a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge, 1999).

10. Battle for "hearts and minds": Events in response to interventions by the Coalition of the Willing in recent years have, despite the measureable immense military energies deployed, focused attention on the vital importance of the subtle, intangible, insubstantial challenge of the "struggle for hearts and minds" (cf Alexander T. J. Lennon (Ed.). The Battle for Hearts and Minds: using soft power to undermine terrorist networks, 2003). There is increasing recognition that that battle is being lost, despite the resources allocated to Psychological Operations by the Coalition [more]:

Analogous concern for a "battle for hearts and minds" now needs to be articulated in relation to energy issues -- and for the "soft power" required to undermine the networks (of "energy vampires"?) that are draining non-renewable energy resources. Given the acknowledged failure of intelligence and imagination (noted above), this calls for recognition of the inadequacy of conventional strategic energy initiatives, despite the resources allocated to them. Despite the lack of any scientfic foundation for them in the eyes of the conventional energy community, there is clearly a need for the kinds of appropriate "soft power" (highlighted earlier), in the light of the learnings from the recent failures of "psychological operations" in the management of social and psychic "energy" with respect to ensuring conventional energy security.

A "long war" of many decades is now foreseen by the US Secretary of Defense as necessary to contain terrorism (cf Ann Scott Tyson, Ability to Wage 'Long War' Is Key To Pentagon Plan: conventional tactics de-emphasized, Washington Post, 4 February 2006; William Pfaff, A 'long war' designed to perpetuate itself, International Herald Tribune, 10 February 2006). A case now needs to be made for an analogous "long war" to contain those draining non-renewable resources. The future is likely to judge such "energy vampires" as more misguided and despicable than terrorists are now perceived to be.


In the consideration of a country's energy resources -- or that of a community -- especially in the event of system collapse, no consideration appears to be given to a number of interesting examples as indicated below. Each interfaces siognificantly with energy uses, even in normal circumstances.

  • Foot-operated pumps: International Development Enterprises India has been awarded a "Green Oscar" for developing foot-operated treadle pumps that use human power to pump water out of the ground.

  • Foot-operated generators: Given the unexpected success of the "clockwork radio", it might be asked whether the activities and equipement of gymnasia and health clubs could not be adapted to feed energy back into the grid (as with local windmills) or be used locally in the event of failure of the public electricity supply. Dynamos could be integrated into gym equipment, in housing and office projects for example. The estimated power produced may be no more than 10 W / person (metabolic increase due to strenuous activity with 25% conversion efficiency). Still, for every person using the gym for an hour, 0.01 kWh of electricity could be obtained -- worth about 0.1 US cent -- enough to light a LED lamp with good optics to light up a room at night for 8 hours.

  • Cycling: Most notably in the Netherlands, this substitutes for energy requirements otherwise necessary for public transportation, including transportation to work. Arguably it may also provide necessary exercise, reducing ill-health and its calls on other system resources.

  • "Huddling together" for warmth: Most notably in countries where it can be cool at night and there is a tendency to use electric blankets and heated devices (for which a number of energy conserving patents have been issued). This is traditionally replaced by couples or families sleeping together -- "huddling together for warmth", especially amongst those with inadequate shelter or fuel-constrained heating (cf Nonna Chernyakova, A Less Than Cozy Christmas, 8 December 2000). This traditional practice (extensively studied as essential to the survival of many animals) is again a substitute for calls on conventional energy supplies. It also suggests a curious argument for promoting relationships for survival (cf 12 Reasons to Stay Married After Peak Oil and Climate Change, 2007; The Utopia Experiment, 2007). In the case of the UK for example, the National Consumer Council reports:
  • Subsistence farming: There are numerous activities associated with agriculture and animal husbandry which have been replaced in industrialized countries by devices requiring electrical or oil-based sources of energy. These activities continue to be performed in many countries by individuals without the benefit of such energy sources.

Are such cases appropriately taken into account? If not, why not, since each is readily subject to quantification? What other such cases are being systematically ignored?


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