Interview of Charles Hall ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, this is Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Charles Hall. He is a systems ecologist with strong interests in biophysical 
economics, and the relation of energy to society. Central to his work is an understanding that the survival of all living creatures is limited by the concept of energy return on investment (EROEI): that any living being or living society can survive only so long as they are capable of getting more net energy from any activity than they expend during the performance of that activity. He is the author or co-author of, among others, Energy and the Wealth of Nations.

So I was wondering if we could start, if you could talk about EROEI, and start on a physical level, on the level of plants and animals, and then move to the social level.

CH: Okay. I’ll start by saying that I’m – first, I’m an ecologist by training, a systems ecologist. I was trained by an incredible guy named Howard Odum and his ideas have shaped my whole life. When I was working with him at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the late 1960’s he was just beginning to transition from thinking strictly about the ecology of, let’s call it nature, although I think man is part of nature, but for the purposes of this interview we’re going to talk about humans and nature.

He was focused mostly on the natural environment but was just beginning a transition with his book Environment, Power and Society, into attempting to apply the concepts to human civilization as well. I at that time strictly wanted to be an ecologist, and I came up with the concept of EROI – and incidentally, you used “EROEI” and that’s perfectly fine, but the way I use it is “energy return on investment” because although we principally look at energy return on energy invested, we sometimes analyze energy return on money invested, or energy return on environment invested, and other such things.

So what I did for my Ph.D. work, in several small streams in North Carolina, mostly the beautiful New Hope Creek, was to look at the patterns of fish migration in the stream and attempt to figure out how much it cost for them to get from point A to B and how much they would gain in their whole life history cycle by either they or their progeny being in areas of higher available energy at the critical times of the year. And at the time I was also thinking about salmon migrations and spent some time working on salmon migration in the Pacific Ocean as well.

So I figured out from my thesis work that the fish that were migrating in New Hope Creek, and there were 20-odd species that appeared to be doing it, were getting back at least four or five calories for every calorie they invested in the migration process itself. So it seemed to be of evolutionary advantage, and I went on, and although I didn’t always do the calculations, you know, you can think about bird seasonal migrations where they invest a whole lot of energy into the process of moving from the Caribbean or South America or Central America in moving up to the temperate or Arctic regions to breed, where there is, for that time of the year, tremendous surplus energy, in part because organisms that might be their competitors can’t overwinter there. It’s too cold.

So this was the original origin – as an ecologist and thinking about the process of animal migration, being totally fascinated by everything from various antelopes in the Serengeti in Africa and other organisms there. But mostly fish. I was very focused on fish.

DJ: Just to clarify: So if you have a salmon who runs up the Columbia and up the Snake for 800 miles or something, what that is suggesting is that their progeny, or the community, the salmon run itself – because obviously that particular salmon who runs up is going to die.

CH: Right.

DJ: But via their progeny, will then gain enough energy by the food sources and other sources at the spawning grounds, and as it comes down the Columbia, to make the trip worthwhile for the salmon run. Is that what you’re saying?

CH: Let me modify that a little bit. Basically yes, but the specifics are a little bit different, because I would – you can tell that the migration is worthwhile, and I got this idea originally by actually going up to Babine Lake in northern British Columbia and looking at the salmon runs there. The sockeye salmon that went to the ocean came back and they were ten pounds or so, pretty big fish. But some of their brothers and sisters had not made the migration to the Pacific Ocean. And those were about 12 inches long, half a pound at most, were much much smaller even though they were the same age. And so it was clear that the salmon that made the migration were selected to be larger, and the larger salmon females had many more eggs, and the survival of these fish and their contribution to the next generation’s gene pool was much larger. So apparently, just by looking in a pool of salmon waiting to spawn, and looking at the great big sockeye salmon in there, all brilliant red and green, and the little kokanee that had not made the same migration, even though they were presumably brothers and sisters of the other salmon, you could see that there was a tremendous advantage from migration in generating more offspring.

Now in this case, the migration is out in the Pacific Ocean. In other words, the migration is downstream –

DJ: Right…

CH: Some 800 miles or something to the Pacific Ocean and then they turn and go up along the coast, following the plankton blooms up to Alaska. So they’re off the Aleutians by August.

DJ: I was looking at it backwards. I was looking at it that the migration is upstream but the truth is that the migration that happens for salmon – I’ve worked on salmon issues for 20 years …

CH: Oh really?

DJ: Yeah. I’ve been working on them – I lived in Spokane, Washington, and I’ve worked on issues of taking dams out on the Columbia –

CH: Oh yeah?

DJ: Yeah. So I’ve been working on that a long time, but the whole time – this is great – the whole time, I’ve been perceiving the migration as upstream and then like living in the ocean and then coming up just to spawn and die. But the truth is that they were living – the migration – I understand what you’re saying. This is a complete shift in my perception of how salmon live.

CH: (laughing)

DJ: That they were actually – I live right next to a salmon stream in Crescent City, California. And the fish actually migrate out to the ocean. They don’t migrate up to spawn. This is great. Thank you.

CH: Well great! I’m glad that I can talk to you as a biologist and we can share some thoughts about that. According to the physiologist William Hoar, whom I was reading when I was back in graduate school, you can tell that the salmon almost certainly evolved originally in fresh water. Essentially they’re a rainbow trout.

DJ: Right.

CH: Because they have a kidney that’s most appropriate for a freshwater fish. And during the periods of glacial advance and retreat, there presumably was a large evolutionary advantage for those organisms that could migrate and go to new streams. But they have very stringent requirements for spawning. I was always interested that when they lost the upper Adams River sockeye, for example, when they lost that particular genetic strain of fish, and then they took the dam out that had caused the loss of the fish, they had tried to take lower Adams River sockeye salmon and reinstall them into the upper Adams River, and they never took, because they never had the right genes. And you can go on Vancouver Island and you can go to Little Qualicum River, and you can go to, I think it’s called Black Creek, just north of it. And they’re completely different environments, and the salmon that live – in this case, silver salmon, that live in these two environments are completely different creatures. In Little Qualicum, they have to do well in cold, oligotrophic waters, and the Black Creek salmon have to do well in warm, very nutrient-rich and plant and animal-rich environments, and yet they both do fine in their particular environments, and they are very specially adapted to their environments. And so when they put in the big hatchery at Qualicum River and a lot of these salmon drifted into small creeks, there was a great deal of concern about diluting the beautifully fine-tuned genetic stocks of the individual creek salmon.

DJ: Right.

CH: (laughing) We could talk about salmon all this time. But let’s get on.

DJ: You mentioned the EROI, and this reminds me of something that I just read not very long ago, and it makes sense, but it still was what I thought very interesting. I was reading some work on plants, and plants can – we can argue about the word “predict,” I like the word “predict” but if you don’t like it then we can just ignore that.

CH: I’m okay with it. I sometimes predict.

DJ: Plants predict is the point. I was reading that plants can tell – plants in the understory grow branches by how the overstory is going to look by the time the branch gets out to where it will be able to be fully functional at receiving energy through photosynthesis.

CH: Sure.

DJ: I thought that was really interesting because we normally, well, a lot of – the point is that plants are working on the EROI as well.

CH: Absolutely. I live out on – I’m living on the Shore/Flathead Lake in Montana and I’m looking out to a pine forest and I can see, on one side of a pine tree, branches that go all the way down to the bottom, and on the other side, where it’s growing next to another pine tree, the branches are not there in the lower part of the pine tree. And if you go there you can find the dead branches or the little holes where the branches once were, but the tree – now I don’t know whether the tree makes a decision or whether the branch just deals with that but it’s expensive to have a branch, and a tree will maintain that branch only if it has a positive energy return on investment, the investment being investing in the leaves and the needles of branches and all the incredible chemistry and biochemistry and stuff that the branch does.

But if the branch is not carrying its weight, and a branch, like an animal, at night and during the daytime too uses energy. It takes energy to maintain its structure, to maintain itself. This is called “maintenance metabolism.” If a branch can’t pay for its maintenance metabolism because it doesn’t get enough light then it’s goodbye branch.

Now whether they can anticipate or not, I’m not – I don’t know about that. That’s a new one for me. But I wouldn’t be surprised.

DJ: If you want I can send you the source later. But anyway, how does this apply then to a society, this concept?

CH: I’d just like to make one point, that if anybody wants to Google my name, Charles Hall, and then Tyee, all of this stuff was written up particularly well by that magazine in British Columbia.

DJ: Okay, great.

CH: Okay, so how did I get involved with applying this to oil and uranium and other sorts of things? Well, as I said, my advisor Howard Odum had got me thinking that way, and I had this really good undergraduate student at the time I was a professor at Cornell University. I had a really promising undergraduate named Cutler Cleveland, who’s now made quite a name for himself in the energy world. He came to me and said that he wanted to do a project with me, and we talked about various things, and so we decided we – he told me he thought he was really more interested in energy than simply environment, or ecology, and at that time I was an ecology professor. And so I said “Well, let’s re-look at the Hubbert curve.” And that led to us doing a paper that’s called Petroleum drilling and production in the United States: yield per effort and net energy analysis.

And what we did – we went back and looked at the Hubbert data –

DJ: People might not know what that means.

CH: Oh, the Hubbert data means how many barrels of oil you gain in the United States from drilling a foot in looking for it. This guy Marion King Hubbert was the originator of all of this kind of work. I’m old enough to have known him reasonably well at one time. He famously predicted in 1955 that the United States would have a peak in oil production in 1970, and everybody shunned him and called him bad names and said he was a terrible scientist and so forth, but in fact, the United States did in 1970, we have never produced as much oil even now, with a little uptick recently, we have never produced or extracted as much oil as we did in 1970.

So we took the Hubbert idea of yield per effort and how many barrels you get per foot drilled and updated his data, and we found a very strange pattern, that it declined, as Hubbert had observed. We were getting less oil for each foot we drilled looking for it, but then it went up, and then it went back down, over a period of about ten years. And this was very confusing to us. And then I remember Cutler plotting the data and I’d just come back from giving my fisheries lecture in ecology, and Cutler said “Look, this data, it just doesn’t make any sense, but it’s very clear.” And I looked at it, and I scratched my head, I didn’t know what – and then all of a sudden, I thought about my lecture. At the time, Cutler was a great big muscular fellow, a great athlete, and I got so excited I pounded on his shoulder with such force that I left black and blue marks, I was so excited. And I said “Look at this, look at this Cutler! It’s just like for fisheries! The harder you fish, that is, the more feet you drill for oil, the less you get per foot. Your yield per effort is lower at greater effort.”

You know, this is, in economics, though economists don’t talk about it much, decreasing marginal return. David Ricardo wrote about this 200 years ago. Basically what it means is those people who say “Drill, drill, drill,” the data doesn’t support what they say, at least so far, because the more you drill, the less efficiently you drill and the lower your return per effort. And that’s what we found. So we started analyzing things, instead of the feet you use for drilling, the energy you use for drilling, and ultimately applied this energy return on investment concept to getting oil out of the ground.

DJ: So they were … basically measuring it by feet as opposed to measuring it by energy invested is sort of like measuring what miles you get per amount of time you drive vs. the amount of distance you drive. My point is they were kind of measuring the wrong input.

CH: Well, it wasn’t wrong, exactly, but I think it’s more meaningful – all kinds of things are more meaningful when you start looking at the energy investment.

Well, I see what you mean. Like, for the salmon you might talk about how many miles did the salmon swim, but of greater interest, I think, biologically, is how much energy did it use for the salmon to swim from point A to point B?

DJ: Right. Because if they’re going straight uphill the whole time, that takes a lot more energy than if it’s fairly flat.

CH: Yes, of course.

DJ: So what are the implications of what you’re saying, of the last bit you’re saying, what are the implications of that for the oil economy?

CH: Well, if you plot the growth of the world economy it’s almost exactly the same curve as the growth of our use of fossil fuels. I remember hearing the mayor of Denver once say that the Sioux Indians who used to live there were completely dependent upon the bison for everything they ate, everything they lived in, everything they wore, their tools, their weapons and so forth were all based on the bison. And they celebrated it, and did dances and had special feasts and so forth in terms of the bison. And he said today Denver is completely dependent upon oil, and not only do we not celebrate it, but people don’t even pay any attention to it. They think it’s technology.

I mean, it drives me nuts. People talk all the time about all this wondrous technology but almost all of that technology is dependent directly or indirectly upon having cheap energy. And how long will we have cheap energy? Well, if you plot from the end of the Great Depression to today, you’ll find that the growth of the US economy has declined essentially every decade from five percent to three percent to two percent to one percent to less than one percent today. That’s the growth of the US economy and in fact of most OECD, or western, economies, it’s the same thing. We’ve basically stopped growing. Europe has basically stopped growing. Japan has basically stopped growing. The US: we can argue about it, but it certainly doesn’t grow like it used to. And probably not in real terms, or inflation-corrected terms, as much as one percent a year.

And that’s the same curve as you get from plotting the global production of oil. We used to grow, I think we grew, could grow, very much because we had a lot of energy. Economic production is a work process and any work process requires energy. Oil is the best form of energy in all kinds of ways, and it’s becoming less abundant and I think it’s happening right now. You look around and our great universities are broke, often. Most of our states are either broke or have cut back the services they offer enormously. Many pension plans are broke. Everybody’s broke except the one percent, I guess.

So what’s happening is we have, I think, the impact of a restriction in the amount of oil and other energy – it’s a little bit more complex talking about coal and gas, but I would say the same declining EROI on these means that there’s less and less net energy available to run our economic processes, and we’re seeing that occur in the world now and it’s likely to become increasingly important.

DJ: But I read something in Forbes, I think it was in Forbes, might have been in some other sort of over the top pro-capitalist magazine, that was saying that the peak oil myth – and I disagree with this, I’m just throwing it out as a softball –

CH: Can I use “bullshit” on your radio show?

DJ: (laughing) I don’t know if you can or not.

CH: That’s bullshit.

DJ: Okay, go ahead. Tell me why Forbes was wrong, or whomever it was.

CH: Well first of all, I’m not going to say I know everything and those guys know nothing. Every scientist, we’re trained to be cautious and so forth. But I can tell you right now that if you took all of the oil en bloc, and you took it out of the ground, all the oil that we can get out of the ground, that we’re capable of extracting, it would run the US for about a year. And we’re likely not to get it out that fast. What the new oil technologies are doing is to some degree compensating for the decline in conventional oil. And it’s doing a good job. Now whether it’s going to be enough to turn the US again into a net oil exporter; I look at the data and I say just no way in hell. It’s not gonna happen. And we can be excited about what’s going on in the Bakken but I’ve been analyzing this with one of my graduate students and when we look at it carefully, we find that almost all of the oil comes out of sweet spots. “Sweet spots” means areas where the oil is especially thick in the substrate. But most of the Bakken and most of the Eagle Ford is not a sweet spot. So what we find is that we’re moving – we know a little bit more about this with gas than with oil – we’re moving from the original areas that we started developing only 10 or 12 years ago, such as the Haynesville in Louisiana and Arkansas and the Barnett in Texas. Those areas have already peaked. We’ve taken the best – we’ve taken the gas and in some cases oil out of the very best spots. Geologists aren’t fools. They don’t drill at random. They drill where there is the greatest concentration of oil and if you look at the maps of where these wells are, there’s a map spaced about as far as lateral extensions. In other words, the map is completely saturated with wells in the sweet spots and there are very very few wells in the non-sweet spots. We have to move out of the sweet spots, which we’re going to have to do soon, and then it’s a whole different story because you’re going to be exploiting lower quality resources.

So in all of this, what we’re looking at, what we’re doing is getting the oil out of the sweet spots and it’s marvelous technology. I’m not going to say that it isn’t. I think most of the environmental impact is above ground because it takes something like usually 1000 giant trucks worth of stuff to do a frack job, and enormous amounts of horsepower and energy to pressurize the fields, and then the fields run for really only basically a couple of years. They decline sharply in just one to two years and then you’re left with a trickle. So you have to keep drilling. It’s called the Red Queen hypothesis. In Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland the Red Queen had to run faster and faster to stay in the same place. So if we want to maintain, or we want to increase the shale oil production, we have to drill more and more each year and we’re already drilling like crazy.

DJ: A couple of things. One of them is that my first degree was in physics, from the Colorado School of Mines, and I took some mineral economics when I was there. Of course you know the School of Mines is an entire energy school. And I remember that one of the first things they taught us in the mineral economics class was the difference between regular economics and mineral economics, and basically mineral economics is based on: you have a finite resource and what you do is you take the easy stuff first. That’s mineral economics in a nutshell.

CH: Mineral economics 101. Yup.

DJ: And so far as EROI, one of the things I think about with this is the Beverly Hillbillies. At first, some of the first oil wells were just, they were almost seeps where, like in the Beverly Hillbillies movie they shoot a gun and oil pops up. There was very little energy invested. I’m just saying that in terms of people who might not be so familiar with the concept. You don’t have to invest very much energy to get it out. And nowadays you have to frack, you gotta do tar sands, you gotta expend all this energy.

CH: All the Gulf of Mexico. There are somewhere between five and six thousand of these platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. And there isn’t any steel any closer to the Gulf of Mexico than I guess Birmingham, Alabama or Duluth, Minnesota. How did all that steel get into the platforms? That was an enormously energy-intensive process.

DJ: You mentioned the universities running out of money, and of course pensions running out of money is very much in the news right now. Can you be more explicit about what you think the implications are for declining EROI? And there’s a quote you have that I just want to mention, which is if real day-to-day economics is about stuff; food on the table, a roof over our heads, this we buy; why on earth is economics taught and undertaken today as a social science rather than a biophysical science? And so: what is the relationship between declining EROI and that question?

CH: Gee, that’s a beautiful quote. Did I say that?

DJ: Well, it’s on your website with quote marks around it.

CH: (laughing) That’s pretty good. Well, sure. I can’t believe what they teach people in economics. It’s fairy tales. You take any honest, good economist and you talk to him, and he’ll say “You gotta have all these assumptions to make the neoclassical model work.” This assumption and that assumption and we gotta be selfish or self-regarding, and then you do behavioral experiments on people and they’re not. They tend to be vindictive or altruistic because we’re social animals. It’s very complicated and the assumptions you have to make, especially relating to resources in conventional economics is just out to lunch. And so we’ve attempted to construct a new economics that we call biophysical economics. I and my colleague Kent Klitgaard, who’s very much a fully-fledged economist, who believes essentially everything I did, and we wrote a book together that’s available from Springer, called Energy and the Wealth of Nations, which is a pun on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and I would like to see that used in every high school and every college that teaches economics. Stop teaching fairy tales to our young people. What does that mean? It means that as the energy return on investment for our most important fuels declines, then it means almost inevitably that our ability to generate wealth in society also declines. As I stated, I think we’re seeing just the beginnings of it, the first ripples on the shore for the coming storm of what’s going to happen as we have less and less cheap oil available. I think we will have not only less and less cheap oil, but less oil altogether, something called “peak oil.”

I just got a paper accepted that looks at that in great detail and all I can say is that if there’s anybody listening to this who doesn’t believe in the Hubbert Curve, send me an email at and I’ll change you in your tracks. With an analysis of some 46 oil-producing countries, almost all of them are showing peak and decline. Production that increased, reached a peak, and declined. And that’s where we are, and that’s essentially where we have to go for the world. And the question is: can our alternative forms of energy take up the slack? And I see no way. Of course we can do many things with solar and wind and so forth, but, especially if you include what we have to do to compensate for the fact that the wind blows only 30% of the time and the sun shines only half the time, if you’re lucky, then the energy return on investment on these things is much lower than we’ve been used to. And it requires high energy return on investment fuels for us to grow.

Now I don’t think this has to be a terrible thing at all. I had a fantastic boyhood in coastal Massachusetts when we were running on about 15-20% of the energy we use now. It depends on how we adapt to that. But if we try to fight it, if we try to say “this isn’t real,” then apparently, and all the data I have indicates that this is real, then we’re just going to screw things up worse.

Don’t forget: Mother Nature bats last.

DJ: So can we throw some numbers out for some of this? Like what might have been the EROI on an oil well, average or whatever, 50 years ago or 100 years ago? What is it now? What is the EROI on, say, solar photovoltaics? Can you give ballpark numbers for any of those, just so we can get a feel for how things have changed?

CH: Sure. I’ve written several reviews recently. A lot of these are approximate. We do the best we can. We’re dependent on the United States government, the Bureau of Census maintaining good data. There’s a lot of evidence that they are not maintaining the data as well as they used to, etc. etc., but still all of the information is consistent and that is shown in the review papers. So the first data point we have is in 1919. That’s the first year that the United States got this kind of data. And at that time the energy return on investment for finding energy – this is going out and finding a new barrel of oil – was over 1000 to 1.

DJ: You burn one barrel of oil to get 1000 back.

CH: You don’t get it back above the ground, but you find 1000.

DJ: Okay.

CH: Back in those days. And this is published in a paper by Guilford, Hall, O’Conner and Cleveland that was in the Journal of Sustainability.

(Guilford, M., C.A.S., Hall, P. O’Conner, and C.J., Cleveland. 2011. A new long term assessment of EROI for U.S. oil and gas: Sustainability: Special Issue on EROI. Pages 1866-1887.)

It’s open access, like we try to do with all of our papers. You can go to my website. All your readers have to do is search for “Charles Hall Energy” and they’ll get more crap than they can possibly deal with.

So what we found is they got 1000 to 1 finding oil, and it had declined by 2000-something to 5 to 1. To find oil. Now, the more important one is to get oil, and that was actually somewhere around 15 to 1 back in 1919 and we actually got better up until about 1970. Depending on whose analysis you look at, we got somewhere between 25 and 30 to 1 to get oil out of the ground, which means you only have to use 3% of the energy you get, to get that energy. But now it’s declined back down to about, well, it looks like it’s not as much as 10 to 1 anymore. But let’s say in the last year it’s around 10 to 1. All countries that we’ve examined show that same basic kind of hump-shaped pattern. Initially the EROI is a bit lower and then it reaches some peak, almost like a Hubbert peak, and then declines over time. And if the decline rates continue, then we’re screwed because it’ll take a barrel of oil to find a barrel of oil within a couple of decades. I don’t know whether it’s going to be a linear decline or an exponential decline, or maybe something else. And I have to say that the oil from a sweet spot looks to be not too bad. Our guess at the moment is somewhere around 12 to 1. This is shale oil in North Dakota from a sweet spot. But if you get off the sweet spot then it goes way down very fast.

DJ: 12 to 1 you just said is good, when 40 years ago that would have been terrible.

CH: 12 to 1 is not as good as it used to be, but, y’know, it’s decent. You can run a society on it. You don’t need just 1.1 to 1 to run a society. We’ve done a lot of analysis of that. Just to drive a truck on a road takes 3 to 1, including all the infrastructure of the truck and roads and bridges. And then if you start including the infrastructure of supporting the driver and his family and health care and education and all of that, we figure that you need somewhere around 12 or 15 to 1 to have anything like the civilization we have come to expect.

DJ: So it sounds like one of the things you’re asking for with the biophysical economics is for economics to take reality into account.

CH: Well, yeah. They’re out to lunch. But they wrote the rules. They can write the rules and they print the money and they dump all the money from the fed system into the banks and you know, they didn’t bail out the homeowners, they bailed out the banks. And so the astonishing thing is that we don’t have inflation. At some point it’ll probably catch up to us. You know, it’s like these old pictures in Germany when people would go to the store with wheelbarrows full of German marks to buy a loaf of bread. We’re almost doing that electronically, because people want to have dollars – when the world is unstable, people want to own dollars because it’s the most stable currency. This and some other aspects are propping up the value of the dollar, and we’re not having inflation. We may even be having deflation. It’s quite amazing. It could flip-flop any day, I suppose.

You listen to people like Nicole Foss and she’ll scare the crap out of you in relation to how unstable our financial system is. And it may be, I’m not an over-the-cliff kind of guy but it might be that we’re in much greater danger of some kind of large societal problem from the financial angle of things than from the energy angle of things, which is bad enough to begin with. A couple of my people whose analysis I respect a lot, Nicole Foss and Gail Tverberg and they both are really concerned – even though they’re both concerned about energy, they’re even more concerned about the instability of our financial situation.

DJ: One of the things that seems really central to your, not biological, but economic work, is that energy and finances are pretty inextricably linked.

CH: Of course. The dollar has no meaning without energy to back it. Gold doesn’t back it, because when the Spaniards came back in the 1500’s from the New World to the Old, they doubled the amount of gold in Europe and halved its value. It’s like printing more money. What gave money value back then was solar light that was intercepted by the fields and the forests and the people who harvested the trees and grew the crops, and the artisans and the housewives who did all this work. Work is what causes wealth and money is a means we’ve been conditioned to use to keep track of it, but really what a dollar is, is a lien on energy. So if you have a dollar in your pocket, that means society is willing to use about seven megajoules somewhere to get whatever you’ve got for that dollar. So if you buy a bagel for a dollar, then somebody has used about seven megajoules of energy, on average, in this case, to take natural gas and make fertilizer in Louisiana and ship it up to Nebraska by the Mississippi River and use a tractor to spread it on the field, and then drive a harvester to harvest it and then grind up the wheat into making – oh, I’m sorry, you gotta plant the seeds, plant the wheat and then harvest it and grind it up and put it on the train and send it to, I guess you’re in California, and use some more electricity to mix the batter. Have you ever seen them make bagels? And then boil the water – all of that’s using energy. And then you pay them a dollar and you get your nice bagel. But if you had no money in society you could still trade whatever you do for bagels. You could go back to some kind of awkward trade system. Money facilitates it but what money really is, is a lien on energy. And that’s what our Energy and the Wealth of Nations book is and that’s why we want to use it for teaching. It’s not that complex. You can teach high school kids this. They get it. And of course once the kids see this, they go into their conventional economics class and say “What is this crap you’re teaching me? What is this?” Why should economics be only a social science? Where’s the biophysical reality behind what actually has to happen for an economy to exist and for goods and services to be produced and distributed?

DJ: So I would like to thank Charles Hall for being on the program, and I would also like to thank all the listeners for listening. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

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