After successfully developing a White Paper for the Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program of the California State Energy Commission outlining a new approach to research on energy use in the state’s communities, we are developing a follow up research roadmap for the Commission.
The new approach we proposed is based on the concept of urban metabolism. It is a method by which energy flows into cities and sinks – waste that is generated – can be counted. We are suggesting urban metabolism be used as a platform for research. Sectoral analysis of energy and other flows will be conducted such as on materials flows, water, electricity and so forth, contextualized by the policy frameworks that drive the flows and sinks. Urban Metabolism reestablishes the study of cities as an interactive system where consequences of choices can better be identified.
The main driver of human induced environmental change is the growing social/industrial metabolism based on the consumption of fossil fuels. The availability of, and cheap access to fossil fuels of high energy density has allowed the emergence of mass production and consumption unlike anything humans have ever created before. But it means a concomitant path dependent economy, built environment, agriculture and consumption system that will not be sustainable in the Twenty-first century, and is leading to irrevocable climate and biophysical Earth systems changes. Our research proposals are aimed to assist in the identification, quantification and explanation of these complex systems such that sustainable alternatives can be developed. As Vaclav Smil states (2005:386) higher energy use does not guarantee anything except greater environmental burdens.
Zoe Elizabeth is our indispensable Project Manager.