I call the blog Maximum Power because it seems to me that Howard Odum’s maximum power principle* lies behind the growth of industrial society. The maximum power principle states that:
In the competition amongst self-organising systems, network designs that maximise [power] will prevail.” (Odum, 1995, 16)
In plain English, if an option gives you more bang for your buck, you and others will choose that option and make it popular. Power is the rate of energy transformation per unit of time (usually measured in Watts, 1 Joule/second) e.g. a plant transforming solar energy in photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide in sugars.
Odum argues that because energy flow can be directed to acquire more energy flow (e.g. the plant grows leaves to capture more sunlight), a feedback loop forms which favours system designs that maximise energy transformation across the whole system. Hence, fossil fuel powered industrial society supplants agrarian societies.
Applying the maximum power principle to socio-economic systems is controversial. It would seem to dictate that we will not be able to reduce global fossil fuel usage through demand-regulating policies in less than a supermajority of countries or through personal actions. The fossil energy foregone by these efforts is still available, and will merely flow to the unregulated part of the system (i.e. India, China etc.). A caveat might be that less fungible fossil fuels like lignite coal or stranded gas may not be economic to transport.
*also called maximum empower
Hagens, N. The Psychological and Evolutionary Roots of Resource Overconsumption Revisited. The Oil Drum