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Energy Decline and Authoritarianism

Richard Heinberg and Timothy Crownshaw ()
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Richard Heinberg: Post Carbon Institute
Timothy Crownshaw: McGill University

Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, 2018, vol. 3, issue 3, 1-11

Abstract: Abstract Could declining world energy supplies result in a turn toward authoritarianism by governments around the world? Mainstream forecasts of an increase in world energy production lasting until at least mid-century are coming under sustained criticism from researchers emphasizing the dynamics of resource depletion. Energy decline is a likely near-term challenge that polities around the world will face. Energy metabolism is a constraining factor for societal complexity and economic production, as established in the anthropological and biophysical economics literature and supported by a multitude of examples of both modern and pre-modern societies. It can be argued that political systems will necessarily face significant destabilization and the potential for a reversion to more autocratic forms as a result of energy depletion. We review relevant risk factors for this shift toward authoritarianism and discuss the contrasting aspects of democratic and authoritarian governance under conditions of energy decline. We conclude with a discussion of possible responses to counter the risks of democratic failure. Overall, we find that opacity of the links between energy, the economy, and politics may hamper such responses and that a more widespread understanding of the role of energy in society will be advantageous to the survival of democratic governance.

Keywords: Energy depletion; Societal metabolism; Political risk; Democracy; Authoritarianism (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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