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A Net Energy Analysis of the Global Agriculture, Aquaculture, Fishing and Forestry System

Zeke Marshall () and Paul E. Brockway ()
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Zeke Marshall: The University of Leeds
Paul E. Brockway: The University of Leeds

Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, 2020, vol. 5, issue 2, 1-27

Abstract: Abstract The global agriculture, aquaculture, fishing and forestry (AAFF) energy system is subject to three unsustainable trends: (1) the approaching biophysical limits of AAFF; (2) the role of AAFF as a driver of environmental degradation; and (3) the long-term declining energy efficiency of AAFF due to growing dependence on fossil fuels. In response, we conduct a net energy analysis for the period 1971–2017 and review existing studies to investigate the global AAFF energy system and its vulnerability to the three unsustainable trends from an energetic perspective. We estimate the global AAFF system represents 27.9% of societies energy supply in 2017, with food energy representing 20.8% of societies total energy supply. We find that the net energy-return-on-investment (net EROI) of global AAFF increased from 2.87:1 in 1971 to 4.05:1 in 2017. We suggest that rising net EROI values are being fuelled in part by ‘depleting natures accumulated energy stocks’. We also find that the net energy balance of AAFF increased by 130% in this period, with at the same time a decrease in both the proportion of rural residents and also the proportion of the total population working in AAFF—which decreased from 19.8 to 10.3%. However, this comes at the cost of growing fossil fuel dependency which increased from 43.6 to 62.2%. Given the increasing probability of near-term fossil fuel scarcity, the growing impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, and the approaching biophysical limits of global AAFF, ‘Odum’s hoax’ is likely soon to be revealed.

Keywords: EROI; Net energy; Agriculture; Agroecosystem; Social metabolism; Bioenergy (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1007/s41247-020-00074-3

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