The Energy Seneca

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

There is much more to the Climate Emergency than mere “warming”

Instead, we face an avalanche of energy, ecological, social and financial disruptions, including pandemics like the earlier SARS, MERS, Zika, and Dengue epidemics and the present Covid-19, and many less known others affecting not only humans but also intensive animal and crop farming. This avalanche will turn our world upside down during the present decade

We call this the Energy Seneca: the long period of “growth” since about the 1750s is leading our world to an abrupt fall… unless we rapidly move to “Something-else”

To learn more about the Energy Seneca click here

From Fantasy to Facing Reality

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

On the left, global dynamics expert, Arthur Keller, contrasts the current three prevailing fantasies with reality as it transpires from masses of data accumulated over the last 50 years: *

  1. Endless “growth” (white curve) never blocked by any limit (blue dotted curve) – the “business-asusual” (BAU) fantasy known since the 1970s to be false;
  2. “Growth” slowing down as it approaches planetary limits & even pushes limits up – most “green” government policies are of this kind – known since the 1990s to be another fantasy;
  3. “De-growth” to come back down just within planetary limits – the fantasy of most “green” parties – also massively contradicted by the data, versus the BAU fantasy (red curve); and
  4. Energy Seneca ** – reality as it transpires from recent data: planetary limits are crashing due to human action (blue dotted curve) & humankind can no longer avoid crashing all the way down below the crashed limits… If we act now, we may manage to somehow soften the crash (green curves) – either way we face massive population & wealth losses

Instead, there is an other way: the Fourth Transition – accessing the huge solar energy pool, effectively combatting global warming as well as other ecological, social & financial threats and unleashing a new era of sustainable prosperity on novel, sound thermodynamic bases, video briefing in French
* Named after the Roman philosopher who first identified this kind of pattern: long growth period, reaching a peak and followed with an abrupt fall.

World Bound to Breach 1.5ºC
Warming by ~2025
& 2ºC Warming by ~2040

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

The latest research shows that even if all emissions were stopped now, the so-called limits are bound to be breached, due to inertia in the climate system & the long time lags to go from initial innovation, through development, to global deployment and to reach market saturation of any new technology developed and deployed in substitution for an old one

Warming Overshoot in Perspective

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

No one in their right mind would go above 2ºC… The conclusion is rather obvious: our world is in a state of cognitive failure, i.e. the inability of decision-making elites to understand & make use of available knowledge & expertise to solve the problems that they have caused for themselves over ~270 years

Figure adapted from: Stefan Rahmstorf and Anders Levermann, 2019, Why global emissions must peak by 2020,

From “2°C overshoot” to
understanding the core problem


The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

Early steam engines ca 1750 were 1% to 5% efficient. ~270 years later, current, global, energy technological systems are 12% efficient

Based on: Murray, James, and King, David, 2011, “Oil’s tipping point has passed, The economic pain of a flattening supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels” in Nature, 26 January, Vol. 481.)

“2ºC Overshoot” means what?

  • 2ºC warming overshoot – a huge catastrophe turning abrupt: ecological, human, & financial (2ºC overshoot entails 3ºC overshoot by ~2060, possibly much sooner, with sea level increases over 3 m, disrupted food supplies & industrial production, massive loss of human life & mass extinctions)
  • A consequence of how the industrial world has accessed & used energy since the early days of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1700s, i.e. the gross inefficiency of the energy technological systems used to date: this is the fundamental cause of global warming

  • Parallel loss of our world’s thermodynamic foundations – the twin side of the 2ºC overshoot, with the same cause: the gross inefficiency of fossil resources uses has accelerated depletion – this loss will be complete by about 2030

  • Energy Seneca:* the 2ºC overshoot is only the tip of a huge “iceberg” – the overshoot is compounded with the loss of our world’s thermodynamic foundations and with all other enormous related ecological, social & financial matters – can only be solved by addressing 1st the root causes, the gross inefficiency of energy supply & use chains, by emulating what life does

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd
The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

* A long period of growth, reaching a peak & followed with an abrupt fall – Named after the Roman philosopher who 1st singled out this pattern – With current energy supply & use chains, the globalised industrial world is not equipped to survive the 1.5ºC overshoot and even less the 2ºC one

The Hard Problem

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd
  • 2ºC warming overshoot / Energy Seneca is like a patient having a strong fever:

    • While doctors busy themselves to try and bring the temperature down
    • They don’t realise that their patient is having multiple organ failures and soon will die
    • And they don’t realise either that their fever reduction remedies are actually accelerating the patient’s organs failures
    • The patient is all of us, the fever is global warming, the fever remedies are the so-called
      “renewables” and the failing organs are the thermodynamics foundations for our world, all ecosystems, social degradation world-wide, and that of the global financial systems
    • There can no longer be any “maybe” or “perhaps” or “it can’t be”. The Energy Seneca signals the breakdown of our world as we know it over the coming decade and beyond…
  • Short of completely redesigning how we access & use energy, world-wide, as a matter of emergency:

    “the 21st century’s supertanker-U-turn challenge: reversing the 20-fold increase in emissions the 20th century set in train, and doing so at [5 times] the speed. Replacing everything that burns gas or coal or oil to heat a home or drive a generator or turn a wheel. Rebuilding all the steelworks; refashioning the cement works; recycling or replacing the plastics; transforming farms on all continents. And doing it all while expanding the economy enough to meet the needs and desires of a population which may well be half again as large by 2100 as it is today.”

    (The Past, Present and Future of Climate Change – The Economist, 21-09-2019)

Only One Survival Path Left

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

With the warming overshoot, all mythical “carbon budgets” & so-called “limits” are gone

The sole remaining trajectory to aim for is zero net emissions by 2040, i.e. shooting “schuss” style down a cliff in utter emergency mode, without any room left for even the slightest error

No government nor
mainstream business knows how to achieve this

We do

This is what Fourth Transition Wealth is about

How to “U-Turn” and go “SCHUSS” Straight Down?

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd
  • After over 50 years of procrastination, finally a State of Emergency is being progressively acknowledged,*

  • Although political & business impotence still prevails, and the root causes remain ignored by most decision-makers

  • With 3 consequences:

    1. Addressing global warming effectively can be a hugely profitable business, and
    2. Only if a hugely profitable way is found that is attractive to all can the matter be addressed at speed and in time, hence
    3. Addressing global warming profitably requires understanding in depth the 2ºC overshoot/Energy Seneca problem

* In 2019, the UK, then Ireland declared a State of Climate Emergency. On 5 November 2019, over 11,000 scientists warned of a
global state of Climate Emergency: William J Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R Moomaw,
and 11,258 Scientists, 2019, World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, BioScience, biz088,
biz088. On 20 February 2020, 1000 French scientist called for rebellion & civil disobedience…

Understanding the Core Problem

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

Earth-Life makes productive use of over 80% of the solar energy influx – had the industrial world achieved something comparable, GHGs would have remained well below 350ppm CO2e, global warming would not be an issue & we could still use fossil fuels for at least a century for an easy & smooth transition to 100% solar

Loss of Thermodynamic Foundations

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd
  • No society or civilisation can develop & thrive without a self-powered energy supply chain
  • For nearly a century the sole self-powered chain of the globalised industrial world (GIW) has been oil-based:

    • “It takes oil to get oil”: the GIW runs on the net energy surplus delivered by the oil-based supply chain
    • An inverted pyramid resting on its tip: net energy from oil is required to access & use all other energy forms: coal, gas, nuclear, geothermal, hydro, photovoltaics (PVs), wind turbines (WTs), biomass, animal feed, & food, as well as the myriad products & services in the standard consumerist package
    • The last 10 years of the Oil Age: due to the enormous inefficiencies along the whole energy technological system, since 1745, the capacity to deliver net energy from oil is nearly completely depleted – the oil-based chain entered decline in the early 1970s & began disintegrating ~10 years ago – the process is thermodynamic, irretrievable & will be over by ~2030
    • The fundamental challenge of the Energy Seneca: the whole of the inverted energy pyramid will disintegrate unless a replacement self-powered energy chain is built at pace

Oil on the Brink of a Meltdown

Dr Nafeez Ahmed’s review of the major report released by the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) highlights how the global energy situation is dire and much more immediate than “mere” global warming: “We are not running out of oil, but it’s becoming uneconomical to exploit it” *

The report’s main conclusion strikingly highlights the importance of Fourth Transition:

“What is required is a fundamental development of an entirely new energy system based around an entirely different paradigm…

Historically, a change in paradigm is based on something discovered by accident, or developed in challenging circumstances where conventional methods no longer work, but the outcome is vital for the functioning of the industrial ecosystem…

What is required, is to create a high technology society that uses an entirely new form of energy and operates to a different societal paradigm. If this is not achieved, the alternative is the degradation (and fragmentation) of the current industrial ecosystem.

This stark choice of outcome is a consequence of not examining these fundamental issues decades ago [when] was first understood the nature
of the challenge in front of us. For the last 20 years, our most competent technical professionals have not been working on this most serious challenge.” (pages 307-08)**

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd
The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd


** Simon Michaux, 2019, Oil from a Critical Raw Material Perspective, Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) – Michaux’s work corroborates our
own as summarised – TO LEARN MORE CLICK HERE

To Sum-Up: 5 Core Energy Seneca Threats Forming an Unprecedented Avalanche

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

Almost no one has yet seen the Energy Seneca avalanche coming Fourth Transition is addressing it

“Renewables…” are NOT quite renewable

  • Combatting global warming with (PV) and Wind Turbines (WT) would necessitate substituting about 19TW of current fossil fuel-based power with about 54TW of PV & WT power over 20 years (given average capacity factors of about 33%)
  • No “magic”: PV & WT do not appear out of the blue – they require large amounts of energy and materials for their manufacture, transport, installation, maintenance & eventual decommissioning
  • Current manufacturing processes entail substantial ecological impacts (toxic effluents, greenhouse gases, flora & fauna damages, & health impacts, e.g. infra-sounds) + massive decommissioning & recycling issues
  • Current means of energy storage are not able to scale to the substitution requirements
  • Energy returns on energy investments (EROIs) of PVs or WTs are far too low to sustain an industrial world
    (well below 10:1 in terms of whole system replacement while EROIs over 30:1 are required)

The fine print:

  • PV is about 4.4 times more greenhouse gas intensive than WT (~48g CO2/kWh vs ~11g CO2/kWh)
  • Replacing 19TW with PV & WT = increasing total world production approximately 12 times for Concrete, 18 times for Steel, 30 times for Aluminium, 18 times Copper, 96 times for Glass + large amounts of epoxy resins, glass & carbon fibre, mostly non-recyclable and using dangerous chemicals, e.g. phthalates) + substantial amounts of Silver, Mg, Cr, Ni, Mo, Li, Co, Nd, Ta & other rare earths… All well above world capabilities
  • Total energy requirement ~830EJ (ExaJoules), mainly fossil fuels based (~111% of 1 year of world energy use), i.e. a drain of ~31EJ/year over 20 years from current energy supplies to the globalised industrial world (6% drain/year)… Something the world can’t afford nor achieve
  • Total CO2 emissions > 80Gt vs 33.1GT world emissions in 2018, i.e. additional emissions of ~4Gt/year, > 7 times the 1.7% increase in CO2 emissions in 2018 – accelerating warming well beyond the 2oC limit… Something the world simply must not do
  • Large-scale wind energy harvesting on a US-wide scale would result in 0.24oC warming downwind of wind farms & large-scale PV solar farms result in detrimental local microclimate changes… Something that would add to the existing catastrophe

In short, while PV & WT have niche roles to play, relying on PV & WT to combat global warming is a dangerous mirage

Why is there no possible solution to the Energy Seneca Challenges under the prevailing paradigm?

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd
  • “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Alice in Wonderland)
  • Due to the rapid decline of net energy per barrel, the Oil Industry is under the sway of the “Red Queen Effect”. It must “run” faster & faster, pumping more & more oil per year, to meet end-users’ demands – ditto for all other fossil & nuclear resources that are subject to the same RQ Effect.
  • But under the present paradigm, the net energy/barrel needed to keep “running” will have run out by about 2030
The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

“Now, here, you see, if you run too fast you die!”
(paraphrasing Lewis Carroll)

All alternatives, PVs, wind turbines, biomass, shale oil, tar sands, new nuclear, etc., are under the sway of the “Inverse Red Queen Effect”:*

If they grow at above ~7%/year, the energy needed for their build up drains net energy out of the industrial world, just when it requires much more energy

While to address the Energy Seneca, they actually need to grow at over 22%/year – at that rate the net energy drain would kill the industrial world

Barreto, Raul A., 2018, Fossil fuels, alternative energy and economic growth, Economic Modelling,; Davidsson, S. 2016. Natural resources and sustainable energy. Growth rates and resource flows for low-carbon systems. Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology 1414. 49 pp. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. ISBN 978-91-554-9671-5; Davidsson, S., Grandell, L., Wachtmeister, H., Höök, M., 2014, Growth curves and sustained commissioning modelling of renewable energy: Investigating resource constraints for wind energy. Energy Policy, (0); Gutowski, Timothy G., Gershwin, Stanley B. and Bounassisi, Tonio, 2010, Energy Payback for Energy Systems Ensembles During Growth. IEEE, International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies, Washington D.C., May 16-19; Murphy, Tom, 2011, The Energy Trap.; Pearce, J. M., 2009, Optimizing Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies To Suppress Energy Cannibalism, 2nd Climate Change Technology Conference, May 12-15 May, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Energy Returns on Energy
Investments (EROIs) Reveal the Key
Challenge to Address

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

Setting Things in Perspective

Solar energy reaching the
Earth each year is abundant:

23,000 TWy

(TeraWatt year or 201,480,000 TWh each year)

This is the sole remaining,
viable, large pool of energy

The core challenge: how to access
& use direct solar energy, sustainably,
at lower costs than fossil,
nuclear or “renewables”?

We have found
how to do this

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

Estimated World
energy requirements for
2050: 28TWy/year

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

Estimated total so-
called “renewable”
resources other than
direct solar (wind,
OTEC, biomass,
hydro, geothermal,
waves, tides): 72TWy/
year BUT unviable
with current tech

The Energy Seneca | Fourth Transition Ltd

Totally unviable due to
too low EROIs, climate
change & other
ecological threats