Steve Hallett

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Steve Hallett is an author and associate professor at Purdue University, College of Agriculture, in the Department of Botony and Plant Pathology. He has also taught at McGill University and the University of Queensland.



Life Without Oil (2011)

Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future with John Wright
  • We seem to have quite a few problems: global climate change, peak oil, overpopulation, collapsing fisheries, desertification, wealth inequality, species extinctions, freshwater shortages, hapless governments, deforestation, disease epidemics, and agricultural failures top the list. ...our civilizations have been in similar situations before ...a long list of civilizations from the Maya to the Romans all collapsed. The precedent is set...
  • We don't know exactly when out fossil fuels will run out... but by the end of the century, our oil and natural gas supplies will be virtually non-existent, and limited coal supplies will be restricted to only a handful of countries. ...We are at the peak of a remarkable two-hundred-year glitch in the history of civilization and are about to embark on the descent. The coming changes will be earth-shattering.
  • The tragedy of the commons, explained by Garrett Hardin... shows how nonfunctional communities can rapidly destroy their own resource base. good, rational people can form destructive communities. ...Instead of protecting their long-term future by conserving resources, they protect their short-term gains by competing, deplete their resources to the point of collapse, and bring about the failure of the community. ...again and again ...

The Efficiency Trap (2013)


Finding a Better Way to Achieve a Sustainable Energy Future

  • Millions are going to die of starvation and malnutrition... Food production will decline and food prices will rise when diesel (oil) and fertilizer (natural gas) become prohibitively expensive. The disastrous depletion of soil and water resources will become abundantly clear when we cannot afford to prop up production artificially.
  • What farmers should aim for is... higher margins using fewer inputs on less land, and a system that is sustainable.
  • America does not have to rely on vast volumes of oil and natural gas to make food. ...It has to get smarter. Dedicated, hard-working, ethical, and ingenious farmers us it can be done. ...Another very promising trend in many countries is the reemergence of urban agriculture, community gardens, and backyard gardens.
  • To combat the problems we face, we need to swim against the tide, and not only the main tide of environmentally blind industrialists, but also the secondary current of efficiency-blind environmentalists.
  • Our government has been hijacked by big business.
  • I find it hard to listen to fervent Republicans. Put the combined wisdom and honesty of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and a dozen others on the back of a postcard with a thick marker pen and you'll still have plenty of room for the address and stamp.
  • A society that supports a wealthy few at the expense of the larger population is unlikely to persist.
  • ...the environment is master. Societies and economies are utterly dependent upon it.
  • Nothing can sustain a system that is in overshoot... Resiliance... is not the strength to hold back the tide, but the strength to bend without breading as the tide inevitably rushes in.
  • Decentralization will prevent shocks from spreading throughout the system, like firebreaks in the forest.
  • You can feed a family on a quarter-acre lot if it comes down to it.
  • We should stop subsidizing the fossil-fuel industries and instead provide subsidies for local and community energy projects.
  • What I'm proposing... is for governments to peel back support for large businesses, especially extractive industries. Instead, governments should support small businesses. ...inhibit oversized energy and agricultural systems and promote smaller, localized ones.
  • New technologies will not liberate us. Even if they do materialize they will not reduce our consumption of resources. They will not reduce our demand for energy. They will not diminish our impacts on the climate. And they will not bring about a better world.

  • It is too late to slow this runaway train down before it tumbles into the chasm.
  • Cellular systems, ecosystems, and civilizations are, at base, thermodynamic systems. ...The system uses energy, eventually releasing it as useless heat. ...there is one vital difference between natural systems and human systems: natural systems receive a fixed energy input that never varies. If we could set a strict limit on energy use, we could build a human system that is just as stable as an ecosystem.
  • Fixed energy limits have not limited the progress of nature.
  • Human systems always bring about their own demise... Natural systems... do not destroy themselves.
  • To find our steady state and solve the sustainability puzzle, we need to abandon the relentless quest for dominance. We need to abandon our visions of progress as growth... Only progress in diversity, equality, and beauty can stand the test of time. We need to live within our limits.

Quotes about Hallett

  • Most energy analysts would accept the core of the “efficiency trap” argument, namely, that greater efficiency... does not automatically mean lower consumption. On the contrary, greater efficiency can lead – and has led – to bigger products... and therefore to overall energy use that is just as high, if not higher, than before. ...but he gets carried away with blaming poor old efficiency for a whole manner of ills...
    • Joanna Depledge, The Times Higher Education, UK (Aug, 2013)