Variable: Energy

Energy is the ability to do work or create heat. Energy is a critical natural resource and its influence on social systems is well documented (see, for example, Rosa et al. 1988). As Cottrell (1955) noted, the energy available to humans "limits what we can do, and influences what we will do."

Energy flows vary by type of source (hydroelectricity, petroleum, natural gas, solar, nuclear, wood, and so forth) as well as quality (high or low entrophy) and flow (continuous, cyclical, or interruptible). An important element is the locus and scale of control (external or internal, local or global, multinational or household).

Energy can be measured by heat output (kcal) or economic value (%/kcal). Changes in energy flows can dramatically alter social cycles and the social order. Witness, for example, the North American oil shortages of 1973 and 1979. Changes in energy flows can force social institutions (such as recreation, industry or agriculture) to make significant adaptations.

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