Review of Thomas Homer-Dixon’s video on Civilization Far From Equilibrium

Thomas Homer-Dixon examines, in the video ‘Civilization Far From Equilibrium’ (, the relationship between energy and society. He focuses on our society’s great complexity–he uses both the mundane fixing a low-flow toilet and the rather abstract 2008 global recession–and the energy which complexity requires. This TVO video, 56 minutes long, is of Homer-Dixon’s lecture at this summer’s (2011) Equinox Summit.

We must conserve, but there are limits to conservation. Homer-Dixon points out that complexity generates irreducible demands on energy. Therefore, we as a society face a choice of whether we want less complexity. Homer-Dixon seems to think we will choose to maintain complexity; however, its demands will come as a series of shocks to our society. He does not delineate these shocks, but I imagine scarcity, wars, food shortages, pollution, disease, that sort of thing.

What if, instead, we choose a less complex path, requiring less energy. or vice versa? Complexity seems to require technological solutions; can we put the genie back in the bottle? We’re trying to do that with nuclear and with CFCs.  Homer-Dixon does not discuss this.

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