Is ‘Renewable Energy’ a Myth? A Comparison between Muscle Work and Agrofuel Energy in Agricultural Production

Project: OtherInterdisciplinary research


This study emerges from the rising concern that the now widespread faith in renewable energy systems—as a way to deal with the ecological crisis—may be unfounded. Drawing on inspiration from the global peasant movement Via Campesina and their hypothesis that small-scale agriculture is a strategy for “cooling down the Earth”, this study seeks to discuss the reasons for the widespread belief in renewable energy systems based on how they differ from animate energy systems that have proven successful in the past. As a basis for discussion, the energy efficiency—measured in “energy return on energy investment” (EROI)—of a traditional agricultural system driven by muscle work is compared to the energy efficiency of a modern day agriculture driven by agrofuel. The results show that the energy efficiency of a traditional agriculture driven by muscle work is ten times more energy efficient than modern day agriculture driven by agrofuel. With the theory of techno-fetishism and the concept of ecologically unequal exchange it is argued that agrofuels may be a mechanism for capital accumulation by the unequal exchange of energy dispersion in the world economy. In contrast, traditional small-scale agriculture driven by muscle work may be a promising energetic foundation for local societies and a potential healing strategy for environmental justice, based on its ability to accumulate biomass on Earth. Finally, drawing on these results and discussions, this study critically analyses the principally Western beliefs that underscores the global installation of renewable energy systems as a valid strategy for a just and sustainable future.
Effective start/end date2015/01/012015/06/03