Energy is at the heart of every economic system. Whether it be human, animal, oil, or solar, some form of energy must be used to transform the natural resources of the earth into the food, shelter, and goods that we need to live in this world. If we wish to get the economics right, it is essential to get the energy systems right.

This close interrelation between energy and economics is addressed by Hazel Henderson in The Politics of the Solar Age and Amory Lovins in Soft Energy Paths. Henderson’s books can be found in the collections of the TRANET journal, Martha Shaw, George Benello, the MANAS journal, and the library’s general collection. Amory Lovins books appear in the collections of E.F. Schumacher, George Benello, Hazel Henderson, Martha Shaw, the MANAS journal, and the library’s general collection.  

Together these books establish renewable energy as the bedrock of a new economic system predicated on sustainable production and peaceful coexistence between people. Using a systems thinking approach, both Henderson and Lovins elucidate the ways that our energy choices shape the design of our economy.  

Lovins differentiates between “hard energy paths,” which rely on intensive capital investment, centralization, and complex, inaccessible technology, and “soft energy paths,” which utilize renewable energy flows, are diverse and flexible, and are matched in scale and quality to end-use needs.

“hard technologies are oriented toward abstract economic services for remote and anonymous consumers, and therefore can neither command nor allow personal involvement by people in the community they serve. Soft technologies, on the other hand, use familiar, equitably distributed natural energies to meet perceived human needs directly and comprehensively”

Economies that prioritize human and environmental wellbeing must be powered by energy systems that are not only renewable but also appropriate in scale and nature to the local context they serve.

Henderson takes Lovins’ ideas about energy systems and expands the focus further:

“The Solar Age signifies much more than a shift to solar and renewable resource-based societies operated with more sophisticated ecological sciences and biologically-compatible technologies. It entails a paradigm shift from fragmented “objective” reductionist knowledge and the mechanistic, industrial worldview to a comprehensive awareness of the interdependence of all life on earth”

 Shifting to renewable energy is only one part of what Henderson sees as a larger shift away from old forms of economic thinking based on the maximization of profit towards one that prioritizes sustainability. This is a shift that will require a re-creation of economic thinking that draws its wisdom from the example of agriculture more than industry, for, as she states, “farmers have always understood what sustained-yield productivity means—now we have to teach it to economists.”