The bioeconomics of planetary energy transitions—a theoretical note


  • Topher L. McDougal University of San Diego



bioeconomics, sustainable energy transitions, predation, competition, cooperation


Evidence is mounting that unprecedented economic growth experienced by human societies over the past two centuries has induced a state of crisis for the Earth’s ecological systems—a crisis that threatens human society’s existence and heightens the risk of violent conflict. This article presents a simplified model of bioenergetic evolution on a planetary level. It examines human energy exploitation based on three strategies vis-à-vis the natural world: (1) predation, (2) competition, and, more cursorily, (3) mutualism. Predation involves the capture of energy pre-processed by the biotic community (living organisms sharing a common environment). Competition involves appropriating lands to capture solar-generated energy, edging the biotic community out. Mutualism involves engaging the biotic community in a mutualistic effort to harvest energy (and discard energy waste in the form of heat) outside of the planetary system. The model implies that, theoretically, substantial government investment in Earth-based solar generation may be required to effect a planetary energy transition to avert ecological collapse. The model suggests that this transition is not likely to happen automatically as a function of substitution by individual economic actors prior to ecological collapse; rather, it requires top-down coercive and/or incentive measures applied by government.

Author Biography

Topher L. McDougal, University of San Diego

Topher L. McDougal is Associate Professor of Economic Development & Peacebuilding at the Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego, California, USA.


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How to Cite

McDougal, T. L. (2022). The bioeconomics of planetary energy transitions—a theoretical note. The Economics of Peace and Security Journal, 17(2).




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