“…but what about nature?”, many may ask.

The whales return — even to New York City Bay.

Most environmental movements see technological progress and protection of the environment as opposing principles: Humanity and technology on one side, animals, plants and other non-human organisms on the other — but does this notion hold up to reality?

Prof. Kuckuck from the novel “Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man” by Thomas Mann described whales als “floating storage tanks for the oil industry”. Nowadays, few people read this without frowning. We perceive whales als beautiful, intelligent animals worthy of protection and not as any kind of storage tanks! Obviously, our relationship with marine mammals has massively changed since the first half of the twentieth century. Animals protection advocates have played their part here — but their efforts would likely have remained futile if the economic importance of whale oil had not plummeted to zero due to the introduction of mineral oil!

Diffuse energy sources eat up more land area. A wind farm (including pumped storage for a few days) supplying Berlin, the German capital, with electricity (1.5 GW) would cover an area comparable with that of the entire city, a coal-fired plant including the mine would encompass a single city district, a light-water nuclear plant a residential block and a DFR power plant would only be as big as a large shopping center.

The necessity to re-shape parts of nature to serve human needs declines with increasing EROIs and energy flux densities: The greater the technological amplification factor of human actions, the smaller the mass and volume, from which a certain amount of energy is drawn, the smaller the part of nature that must be remodeled, processed, killed etc. to create a certain amount of goods or services for humans. In order to produce food for eight billion people without artificial fertilizers, combine harvesters, genetic engineering, pesticides, cold storage and preservatives, more than the world’s entire land area would have to be turned into farms. Contrariwise, hydroponic farm scrapers, powered by DFRs, would help return gigantic areas back to nature: When food for a metropolis is produced within the city itself, traditional farms become obsolete. Fields could be transformed into conservation areas, or into parks for humans to enjoy.

Civilization and nature only come into conflict, when the former attempts to realize an industrial standard of life (and population density) based on low EROIs. If high-EROI and high flux density technologies are used, nature can be protected more efficiently than ever — surplus capacities can even be used to help other lifeforms, e.g. to supply wild animals with water and food during draughts.