Our lives in the first world are marked by an underlying expectation that surplus energy is available and will always be available because it has always been available. Surplus energy such as the amount we have experienced in our lives has always been available, but has not always been so successfully harnessed. Nonrenewable sources of energy, when successfully harnessed, quickly diminish as a viable source of surplus energy for the foreseeable future.
Due to the limits of technology and human sociopolitical organization, the amount of surplus energy in any given society is presently finite. Surplus energy is also diminished by various taxes -- events or conditions that spend surplus energy without any long term benefit to the spiritual and scientific progress of the human race.
War is generally a means to shift surplus energy from one location or group of people to another. It requires a great deal of surplus energy to enact but provides no return to the human race as a whole.
Pollution is a tax on surplus energy in that it requires energy to combat, reducing the amount of surplus energy available in the first place. By creating widespread diseases, especially in children, pollutants force the expense of more surplus energy required to treat avoidable illnesses.
Divisive beliefs tax surplus energy by creating polarizing identities and psychological turmoil. Guilt is a widespread tax on human efficiency and harmony.
Consumerism represents a tax on surplus energy in that it is responsible for the manufacture of goods, usually with short life spans, that do not serve the basic needs of human beings or the progress of the human race as a whole. Disposable goods become pollutants.
Overpopulation, defined as that number and greater of human beings that do not serve toward the long term benefit of the human race, spends surplus energy in a host of ways. It increases pollution, accelerates the demise of past reservoirs of surplus energy -- from oil fields to top soil, increases scarcity and human suffering, reduces more and more human beings to a survival-mode of existence, and diminishes the overall level of education of the human race making increasing numbers of people vulnerable to social and cultural habits that squander surplus energy.
The amount of surplus energy in a society will inform the development of selfhood, ethics, and law. Increased availability of surplus energy will cause energy to spill into the lives of groups that might otherwise remain disempowered and uneducated. Hence women, gays, and other historically disempowered groups will rise in social power and standing as surplus energy increases.
Societies with scarce surplus energy will be rife with conflict and social disempowerment.
The spiritual expansion of the sense of self requires surplus energy in the life of the individual. Scientific advancements born in the mind of a human being similarly require surplus energy in the life of the scientist. In both cases, surplus energy translates into time freed from the constraints of survival habits.
A civil human being is defined as a being capable of the self-sacrifice necessary to place his or her energies in the service of society. A civilized human being identifies his or her self as the self of society.
As surpluses of energy decrease, civilization and the civilizing power of surplus energy, when properly directed, falter and fail. Civilizations in decline are marked by a decrease in surplus energy and an increase on the taxes to surplus energy. Top soil will fail. Wars will increase. Hard-earned rights will be curtailed. Education will weaken. Checks on pollution evaporate.