Dangerman, A. T. C. J.,Schellnhuber, H. J.
The contemporary industrial metabolism is not sustainable. Critical problems arise at both the input and the output side of the complex: Although affordable fossil fuels and mineral resources are declining, the waste products of the current production and consumption schemes (especially CO2 emissions, particulate air pollution, and radioactive residua) cause increasing environmental and social costs. Most challenges are associated with the incumbent energy economy that is unlikely to subsist. However, the crucial question is whether a swift transition to its sustainable alternative, based on renewable sources, can be achieved. The answer requires a deep analysis of the structural conditions responsible for the rigidity of the fossil-nuclear energy system. We argue that the resilience of the fossil-nuclear energy system results mainly from a dynamic lock-in pattern known in operations research as the "Success to the Successful" mode. The present way of generating, distributin! g, and consuming energy-the largest business on Earth-expands through a combination of factors such as the longevity of pertinent infrastructure, the information technology revolution, the growth of the global population, and even the recent financial crises: Renewable-energy industries evidently suffer more than the conventional-energy industries under recession conditions. Our study tries to elucidate the archetypical traits of the lock-in pattern and to assess the respective importance of the factors involved. In particular, we identify modern corporate law as a crucial system element that thus far has been largely ignored. Our analysis indicates that the rigidity of the existing energy economy would be reduced considerably by the assignment of unlimited liabilities to the shareholders.