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March 04, 2010



I agree and often think about the next generation of clean, renewable energy sources. For instance....the human heart. Why do we not do more with our own electrical power? Solar, wind power, working with water and nature is one step but it does not address the root issues of power consumption in our culture.

I love imagining a future where our vehicles are powered by our own human electromagnetism. Want to go faster? Put more people in your car!


Nice collection of thoughts, Heather :-)

Cheap, unlimited, energy is a game changer. It would make most anything possible.

Oil, natural gas, and coal are the cheapest, most efficient means of moving energy around at the moment. Once they are converted to electricity they become a perishable product and the transport (over electrical lines) is very inefficient. Oil, coal, and nuclear are all very "dirty" technologies and their total cost isn't reflected in the bill that is handed to each consumer. Everyone on the planet bears the larger part of the cost of using these sources. It goes without saying that only a few, select, equity-lords benefit from that exploitation.

Green technologies are those that reduce the total cost and impact per unit and can supplement, and in some cases, supplant our default sources. Those technologies are also limited, though, in terms of geometry and environment. There is a limited amount of appropriate space for each green solution. As green house gases accumulate the total space available for economic green solutions will likely diminish.

Total energy consumption rises as the population rises. Civilization is a side-effect of the conversion of mass to energy.

Conservation, efficient storage and transport, and supplemental (green) sources are the only solutions that we have at hand for extending the current energy supply until new mechanisms can be found. They are stop-gap measures, but can buy us a large chunk of time to find a new solution.


I'm not getting the gist of your analogies. conservation can legitimately be compared to caloric restriction, but wind and solar are more like planting your own garden.

Let's explore that relationship more. a calorie is a legitimate unit of energy. in the 50's it took approximately one calorie of fossil fuel to grow one calorie of food. Today, 10 calories of fossil fuel are used to grow one calorie of food. to my understanding this is ~excluding~ the calories consumed to transport, refrigerate, and cook the food. [source: "What a way to go: Life at the end of empire" - a must see documentary]

This is acceptable when you have an unlimited local source of fossil fuels. but we don't, and we all know it, yet we remain stubbornly in denial. think of it in terms of radical self-reliance. it's like we have a civilization in the black rock desert that thinks it's living a carefree, wonderful existence, ignoring that that existence depends on a flow of water, food, and other life-critical goods from outside the community - by definition that is not only unsustainable, but it puts you at the mercy of forces outside your control. eventual result: wars and other problems.

the forte of the human species is supposed to be adaptability. we have adapted ourselves into a tenable situation - a house of cards, if you will: lose access to cheap oil, lose bridges/roads to an earthquake, lose your monocrop to drought or pestilence, etc., and you're in a world of hurt with no backup plan.

my personal belief is the real culprit is reductionism. we look at each problem like it exists in a bubble. we need cheap food, so let's monocrop so we need less labor. oh look, monocrops create pest problems, so lets use cheap fossil fuels to create pesticides or genetically modify the crops. and oh look, monocrops deplete the nutrients in the soil, so lets fertilize using cheap fossil fuels... each step along the way, you create new problems and new complexity wherein the whole shebang falls apart if one element in the chain is threatened.

take electricity generation. all it takes is one solar flare like the Carrington Event in 1859, and the entire grid goes down with devastating effects: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20127001.300-space-storm-alert-90-seconds-from-catastrophe.html?full=true

we need to be developing robust holistic solutions to all of our problems. distributed clean power generation. distributed food production. distributed means for potable water.

I'll have more to say later, but this is a start. gotta run and poke a fire.

Joe Crawford

CO2 is a problem, and it would be better for us to figure it out. Bill Gates thinks something nuclear is the way to go.

Peak oil in some form is a priori true. Planet finite. Oil finite. Options: get energy from another planet? Well, we suck at spacefaring so far. Whether peak oil is -10, 10, 100, 200 years away we'll have to deal with it eventually.

Your caloric restriction analogy falls down. It's not about simply taking away energy, it's about smarter production and availability of it. Very few people argue that we just need to turn everything off. There are reasons to fast, for example for health, even for people who bodybuild.

I think you just love to argue with people. As you said back in Why I will never switch to a mac: "I'm a contrarian at heart, and so I think differently and use a Thinkpad."

Human ingenuity will figure out ways to do things. If we run out of oil, we'll do something else. There may be pain in the transitions but it's not insurmountable.

And I think nuclear in some form is the only viable option, long term. We suck at nuclear power as a species (accidents, some spectacular) because we always want to do things as cheap as possible. We'll figure it out. Humans are pretty clever, except when we're not. The US polity in particular though, man, their track record stinks on quality and long-term.

Okay, that's my incoherent ramble in response to yours. :-)

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Heather Vescent

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