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Keep Your Eyes On The Prize

It’s always and ever about energy
Wednesday, December 31, 2014, 3:21 PM

This article initially appeared on Nov 19, 2014 and was only available to Peak Prosperity's enrolled users. Many of them thought it important enough that it should be made available to the general public, which we are now doing here.

At the essential center of the framework of the Crash Course is the almost insultingly simple idea that endless growth on a finite planet is an impossibility.

It is so simple it could be worked out by a clever 4 year-old. And yet it must not be so simple because the main narrative of every economy in every corner of the globe rests on the idea of endless, infinite growth.

Various rationalizations and mental dodges are made in people’s minds to accommodate the principle of endless growth.  Some avoid thinking of it all together.  Some think that perhaps we will escape into space, and continue our growthful ways on some other yet-to-be named planet(s).  Most simply assume that some new wondrous technology will arise that can allow us to avoid pesky limits.

Whatever the rationalization, none stand up well to simple math and cold logic.

At the very heart of endless growth lies the matter of energy.  To grow forever requires infinite amounts of energy.  Growth and energy are linked in a causal way.

If you want mountains to grow higher you need tectonic forces to push them there.  If you want a child to grow taller, food energy is absolutely required.  If you want more people building more houses, driving more cars, and wearing more clothes, you need energy, energy and more energy.

Perhaps because long-term thinking is not one of humanity’s greatest gifts, very few can appreciate just how we’ve fashioned an entire economy and related set of belief systems around fossil fuel energy that has only been with us for a scant few hundred years.

Even more importantly, because we are consuming a few percent more of it with every passing year, 75% of all fossil fuel energy has been consumed in just the past 50 years.  And we’ve been burning coal and drilling for oil for well over 150 years…boy, those stadiums fill up quick towards the end, don’t they?

The mistake is to think that those past 50 years are just the new normal and the even bigger mistake is to overlook the central and essential role of fossil fuel energy in creating the world we see around us.

The Dissipating Organism

Forget everything we know about technology and oil and gas and coal and all the rest.  Set that aside and step over into the role of being a dispassionate observer from another planet.

As you look upon all the life forms on earth and classify each according to it’s main role – predator, prey, scavenger, parasite, and so on – what role would you assign to humans?

To perform this classification you would observe, very carefully, the main activities of each species to see what they spent that majority of their time doing.

As you watch from a great height you’d notice humans moving about, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in a great flurry of activity.  From a strictly biological and scientific perspective they seem to be doing one thing with the most focused and determined energy; they are taking concentrated forms of energy and naturally occurring elements and dispersing them at vastly less concentrated levels.

Humans may have other features and functions, but their primary one is 'dispersal agent.'

Oils and coal and natural gas are dispersed as waste heat.  Silver is mined, refined further, and then lost atom by atom in various innumerable processes.  Rich soils with thousands of years of carefully accumulated major and minor minerals are mined one crop at a time and then irrecoverably diluted into the seas.

Taken together, the main purpose of humans seems to be as dispersal agents as if Gaia and decided enough was enough and it needed a species to come along and widely scatter all these concentrated pockets of energy and minerals so that the process of concentration could begin anew.

As I view any of the hundreds of beautiful videos on Vimeo showing time-lapse traffic patterns from cities around the world,  I cannot avoid seeing them as elegant expressions of a species seemingly intent on turning fossil fuels into waste heat an carbon dioxide as fast as they possibly can.

Downtown Las Vegas strip traffic time-lapse from VJLoops.tv on Vimeo.

24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in every major city around the world, there are cars and trucks jamming the roads.  There is no 'night-time' in this story when the world completely rests.  One side takes a few hours off while the other side takes over.

Whether we call this progress or folly is merely an indication of which internal belief system we happen to have installed.  Let’s pretend the value judgment is an irrelevant distraction to the main point.  It doesn’t matter at all how we judge the situation. 

The main point is that 80% of all human economic, political and cultural organization, specialization, and even collective biomass are simply expressions of energy consumption.  Whether that’s folly or progress does not alter the fact that currently 7.2 billion humans exist in the arrangements they do because of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels provide 80% of all our current energy.  That's a whopping high percentage and the hundreds of quadrillions of BTUs represented by that number will not be easily or cheaply replaced by any combination of alternative energies that we currently could deploy.   In fact, there are exactly zero credible plans for completely replacing fossil fuels to be found anywhere in the world.  Everybody has the same plan; continue obtaining the majority of their energy needs from fossil fuels while growing their economies.

That’s the plan and if it does not make you uncomfortable on some level, then I would gently suggest that some more time ought to be spent studying energy’s role in supporting life, and especially complex arrangements of life.

The Race

If there’s a dominant belief system installed across the developed world it is a faith in technology.

Some of that is very well placed faith.  Technology has delivered incredible advances, efficiencies and understandings that just a few short decades ago would have been indistinguishable from magic. 

We are making advances all the time, and for as long as we have a complex society that can support advanced technology we will continue making advances.

There are, however, a few keys to understanding how and when we have misplaced faith in technology. 

One key point lost on many people is that technology cannot create energy.  It can only transform it.  Perhaps we’ll someday be surprised by a breakthrough in low energy nuclear reactions (LENR) or zero-point energy or some other fantastical breakthrough, but until then we have to go with what we know to be true.

Technology has not yet, ever, in the long history of humans, created energy.  The laws of thermodynamics rule over us like gravity itself, always there exerting and imposing their all-encompassing embrace on every energy transaction.

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed.  Oil (concentrated) becomes waste heat (diffuse) + work (if harnessed).

So that’s the first limitation of technology….it cannot create the hundreds of quadrillions of BTUs of energy we currently extract and need from fossil fuels.  It can help us use it more efficiently, find more of it, get it out more cheaply, and other fun things, but it does not create the energy.

The second key point is that technology is really only as useful as the culture is advanced.  There are obvious signs that our cleverness with inventing technology exceeds our cultural maturity to use it wisely.

GPS is one of the greatest inventions ever, and I love it and use it constantly.   I doubt I would visit twisty, uninuitively laid out Boston nearly as confidently or as often without GPS.

But it also allowed fishing trawlers to steam out 100 miles and drop their massive and destructive drag nets precisely 6 inches to the side of where they left off last week leaving no accidental hiding spots and fisheries were ruined.

That is, the technology allowed us to do things that we lacked the ability to self-regulate properly.  It also has routinely had many more unanticipated consequences than we seemed to appreciate. 

The first humans with concentrated radioactive substances were about as safe as monkeys with guns.  We learned, but that came after the accidental deaths.

As I see it, nearly all of the difficulties we have with technology are due to the fact that we push technology into service before we really appreciate all of its pros and cons. 

It has been said that most technology was designed to address the problems caused by prior technology, and there’s some truth to that.

I am often asked if I would be thrilled if humans did get their hands on unlimited clean energy, and I have to give an unequivocal ‘no’ at this point because it seems to me that we’d merely use it to continue on our present path of growth at any cost.

Maybe in the future once we have the cultural ability to self-regulate our seemingly insatiable desire for ‘more’ endless clean energy would be a fantastic thing.  But right now we don’t even know how to slow down a fishery before it completely collapses, which is a trivial thing compared to managing to live in balance with entire ecosystems.

The race, then is between technological development, cultural advancement, and declining resources.  Can we bring appropriate technologies on line fast enough to prevent the loss of the societal complexity required to support that same technology?

That is the question, and I’m not clear on the answer yet. 

I do note that we have the capability to build light, high-mileage vehicles but we cling to the large, heavy and fuel inefficient vehicles in many parts of the world.

We have the capability to heat nearly all of our water using the sun but instead we typically use fossil fuels.  Not because they are cheaper over any reasonable frame of time, but simply  we don’t yet do it differently.

That is, we lack the cultural awareness and urgency that would mandate solar hot water heaters.  We do this because we still have a narrative of technological prowess and the recent (and temporary) shale oil victory to comfort our core beliefs.

There are literally thousands of better technologies out there that make economic, energy and ecological sense but we don’t really use them except at the margins.

Faced with this observation the usual response is to say that ‘the market will take care of that’ implying both that the market is a rational place and that the market has enough time to work things out.

To my mind, neither assumption is correct.

The Looming Oil Crunch

The good news is that shale oil has bought us some time in the peak oil story, but the less good news is that it bought us no time in the Peak Cheap Oil story.

The best news for the Peak Oil story was an unprecedented decline in oil demand brought about by the twin conditions of too much debt and high oil prices.  The loss of demand in Europe and the US handily outpaced the gains in US shale production and therefore was the larger contributor to balancing the supply/demand equation.

Again, we do not beat the allegedly dead horse of Peak Oil because we cannot let go of an idea, but because it remains just as vital today as when it was first described back in the 1990’s.  Even more so because we have more data to work with and we are that many years closer to its eventual arrival.  Adding to the urgency is the fact that no major government besides Sweden’s has even uttered the phrase ‘peak oil’ let alone begun to publicly plan for its eventual arrival.

There are a number of combining forces that will cause future oil price spikes. 

The current price of oil at under $80 per barrel for Brent crude is insufficient to support any of the newest unconventional projects out there. 

Ultra deepwater, tar sands and all but the very best sweet spots in the very best shale plays are uneconomic at current oil prices.  The way we can detect that this is true is by the slashing of capital budgets in all the oil majors that are committed to these projects, something that began last February even when oil was some $30 per barrel higher.

With shale oil helping to contribute to today’s lower oil prices it has caused the cessation of development within countless other large and expensive oil projects. 

While not immediate, the loss of these projects will certain constrain future oil supplies 2-3 years down the line.

For every single oil exporting country with the sole exception of Russia,  what is also true is that their domestic demand is rising even as their production (in many cases) is falling. 

Rising demand and falling production provide a double squeeze on exports which are, after all, the only thing that oil importing nations really care about.  Who cares how much the world is producing?  All that matters to an importer is how much is for sale, and at what price?

On the demand side, oil demand growth continues in the developing world and Asian countries.  So much so that it’s possible to project a time in the future when China and India alone will import 100% of all available exported oil.

Obviously that won’t happen without some form of price war or shooting war, but it tells us something about the trajectory we are on.  If it looks, feels and smells like there’s no serious planning for the future, then that’s probably the case.

Recently the International Energy Agency put these same sorts of dots together an issued a warning:

U.S. Shale Boom Masks Threats to World Oil Supply, IEA Says

Nov 1, 2014

The U.S. shale boom masks threats to global oil supply including Middle East turmoil, conflict in Ukraine and the difficulty of unconventional oil production beyond North America, the International Energy Agency said.

“The global energy system is in danger of falling short of the hopes and expectations placed upon it,” the IEA said today in its annual World Energy Outlook. “The short-term picture of a well-supplied oil market should not disguise the challenges that lie ahead as reliance grows on a relatively small number of producers.”

Global oil consumption will rise to 104 million barrels a day in 2040 from 90 million barrels a day in 2013, driven by demand for transport fuel and petrochemicals in developing countries, the report said.

To meet that growth and replace exhausted fields will require about $900 billion a year in investment by the 2030s as oil companies develop fields from Canada’s oil sands to the deep waters off Brazil, the IEA said.

(Source)

There’s a lot to unpack in those statements from the IEA, so let’s begin with the punchline...the IEA has only projected world demand for oil to grow from 90 million barrels per day (mbd) to 104 over the next 27 years.

That’s a rate of growth of just 0.5% per year!

Never in modern economic world history has there been a period of low oil growth of such length.  Never.  My prediction is that if we did only achieve that 0.5% rate of oil growth the world economy would be in a shambles long before 2040.

Economic growth requires energy, oil specifically and high net energy oil even more specifically.

This brings us to point number two.  The IEA has projected that some $900 billion a year will be required to bring on enough incremental (expensive) oil to even achieve that paltry rate of 0.5% growth.

Let’s really look at that for a moment, shall we?  If it’s going to take $900 billion to deliver what pencils out to an additional 483,000 barrels per day of oil growth, that means the yearly incremental new flow to the world will be 176 million barrels (= 365 * 483,000). 

Hmmmm…but at $900 billion that means the world will effectively be investing $900 billion more but getting 176 million new barrels so those incremental barrels are costing some $5,100 each. 

I know this is an odd way to look at it because in reality the $900 billion will be bringing vastly more oil to the table than the 176 M barrels, but existing oil is declining at the same time so the net oil to the world is going to cost a huge amount compared to historical efforts.

The bottom line here is that when the IEA casts about and looks at the reality of oil projects across the world they see that only a very heavy and sustained program of investment approaching one trillion dollars a year has any chance of (barely) offsetting existing declines.

And that new oil, excepting only whatever Iraq and Iran have left to bring to the party, is vastly more expensive than in times past.

Which brings us to the IEA's  conclusion which is that shale oil is actually doing two things;  driving the price of oil down below the price required for this massive investment program, and masking the supply issues by temporarily providing extra oil.

Emphasis on ‘temporary’ because the average shale field in the US peaks about ten years after the drilling begins in earnest and all US shale fields are currently projected to peak somewhere around 2020.

The risk the IEA sees is that shale oil, coupled to a generally weak global economy, could conspire to keep oil prices down below the new project threshold long enough to cause real trouble in the future.

My personal bottom line, though, is that the $900 billion yearly oil spent to achieve an underwhelming 0.5% yearly supply increase is not going to provide the necessary economic growth required to justify the mountains of debt already on the books, let alone expanding that pile robustly as the financial sector seems to need.

More subtly, but even more importantly, the new oil that $900 billion will bring is lower net energy oil, the sort that has far less surplus contained within it that the world can use to maintain its current complexity and order.

Think of current oil as having 100 arbitrary units of net energy stored within it that society can use however it wishes.  Then imagine that the new oil only has 50 units of net energy in it.  As we blend ever-increasing amounts of ‘50’ oil with ever-shrinking quantities of ‘100’ oil, the amount of net energy steadily sinks towards the ‘50’ mark. 

One day people wake up and notice that they seem to be able to support less, accomplish less, and that fewer types of jobs that pay less are available.  This is what we’d expect to see in a world of declining net energy. 

Conclusion

If technology requires a complex society to build and maintain it, and our dreams and hopes are pinned on even more complex and useful technology in the future, but net energy from new oil plays is shrinking, then it might not be wise to pin all our hopes on technology.  Perhaps there should be some other plans in the works too.

Given sufficient energy sources I am convinced that technology would simply continue to advance, and eventually our ability to live with and manage it would catch up to the technology.

But I imagine that process taking decades, centuries even, because cultures change slowly. 

However, according to the best oil data available, we don’t have decades and centuries to fiddle about and hope. 

The US shale plays are going to peak in 2020, give or take a year or two, and that’s practically tomorrow in the grand scheme of things.  Other relentless declines in existing fields are continuing even as you read this.

24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  And that process is speeding up, not slowing down, as the developed world joins the fray with stunning quickness.

A lot of things could go wrong with the IEA forecasts, and they’ll certainly get some things wrong.  It’s the nature of the business. 

Demand could be higher than 0.5% per year and so supplies will either fall short of investments or prices will need to go higher to support even higher spending on oil exploration and development.  Future finds may be less robust than they imagine and therefore more expensive. Existing fields may decline faster or slower than they have modeled which will throw things off quite a bit.

But through all that uncertainty we can note the obvious trend; oil is getting harder to find and more expensive to produce.

And humans, being the dissipating agents we are, will continue to gobble up this magical substance with relentless focus every minute of every day until it is gone.

All of this is why I continue to regret the degree to which the western media has gone out of its way to portray the energy predicament as nothing more than a problem which can be easily addressed through a program of investment and being ever-more clever.

Instead I wish we could simply note that oil has no scalable substitutes, we support billions of people by growing food with it, and that every political, financial, portfolio, and institutional entity has the same underlying assumption; the next twenty years are going to be exactly like the past twenty years.

Somehow, magically, more oil will be there, it will be affordable, and nobody will have to make any adjustments to their main habits of spending more than they have, and consuming more next year than this year.  We can just keep borrowing more than we earn forever, and therefore current stock and bond markets are reasonably priced.

To a scientist like myself, the energy story is everything.  If you get that, you are armed with the information you need to understand the general direction of things.

The only thing we don’t know is what our respective cultures will choose to preserve as we are forced to jettison various unproductive habits and livelihoods. 

As I wrote in a recent comment on the thread on millennials being broke:

As we slip down the energy cliff, we cannot know exactly what each culture will decide to jettison as 'unnecessary' activities.  Some decided to cut down trees and erect giant stones right to the end.  A different culture would have chosen some other activity.

The question to ask is, what are our equivalents of giant stones?  What will *not* disappear as the green area shrinks?

My best guess is that we'll cling to technology as the last things to erect before we succumb to reality.  Maybe that's just talking my own book, as they say on Wall Street, because that would imply the internet will be salvaged/preserved at any and every cost.

So that’s the question before us, what are our ‘giant stones?’  Answer that and you’ll know which jobs, investments, and products will be relatively secure and which won’t.

~ Chris Martenson

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54 Comments

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 7 2007
Posts: 5752
This is now public

For anybody experiencing deja vu, this was article was in the insider area but several members thought it belonged out here in public, so here it is.

As always, the big picture is the one that we should keep in sharp focus, difficult though that task is given how life fills up our time one small thing by one small thing.

At any rate, enjoy!

And Happy New Year everyone!!

earthwise's picture
earthwise
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 10 2009
Posts: 848
Thanks!

I'll consider this a late Christmas gift, a thoroughly appreciated one at that.

HungryGhost's picture
HungryGhost
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 22 2008
Posts: 22
Thank you.

Thanks Chris and happy new year. I have a feeling 2015 is going to be quite interesting....

David Allan's picture
David Allan
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 15 2009
Posts: 105
Full circle

My best guess is that we'll cling to technology as the last things to erect before we succumb to reality.  Maybe that's just talking my own book, as they say on Wall Street, because that would imply the internet will be salvaged/preserved at any and every cost.

Six or seven years ago I read an article that eventually led me to this site and my current viewpoint. It was the very first such article I recall and was titled something like  'As long as we keep the internet we'll be ok'. Of course my immediate reaction was 'This is absurd! What combination of factors could possibly result in us loosing the internet?' Like many here I now hold opinions that I would have thought completely insane a decade ago.

I do agree with Chris that the internet will be defended and preserved at any and every cost... and I agree also that eventually we'll succumb to reality. The complexity that underlies the internet is mind boggling. I recently discovered  the word hypercoherence which refers to myriad tight linkage connections through economic, communications, transport systems etc. 

From crash course basics we know that less net energy will lead to much less complexity in our world. And it's pretty hard to argue with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. So at some point, despite the best efforts of The Powers That Be hypercoherence will falter and infrastructure will crumble to the point where the internet is unable to be supported.

Reading this post feels like I've gone full circle from the initial article that set me on this path - or perhaps more accurately half circle - as my perspective is opposite what it once was.

kmaher's picture
kmaher
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 5 2009
Posts: 84
Humans= Agents of

Humans= Agents of Entropy

Maybe I'll make myself a T-shirt.  Future generations will not be able to comprehend how we squandered such marvelous gifts.

HarryFlashman's picture
HarryFlashman
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Joined: Aug 1 2008
Posts: 54
Thanks Chris,great

Thanks Chris,great article.Happy New Year to all at PP.

Doug's picture
Doug
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Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3176
Couple questions

There are a couple holes in my understanding of the world's oil future:

1.  We only seem to hear about fracking/shale plays in N. America.  Surely there are potential shale plays around the world.  Are they being fracked and horizontally drilled?  If not, they certainly will when they become economically viable.   They would presumably go through the same drilling frenzy and rapid decline rates that are happening in NA.  That would seemingly to lead to rolling peaks that could last for the rest of the century since oil particularly is a global commodity.  Has there been much study of this?

2.  With low oil prices, as Chris points out, only the sweetest of sweet spots are going to be drilled until prices go back up.  As far as I can tell, predictions of when that will happen are highly speculative.  But, assuming low prices last a couple years, the sweetest of the sweet will be in rapid decline, leaving only the less desirable plays and locations within the plays.  In the meantime, production will be declining overall in shale plays if my understanding is correct.  In order to maintain or increase production to current levels at that point would appear to require drilling of the less productive sites on a scale far greater than recent "peak" drilling rates.  How does that figure into the shale story?  Will there even be enough rigs available for greatly increased drilling?

3.  And also, a question I've thought about some, in a world of net decreasing oil supplies, how are uses of oil to be prioritized?  You discussed the internet to some extent, but how would that stack up against, say, the interstate highway system which is really oil intensive and really necessary to our way of life?  Or how about the aviation industry or plastics or factory farms or shipping?  Our lives could be very different if any of those examples are cut back significantly.

Mark_BC's picture
Mark_BC
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Posts: 492
Doug, my thoughts on your

Doug, my thoughts on your first question are that the "shale" plays aren't really profitable even at $100 and seem to be merely a result of Wall Street ponzi financing. This is underlain by a very poor EROEI no matter how you slice it. As mentioned in a different article here, the abuse to N Dakota's infrastructure from all the trucks needed to move it all around isn't accounted for in the price and is not taxed, so that is a subsidy. I wonder if accounting for all the infrastructure spending needed to support such activity would send the EROEI of "shale" oil negative. This is why we aren't seeing such a frenzy in other countries, because they don't have the Wall Street ponzi scheme backing it like in N America, and hopefully those jurisdictions would be more prone to tax the oil companies to pay for infrastructure wear and tear, which would make the whole thing totally unprofitable -- at $100 or $300.

Another issue that I see as a big wild card is coal. Oil and gas we all have a pretty good handle on. Oil is obviously near peak, gas will clearly decline soon, but no one seems to know much about coal. We hear arguments that the remaining coal seams are thin and deep, making it expensive with a poor EROEI. But I wonder, I pointed out in another thread the other day that Alberta says it has almost 700 billion tons of ultimately recoverable coal reserves, and presumably a large portion of that would be reasonably well recoverable. BC also has lots. That is enough to power N America for centuries. Based on my experience in designing some of these mines, the costs aren't related to how difficult it is to mine the stuff, but simply how much the mining equipment costs. Entire mountains are slated for removal up there.

If so then this could allow humanity to stumble along for quite a while. If social cohesion could be maintained then coal to liquids and gas plants could be built to provide oil and gas, just like Germany did in WW2 I believe. Of course net energy would go down but it would still be positive, as the Nazis proved. As to why this isn't being done now, I guess it's a combination of the oil price not being high enough for long enough, plus there is no established industry to bring forth these plants. Maybe it will happen soon. Everyone is focusing on oil sands right now but that is a slow process and in the scheme of things not even that big, equivalent to only 10 years of global oil consumption or 50 years of N America consumption.

Fred Unger's picture
Fred Unger
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Posts: 10
Do we perhaps already have the necessary solutions?

Tesla is releasing electric cars with 400 mile plus range. Installed solar capacity is growing at exponential rates. Batteries, solar and smart control technology for solutions like demand response are dropping in price at incredible rates. Perhaps we don't need radically new energy production technology, but just need to get wasteful institutions like utilities re-conceived and reconfigured and investment incentives in our society re-prioritized.

Hopefully we will get our political priorities straight while there is still plenty of fossil fuel around for those things fossil fuels are really critical for, while we transition 90% of our energy needs for heat, transport and electricity production to renewables. Yeah, it a little hard when we have such stupid politics. But stories like this one give me some hope that our country can find unity of purpose around sensible priorities and start getting serious about the transition: http://ensia.com/interviews/debbie-dooley-making-the-tea-party-and-ameri...

Happy new year all

 

 

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
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Posts: 797
Technology to the rescue?

$64,000 before tax, title and license for a Telsa that has an advertised range of 208 miles.  The longest range car I saw on their website was 253 miles.  How many people do you think can afford one?  How much oil do you suppose it takes to make a Telsa?

Good decisions at this point, plus appropriate technology may help slightly, but we are well past the point where there is an easy, painless solution.  The cars already on the road are not going to disappear.  The new cars on the dealer lots are going to wind up on the road.  Detroit is still cranking out muscle cars, SUVs and pickups for people to commute in.

Not a lot of people drive fuel efficient cars.  What we need is not so much technology, as a change of heart and lifestyles.  When people are embarrassed to drive 15 mpg vehicles, things will change.  I don't see much of that yet.

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 4 2010
Posts: 3936
au contraire

Come off it guys, Technology is what H.Sap does. It is our forte. Without technology we are there with the other Simians. (Although even they have been to seen to use technology.) . It would be absolutely impossible for us to turn our backs on technology as it would be for a Dodo to give up flying.

It is just a matter of choosing an appropriate technology for the situation at hand

So what are the technologies appropriate for a low energy economy? That is the question that we should be answering. I have chosen a sailboat as an immediate solution.

In the intermediate period I see solar powered airships making a comeback., using plastics dump-mined from eer.. dumps. Obviously someone is going to object and say that Airships will not be as fast as jet airliners, but I will leave them to figure that one for themselves. (Please don't embarrass yourselves- reflect before reacting)

In the longer time frame I see a much reduced population. (No surprises there.) In a much less populated world the per-capita income will be higher and I hope that Cold Fusion will allow our descendants to make better choices.

Objection! We will always make poor choices.

Objection! We won't be making the choices- our descendants will. Weren't you paying attention? Mr Darwin or Dr. Rupert Sheldrake's Morphic fields is re-molding Man into something that does not exist.

Objection! That's garbage. Evolution ended when I was born.

No it didn't, sweetie. Think back to the difference between us and Igil Skallagrimson.

Here is a picture of him. (Visit the site- there is a lot of Igil's poetry there. He was a good poet.)

 

Here is a taste.

I flounder by the fireside,

Ask females for mercy,

Bitter the battle

On my brow-plains;

The prince has praised me

With precious gold,

The wild king once

Was tamed by my words.

Time passes tediously,

I tarry here alone

An old, senile elder

With no king to aid me.

I walk on two widows,

Once true women,

Now frosted and feeble,

Needing the old flame.

 

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2009
Posts: 797
I love technology

...and said nothing against it.  I just said it's not our big problem, lifestyles are.  

Technology improvement can help a little, but large scale changing attitudes and lifestyles are what's needed.  As you mentioned, dramatically reduced population will also be required. Another word that is absent from regular use by the MSM, is overshoot.

From what I can see, mankind shows occasional intelligence on an individual level, but as a whole, displays about the same intelligence as an algae bloom.

I would also argue that a lot of what you may consider to be evolution, is largely change in diet.  Meat eating humans generally grow taller than grain eating humans.  I read somewhere, that the average Spanish conqueror was 5' 3" tall.  How less than 300 vertically challenged Spaniards conquered Central America and Peru is beyond me.

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Better Electric Cars and Powerplants Breakthrough?

Google " A Maryland Inventor's big energy ideas have promise...."    This genius may just confirm Arthur's faith in our technological abilities.

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Better Electric Cars and Powerplants Breakthrough?

I just reviewed this guy's published patent application and website.  He put a lot of dreams on paper and has not even begun to see if any of them work.  The basic idea from my quick reading seems to be that he gets near perfect energy transfer (to eliminate diffusion-radiation of waste heat) between solid surfaces and a moving liquid, by specially flowing fluid past the solid just right, in a manner to capture waste diffusion.  He mentions the need for "laminar flow" and a very complex situation of confined fluid control surfaces, which he apparently has given no serious thought to the real fluid dynamics, much less any kind of testing.

The application has much political type commentary and his website features his supporters, which seem to be mostly or all government politicos.  That may be why his ideas are in the main stream press.  I note that there are MANY small inventors with similarly untested dreams of solving energy that we do not hear about, probably because they have not enjoined politicos and PR before even trying to find out if the ideas can work.  Tesla had some extremely nice ideas for improved efficiency heat to motor (turbine etc) that sound real nice on paper and in theory, but could not be made, even now.  However, they are logical enough and promising enough, I would not count them out indefinitely as engineering catches up with dreaming.  However, I agree with Edison that 99 X times more roll up the sleeves work is required for every dream X.  It seems almost axiomatic in the invention of real things (that actually work) that the successful inventors are always those who spend most all time building their dreams and finding out why they dont work, and then finally discover the real invention by wrestling with reality, instead of with their own dream states..........  .The guy who built Honda (and who knows something about inventing machines) famously said "100 times try, 99 times fail" as the way to inventive progress.  Our knowledge of Edison is of a guy who failed MOST of the time because he bothered to find out WHY his ideas are wrong or imperfect.  Such is the stuff of inventions, not to be confused with fantasy writing where perfection is created by proper word choice.

Chris M's last interview had very nice, refreshing reference to the need for facts in any discussion about news.  This phenomenon of making up (or honestly dreaming as this inventor from Maryland seems to be doing) dreams or desires and relying on such without facts (or reality check experimentation which is the hallmark of real science and invention) seems to be a dominant condition of a collapsing post empire America. 

This an important topic to me because the most valuable aspect of the CM blogsite is the respect for and ability of the managers/editor to pay attention to the facts.  (Thank you Adam and Chris)  A website that uses logic and fact basing edit of entries is the most valuable thing on the internet today, for all kinds of news, from politics such as the Ukraine to new unlimited energy inventions.  

Mots

Cornelius999 wrote:

Google " A Maryland Inventor's big energy ideas have promise...."    This genius may just confirm Arthur's faith in our technological abilities.

 

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Need heat engine that works off thermodynamic 2nd law violations

I've figured out the basic concept how to do it! How to power heat engines off of common, regular, everyday violations of the second law of thermo.

Here's how it works. Just describe your new patent idea into this here tube... no, you have to maintain a good seal so that the pressure transfers from your lungs to this little device, and from there to the generator...

... it's free energy, really!

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Even facts can be confusing Mots...

Mots said,

This an important topic to me because the most valuable aspect of the CM blogsite is the respect for and ability of the managers/editor to pay attention to the facts.  (Thank you Adam and Chris)  A website that uses logic and fact basing edit of entries is the most valuable thing on the internet today, for all kinds of news,

I agree.. but still, the facts can make one's head spin.  Take this for example;

http://winteractionables.com/?p=17499

Sandy Hook “Victim” Photo Appears Among Those Killed in Pakistan School Massacre

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30629751

Why would the image of a Sandy Hook child victim be reused in the context of the Pakistan school massacre this way?  Whoever did that had to know that the modern day YouTube internet truther police would find it.  Is it some kind of sick joke played by our alphabet soup agencies... a kind of middle finger to the truthers?  I gotta believe that's what it is.  

But the picture is there.. on a poster on a wall in Pakistan.. and it's the same picture of a kid purportedly killed in the Sandy Hook massacre.      

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Analogy Analysis
Quote:

impossible for us to turn our backs on technology as it would be for a Dodo to give up flying. 

Arthur, dodos were flightless. Which was a big part of why they were hunted to extinction.

Your analogy would work better if you used a bird that flies.

Or were you being ironic and I missed it?   ;-)

 

 

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When any child is killed it is sad....

but when a child is killed twice, it is just heart rending. wink

There is something very fishy about the Sandy Hook incident.  Lots of details just ain't right.

It is a long video.  So make some popcorn.

 

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Even the facts can be confusing

lol, I agree, and also enjoy Rudman's free energy machine description, I use a machine similar to that to heat my hands this Winter, and it really is free. 

We are indirectly describing the process of science, where even fact based carefully detailed written reports are robustly challenged in all aspects by others in the same field who know best how to spot a mistake, or a lie.  Such objective reality check system gave us progress in development and use of technology.  But that system, and the respect for truth obtained thereby, is going away.  The internet has obscured and made difficult the search for truth.  What new arrangements can we use going forward in a garbage-info saturated world?  This is exacerbated by an education system that is breaking down, as summarized by Charles Hugh Smith. I think that the scientific method is more necessary than ever these days, not for discovering new things, but instead to teach an attitude and how to use the dialectic with reality checking to determine truth in an ocean of lies.   Can someone systemize the process for use on internet obtained information?

best wishes

Mots

Jim H wrote:

Mots said,

This an important topic to me because the most valuable aspect of the CM blogsite is the respect for and ability of the managers/editor to pay attention to the facts.  (Thank you Adam and Chris)  A website that uses logic and fact basing edit of entries is the most valuable thing on the internet today, for all kinds of news,

I agree.. but still, the facts can make one's head spin.  Take this for example;

http://winteractionables.com/?p=17499

Sandy Hook “Victim” Photo Appears Among Those Killed in Pakistan School Massacre

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30629751

Why would the image of a Sandy Hook child victim be reused in the context of the Pakistan school massacre this way?  Whoever did that had to know that the modern day YouTube internet truther police would find it.  Is it some kind of sick joke played by our alphabet soup agencies... a kind of middle finger to the truthers?  I gotta believe that's what it is.  

But the picture is there.. on a poster on a wall in Pakistan.. and it's the same picture of a kid purportedly killed in the Sandy Hook massacre.      

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More on Novel Energy

It was my little joke Yoxa. I hope it brought a smile to your face.

It has occurred to me that we would do much better with basic energy research if the USA was not so obsessed with their petro-dollar.

Pons and Fleischmann were crucified to save the petro-dollar. How many other novel discoveries languish? This whole "the oil companies would buy the patent" meme is the go-to in any conversation about alternative energy. It is a real conversation stopper.

Let us assume that we cannot model the conditions of a solid state accurately. I am comfortable with that assumption as complexity and the statistical nature of Quantum physics would turn a computers hair grey. Anyway, a far bigger assumption has been made; and that it is impossible for nuclear reactions to take place at room temperature.

And that little sacred cow took a battering with the discovery of very real Muons which are very heavy electrons. These muons are bombarding us at a rate of 1000 per second per meter squared. (If my memory serves me correctly) That means the chair you are sitting on is undergoing transmutation right now.

But with that assumption firmly entrenched in every chemists mind, why would he look for excess heat? He would assume that the laws of thermodynamics forbid any and so would miss a profound discovery. Pons and Fleischmann were first class electro-chemists and they did not miss the significance of the boiling heavy water.

I am afraid that a great undoable injustice has been committed. Thus we reward our pioneers.

Mafiosi backed Perto-dollar. Go get a real job, you lay-abouts.

Edit: Here is the website of the inventor from the conversation above.

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The Immutability of Science?

I take my steer from Prof. Planck, "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." It appears he knew a thing or two about the nature of science... and people.

We as a species appear to have gotten into the peculiar habit of believing theory with circumstantial proof is immutable law when it contains words and rituals that we don't understand. Any guesses as to where that leads us?

In my opinion science isn't supposed to prove what is true but rather disprove what is false. That is its virtue. So if the laws of thermodynamics break down at a particular point (just as the law of relativity breaks down at the singularity) then it needs to be amended. That's science, folks!

Personally I'd like to explore the Kardashev scale, as i like space, and energy.

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Luke Moffat wrote: We as a
Luke Moffat wrote:

We as a species appear to have gotten into the peculiar habit of believing theory with circumstantial proof is immutable law when it contains words and rituals that we don't understand. Any guesses as to where that leads us?

Keynesian Economics? crying

In reading all these comments I think one thing we may be missing as an overarching problem that makes all this discussion about technology and consumption moot is that it doesn't really matter if there is new technology available that is more efficient and uses novel forms of energy, like electric cars. In theory these technologies could help us. But they won't, because the politico-economic system we are enslaved to requires that all new sources of wealth (energy and resources) be used up to feed the growth monster. Therefore, any advantages these new technologies offer will be more than used up by the system. Furthermore, growth in the rest of the global economy from traditional sources like fossil fuels outstrips growth in the renewables. We are being conditioned into a consumptive lifestyle where frugalness is not only not promoted, but is actually frowned upon, because frugalness leads to demand destruction, deflation, unemployment, and financial collapse. Economists don't know how to deal with that. All they can manage is growth. That is the nature of the system. And what's worse, the average person doing all this consumption will not wake up to the reality of it until it is too late and the whole thing collapses.

We are banker slaves and they have conditioned us to think collectively in the bankers' own short term interests.

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Great line Mark BC...

This one deserves repeating and digesting;

We are banker slaves and they have conditioned us to think collectively in the bankers' own short term interests.

I would add that this same thought applies to the banker's short, mid-term, and long term interests.  30 year mortgage anyone? 

*  That paper money of no intrinsic worth is wealth has been ingrained in us.

*  That we should strive to live above our means.. using debt to, "elevate" our lifestyles, and our stuff, has been ingrained in us.

*  That growth must always be the objective has been ingrained in us by our gov't leaders and our corporate/banker/Wall street leaders. 

That as long as you can afford the payment... you can afford it.

I think this last one is the one I have become most aware of myself in the last year.  When I think back to the opportunity lost over many decades through my own acceptance of this little nugget.. I could cry.  By constantly renting cars and houses, and by that I mean buying things with loans, I keep myself, "in the system" and much less able to build long term resiliency.  

Nowadays my goal is to manage my way, over the next few years, God willing, to a homestead of sorts that will allow me to function with little or no money.  Rather than paying installments to have stuff now, I want to invest in seceding from dependency on bankers as completely as possible.  

How are we to expect our own leaders to stop spending our own kids futures today if we don't stop doing it ourselves?          

 

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Mark_BC wrote: Luke Moffat
Mark_BC wrote:
Luke Moffat wrote:

We as a species appear to have gotten into the peculiar habit of believing theory with circumstantial proof is immutable law when it contains words and rituals that we don't understand. Any guesses as to where that leads us?

Keynesian Economics? crying

In reading all these comments I think one thing we may be missing as an overarching problem that makes all this discussion about technology and consumption moot is that it doesn't really matter if there is new technology available that is more efficient and uses novel forms of energy, like electric cars. In theory these technologies could help us. But they won't, because the politico-economic system we are enslaved to requires that all new sources of wealth (energy and resources) be used up to feed the growth monster. Therefore, any advantages these new technologies offer will be more than used up by the system. 

Yep, that's pretty much how i see it. The House always wins.

Still, we must dissent

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Keynesian Economics? 

Keynesian Economics?  suggested that

"In reading all these comments I think one thing we may be missing as an overarching problem that makes all this discussion about technology and consumption moot is that it doesn't really matter if there is new technology available that is more efficient and uses novel forms of energy, like electric cars. In theory these technologies could help us. But they won't, because the politico-economic system we are enslaved to requires that all new sources of wealth (energy and resources) be used up to feed the growth monster. Therefore, any advantages these new technologies offer will be more than used up by the system."

Well I have a little tiny device in my pocket that replaces all sorts of crap I used to need: my phone, camera, TV, video camera, encyclopedia, clock, calculator, compass, flashlight, address book, map, record player, record library, recording device, mail service, notebook, book library, newspaper, stock ticker, dictionary, thesaurus, numerous games, etc. etc. It does it all as well or better than all those old devices did their jobs with a tiny fraction of the materials, a tiny fraction of the energy, a whole lot more convenience and additional capacities we could only dream of a decade ago. Today I have been texting with my son on the other side of the world in real time for free, and I could also call him on skype for free any time. My dad called and we talked about his time in the army when he had to sign up a month in advance to call his parents in Connecticut from Japan and then was only allowed to talk for a couple minutes and how a letter took a month to get delivered.

Yeah our banking system is screwed up and our government is controlled by wealthy in ways it shouldn't be. And there are certainly wasteful stupid things we do in our society. Those are political problems we can work on and will hopefully prove solvable.

They do not negate the power of technology to immensely grow the benefits we all enjoy in our lives while also reducing the resources we need to get those services by equally immense levels. Growth in human prosperity doesn't have to mean growth in energy or material use. In fact the opposite seems to be the emerging reality.

Who knows what new solutions we will all take for granted a decade from now that are just as remarkably and unimaginably transformative as smartphones were a decade or two ago. We don't need to violate the laws of thermodynamics to create massive new sources of natural resources, we can and will continue to replace the need for all those resources with innovation. Such innovation will come with its own social and political challenges, as disruption always does. But it will make us all better off.

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I can't disagree Mots that

I can't disagree Mots that the devil is in the detail, and Ace strangely,  hasn't  got anything practical to show so far.  Had I seen his website before the journalist's  article I would possibly have moved smartly on.  However I'd  love to believe the lone obsessive has noticed things the experts have missed! 

 

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The second law isn't just physical

The second law isn't just physical: it's mathematical.

The second law, as applied to data compression, for example, limits lossless compression to n*log2(n) for general random data. It limits the speed of n-p hard problem solutions -- and of fourier transform calculations, to n*log2 (n) operations.

As a result, if you're going to overcome the second law of thermodynamics, you're going to have to invalidate 1+1=2. But if you do that, our very ability to live will be questionable.

Some problems are not practically worth pursuing. Unless, of course, it is actually a different goal you are after.

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How much energy does the Internet use?
Fred Unger wrote:

Well I have a little tiny device in my pocket that replaces all sorts of crap I used to need: my phone, camera, TV, video camera, encyclopedia, clock, calculator, compass, flashlight, address book, map, record player, record library, recording device, mail service, notebook, book library, newspaper, stock ticker, dictionary, thesaurus, numerous games, etc. etc. It does it all as well or better than all those old devices did their jobs with a tiny fraction of the materials, a tiny fraction of the energy, a whole lot more convenience and additional capacities we could only dream of a decade ago. 

In case you were wondering (I was), in 2011 some guys from UCSI & UC Berkeley estimated that the internet consumes about 170 to 307 gigawatts:

How much energy does the Internet use?

 

Ultimately, Raghavan and Ma estimated the Internet uses 84 to 143 gigawatts of electricity every year, which amounts to between 3.6 and 6.2 percent of all electricity worldwide. Taking emergy into account, the total comes up to 170 to 307 gigawatts. That's a lot of energy, but amounts to just under two percent of worldwide energy consumption.

In 2011 there were 2.27 billions users on the internet. So that’s about 75W to 135W in average per user 24/7. It’s less than I imagined actually more or less the energy used by a fridge…

 

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The view ‘growth and energy

The view ‘growth and energy are linked’ is made and then examples cited. ‘If you want mountains to grow higher you need tectonic forces to push them there.  If you want a child to grow taller, food energy is absolutely required.  If you want more people building more houses, driving more cars, and wearing more clothes, you need energy, energy and more energy.’ Energy is necessary (as pointed out in the article) but it is not sufficient. Material (matter) is also needed. As the economist Georgescu-Roegen said decades ago “Matter matters, too”. Even the 4 year old quoted in the article knows that the food eaten provides matter for growth as well as energy to do the work. In view of this common lack of understanding of what really always happens, the article is most misleading despite making many sound points.

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Fred Unger wrote:Well I have
Fred Unger wrote:

Well I have a little tiny device in my pocket that replaces all sorts of crap I used to need: my phone, camera, TV, video camera, encyclopedia, clock, calculator, compass, flashlight, address book, map, record player, record library, recording device, mail service, notebook, book library, newspaper, stock ticker, dictionary, thesaurus, numerous games, etc. etc. It does it all as well or better than all those old devices did their jobs with a tiny fraction of the materials, a tiny fraction of the energy, a whole lot more convenience and additional capacities we could only dream of a decade ago.

...

They do not negate the power of technology to immensely grow the benefits we all enjoy in our lives while also reducing the resources we need to get those services by equally immense levels. Growth in human prosperity doesn't have to mean growth in energy or material use. In fact the opposite seems to be the emerging reality.

Who knows what new solutions we will all take for granted a decade from now that are just as remarkably and unimaginably transformative as smartphones were a decade or two ago. We don't need to violate the laws of thermodynamics to create massive new sources of natural resources, we can and will continue to replace the need for all those resources with innovation. Such innovation will come with its own social and political challenges, as disruption always does. But it will make us all better off.

Thanks for your thoughts Fred, and I think this leads perfectly into a discussion around what people mean when they bring up the laws of thermodynamics. I would start by asking you this question: all of the innovations you mention in your first paragraph... what do they do? Specifically, can any of them... fuel your car? Heat your house? Fill your belly? Nope. What every single one (except for the flashlight) does is manage information, and unfortunately you can't live off information. In your pocket do you have an internal combustion engine capable of pushing your car? How about a field of corn to feed you for a year? A tank full of natural gas and a furnace that will heat your home in winter?
 
This is a very interesting topic and one I'm currently trying to hash out in my spare time, because there is near universal confusion out there concerning the difference between information management and energy transfer. Those are totally different processes, and the technology used to effect them is totally different. Basically, all technology can be categorized into those two classes, but virtually no one does. Unfortunately, economists have developed all their theories in total oblivion to this critical issue, and therefore, all mainstream economic theory, and pretty much all the rest of non-mainstream economics as well, can be considered to be invalid... Even many scientists and engineers don't understand the difference. I could even go so far as to say that the singlemost important reason that humanity is likely doomed to fail and enter a Malthusian Collapse is because the people who make decisions for us have not a clue about the difference between information management and energy transfer. They keep beating the drums about how technology needs to continue to advance and how it will save us all if it does, but the technology they're holding up is all about information management. What's causing the problems is energy transfer. Whenever someone points out the problems we are encountering with energy transfer, economists subconsciously and automatically switch over to information management technology and point out all the great stuff being done there.
 
None of the technology you mention generates thermodynamic entropy as a direct result of the process itself. Essentially, all that's happening in your pocket iPhone is that little bits of information are being moved around and organized. Those movements are macroscopic in scale (meaning, much larger than atoms) and do not alter matter at the molecular scale. Any energy requirements that these technologies have is what I call "facilitatory", not direct. I'll explain.
 
Imagine a jar full of plastic green and red beads. The two colours represent information. In order to separate them into piles of green beads vs. red beads, or to arrange them into a pretty picture (like, for example, pixels on your iPhone screen), you would have to go through and manually pick them apart. Performing that activity requires some energy on your part to move your fingers and the beads. But you aren't changing the beads at all -- merely rearranging them. The energy required to rearrange them is what I call "facilitatory", in that you really don't care about it. This is basically what all of the devices you have listed do. What modern technology has done has been to greatly shrink the size of the beads, to find ways of automatically sorting them rather than you doing it by hand (for example, a calculator automatically does what an abacus used to do), and to sort them much faster. Also, modern technology uses electricity to do this sorting rather than your fingers, which is why all the devices you mention require energy (in addition to powering their illuminated screens), since no process is 100% efficient and there is always a little bit of waste heat generated when things are moved around. But none of that energy goes towards changing the nature of the matter in the devices at all (except for depleting the batteries...) All the heat generation from these devices is "incidental" or secondary to the information services they perform. You don't use an iPhone in order to generate heat and use its energy (except when using it as a flashlight but then it's not really being used as an informational device). The advances made in information technology over the last century have been impressive and still continue, since we are still a ways away from the limits imposed by the nature of the matter that would take us down into the atomic scale. I think that each microscopic "bead" in your computer's CPU today is around a million atoms large. These so-called quantum computers delve into this realm but I don't know much about them. At this quantum scale, the beads can switch around between read and green without you doing anything to them -- they are non-deterministic. The reason large beads in the order of millions of atoms are deterministic while small ones comprising only a few atoms are not is because of simple statistics. Roll a dice and you can't predict what you will get. That represents the uncertain state of a single atom. But roll the dice a million times and you will be able to predict with very high precision that 3 will come up 1/6th of the time. The atomic uncertainty disappears.
 
Now, contrast this with the technology you use when when you want to heat your house, move your car, or have a meal. That good stuff is brought about by fundamentally different technology -- furnaces, power plants, engines, and agriculture -- big noisy stuff. The main purpose of this technology is to actually change the nature of the matter itself at the molecular scale, basically to generate thermodynamic entropy. In this case, you really do care about the energy, because that is ultimately what you are after here. What these devices do is actually burn the beads to get the heat or light. Burning it changes every single atom, at the atomic scale. Burning combines hydrocarbons with oxygen and the atoms get rearranged and out comes water, carbon dioxide, and heat. That is fundamentally different from just organizing the beads.
 
And whenever a piece of matter is changed on the molecular scale, thermodynamics enters the picture. The 2nd law describes what you can expect. As to why this law is the way it is, well that's a pretty deep topic that I don't fully understand, but basically quantum uncertainty becomes an issue. This "uncertainty" is manifested in the form of heat, which is the average speed of the random vibrations of the molecules comprising matter. When you burn something, what you generate is heat, or random disorder. This increases the entropy of the system, which is defined as the amount of heat generated, divided by temperature. Order has been lost on a molecular scale and cannot be regained. Useful activities can only be performed when energy is arranged in an orderly fashion. That heat can be converted back into other forms of useful energy (like electricity to charge your iPhone) by getting that heat to flow to colder places and changing matter (steam) as it moves, but only a certain percentage of it can be reclaimed -- the "Carnot Limit" which is dependent on the temperature differential between the heat source and the heat sink. This isn't easy to do and requires big complicated power plants.
 
And while historical technological advancements made in information management have been astounding, advancements in energy infrastructure essentially stagnated a century ago. All we've been doing since then is minor efficiency improvements taking us closer to the Carnot Limit. For example, newer natural gas power plants added the Brayton Cycle (turbines turned by the exhaust gases) to the Rankine Cycle (turbines turned by the steam generated from the heat). This bumped efficiencies up from 40% on Rankine alone to 60% for Combined Cycle. Well, the thermodynamic Carnot Limit, the ultimate possible efficiency, is only 70%. So we are basically there.
 
Automobiles have gotten more efficient, and we are basically at their limits right now for practical cars. That's essentially what technological advancements have given us on the energy front over the last century. Oh, and solar panels, which add up to basically nothing on a global scale. Nuclear power plants are nothing new, they actually operate by generating heat to create steam and running a Rankine cycle, just like a traditional coal power plant.
 
I wrote a little introductory piece on this a while ago. The next step is to delve deeper into thermodynamics to explain why this happens and how it impacts the various "productive" activities occurring in the economy -- basically, what are they actually "producing"? That's turning into a treatise...
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Mark_BC, You seem to be

Mark_BC,

You seem to be negating the power of learning that information transfer involves, as well as the reduction in consumption associated with information technology. Imagine the huge amounts of both material and energy resources consumed by that long list of technologies that my smart phone has replaced.

Think also how much we learn on a forum like this. I participate in similar forums on energy issues where I have been introduced to key concepts that I use in my work developing solar projects as well as my earlier work developing energy efficient buildings.

As for claims that we are basically at the limit of automobile efficiency, I find that hard to believe after reading about the demonstration car VW has on the road today that gets over 300 MPG. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2540618/The-fuel-efficien....

Similar efforts toward efficiency are taking place at every scale of energy and material use. I was privileged to get a tour of the Colorado State University Energy Institute the other day. They are doing amazing science on improving efficiency and reducing emissions on everything from tiny cook stoves for third world kitchens to locomotive engines and entire electrical grids.

While we will still clearly always  need to consume energy, raw materials, food and water, there are vast opportunities to improve the efficiency in how we consume all those resources, as well as opportunities to replace the nasty means of producing energy and other resources with more ecologically sustainable means of production. The learning and knowledge transfer opportunities now available can enable a transformation to a cleaner and vastly more efficient economy that can provide relatively comfortable lives for all the worlds billions of inhabitants, if we can find the political will to make that goal a priority.

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Jim H, regarding Mark BC's comment

We are banker slaves and they have conditioned us to think collectively in the bankers' own short term interests.

I might also add two items to your list. I keep these in mind when I am tempted to spend on things that perpetuate the current consumerist system.

1. Tax laws will always favor the banks.  I was horrified as a twenty-something (in the mid 70s) to hear that at the time credit card interest was tax deductible. Nothing convinced me that banks just wanted to milk us for interest income, with the government's cooperation, like finding  that out. Recently, I looked into the credit terms for buying an expensive hearing aid: GE Care Credit offered a "no interest for two years" loan that raked in 16% on a revolving credit that compounded every two weeks. If you made their minimum payments for two years, you'd have paid off  only half of the principal and all that interest would come due: it was carefully calculated to NEVER be paid off. Nothing less than a nation--a world--of debt slaves would make lending institutions happy.

2. Lending guidelines are always slanted to get you in debt over your head. Always. around ten years ago I inherited some money and investigated buying a house. The lending institutions all tried to assure me that spending over half my pretax income on housing was just fine and dandy. Careful budgeting means you should spend no more than one third of your take-home pay on housing, even if it means living in a shack.

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SailAway
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300 MPG car
Fred Unger wrote:

As for claims that we are basically at the limit of automobile efficiency, I find that hard to believe after reading about the demonstration car VW has on the road today that gets over 300 MPG. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2540618/The-fuel-efficient-car-world-Volkswagen-XL1-does-300-MILES-gallon-looks-cool-too.html.

 

I think what Marc meant is that we are close to the limit of efficiency for a car using a heat engine.  An electric engine is much more efficient of course.

At constant speed on the highway the energy requirement is set by the air drag and the efficiency of the engine (in practice, 20% for a heat engine).

Of course a lighter vehicle using an electric engine (or hybrid) in town is a different story.

You might want to check this excellent piece from Tom Murphy on this topic:

100 MPG on Gasoline: Could We Really?

 

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T -Shirt

I am partial to the poetic Irony  

                                                   " Cut down trees , Erect big stones "

                                                   ????????????????????????????

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Arthur Robey
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Cross Link.

I could not contain myself. I had to cross link your conversation to Alexander Parkhomov's 2.6 to 1 energy conversion rate over at Cold Fusion.

It is My Reality based upon My observations. I am deeply impressed.

Seek, and do not stop looking until you find. When you find you will be perplexed. When perplexed Astounded, and rule over all.

Christ- Gospel of St Thomas.

(I am of cause referring to the Quantum Erasure experiment. A back history has been loaded to allow for my observations.)

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Limits to growth

What caught my eye was your 2nd paragraph - "It is so simple it could be worked out by a clever 4 year-old. And yet it must not be so simple because the main narrative of every economy in every corner of the globe rests on the idea of endless, infinite growth."

Discussing the energy problem and new technologies is interesting, yet misses the solution to the world's current situation, which is the fact that endless infinite growth is not possible, unless we look at and think about life and living differently.

Some of you may be interested in reading an article on the "Limits to Growth" at http://livingatflow.com/limitstogrowth/

Some comments referred to needing a smaller world population, which won't happen without major wars and/or plagues.  To keep world populations in check, the poor and uneducated people need to be educated better/differently.

Those in power, big business, and the media are not going to do their part in helping the situation, as they push for endless spending, consumption, and infinite growth, as a way to keep their power over the rest of us.

The people of the world subjected to their propaganda have no/little interest in doing anything other than behaving like sheep and doing as/what they believe others are doing, that is keeping up with the mythical "Jones".

In his book, @F-L-O-W, Mike Jay points out that we need to rethink how we look at success and happiness and work toward consuming 1/3 less than we currently do.  In the process we will be redefining what success means to us and the result will be greater happiness, which is what most people want anyway.

Technology is great, yet do we need or even want every new gadget that comes to the market place?

To save our world we just need to think and act differently [easier said than done, for sure].

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Flawless Sex

 Thanks flawlessliving.

The Limits to Growth gets a lot of comment on this site.

One of the aspects that needs to be taken into consideration is our very fragile fecundity. It is strongly argued that we are a hybrid, and as a hybrid we have difficulty breeding.

This may be counter-intuitive until you consider the amount of unproductive sex we engage in. This is highly unusual amongst any other mammal.

We are busy exacerbating this problem by flooding our environment with phytoestrogens. I guess that the LTG would place that under environmental.

 

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Our Giant Stones

I think our giant stones are the sports "industries" that amuse so many of us so well and so often.

All most of us can talk about is sports-related.

The sports our children play as we organize them to distraction, sports holidays (SuperBowl), and even our educational institutions spend billions of dollars on athletics while paying peanuts to a growing number of adjuncts to actually teach classes.

Our circuses of bread and circus fame.

So, to prosper in the coming times, I suggest finding a niche somewhere in "sportsing."

KK

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Sandpuppy

My favorite video clip from the Sandy Hoax.

Watch Ms. Clipboard walk through a planter right around 2:19 (slow it down, or stop it, a few times).  And it would appear that the Moonwalk is still in vogue (2:19 through 2:29, dude in the black jacket on the right).

Getting sloppy.  9/11 was much better (an opinion).

Perhaps for your next assignment, might I suggest the Boston MaraCon?

 

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Slop for thought
Arthur Robey wrote:

One of the aspects that needs to be taken into consideration is our very fragile fecundity. It is strongly argued that we are a hybrid, and as a hybrid we have difficulty breeding.

A recent conversation with a good friend turned to a discussion of the hybrid. "What on earth would make you think that an ape might find a pig...well, you know?!?..."

My answer.

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static vs dynamic

quality. Sex, a biological imperative, lost its consequence with birth control, its static quality with the post-victorians. The dynamic quality asserted itself with Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. Now look at what we've done.

a try at levity,robie

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Fred Unger wrote: You seem to
Fred Unger wrote:

You seem to be negating the power of learning that information transfer involves, as well as the reduction in consumption associated with information technology. Imagine the huge amounts of both material and energy resources consumed by that long list of technologies that my smart phone has replaced.

Yes! But believe it or not, the more material, energy, and time savings IT achieves, the more resources must be consumed! It's true, because of Jevon's Paradox. IT has thrown a lot of peope out of work. In order to keep unemployment low, which economists feel is important, the only other option to provide jobs is to grow the economy even faster. So when someone loses their job in the switchboard at the telephone company due to computers replacing them, what's generally happened is that they have gone to work in other sectors like construction and design engineering, or in retail etc. -- sectors growing the economy larger. Basically, over time, a lower and lower percentage of the workforce has been required to maintain society humming along in steady state, due to automation and robots taking over so many of the previous manual jobs. The reason economists feel it necessary to keep unemployment low is because there is currently no way, other than food stamps and welfare, to share wealth with people who are not working. And economists want it this way, because working people are supposedly "creating" wealth to grow the bankers' empires even larger.
 
And also don't forget that it requires a lot of resources to manufacture iPhones and run the internet, as other posters above have indicated. Just because things now appear virtual doesn't mean that virtual reality is somehow divorced from the natural world needed to support it.
 
So while it COULD technically be feasible to use Alberta's FF reserves to transition to a renewable future over the next half  century, it's not going to happen, for political and economic reasons. We could have done it 50 years ago; we had all the technology -- electric cars, batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, nuke plants. You know, a hundred years ago someone was saying the exact same thing as you are now -- the electric car was invented and we had hydro dams producing electricity. Wow, we were then free of dependence on fossil fuels!!! But we didn't transition, and we didn't do it 40 years ago, 20, and we're still not doing it today. Instead, FF use is still rising faster than any renewables. Because, as I and others have pointed out above, that simply isn't how the system works. For the system to change we would need a revolution, and due to brainwashing of the public by the bankers, we aren't going to get that kind of mass reshaping of perceptions until it's too late and the whole thing crashes.
 
That's why it's nice to see your 300 mpge car prototype (interested to see what the EPA would rate it in real life use, since the best hybrids out there can approach 100 mpge, and the Tesla Model S is 90 mpge...), show me an example of where this kind of technology is being implemented ANYWHERE, and is resulting in an economy-scale reduction in resource use, rather than just being used as an excuse to grow the economy even larger. Would you bring up Germany's solar panel revolution as an example? Well let's look at Germany's total resource use due to growth in its manufacturing sector that's happening at the same time as all its solar panels are built out... It's like in Vancouver, I get a kick out of all these fancy new buildings going up and they're touted as eco-friendly because they use new energy and water saving technologies. Yet they STILL need concrete and resources to build! They STILL need energy to run! It STILL requires the same amount of energy to fry an egg in one of these buildings. MORE resources are required to keep the city humming along with these "green" buildings than before we had them. Until the solar panels on their roofs (with they don't have) can feed back enough energy into the grid to offset the resources needed to build them, and I predict that that's NEVER going to happen, since there simply isn't enough roof space available, then all this technology is doing is contributing to MORE GROWTH in resource demand. As I keep pointing out, 97% of global energy supply comes from burning dead biomass; that hasn't changed and it isn't changing.
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Global Oil Supply During War on Oil Infrastructure

As everyone here well knows, humans fight when resources are limited.  And when one group cannot control an essential resource, sometimes preventing a rival from controlling it --by destroying it --kind of makes sense (in a very limited way).  Something like the scorched Earth policy of the retreating Russian army burning its own countryside and slaughtering its own farm animals as it retreated before Hitler's invading army.

The availability of oil must not be thought of in just geological terms, but in geopolitical ones, especially in the light of todays bombing of an oil tanker.

This weekend saw another "mysterious" bombing raid, but as AP reports, this time it was not on Libya directly but on a Greek-owned tanker ship at the eastern Libyan port of Darna (killing 2 sailors).

From 4 months ago:

"Unidentified fighter jets ... from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates "have secretly teamed up to launch airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli in Libya."

And this idea was floated in the western press in 2004:  An attack on key Saudi oil terminal could destabilize west

When Fadel Gheit first warned of his "nightmare scenario" that Saudi Arabia's main oil export terminal at Ras Tanura could be wiped out by terrorists, he was dismissed as an alarmist.  "I cannot think of any more logical target for terrorists. It [Ras Tanura] is the nerve centre for the Saudi oil trade but also for global exports. If you can blow up the Pentagon in broad daylight, then it cannot be impossible to fly a plane into Ras Tanura.

 

Not only is Ras Tanura, or the refining centre of Abqaiq, dangerously exposed to being knocked out of action by militants, but Mr Gheit also believes regime change in Saudi to a more hostile Islamic government is as inevitable as it was in Iran a quarter of a century ago. "It's only a matter of time."

 

Warfare aimed at the oil refining and distribution network is one mechanism by which the "stability" of an unstable world culture dependent on oil could be toppled quite abruptly.

The geological reports of oil reserves don't capture this aspect of the question "How much longer do we have to become independent of oil."  The potential for a very abrupt change through warfare exists.

And in a world where adequate food production is almost completely dependent on oil, the ramifications of a sudden drop in oil availability are almost too immense to consider.

 

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CHS on asymmetric warfare using oil price

2015: Asymmetric Oil Warfare

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

We are entering a new phase of asymmetric war being waged not over oil but the price of oil. Many observers see a parallel in Saudi Arabia's stated intent to force other exporters to cut their production (if they want to maintain the price of their oil) to the mid-1980s, when a similar oil-pricing war drove prices to lows that helped bankrupt the Soviet Union.

[We are seeing, a] new chapter in asymmetric warfare that may see a variety of oil-related weapons being deployed.

Charles very articulately (and with knowledge of the financial system), explains multiple ways the oil-price weapon could be used.  I found this fascinating.

Summary list [I have quoted CHS directly and paraphrased some]:

1.  Supply "proxy irregulars" [ha ha--love that term] with explosives to plant along the oil distribution pipelines, refineries and terminals.  Defending every portion of a supply line is nearly impossible.

2.  Disruption of supply facilities via Stuxnet-type computer worms.

3.  Nations that can print their own credit and currency--for example, the U.S. Federal Reserve--can quietly underwrite domestic production by buying shale-oil related junk bonds via proxies, effectively burying the debt.

4.  Selectively extending credit to oil producing nations that agree to support one's production goals and not extending credit to those that don't.  (Oil fields must be maintained and borrowing money is needed to upgrade infrastructure.)

5.  A key central bank (for example, the Fed) can cease issuing money/credit and thereby trigger a global slowdown that constricts demand. If oil production remains high, price plummets as the erosion in demand takes hold.

6.  A central bank might decide to support the price of oil ... by buying up vast quantities of futures contracts. Such buying would eventually trigger a short-covering rally that would push the price of oil significantly higher, at least in the short-term, regardless of physical supply-demand.

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Survival seems to be a male thing

Just wondering, does it worry anybody that nearly all comments on this article, and in most blogs of this nature, appear to be males. (I'm one too?) Glance through the names. Sometimes the commentary is 100 percent gender distorted. 

Just concerned that's it's not sensible to receive input on such an important subject primarily from only one gender.

This is a genuine query, I'm not being critical of anybody., just observing.

Time2help's picture
Time2help
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Social Dimorphism

Female - Nurturer/Provider      

Male - Provider/Protector/Defender

Perhaps males are "wired" to discern threats (in general) earlier in our species.

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phecksel
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Fred Unger wrote: As for
Fred Unger wrote:

As for claims that we are basically at the limit of automobile efficiency, I find that hard to believe after reading about the demonstration car VW has on the road today that gets over 300 MPG. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2540618/The-fuel-efficien....

Fred,

 

Pure and simple unmitigated BS

 

I'm an automotive engineer and currently work in powertrain development.

 

Two really big factors here.  One, there is not an equivalent measure of electrical energy.  The car battery has to be charged with something, we haven't overcome the physical restriction to electrical osmosis :)  They are taking credit for "free" battery capacity.  Second and equally huge factor, American drivers have so far been unwilling to accept an electric car or even an electric hybrid.  It's barely into early adopters, and that's only because of govt rebates of $7,500 each.  Even Tesla has said their success (very limited) is due to rebates and govt funding.

 

WRT cost being a little over $100k, NFW, and I really mean that with capital letters too.  Prototype mainline production vehicles, and an OEM can build as many as 250, but prototypes will cost every bit of $1,000,000 each.  One couldn't build a production car for at those volumes for the price they are asking.

 

There is no magic bullet.  The anticipated new EPA requirements are literally into the unobtanium region of pie in the sky.  There are a lot of minutia plans being worked out at every OEM, but so far that has not been an indication that anybody has solved the big problems.

 

We happen to drive a plug in hybrid, and I can tell you it takes a monumental paradigm shift in driving expectations.  An co-worker is rabidly obsessive with pursuit of battery only driving, and he does very well... and was in the 300 mpg range... right up until he had to visit his ailing dad out of state.  Now he's sitting at 100 mpg or so.  Remember, this is NOT counting electricity to charge the battery. 

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Chris Harries
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Social Dimorphism

This could well be true, but a problem arises (pointed out famously by Albert Einstein) that if what caused the problem in the first place then tries to fix it, then the problem is likely to be exacerbated.

Put into a popular social context, if our traditional patriarchal social matrix has resulted in near collapse of our civilization then one of our primary concerns is that we don't just reinforce feedback loops.

I see this problem especially in spirited efforts to resolve the human condition primarily by the enthusiastic application of more technology, whereas our core problem needs to be recognised as cultural, not technological.

Rather than view this in a prejudicial light, I see the need in any emergency to have all hands on deck and also to remove any behavoural patterns that tend to lock in the status quo.

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oil, coal, wind, solar, geo-thermal, nuclear, cold fusion...or

All the brilliant minds focusing on carbon based energy.  People are very smart; down to the atomic minutia of what happens with all the drilling, mining, burning and consumption.  How is it that no one is talking about the complete game changer Thorium?  The only suggestions I see relate to the refinement of dirty energy (addiction), or going green with wind, solar and any other fairy tale solutions to actual human needs such as waiting until we figure out cold-fusion (fools gold).  We sit upon millions of years of clean, cheap, global energy (and safe w/ no waste) and the methods are figured out (molten salt reactors) and no one talks about it.  Thorium.  What am I missing?  Thorium. I have had conversations with people in the nuclear industry and none of them have heard of Thorium.  I had multiple conversations with an individual who is the FA for the national nuclear waste fund and he too had never heard of Thorium.  I do have to admit that I am not a paying subscriber so maybe Mr. M has information in the subscriber only section.  I feel this information is far too important and we all need to talk about it.  Thorium people.  Thorium.

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