Population

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rkcarr's picture
rkcarr
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Population

Your population chart in Ch. 18 implies (although you don't state it) that population will continue to grow exponentially, indefinitely. This can't be. In fact, demographers at the UN and elsewhere predict population peaks somewhere beyond 2050 due to declining birth rates. However, this should not be read as good news. In fact, given the other future events you suggest, the population peak may be sooner and involve much more than just lower birth rates.

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cmartenson
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Population reply

 

I didn't mean to imply that population continues to grow exponentially, forever.   That's why the chart stops at 9.5 billion.  I only run my chart to 2050, or another 42 years using the US population estimates/models.  If I had continued to run that line to 11, 12 or 15 billion, then I would have been making an undue extrapolation.

 

I am actually unconcerned with what sort of leveling off happens in 2050 because I have serious concerns about even adding the 3 billion extra people between here and 2050.

 

As you note, there could easily be some sort of a population limiting event, or set of conditions, prior to 2050.  Peak energy represents one such condition for which I have seen no serious  solutions.

 

Chris Martenson, PhD.

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srbarbour
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Peak Energy
[quote]Peak energy represents one such condition for which I have seen no serious solutions. [/quote] There are two obvious solutions. One is nuclear using fast breeder reactors -- which can not only burn as fuel >90% of all existing nuclear waste (drastically reducing our nuclear waste problem), but also promptly turn around and burn depleted uranium. Already mined fuel, that is the stuff sitting in existing inventories, could quite literally tide us over for centuries. After that... well, some studies go so far as to suggest that it would be energy profitable draw uranium straight from rock (not ore, rock). That would make the fuel supply, not infinite, but really really high.

The Scientific American article I linked to earlier goes into fast breeder reactors in quite some depth. It is reasonable to expect that in the short term (next 10 to 30 years) a switch to fast breeder reactors might increase electrical costs, potentially doubling them.

It is though, a highly viable option, and likely preferable in terms of environmental waste to existing fossil fuel plants. -- Nuclear waste is much easier to contain, and frankly, some of it isn't a whole lot more dangerous than some toxic waste produced in much vaster quantities when you get down to it. --

A second option is Solar. One of the better layouts of what a Solar shift would look like is: The Solar Grand Plan .

It is worth noting that Nanosolar already claims to be producing Solar Cells that surpass the 'conservative' estimate provided by the scientists. Even if Nanosolar is lying, there are SO MANY revolutionary solar technologies out there (e.g. those that pave the way to a drastic improvement of the energy/cost ratio), that a solar power revolution is pretty much inevitable in the future.

Long term Peak Energy isn't going to be a problem (Not for a couple more centuries anyway). Energy Transition, however, is.

--

Steve
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cmartenson
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  Steve,   thanks

 

Steve,

 

thanks for the thoughtful comment.  Here are the issues I see with the technologies you've offered up.  Everything is either a version of time/scale/cost or rarity.

 

For example, I think it's great that nano solar is making such great gains.  However I don't believe their technology can scale to anything approaching whole percentages of world wide electricity production because it is based on Gallium - an extremely rare element that is mostly secured as a minute by-product of aluminum and other metal mining and processing.

 

[quote]Gallium is thought to make up 0.0015 percent of the Earth’s crust and there are no concentrated supplies of it. We get it by extracting it from zinc or aluminum ore or by smelting the dust of furnace flues. Dr. Reller says that by 2017 or so there’ll be none left to use.[/quote]

 

When you are smelting flue dust for something, I have my concerns about getting enough to power the world.  

 

For the nanosolar claims to become credible in my book, someone would have to calculate how many ounces of gallium are required per megawatt of produced solar cells , divide this into the desired terrawatts, and then compare this to known  world gallium supplies.  

 

Like I said I haven't seen it yet.

 

On Fast Breeder reactors, they are indeed a possibility, but they really aren't much past the pilot phase at this point largely because of the political issues involved.  Yes they get more (lots more!) out of a given quantity of uranium but they also create bomb grade materials in the process.  So when I think of the political realities of trying to build hundreds, if not thousands of these plants I think about the time involved (shouldn't we have started already?), scale (are there enough skilled workers to do this?), and cost (we'd have to set this as a priority and drop a whole lot of other projects, like Iraq...).

 

A credible plan for fast breeder reactors does not yet exist in my estimation or, if one's been proposed, I haven't seen it and would appreciate something beyond the thought-experiment in the Scientific American article.   I mean something that specifically calculates the time/scale/cost components.

 

All of this is my way of saying that I believe there are some technological solutions that *could* work, but not without concerted political will and a serious re-direction of priorities and investment monies.  Meanwhile congress is dithering over a few measly billion in alternative tax credits and still remains in support of ethanol.  

 

Chris Martenson

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EndGamePlayer
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Peak Energy Reply about nuclear
I agree Steve- nuclear is the way of the distance future. Whether in large or small packages. Back in '87 I bought a calculator based on the battery technology inside it. It was made of polymers bonded to radioactive material. The battery half-life was 12 1/2 years but (my guess) is that the electrical reaction has been maintaining the battery itself . . so now, 21 years later - I had to replace the calculator but the battery is still running. From the history of the production of the batteries - I know that many materials did not bond properly but those that did are still most likely running and will continue to run safely for the next 1,000 years (or more). Unfortunately, so much government red tape, so much social stigma and so much mis-information is out on nuclear energy that the society may not fully accept it until they have no other way to feed or cloth themselves. At one time I could envision this technology powering houses, cars, trains and more with radioactive waste and instead (that happens so often) the government turned it all into a plan to bury it inside a mountain for someone down the road to deal with. Oh, the irony of it all. . . . EndGamePlayer
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ytterbius
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A Company that is Scaling Properly.
LDK Solar of China, listed on the NYSE.

LDK is currently the World's Largest Solar Wafer Manufacturer (Silicon-based), and they have just announced expansion into the use of Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon for Wafer Production (UMG is slightly less pure than Polysilicon, but is much cheaper and avaiable in greater quantities). LDK is building one of the largest Polysilicon / TCS factories in the World (16,000 Metric Tons of Poly / Year,) which is due to be complete at the end of next year. Their announcement of first poly production is due within a month.

On the minus side, LDK (and Chinese Solar in General) is being suppressed by Wall Street Interests. That's a long story.

Anyway, here's a presentation from LDK, which not only gives a good idea of the scale that they're envisioning (at least for the near term), but also the kind of advancements we can expect to see over the next few years from Polysilicon-based Solar.

http://media.corporate-ir.net/media_files/irol/19/196973/july_Analyst_Day_ALL_Slides_FINAL.pdf

Note when looking at the images, that the ground for this factory was just flattened in November of last year. These guys are very serious about growing BIG and FAST.

Also note that since that presentation they've upped their estimate of total capacity per year in 2010 to be 3.2 Gigawatts. These guys will give US Solar a run for its money, but it's a healthy challenge. In any case, LDK will be a major player in creating a World Solar Supply that even approaches the Capacity to really make a dent in replacing Production of Fossil Energy.
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srbarbour
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In reply
[quote]All of this is my way of saying that I believe there are some technological solutions that *could* work, but not without concerted political will and a serious re-direction of priorities and investment monies. Meanwhile congress is dithering over a few measly billion in alternative tax credits and still remains in support of ethanol. [/quote] And primarily Corn Ethanol at that... Cellulosic ethanol is at least an interim solution. Corn Ethanol is stupidity distilled. (Though, being alergic to corn, it puts a big smile on my face. Up, up with the cost of Corn Syrup!)

I agree, all technological investments that can replace all existing energy, and expand greatly will take time investment and consideration. Alas, we seem to have none of the above. As is clear in the fact we are even facing the situations we are.

--

Steve
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JR Wakefield
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China's future energy
Understand that moving to these forms of energy are acts of desperation. In the next 15 years, if China's oil consumption rate continues, they will require all the world's current production of 86mb/d, leaving nothing for everyone else, and will have added 100 million people to the planet.

None of these technological solutions will solve the unlitmate problem. But in fact, could make it much worse. All the issues we have seen in Chris's videos are symptoms of one major problem -- over population. This means we have exceeded the planet's carryng capacity in just about every aspect of civilization from food, shelter materials and energy requirements.

Technological alternatives could very well allow more consumption of limited resources, more humans on the planet, more biodiversity loss. Then the ultimate crash will be that much worse.

What we need is a plan to ratchet society down so the crash is lessened. But not likely to be politically palatable. Will be very much interested in your Ch 20 solutions. I have some of my own.

Watch what happens people, we are living in times that will never happen again. It's like visiting your favorite bar on the night it closes for ever. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Question, how are you guys getting paragraphs, none of mine get preserved withut adding BR manually.
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srbarbour
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Unfounded pesimism is annoying
[quote]Understand that moving to these forms of energy are acts of desperation.[/quote] Hardly. Many of the energy transitions available to us are unquestionably superior (In terms of expandability, total cost -- pollution added, national security, etc...) to the current fossil fuel situation. They are resisted more because it involves massive outlays of capital to 'switch over', than because fossil fuels are 'good'.

Further, switching hardly represents desperation. It is rather, only desperation that can force humans to switch. We are stubborn creatures that dismiss the merit of everything 'fanciful' never minding that everything we currently own and do was also once a 'fancy'. [quote]In the next 15 years, if China's oil consumption rate continues, they will require all the world's current production of 86mb/d, leaving nothing for everyone else, and will have added 100 million people to the planet. [/quote] Yes, and in 15 years razors will have 1,000,000,000 blades! Don't project absurd statistics into the future, especially when rather intelligent organizations have already provided pretty decent ones. Try something more like 115 mbd by 2030. If you are pessimist add and extra 10-15 to that... though, to be frank, if you were a real pessimist you'd assume peak oil would have set in long before. ;) [quote]None of these technological solutions will solve the unlitmate problem.[/quote] That energy will peak? That resources will run out? Duh. The Universe has a finite life span. So does our Sun.

If you are rather, determining whether or not we could provide all current human energy with say, solar. Then, yes. Yes we can. Quite easily. There are many solar technologies and they use a wide variety of materials and techniques. Some use only organic molecules, or various dyes, or quantum nano-crystals. For some cells existing 'resouces' could easily wrap solar cells from one side of the Earth to the other.

Hell, you don't even need to take my word for it. Take a look out a window. Spot something green? Yes, that's right nature has wrapped the world in solar cells for 300 million+ years now. So you know its a proven concept. [quote]All the issues we have seen in Chris's videos are symptoms of one major problem -- over population. [/quote] Human population is projected to stop before reaching 12 billion. It has in percentage already slowed considerably. Further, as long as we can continue to grow our energy per a capita allocation, we can quite easily provide for everyone. [quote] Technological alternatives could very well allow more consumption of limited resources, more humans on the planet, more biodiversity loss. Then the ultimate crash will be that much worse. [/quote] Technology can also expand those limited resources: improved drilling, improved extraction techniques, increased energy to expend, mining in the Antarctic, space based resource gathering, ultra-deep mines, improved recycling, more efficient resource usage, etc...

It can even restore biodiversity. Though, for the next hundred years I suspect those words will send shudders down spines. After that, we'll have little choice but to 'assist' life in adapting to a new climate... and even to humans being the rulers of this world. [quote] What we need is a plan to ratchet society down so the crash is lessened. [/quote] Let it crash. Problem solved. Life has survived infinitely worse extinction events than us. Rather than trying to tear apart our civilization, and thus tear apart the only tools capable of saving ourselves, we should proceed forward. To put it simply, we've gone to far. Stop now, and likely as not we'll all die.

Of course, we should proceed forward in an intelligent manner that avoids exasperating the problems as much as possible. But we cannot wind the clock back 1000 years. Even if it is technologically possible, humans are incapable of accepting such a decision. Hence, trying to ratchet down will either accomplish nothing (because others will just ratchet up) or require coercion. WWIII anyone? [quote]Watch what happens people, we are living in times that will never happen again. [/quote] Which can also be said of the last 5.6 billion years. Nothing new, we won't see the 1800s, or the 1900s happen again either. Admittedly, this is probably the first time the limits of nature will force the whole world to adapt as one. On the other hand, this is the first time humans have had both the spare resources and the technologies needed to survive being so stupid too.

--

Steve
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JR Wakefield
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faith in the future of humanity
Steve, you have more faith in the future of humanity than I can have. I already understood what Chris's videos showed, better than I could explain it. And all they did was cement what I already expected.

I hope you are right, but I fear reality will trump faith based optimism.

But I will return two of your quotes:

"Human population is projected to stop before reaching 12 billion." and reply it with "Don't project absurd statistics into the future" Expecting that somehow humanity will come to its senses and stop breeding is highly unnatural.

"Try something more like 115 mbd by 2030. If you are pessimist add and extra 10-15 to that... though, to be frank, if you were a real pessimist you'd assume peak oil would have set in long before."

No, we are at peak now. That's what the data shows so far.

As for China's consumption:

http://www.iags.org/futureofoil.html

"The two countries with the highest rate of growth in oil use are China and India, whose combined populations account for a third of humanity. In the next two decades, China's oil consumption is expected to grow at a rate of 7.5% per year and India’s 5.5%. (Compare to a 1% growth for the industrialized countries). It will be strategically imperative for these countries to secure their access to oil. "

At that rate by 2030 they will require 39.85mb/day. (The US by then would be 27mb/d) Yet there is the possibility that they are actually consuming faster than that.

This site also shows about a 7.6% increase http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/2270, however, as their own production drops they will have to import more.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-04/29/content_8075648.htm

"China's net imports of crude oil was 44.95 million tonnes in the first quarter, up 14.9 percent, and net imports of oil products rose by 31.8 percent from a year ago to 5.47 million tonnes, according to General Administration of Customs. "

At that rate they would be at 79.60mb/d importation of oil by 2023. Which is close to the number I quoted (The ref I can't find said their imports of oil was 16% and accelerating due to their own declining fields and economic growth).

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=5&art_id=21577&sid=8584722&con_type=1 Oil demand growth accelerates to 13.5pc

"Apparent oil demand leapt 13.5 percent last month from the year-ago level to 6.5 million barrels per day, according to calculations based on official data.

That was the fastest rate since 2004, when overall demand grew around 15 percent, and exceeded last month's 10.8 percent rise as imports of fuel oil surged and gasoline exports slumped, both indicators pointing to increased domestic needs."

Bottom line is the demand for oil is rising very fast, with China and India increasing the fastest. The question becomes, how will the jockeying for remaining output take place? Especially once oil goes into terminal decline.
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joe2baba
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what next
i have been taking part in discussions like these since the mid sixties. i think any discussion of solutions will have to make one very big assumption...the social fabric will remain intact. in virtually every discussion no one believed that would be the case. but if we make that assumption we can at least consider solutions. I recently finished paul and anne ehrlich's new book "the dominant animal" chris i suggest you add it to your essential books. i live half the year in india i have seen first hand what overpopulation looks like. there are already too many of us on the spaceship. we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the craft. yes we can expand to perhaps 9.5-10.5 by 2050 but it will not be a pretty picture. i think it would be well to remember that technology is not a fuel and it will only allow us to better use the fuel(solar, nuclear,etc) better. also we are making an assumption that technology is a completely benign factor. i do not make that assumption considering the number of nuclear warheads still in existence. we are destroying the environment at a rate probably not seen in all of human history. we derive great economic benefit from our natural capital which most economists do not calculate. one example is the disappearance of honey bees. they pollinate vast stretches of crops. we do not pay for that yet if they are not there we lose large amounts of food. we are embarking as a nation of building a huge amount of coal fired power plants. some 150 permits have been applied for in the last 2 years. last year the city of waco texas was going to be encircled by 11 yes 11 coal plants. due to the efforts of a great many people it was reduced to 3 which is still a disaster. i am currently involved in a fight to stop the building of 3 plants here in arkansas. just to get some idea of the level of pollution from one 600mw coal plant ....5.6 MILLION tons of co2 (equivalent to about 900k cars) 2,894 tons of sulfur dioxide, 2420 tons of nitrous oxide 1,118 tons of particulate matter 113 pounds of mercury. these are for one year one plant. we are talking about adding 150 of these plants in the next 5 years. our species is totally reliant on the natural capital which these plants will destroy, but lets assume that we will have no ill effects. the shrub has been running around saying we have at least 250 years of coal. unfortunately that would be at current rate of consumption. also unfortunately that 250 years is also based on the 1976 assessment of minerals which was the last assessment carried out in the U.S.. also that included ALL the coal in the ground some of which actually much of which is in veins about one inch thick hundreds of feet below the surface. a friend who is a geologist says in reality we have MAYBE 50 years worth. also unfortunately extraction and transportation requires oil. so if we burn all this coal up in the next 50 years we will have so acidified our soils that we will not be able to grow anything. oh by the way the cleanest coal -anthracite - is just about gone as chris pointed out so we will be burning much dirtier coal. what about scrubbers and sequestration you might ask? well it costs money and the corporations are not interested in spending money, just making it. think of it this way there are more sons and daughters of members of congress in iraq than utility company executives living next door to coal plants. the green revolution which is responsible for the incredible growth of the human population is fueled by oil. it is what fertilizer is made out of it is what runs our tractors it is what transports our food. it is what packages our food so that it does not spoil so quickly. 1.6% of the population of this country is involved in farming all do to the oil economy. this is a far cry from the country of small farmers thomas jefferson envisioned. the vast majority of people in this country no longer have the skills to feed themselves there are many many issues which the ehrlich's have discussed in their book. i highly recommend it to get some idea of where we stand. i also would recommend kuntsler's "the long emergency" so what to do ? or as we say in india "kaikaroo" personally my strategy is to think pessimistically and behave optimistically. intentional permaculture communities. i think i can have some control over my food and water supply i can generate a good bit of electricity, i have skills and tools which can be of use to others. one subject i have not seen addressed is the whole idea of pharmaceuticals much of which now comes from china. a greater reliance on natural remedies would be wise-being able to grow or recognize in the wild the herbs from which much of our current crop of medicine comes from. "back to eden" by jethro kloss good place to start. i think it would be wise to eat as locally as possible say within a 50 mile radius-forget the mandarin oranges from south africa. an interesting exercise is to look in your fridge and pantry and see where what you eat comes from then think of what happens if it no longer comes from there. conventional wisdom which is anything but, says we have time to prepare or maybe it won't be that bad. well conventional wisdom is now watching 401k's evaporate and the dollar become useful for toilet paper- stock up, the paper mills will be hard pressed for pulp. better start using water it is cleaner and healthier. suburbs were one of the worst human experiments ever conceived. the cities would have a better chance if the land around them were able to be farmed. the good news is people like amory lovins are finally getting an audience. he lives at 7100 feet in colorado in a 4000 sf house which runs on 2 sq meters of pv's and grows bananas and oranges year round. check out rmi.org. it can be done. but to maintain the social fabric we have to stop seeing ourselves as somehow separate from each other. or as meher baba has said "you and i are not we but one" and as the saying goes man is only a part of the web of life. we are fellow passengers on an incredible spaceship (which can supply us with all our needs but not all our wants) hurtling through an immense universe. none of us can any longer be the most as long as there is a least. if we are to simply survive as a species we have to pull together as a species. thanks again chris for synthesizing the economy energy and environment.

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