Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Population, Energy, & The Future

I've been studying this problem for years now, if you want to hear the best arguements for peak oil and our energy problems in general, you don't have to pay a cent.

Dr. Albert Bartlett, retired Professor of Physics from the University of Colorado in Boulder examines the arithmetic of steady growth, continued over modest periods of time, in a finite environment. These concepts are applied to populations and to fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. -but are equally applicable to fissionable materials and any other finite energy source. -here are the links:

streaming realplayer vid:

alternate - higher quality - quicktime video (streaming or downloadable):

streaming realplayer audio:

download the mp3:

And for those who know how to use ed2k links:

Nuclear fission power isn't a good idea for more than reasons given by Dr. Bartlett in the above links. The simple theory of 'Murphy' that "within complex systems the possibility of something going wrong increases, perhaps not merely linearly, with the complexity" is something that must be taken very seriously given the consequences of nuclear failure.

Further, sometimes what goes wrong is completely outside what can be predicted and the consequences for such things are a nightmare -for example, in India researchers have been developing breeder reactor technology -very important if we want to get every last drop of power out of our precious nuclear fuel. However during the course of their rigorous and intensive engineering they failed to understand the threat of the possibility of a tsunami. . .what does a tsunami have to do with breeder reactors you ask? Simple, they were in the process of building their facility on the coast when the December 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia. While the facility was not badly damaged, if it had been operational and the wave had come from a different angle, the tsunami would have sparked a global catastrophe.

The problem with fission power is that it is simply too complex and the materials too hazardous. The cost involved in maintaining the bureaucracy to contain the hazard has to be factored in as well. . .and if that beuracracy crumbles what happens then. . .anyone remember chernobyl? Guess what?, Chernobyl is a real threat to many people even today. The core is still red-hot and it is thought by some researchers that it may be consolidating underneath all that concrete. Any physicists here want to explain what happens when you bring too much high grade ore together in one mass lump? BOOOOOOOOM Chernobyl II

Let's get real about nuclear power, it's history speaks for itself -and it isn't merely a failure of humanity or science to deal with it -it is a problem of bureaucratic complexity and and the underlying toxicity of what lies inside. If the USA can't protect the Pentagon from a jetliner being flown into it, how can any country protect a nuclear facility from a handful of fanatics doing the same?

And please let's not go the route of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. . .to protect a temporary solution to our energy problems.

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." -Benjamin Franklin

To sum up: Nuclear Fission Power -Let's not go there.

What are the solutions?

Well, vastly decreasing one's energy footprint is the biggest thing any of us can do -the USA contains around 6% of the global population yet uses 25% of the energy -and this isn't a criticism of Americans - I'm only stating the enourmous opportunity every American has to actually do something positive to give all of us more time to work out reasonable solutions.

Wind power will not power bulldozers, but it can power many small appliances and they are sustainable.

Growing at least some of your own food is a practical and useful way of reducing one's energy needs -and this doesn't have to be a single person endeavor, community gardens are springing up everywhere in the world now.

Decentralization can help dramatically in reducing costs by bringing people to live closer to the resources that sustain them, thus using less energy to transport those resources.

Large cities will become things of the past. As energy prices increase the taxes needed to pay for the energy needed to sustain large centralised infrastructure will become intolerable to those that have to pay them.

Smaller local communities will return as the normal way of living and, fortunately, the internet will allow those with common interests, e.g. 'astronomy', to maintain connections in a decentralised economy.

Certainly, local human labor will become more important as mass produced, packaged, & shipped machine labor becomes more costly with rising energy prices.

But all this doesn't have to be a bad. We're getting too fat eating at Mickey Dee's anyway! Our great grandparents lived more or less healthy lives as farmers, and, using contemporary ideas in farming (permaculture technologies) we can too.


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