Let's Talk About Our Energy Future

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 7, 2010 8:12 am

hook emI’m glad to finally be able to announce that today I begin my new position at The University of Texas at Austin. I’m joining the Webber Energy Group as a research scientist at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy.

Here at The Intersection, I’ll be exploring a myriad of related topics from renewables to fossil fuels (including oil spills) to thermodynamics, and so much more. I’m really looking forward to the discussions that will ensue.

As I wrote last week, if we want to establish better energy institutions, it’s up to us to make it so. Given the enormous challenges we face, improving public understanding of related issues is a big part of the solution and more important than ever.

Some readers have already requested energy topics in a previous thread and I continue to be very interested in your questions. Also, if there are specific subjects you’d like to see covered, leave ideas in comments below.

With that, I’m off to work… Hook ‘Em Horns!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Energy, Personal

Comments (30)

  1. Chris Mooney

    SK–congratulations! The Intersection now has an oceans *and* energy expert, in addition to whatever the heck I am. We’re a triple threat…

  2. Yes, congratulations.

  3. Guy

    Congrats Sheril.

  4. GM

    Hopefully, you are not going to list hydrogen as a solution to the energy problem as your coblogger did some time ago

  5. Roberta

    I look forward to reading about what alternatives there are to drilling miles below the Gulf. I’m so upset over the spill.

  6. Guy

    It’s encouraging to see lots more research and development going into solving this problem.

  7. GM

    It is useful, however, to remember that not every problem has a solution of the kind we like. The most important part of improving public understanding of these issues is making sure people understand the above.

    The situations with the Iceland volcano and the oil spill illustrate this point very well – the majority of what was heard coming from the public was in the tune of “Why isn’t anyone solving the problem”, “When is this going to be solved”, etc. On the other side scientists and engineers were explaining that nobody can control volcanoes, and that plugging a “leak” gushing at >10,000 psi pressure 2 kilometers underwater is not as trivial as calling the plumber.

    The public expectation, however, is that quick fixes are available for everything and there is nothing to worry about, because we can fix it all, which is highly problematic. More posts on the “promises” of green technologies will not really help

  8. Guy

    “To accomplish great things, we must
    not only act, but also dream, not
    only plan, but also believe.”
    - Anatole France

  9. Don

    Welcome to Texas and Austin…hope it suits you. No worries about the heat; you’ll get used to it.

  10. GM

    I dream about being able to fly. But I won’t ever be able to.

  11. Sean McCorkle

    Hopefully, you are not going to list hydrogen as a solution to the energy problem as your coblogger did some time ago

    okay, I’ll bite: what’s the problem with hydrogen? safe handling concerns? (ie no hindenburgs please!)

  12. Chris Mooney

    Where did I list hydrogen as the solution?

  13. GM

    In a post a long time ago. You didn’t directly said it is the solution, it was in the form of a question that went like “What is going to be the solution?” and then you listed a bunch of things with a question mark.

    Still pretty bad of a mistake, given the basic fact that hydrogen is only a storage media (and a net energy sink too), not a source.

  14. I’m often mistaken for Chris Mooney and you may mean this post, although I didn’t suggest it was the solution.

  15. GM

    Yes, it was that one, my bad.

    The point that thing like hydrogen should be immediately slammed for the thermodynamic scam they are still remains though.

  16. Eric the Leaf

    Discussion? Questions? As I recall you recently asked me a question and though it appeared condescending or sarcastic, I nevertheless answered sincerely and without acrimony.
    This was met with a reply to your readership (“Folks”) designed to suggest, strangely dismissively, that you were in possession of some kind of special knowledge that had hitherto been overlooked in the “discussion.” That was false.

    On the other hand, I have taught a seminar in peak oil for the last 4 years and invited guests have included the foremost journalist and educator on the subject (one of his books was our textbook). He and his wife have become friends, since she hails from New Orleans and is acquainted by incredible and tragic coincidence with one my colleagues. Other invited guests have included several active exploration petroleum geologists, one of the top scientists from the geophysics division at Shell Oil, the CEO of a company involved in state of the art seismic survey, and the writer/director/producer of an award-winning peak oil documentary, who I also count as a good friend. It was the latter individual who first introduced me to the subject of peak oil in 2004, during a leave of absence in Boston where I was working on my own textbook in physical science. I have become passionate about the subject and have made peak oil education a central theme of my working life. However, the subject also intersects with my previous career in prehistoric archaeology, and my related knowledge of human ecology and the anthropological study of culture change. I do not view peak oil as separate from larger questions in human ecology and human cultural evolution. It was during my training as an archaeologist that I also developed my interest in glacial and Pleistocene geology, my graduate minor, and climate change.

    I have tried to interest Mr. Mooney, not very persuasively, in the subject because I respect his talent and for other reasons. Sadly from my perspective, I have been a complete failure at this, though I still think he’s a righteous dude. More recently, it is Sheril who has taken up energy issues at The Intersection, so I have kind of given up on Chris, but stay involved from time to time in the blog.

    Getting back to the point, when I in turn asked a direct question of Sheril, she was mute. I’m not sure how to respect this and my response has ranged from sincere puzzlement to my own version of sarcasm. That latter is rarely effective, but somehow momentarily gratifying, and I apologize if that has been the case. I don’t know if Sheril was embarrassed, lacked the knowledge, didn’t have the time, or whatever. It’s OK to admit one of those things. However, if you’re really interested in what your readership thinks, why not actually engage in discussion?

    I have tried to be a straight shooter. When Phillip H questioned my feelings about the federal response to the oil blowout, he directed me to his blog, which I read and noted. When Nullius asked for some arithmetic, I obliged. Like it or not, this is The Intersecton community.

    So, where do we stand here? Maybe you could sponsor a guest post by a real peak oil authority. I have several terrific suggestions.

  17. LRU

    Congrats, Sheril!

  18. Guy

    The problem with the peak oil doomsayers is lack of definitive proof of their claims and a failure to properly evaluate the alternatives. I’m fairly well read on the subject so I do know the basic arguments for it. Many of the peak oil preachers are so focused on doom and gloom that it blinds them to other possibilities. Yes, there is a finite amount and yes we are currently overly dependent on it. That is inevitably going to change because the the forward progress we’re making. We likely will have found better sources of energy long before the oil runs out. There are numerous R&D projects underway to do just that. You can go around preaching doom and gloom about peak oil or you can contribute to solutions. I choose the latter.

  19. SLC

    Re Guy @ #18

    We likely will have found better sources of energy long before the oil runs out.

    Mr. Guy makes the same mistake that all too many individuals who comment on energy issues make, namely that peak oil and oil running out are intimately related issues. Nothing could be further from the truth. Peak oil refers to the maximum daily production of oil that can be achieved. The problem is that the demand for oil may exceed this maximum at some point in the near future. We aren’t going to run out of oil any time in the foreseeable future. It’s just that the daily supply will not be sufficient to meet the daily demand.

  20. Guy

    “Peak oil refers to the maximum daily production of oil that can be achieved.” -SLC

    Yes, I know what the peak oil preachers are saying. Essentially, they say there will be a time when the demand far exceeds the supply. This will cause energy costs to soar and down goes the economy, jobs, flat-screens, cars, apple pie, etc.

    Commodities like oil and natural gas don’t “run out” really. They just become depleted to the point where it is no longer worth it to continue extracting them. My wording may have been off buy my point was made, which you either missed or ignored. There are alternatives to fossil fuels. You can either add to the hysteria or contribute to finding solutions.

  21. GM

    That is inevitably going to change because the the forward progress we’re making. We likely will have found better sources of energy long before the oil runs out.

    Can you please be more specific and explain to us what exactly the forward progress we’re making consists of and how it is going to provide ~2PWh of energy by 2020 and 20-30 PWh in 2050? Please explain.

    While we’re on the subject, would you also explain how the forward progress we’re making will make rare earth elements and even the not so rare metals we’re completely dependent on and we are rapidly depleting, become abundant? Would you also explain how we’re going to repair the ecosystems, return fish back to the ocean, have the top soil we’ve lost back, etc.?

  22. wjv

    I’m curious about the potential for small methanol fuel cells as the main competitor for lithium ion batteries in consumer electronics… What’s the latest development on the methanol fuel cell front?

  23. Nullius in Verba

    GM,

    I think you may have got your units (and magnitudes?) mixed up.

    Current global energy rate of use I think is 15 TW. The amount of energy used in a year is roughly 500 EJ, about 130 PWh per year.

    The SRES A1F1 scenario used by the IPCC to represent a future of rapid development with continued use of fossil fuels projects emissions by 2050 increasing by a factor of 3-4. Not a factor of 10-15 as you seem to have suggested.

    I should think that in 2020 we will still be using mainly oil, gas, and coal, although probably a greater proportion of nuclear than today. By 2050, we may be starting to move to something else. There are several possibilities for which it would be feasible, such as fast breeders, but we can’t predict ahead of time which will be chosen, as it depends on future technological developments. Maybe it’ll be nanotech solar panels, maybe engineered biotech – maybe something we haven’t even heard of yet.

    It is like the Victorians calculating that at the rate civilisation was expanding, they were going to need a massive number of horses to power it (which they also showed they couldn’t possibly supply), and disposing of the ‘waste’ left on the streets was going to be a major difficulty. You might call it the “peak horse” problem.

    We passed peak horse in the early part of the 20th century, and 30 years later there were virtually no horses still in use. A Victorian gentleman-scientist in 1880 might well have speculated about what the future would end up using – steam engines perhaps – but would have been confidently optimistic that we would think of something. Futurology is notoriously unreliable, but the explosive rate of general scientific development even in the 19th century was already clear.

    As for the other items you mention, answers are readily to hand. Rare Earth metals will be replaced by substitutes – as metals have since iron replaced bronze. You will recall that precisely this point was the subject of a certain famous bet Paul Ehrlich made. The total amount of any element on Earth is close to constant. One of the effects of gravity.

    Ecosystems are self healing, and indeed mostly healthier today than they have been for the past half-dozen centuries. Fish reproduce all by themselves, if you leave them alone. And if we switch from hunter-gatherer to using fish farms, we can do it even faster than nature can. And we haven’t lost any top soil, except locally in certain areas. As I noted earlier, top soil is manufactured by plants growing in it, and is cycled naturally by erosion, rivers, floods, etc. It would be pretty hard to have so vastly increased the amount of food we can produce if this was not so. And for that matter, we can even grow crops without soil – at the cost of some extra effort.

    But I think all of those are good and sensible questions you’re asking. I doubt you’ll consider my answers helpful, but I can always hope.

  24. Guy

    @GM #22,

    How should I know? I don’t a crystal ball to predict the future with. I do know that there are a lot projects underway and on the drawing boards of several start up companies here in the US to address the issues you mentioned.

    The future is uncertain, we face a lot of challenges but we are making progress. I think your problem is that you’ve gotten so stuck on this paradigm of scarcity that you’ve given up all hope of finding workable solutions. I can’t restore that with words. You will just have see for yourself if you are still around in 20-30 years.

    I would be willing to bet that the price of oil will go down, not up within the next 20-40 years as it becomes obsolete and too dangerous (in terms of environmental damage) to use. There will probably still be much of it still in the ground after the transition period.

  25. GM

    23. Nullius in Verba Says:
    June 8th, 2010 at 4:37 pm
    GM,
    I think you may have got your units (and magnitudes?) mixed up.
    Current global energy rate of use I think is 15 TW. The amount of energy used in a year is roughly 500 EJ, about 130 PWh per year.
    The SRES A1F1 scenario used by the IPCC to represent a future of rapid development with continued use of fossil fuels projects emissions by 2050 increasing by a factor of 3-4. Not a factor of 10-15 as you seem to have suggested.

    Uh, yes, I think I missed one zero. But that does not help your case, because it only makes the task 10 times harder. IPCC projections are irrelevant in this case because they do not take into account Peak Oil at all (the tragedy of focusing at the individual elements of the global crisis in isolation that I talk about so often).

    Also, the numbers I listed were derived based on what the expected production numbers for oil will be in 2020. In 2020 there will be a shortfall of some 20-25 million barrels, possibly more, depending on demands (60-65 million actual production vs say 90 million demand). Right now oil is 30% of our total energy, so out of 130PWh that’s 60, 1/3 of which is 20. Similarly the number for 2050 comes from a ballpark estimate of the shortfall between, this time all fossil fuels and projected demand in a scenario without any major social turmoil.

    I should think that in 2020 we will still be using mainly oil, gas, and coal, although probably a greater proportion of nuclear than today. By 2050, we may be starting to move to something else. There are several possibilities for which it would be feasible, such as fast breeders, but we can’t predict ahead of time which will be chosen, as it depends on future technological developments. Maybe it’ll be nanotech solar panels, maybe engineered biotech – maybe something we haven’t even heard of yet.

    If we haven’t yet heard of it, how exactly do you expect it to be a factor in 2020???? This is why I call people insane – because it is nothing else to rely on blind faith that something will appear. The limitations of solar are clear – you need a large area. Why people ever take biotech seriously is a mystery to me. Actually it is not, I know why – because they have zero understanding of the thermodynamics involved. Biomass is doing the same thing as solar – harvesting solar energy. Only it’s doing it at 1/3 (in best cases in the tropics) to 1/20 the efficiency. In addition you deplete top soil and destroy ecosystems. Sheer madness.

    It is like the Victorians calculating that at the rate civilisation was expanding, they were going to need a massive number of horses to power it (which they also showed they couldn’t possibly supply), and disposing of the ‘waste’ left on the streets was going to be a major difficulty. You might call it the “peak horse” problem.

    We passed peak horse in the early part of the 20th century, and 30 years later there were virtually no horses still in use. A Victorian gentleman-scientist in 1880 might well have speculated about what the future would end up using – steam engines perhaps – but would have been confidently optimistic that we would think of something. Futurology is notoriously unreliable, but the explosive rate of general scientific development even in the 19th century was already clear.

    Again, these are things that have been explained numerous times some people still aren’t willing to listen/aren’t able to understand. First, there is no substitute for energy (but try explaining that to economists). Second, here are the historical examples of technological substitution and expansion of energy supply:

    1. Initially we had only human muscle power, which is really a very inefficient way of converting sunlight into work
    2. The we discovered fire made possible using stored sunlight for some applications (but not for everything)
    3. Then we domesticated animals like horses and oxen which expanded the pool of sunlight we could transform into work (we don’t eat grass) Still very inefficient though. We also invented agriculture which made possible the expansion of our numbers because, again, we could transform more sunlight into energy, this time to build human biomass.
    4. The we found coal, which allowed us to use historical sunlight.
    5. Later we added oil and gas. More ancient sunlight added to the mix. This was 100 years ago

    Since then we haven’t really added anything to the mix, nuclear didn’t scale up well and it’s depletable too (actually depleted with current techonolgy). 100 years. What makes you think that a technology that doesn’t exist yet will appear in the next 10 years and scale up fast enough?? Wishful thinking of the worst kind. The tooth fairy does not exist, deal with it

    As for the other items you mention, answers are readily to hand. Rare Earth metals will be replaced by substitutes – as metals have since iron replaced bronze.

    Are you aware of the chemical and physical properties of these elements that makes them so special. And we are not talking about rare earth only, we are talking about copper, aluminium, etc. Also phosphates. There is no substitute for phosphates by definition – it is absolutely required for modern agriculture. There no substitute for most other elements
    either. What makes you think they both exist and will be found on time? Explain to us.

    You will recall that precisely this point was the subject of a certain famous bet Paul Ehrlich made. The total amount of any element on Earth is close to constant. One of the effects of gravity.

    Once again, complete scientific ignorance (this time in the form of zero understanding of basic thermodynamics) precludes any possibility for productive conversation. Yes, there vast amounts of any element in the earth crust. At minuscule concentrations in rock. At very high entropy, which means that it will take a lot of negative entropy (i.e. energy) to concentrate them into usable form (google search for “mineralogical barrier” is highly advisable). Which has been conveniently done for us by natural processes but in limited quantities. Which we took and dissipated into the environment.

    Ecosystems are self healing, and indeed mostly healthier today than they have been for the past half-dozen centuries.

    Once again, something I and many other have explained before and nobody bothered to read and understand. Ecosystems have not gotten better at all. First, this is a claim made by people with zero understanding or expertise on the subject and every incentive to lie about it (Simon and Lomborg), which is easily believed by city slickers who rarely leave the confines of the human-made bubble world they live in to actually notice the real situation while in the same have absolutely no idea what is going on around the world because they are simply not interested as long as there is food on the table and entertainment on TV. Reality check: the reason why the environment may look marginally better is that all the manufacturing has been moved to the Third world and developing countries. Which is also the reason the economy of the USA is falling apart but this a digression. The point is that the environment as a whole has not gotten better because the total amount of damage has increased. That you don’t see it doesn’t mean it does not exist. In fact, however, you should be able to see because a lot of it is still visible, unless you count urban sprawl as “improvement” of the environment. Second, ecosystems are not always “self-healing”. Newfoundland cod fisheries collapsed in the early 90s. There has been no fishing there since then (because there was no fish). 20 years later there is no sign of recovery. The same thing has been observed in many other cases. The ecosystem shifted to another equilibrium state.

    It is true that ecosystems are self-healing. In the very long run though. Species extinction has been constantly accelerating worldwide. At the rate we’re going, the current extinction event will rival the big really historical ones. Did ecosystem recover? They did, but it took hundreds of thousands to millions of years for this to happen.

    Fish reproduce all by themselves, if you leave them alone. And if we switch from hunter-gatherer to using fish farms, we can do it even faster than nature can.

    You can not use fish farms, because you’ will be importing nutrients (and food from somewhere else). It is not sustainable. There are such things and nutrient cycles and energy flows that you have to think about before you decide that fish farms are “solution”. Honestly, get a basic education in ecology before you come to argue.

    And we haven’t lost any top soil, except locally in certain areas.

    Seriously? Sorry to say it but you’re an absolute idiot. Actually I am not sorry because you really are. Apparently the Dust Bowl never happened, Madagascar is a fertile paradise, deserts are not advancing, irrigation does not increase soil salinity, we use millions of tons of fertilizers just because we have to support jobs in the chemical industry and all the scientists who are seriously concerned about the problem have no clue what they’re talking about. FYI some 40% of arable land worldwide is completely or partially degraded and every year another

    As I noted earlier, top soil is manufactured by plants growing in it, and is cycled naturally by erosion, rivers, floods, etc.

    Yes, and it takes thousands of years for this to happen

    It would be pretty hard to have so vastly increased the amount of food we can produce if this was not so.

    Ever heard of something called the Green Revolution AKA Using Soil to Turn Fossil Fuels and Fertilizers into Food? If you haven’t then Problem 1 in your homework is to read a little bit about it, and Problem 2 is ponder over what happens if you remove the fossil fuel plus fertilizer inputs.

    And for that matter, we can even grow crops without soil – at the cost of some extra effort.

    Yes, we can. With even more energy and fertilizer input. Problem 3 of the homework: how possible it is to use X+Y amount of fossil fuels and fertilizers, where Y is a positive quantity if it is not possible to use X amount of them?

  26. GM

    24. Guy Says:
    June 8th, 2010 at 5:03 pm
    @GM #22,
    How should I know? I don’t a crystal ball to predict the future with. I do know that there are a lot projects underway and on the drawing boards of several start up companies here in the US to address the issues you mentioned.

    But still, there is no reason to worry… wow… You have no idea how something that current trends do not at suggest is likely to happen can happen but you are absolutely certain it will…

    The future is uncertain, we face a lot of challenges but we are making progress.

    Can you elaborate on what exactly the progress consists of? We’re curious to know

    I think your problem is that you’ve gotten so stuck on this paradigm of scarcity that you’ve given up all hope of finding workable solutions. I can’t restore that with words. You will just have see for yourself if you are still around in 20-30 years.

    The paradigm of scarcity is what the natural world operates under. There wouldn’t be a billion of obese people (and an unknown number of obese pets) in the world otherwise. If it has been the dominant paradigm for 4 billion years, and has been selected for by evolution, there is every reason to think that 200 years of abundance entirely founded on 4 billion years of concentration of energy and materials will not change that.

    I would be willing to bet that the price of oil will go down, not up within the next 20-40 years as it becomes obsolete and too dangerous (in terms of environmental damage) to use. There will probably still be much of it still in the ground after the transition period.

    Giving up…

  27. Eric the Leaf

    GM, you’ll like this. Others might want to take a look. World Finance, Energy, and Peak Oil. Thought provoking guest post:
    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6542

  28. GM

    I read it this morning, a very good article indeed.

  29. Nullius in Verba

    Hi, GM.

    There’s a lot to talk about here.

    “But that does not help your case, because it only makes the task 10 times harder.”

    It doesn’t change my case at all. I already knew how much energy was to be produced.

    “IPCC projections are irrelevant in this case because they do not take into account Peak Oil at all”

    They’re modelling demand, not supply, so peak oil isn’t relevant. If anything it would reduce emission increases even further.

    “If we haven’t yet heard of it, how exactly do you expect it to be a factor in 2020????”

    I don’t. I said 2050.

    “This is why I call people insane – because it is nothing else to rely on blind faith that something will appear.”

    History since the industrial revolution has been a story of an accelerating rate of invention. It is a pretty basic observation to see that things do appear, and that they are doing so for good reasons, not by accident or coincidence. So long as the same conditions apply, human invention will continue.

    Why do you have such a strong faith that they won’t?

    “The limitations of solar are clear – you need a large area.”

    We’ve got plenty of large areas. The problem is that the material you have to cover that area with is currently too expensive.

    “Why people ever take biotech seriously is a mystery to me. Actually it is not, I know why – because they have zero understanding of the thermodynamics involved.”

    How do you know? Has it ever occurred to you to check? You could have simply asked, and I would have told you that I understood the thermodynamics, and then you wouldn’t have to make such a silly error.

    Yes, of course it’s harvesting solar energy. And yes, the efficiency of photosynthesis is low. But that form of efficiency is the wrong thing to measure in determining whether it is viable. And you’re forgetting that one of the main points of invoking biotech is to consider engineering a massive increase in efficiency. What if plants could grow solar cells?

    “First, there is no substitute for energy”

    True. But there are substitutes for sources of energy.

    “Since then we haven’t really added anything to the mix, nuclear didn’t scale up well and it’s depletable too (actually depleted with current techonolgy). 100 years. What makes you think that a technology that doesn’t exist yet will appear in the next 10 years and scale up fast enough??”

    Nuclear scales up as easily as any other energy source. It hasn’t expanded partly because oil and gas are currently even easier, cheaper, and more plentiful, and partly because of the anti-nuclear campaigners combined with a lot of public ignorance.

    How long did it take the French?

    The 100 years figure is based on current stockpiles (built up during the cold war) and assuming thermal reactors. Thermal reactors extract only 2% of the energy extractable with a fast breeder. So we’ve got 5,000 years worth even without going digging for more, which of course we can do any time we want. Most calculations of the ultimate extractable energy are over 100,000 years at current rates of use, and I have seen even higher. We only use thermal reactors because they’re slightly cheaper, and because there is no shortage of fuel to make breeding necessary. The limiting factor in nuclear is the capital costs of the more complex engineering required, not fuel.

    So since the technology already existed at an advanced prototype stage 15 years ago, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to expect something to turn up over the next 40, should we turn our minds to it. Over the next 10 years, we will no doubt go for thermal reactors again.

    “Are you aware of the chemical and physical properties of these elements that makes them so special.”

    Well done for asking the question this time! Yes, I am.

    “And we are not talking about rare earth only, we are talking about copper, aluminium, etc.”

    What, like chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten? You recognise that list, yes?

    “There is no substitute for phosphates by definition”

    True enough. We will eventually need to recycle it, or extract it from the sea. Better technology in the future will make that easier.

    “There no substitute for most other elements either. What makes you think they both exist and will be found on time?”

    There is no substitute at the moment. But technology moves on.

    There was once an argument made that we were running out of copper, as massive amounts were used to lay telegraph cables around the world. And no other metal has comparable conductivity, corrosion-resistance, and availability either. There is no substitute. – Until we invented fibre optics for communications, that is. Which are made from sand, which is in plentiful supply. Who could have predicted that?

    I can just as easily ask the question, what makes you think they don’t and that they won’t? Explain.

    “Once again, complete scientific ignorance (this time in the form of zero understanding of basic thermodynamics) precludes any possibility for productive conversation.”

    If you didn’t spend half your time complaining about our “scientific ignorance”, you’d have more time for that conversation.

    The original question was about the depletion of various elements. So I point out that the problem cannot be depletion, since the total quantity is conserved. So now you raise entropy as the problem, for all the world as if that was what you said in the first place.

    But I already knew about it, and that it has an answer. Yes, it takes energy to concentrate them again. But we’ve got the energy, so all you’re really saying is that it will, at some point in the future, become a bit more expensive.

    That’s rather different to a fundamental physical limit, violating the laws of thermodynamics.

    “First, this is a claim made by people with zero understanding or expertise on the subject and every incentive to lie about it (Simon and Lomborg)”

    Simon and Lomborg don’t make the claim. They simply point to all the official statistics, measurements, studies and experts who make the claim.

    And much the same statement could be made of Environmentalist lobby groups whose power and wealth depends on public concern and contributions, if that’s the way you think.

    “Reality check: the reason why the environment may look marginally better is that all the manufacturing has been moved to the Third world and developing countries.”

    I don’t think so. A smaller proportion of our economies is in manufacturing, but a greater amount, since our economies are far bigger.

    Population GDP %Manufacturing
    Europe 0.5bn $15tr 20%
    US 0.3bn $15tr 15%
    China 1.3bn $5tr 30%

    Europe and the US combined have half the population of China, and 6 times the economy. So per capita the West has 12 times the productivity, but devotes half as much of it to manufacturing. Hence the people of the West manufacture about 6 times as much as those of the developing world.

    The bit that has moved overseas is the bit that can be done by an uneducated and therefore cheap workforce. They’re not very good at it. They’re less efficient, they have other priorities, and that’s why they do more environmental damage.

    “At the rate we’re going, the current extinction event will rival the big really historical ones.”

    The observed rate is about one species per year, unless you pay attention to dubious extrapolations from computer models.

    “Apparently the Dust Bowl never happened”

    Are you telling me the Dust Bowl is still there?

    “Yes, and it takes thousands of years for this to happen”

    Take a close look at the Nile delta.

    “Ever heard of something called the Green Revolution AKA Using Soil to Turn Fossil Fuels and Fertilizers into Food?”

    Ha! I’ve only been going on about it more or less continually for the past week or more. Where did you get the idea that I might not know about it?

    “Problem 3 of the homework: how possible it is to use X+Y amount of fossil fuels and fertilizers, where Y is a positive quantity if it is not possible to use X amount of them?”

    That’s a different question. I was answering your point about soil loss.

    Since it is possible to use X amount of them, and more, this isn’t a problem.

    May I say, this was another very good post on your part, with lots of meaty content. Much better than some of the earlier stuff. Well done!

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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