Daryl Hannah Joins The Resistance At The White House Against The Keystone Pipeline

By The Intersection | August 30, 2011 11:29 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist, policy analyst and science communications strategist, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

***Update (huffington post): Actress Daryl Hannah has joined the over 500 people who have been arrested since August 20 for a sit-in protest outside the White House.

I just left the White House where environmental activist Bill McKibben was joined by actress Daryl Hannah and dozens of concerned citizens to prepare for another day of protests against opening the Keystone XL Pipeline. They are opposing U.S. approval of the pipeline, a 1,700-mile pipe from Canada to Texas, that would transport petroleum fuels across multiple states and below one of the nations largest aquifers. The campaign has been going on since August 24 and over 500 people have been arrested including Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Dr. Hansen explained his participation in the protest by stating, “Einstein said to think and not act is a crime. If we understand the situation, we must try to make it clear.”

Hansen has previously described the opening of the pipeline as “game over” for our climate. He described the situation to Solve Climate News this way:

President George W. Bush said that the U.S. was addicted to oil. So what will the U.S. response to this situation be? Will it entail phasing out fossil fuels and moving to clean energy or borrowing the dirtiest needle from a fellow addict? That is the question facing President Obama.

If he chooses the dirty needle it is game over because it will confirm that Obama was just greenwashing, like the other well-oiled coal-fired politicians with no real intention of solving the addiction. Canada is going to sell its dope, if it can find a buyer. So if the United States is buying the dirtiest stuff, it also surely will be going after oil in the deepest ocean, the Arctic, and shale deposits; and harvesting coal via mountaintop removal and long-wall mining. Obama will have decided he is a hopeless addict.

President Obama has deferred to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for the ultimate decision. I’ll let the Secretary’s own words speak for her:

What do you think? Is the Obama Administration making us safer and creating jobs by approving the pipeline?

Behind the scenes images (below) captured by Jamie Vernon:



Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter, Google+ or read his occasional blog posts at “American SciCo.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

Comments (62)

  1. Karen

    Thank you for spreading the word concerning this issue and protest. This Administration has been very disappointing on these important big picture issues. I guess Hope does not really include Change.

  2. TomInAK

    “What do you think? Is the Obama Administration making us safer and creating jobs by approving the pipeline?”

    If they actually approve it, yes.

    It makes perfect sense to buy what we need from a friendly neighbor, rather than from hostile countries half way around the world. Why would you want to keep us dependent on anti-American dictators or subject to supply disruptions resulting from political instability? If these folks don’t like Canadian oil, perhaps they should encourage exploration in the US. That would certainly create jobs, reduce our country’s vulnerability, and be better for the environment. After all, wouldn’t you rather see development occur subject to US environmental regulation than in some wild-west location like Nigeria?

  3. kirk

    Calling tar sands a source of petroleum misleads. The energy content of tar sands like the energy content of coal cannot be extracted without large amounts of CO2. The apt comparison here is (for example) natural gas from coal bed or shale bed methane VS dirty, carbon heavy alternatives. Tar sands are not a ‘six of one, half dozen of another’ trade off for petroleum. The reality is that ONLY natural gas will be extracted almost entirely within the boundary of the USofA.

    It is natural gas that will wean us from internal combustion engines because natural gas will replace coal for electric generation. Electric cars and the infrastructure for all electric transportation is the only reasonable path to gasoline freedom. Also, fleet vehicles can run on LNG today and replace diesel in most applications. The real solution – the only solution – to reduce petroleum dependance and coal dependance is a rapid ramp up on electric vehicles and the replacement of coal for electric generation. Arguing about petroleum from deep ocean wells vs. Nigerian petroleum is pointless to the point of insanity.

  4. Incredulous

    I applaud their dedication to getting out and voicing their opinion. However pointless and misguided.

    It seems to me that funding research in green technologies would be a better purpose for the money they spent traveling and organizing this kind of protest. People are not going to stop using oil until there is a viable alternative.

    If the pipeline is in not approved, the same oil will be going through one of the other old pipelines already in place which are not designed for it’s transport (best case) or trucked along our highways, carried in tank cars by rail, or shipped by tanker. All of these are more dangerous and more of a cause for concern than moving it within a newly built pipeline up to modern specifications. The higher transport cost will also take money away that would be better spent on improving other technologies.

  5. Hugo Schmidt

    Oh, will you lot please, please get real? The Canadian tar sands are being fought because the Saudis do not like the idea of their oil getting any sort of competition. It also gives the Obama gang a chance for some old fashioned, tub-thumping nativism and chauvenism, given than Canada is – thanks to their antics – a better credit risk than the US. That’s the only reason these crackpots and nutbags get any sort of a hearing, though I am glad to see that the wretched Hillary Clinton has folded.

    If this pipeline is blocked, it’ll mean the end of a great number of jobs and local communities, in particular drawn from the indigenous community in Canada, and a switching of those jobs to the exploited serfs of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan etc., all of whose surplus value will be squeezed off by parasitic rulers and tyrants. And having achieved this horror, the Greens – who seem incapable of anything other than making life worse for everyone – will stand around smirking as though they’ve done something to be proud of. They should just be dragged off and flogged.

  6. 1985

    2. TomInAK Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 12:49 pm
    “What do you think? Is the Obama Administration making us safer and creating jobs by approving the pipeline?”
    If they actually approve it, yes.
    It makes perfect sense to buy what we need from a friendly neighbor, rather than from hostile countries half way around the world. Why would you want to keep us dependent on anti-American dictators or subject to supply disruptions resulting from political instability? If these folks don’t like Canadian oil, perhaps they should encourage exploration in the US. That would certainly create jobs, reduce our country’s vulnerability, and be better for the environment. After all, wouldn’t you rather see development occur subject to US environmental regulation than in some wild-west location like Nigeria?

    It is highly unlikely that tar sands will ever provide what the US needs. Because it is a mining operation rather than just letting a liquid flow under its own pressure, and because it needs so much water and other inputs, the extraction throughput is always going to be limited. It is about 1 million barrels a days now, it is projected to increase to 3 million barrels a day by 2020 and possibly to 5 million in 2030. The US imports more than 13 million barrels a day. If the economy and population are to grow as expected, and given that US domestic production is long past its peak and will continue to decline, the US will have to import more than that in 2020 and even more in 2030, so it is clear that the tar sands are not going to save the day. That’s without even discussing their abysmally low EROEI….

  7. 1985

    4. Incredulous Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 1:09 pm
    It seems to me that funding research in green technologies would be a better purpose for the money they spent traveling and organizing this kind of protest. People are not going to stop using oil until there is a viable alternative.

    The amount of money they spent on travelling and organizing is probably smaller than your average research grant. Yes, that’s going to fund a lot of research in green technologies….

  8. 1985

    5. Hugo Schmidt Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 1:16 pm
    If this pipeline is blocked, it’ll mean the end of a great number of jobs and local communities, in particular drawn from the indigenous community in Canada, and a switching of those jobs to the exploited serfs of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan etc., all of whose surplus value will be squeezed off by parasitic rulers and tyrants. And having achieved this horror, the Greens – who seem incapable of anything other than making life worse for everyone – will stand around smirking as though they’ve done something to be proud of. They should just be dragged off and flogged.

    1. It is absurd to claim that a few thousand jobs are more important than the planet’s climate and in turn the future of the human species. It is actually absurd to claim that any amount of money, jobs, the economy in general or anything of the sort are more important than that. It takes a special kind of severe brainwashing, a mental disorder even, to think otherwise

    2. No jobs will be transferred from Canada to Saudi Arabia or Sudan. If given the chance, all the oil in Saudi Arabia and Sudan will be burned and all the tar sands that can be processed into oil will be burned too. The issue here is that we should keep the tar sands in the ground and drastically limit the rate at which we burn conventional oil so that we don’t wreck the climate and civilization doesn’t fall apart because of Peak Oil

  9. TomInAK

    1985:

    The more we can import from friendly sources, the better. If the ROI is abysmally low, then the project will fail, or not be funded at all. W/respect to recovery rates and processes: technology will improve the rates and lessen the need for the open-pit mining. The Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage process is already being used to recover this oil without the need to disrupt the surface.

    A theme I’ve noticed over the years in the opposition to energy projects is something along the lines of “it won’t solve all our problems instantaneously so, therefore, it’s not worth doing.” I’ve seen it in opposition to drilling in the arctic, offshore, tar sands, etc. IMHO, the more of these partial solutions we come up with, the better off we are.

  10. Terry Cooney

    Any dissents allowed? There is NO renewable energy that has been shown to be able to supply the country with its energy needs. Something has to be done in the meanwhile. If the country is stopped from planning for growth and increased demand on the fear-mongering alone, EVERYONE will suffer. Protest all you want; it’s healthy and brings some issues to light. But let’s not ignore economic reality in the name (or face) of celebrity representation. Why not, for instance, look at large scale geo-thermal, tapping the heat of the earth underlying the Midwest? For every plan, someone with a loud voice can think of reasons why it MIGHT be dangerous. We are tying our own hands with fear and indecision. What a disappointing cycle!

  11. TomInAK

    “1. It is absurd to claim that a few thousand jobs are more important than the planet’s climate and in turn the future of the human species. It is actually absurd to claim that any amount of money, jobs, the economy in general or anything of the sort are more important than that. It takes a special kind of severe brainwashing, a mental disorder even, to think otherwise”

    I’ll abstain from name-calling or questioning your mental state, but it’s absurd to propose that extracting this oil will have some sort of catastrophic effect on the earth. I’d think that folks would realize the silliness of the “Day After Tomorrow” stuff by now.

  12. Incredulous

    # 1985

    “The amount of money they spent on travelling and organizing is probably smaller than your average research grant. Yes, that’s going to fund a lot of research in green technologies….”

    Not everything has to have multi-million dollar price tags to be useful. Most graduate student research assistantships are just a few thousand dollars. Most researchers would be tickled to death to get even one more student researcher to do preliminary tests to evaluate other ideas that might or might not pay off. A few thousand dollars will also pay for cheap workstudy labor to take measurements, make copies, and clean equipment.

  13. Hugo Schmidt

    @1985,

    If the tarsands are not exploited, people will not magically be using less oil. They will be getting from somewhere else. If you’re so damn keen to sacrifice jobs, you can start with yours. You can buzz off and live as a hunter gatherer. However, you have no right whatsoever to sacrifice others.

    I really loathe Greens.

    The problem of CO2 emissions will be solved, if it is solved, through technological advance. Not through the Green Cult hopping up and down.

  14. lou

    The only thing that will reduce our dependence on oil is economic stagnation which ironically will lessen our ability to build an alternate infrastructure that is not based upon oil or ill conceived substitutes like ethanol. When we as far out on the limb of overshoot as we are now we’ll suck on any straw no matter how bad the source. This is not an indictment on Obama or the state department or those making great wealth on this venture. The target is squarely on all of us who will waste most of it propelling ourselves inefficiently down the hard road to questionable ends. We suck.

  15. 1985

    10. TomInAK Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 1:39 pm
    1985:
    The more we can import from friendly sources, the better. If the ROI is abysmally low, then the project will fail, or not be funded at all. W/respect to recovery rates and processes: technology will improve the rates and lessen the need for the open-pit mining. The Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage process is already being used to recover this oil without the need to disrupt the surface.

    I wasn’t talking about ROI, I was talking about EROEI. Two different, sometimes very different things. Because there is significant decoupling between thermodynamic costs and costs as measured in $ signs, because future environmental costs are not counted at all, and because of various subsidies, a project may make financial sense even though it makes absolutely no sense from a physical and environmental perspective

    A theme I’ve noticed over the years in the opposition to energy projects is something along the lines of “it won’t solve all our problems instantaneously so, therefore, it’s not worth doing.” I’ve seen it in opposition to drilling in the arctic, offshore, tar sands, etc. IMHO, the more of these partial solutions we come up with, the better off we are.

    This is nothing more than a response to the people who say “If only we could drill in X, we would solve all problems”. Where X usually contains an amount of oil that is less than an year of oil consumption. The big problem is not shortage of supply, the big problem is longage of demand…

  16. 1985

    11. Terry Cooney Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 1:53 pm
    Any dissents allowed? There is NO renewable energy that has been shown to be able to supply the country with its energy needs

    Correct. Now, given that in the long run (and it isn’t even that long), renewable energy is the only thing that we can rely on (everything else is vaporware at this point so it is extremely foolish to bet the future on it), what does this mean? It means that we should cut down our energy needs in an organized and orderly way, not that we should try to “do something about it” when nothing can be done

  17. 1985

    12. TomInAK Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 1:54 pm
    “1. It is absurd to claim that a few thousand jobs are more important than the planet’s climate and in turn the future of the human species. It is actually absurd to claim that any amount of money, jobs, the economy in general or anything of the sort are more important than that. It takes a special kind of severe brainwashing, a mental disorder even, to think otherwise”
    I’ll abstain from name-calling or questioning your mental state, but it’s absurd to propose that extracting this oil will have some sort of catastrophic effect on the earth. I’d think that folks would realize the silliness of the “Day After Tomorrow” stuff by now.

    That oil will never be extracted in the quantities needed to raise the CO2 concentration by the 200ppm it would raise it if it was all burned. Civilization will have fallen apart long before that and with it, the complex infrastructure needed to keep the process going on will go away too. The problem is that it will have collapsed precisely because of the kind of thinking that is behind the pipeline and the oil sands development. The kind of thinking that ignores the effects of another 200ppm on the climate. That’s the issue

  18. 1985

    14. Hugo Schmidt Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
    @1985,
    If the tarsands are not exploited, people will not magically be using less oil. They will be getting from somewhere else. If you’re so damn keen to sacrifice jobs, you can start with yours. You can buzz off and live as a hunter gatherer. However, you have no right whatsoever to sacrifice others.
    I really loathe Greens.
    The problem of CO2 emissions will be solved, if it is solved, through technological advance. Not through the Green Cult hopping up and down.

    We don’t face a problem with CO2, our problem is that we have built our civilization on the assumption that infinite growth in a finite system is not only possible but 100% certain to happen. If anything is 100% certain here, it is that this assumption is wrong.

    CO2 is a secondary problem that arises from the more fundamental one above. And it isn’t going to be solved unless the primary problem is solved, we abandon the blind faith in growth, and organize an orderly transition to a world with much fewer people and much less consumption

  19. Nullius in Verba

    “our problem is that we have built our civilization on the assumption that infinite growth in a finite system is not only possible but 100% certain to happen. If anything is 100% certain here, it is that this assumption is wrong.”

    Heh. Only if you are a jayhawk.

  20. Mike H

    Bill McKibben AND Darrel Hannah!!!! The brought the big guns out for this … the intellectual heavyweights of the environmental community. Speaking of McKibben, isn’t he one of those anti-intellectual, reflexively anti-biotech activists to boot?

    Did someone say war on science?

    that would transport petroleum fuels across multiple states and below one of the nations largest aquifers

    Below the aquifer, huh? Hows that possible? Probably a type-o, but looks to be indicative of the amount of thought that went into this post. And what are you trying to imply with this statement? Does the construction and operation of the Keystone XL pipeline pose a unique risk to the Ogallala aquifer? Is this risk greater or lesser than the thousands of miles of chemical and oil pipelines that already operate in the area encompassing the Ogallala?

    Fact is we need oil. I know no one like to admit this but we do. To borrow a phrase from someone else, to say otherwise is to declare a war on science. The Canadians WILL develop these fields and they WILL sell it. Do they sell it to us, or the Chinese, that’s the question.

  21. TerryEmberson

    @19. 1985 Says:

    We don’t face a problem with CO2, our problem is that we have built our civilization on the assumption that infinite growth in a finite system is not only possible but 100% certain to happen. If anything is 100% certain here, it is that this assumption is wrong.

    That is a most terrifying idea right there. That people believe things which are so fundamentally wrong scares me.

    We built a civilization based on the concept that the future will be better than the past. It’s called the Idea of Progress. It is based on the concept that we will overcome the problems of today by individual industry and scientific development. The way that that civilization measures progress is by increased growth in productivity. Productivity does not mean solely the ability to produce objects of desire, it can also mean the ability to produce knowledge. We’ve always paid, as a civilization, more highly for ideas than we have for any other produce, actually, its just that we haven’t always encouraged people to make ideas in the first place.

    Consumption is just another word for people getting what they want. If you want less people to get what they want, you really want a place with a greater degree of scarcity. More scarcity means that there is more difference between the elites and the commons. The haves will have an even greater advantage, relatively speaking, than the have-nots under that system.

    Additionally, the system may be finite, but it is ultimately less finite than you seem to think. We WILL one day be forced to leave our cradle. Hopefully, we won’t have soiled it too much, but what we DON’T need is to get comfortable in our cradle. We need to NEED to go to the moon to get He3. We need to NEED to go to the built to get iron from M or X-type asteroids.

    We will do that only by growing. The only things that don’t grow are dead.

  22. Mike H

    We don’t face a problem with CO2, our problem is that we have built our civilization on the assumption that infinite growth in a finite system is not only possible but 100% certain to happen. If anything is 100% certain here, it is that this assumption is wrong.

    Earth may well be finite as far as man’s consumptive behaviors fo, but the universe certainly isnt.

  23. Hugo Schmidt

    1985,

    Who the hell is this “we” you keep referring to?

    …wait a second. I think I’ve encountered you before.

    *looks* So I have:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/06/09/santorum-on-limbaugh-climate-change-is-a-scheme-for-more-government/

    Yes, the resident eco-fascist.

  24. OK, how many of you (ignoring Nullius and the other “usual suspect” trolls) will STILL, STILL, STILL vote for Obama rather than voting Green? Are you still part of the problem, not part of the solution?

  25. TerryEmberson

    I’m voting for whoever is more likely to increase human rights and freedom in the United States. Probably means I won’t be voting….

    Wait… I’m one of the usual suspect trolls, aren’t I?

    (Also, I’ve had a number of posts fail to appear on this thread. It’s getting aggravating).

  26. 1985

    24. SocraticGadfly Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 5:36 pm
    OK, how many of you (ignoring Nullius and the other “usual suspect” trolls) will STILL, STILL, STILL vote for Obama rather than voting Green? Are you still part of the problem, not part of the solution?

    Is the Green party of the solution? They are mostly greenwashers too, just as Obama.

    I am simply not voting for anyone, there is no point

  27. 1985

    22. Mike H Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 4:56 pm
    Earth may well be finite as far as man’s consumptive behaviors fo, but the universe certainly isnt.

    1. The term vaporware exists for a reason

    2. We live in a shallow by cosmic standards but still very deep for us gravity well that makes sure that if we ever get out of it, it will have been AFTER we have solved our resource problems, not before that (and when I say this, I am not assuming that it is even physically possible to “solve our resource problems” in the way science fiction portrays it). Which means that when it comes to the universe all we can rely on for the foreseeable future is whatever energy we get from the sun

  28. Incredulous

    #24 SocraticGadfly

    Who is the Green candidate? Do they have a chance for winning or are they just for show? Do you take a chance on throwing in with them even if it means the Republicans will win because the Democrats wont have enough votes? Do they just get balanced out by the Tea Party?

    Even if you prefer some “Green” candidate, how do you suggest getting them elected? Closest was Nader and that was nowhere near being a real contender.

    How will we get over that problem before we can get to the next one?

  29. TomInAK

    “And it isn’t going to be solved unless the primary problem is solved, we abandon the blind faith in growth, and organize an orderly transition to a world with much fewer people and much less consumption”

    Define “blind faith in growth”. What I see is society acting to fulfill the needs of it’s members. What I also see is the “resistance” glorified by this article acting to beggar and make everyone else miserable. I doubt Darryl Hannah or James Hansen plan to reduce their own consumption to the level they think the rest of us should have.

    Who gets to “organize this orderly transition to a world with much fewer people and much less consumption?” Do the people who get “right-sized” have any say in the matter? Do the people whose lifestyle you propose to severely limit get a vote? On what basis do you feel that some central authority has the capability to act intelligently, effectively, and benignly on behalf of all the (mostly unwilling) members of society? What gives you the authority, moral or otherwise, to essentially tell people “freeze, starve, live with deprivation. It’s in your best interest”?

  30. Brian Too

    My heart wants us to stop using fossil fuels. My head tells me that we still need them, at least for now.

    If we had a clear-cut alternative we’d be using it already. There are options of course but they all have problems serious enough to at least slow down their adoption. My guess is that we’ll be transitioning to greener energy sources for several decades at least.

    The only no-brainer choice we have is energy efficiency. That is one we should be aggressively adopting; you can start immediately, you get benefits at any scale of adoption, and there are numerous beneficial side-effects.

  31. 1985

    30. TomInAK Says:
    August 30th, 2011 at 7:04 pm
    Define “blind faith in growth”.

    When was the last time you heard anyone of importance talk about anything else other than boosting economic growth? It’s the official religion of our society

    What I see is society acting to fulfill the needs of it’s members.

    Seriously? Which needs exactly? Hundreds of millions of people all over the world are starving, many more lack electricity and basic sanitation; in fact, millions in the US don’t have enough to eat or a roof over their heads either. Meanwhile more than enough food is being produced to feed everyone and hundreds of thousands of homes sit empty. Is this a society that’s “acting to fulfill the needs of it’s members”?

    Who gets to “organize this orderly transition to a world with much fewer people and much less consumption?” Do the people who get “right-sized” have any say in the matter? Do the people whose lifestyle you propose to severely limit get a vote? On what basis do you feel that some central authority has the capability to act intelligently, effectively, and benignly on behalf of all the (mostly unwilling) members of society? What gives you the authority, moral or otherwise, to essentially tell people “freeze, starve, live with deprivation. It’s in your best interest”?

    You simply don’t get it. People can be fed, housed and clothed at a fraction of the energy that we consume today, most of which is wasted on huge homes in the middle of nowhere and long daily commutes from those homes to work and back, on air travel, on producing and shipping around the world goods that nobody really needs but are produced, aggressively advertised and eventually sold for the sole reason that GDP can grow, and which, on top of that, are designed following the principle of planned obsolescence so that you buy them again soon because they break or go out of fashion; the list goes on and on. People can live quite well without any of the above, and they can also live quite well having a single kid or none at all until population decreases to the necessary level without any violence or coercion.

    But that would take knowledge, understanding and wisdom, all of which are in sever shortage.

  32. ColinC

    @1985: I think you simply don’t get it. Efforts to plan out economic activity eventually fail. Every planned economy in history has failed while random, distributed economic activity has given rise to self-stablizing factors. The poor in poor countries are generally suffering at the hands of self-appointed elites who often make believe that they are trying to do good while actually being parasites off of their nations poverty. Your system would invariably fail because someone has to do the planning and people suck at predicting the future. Even scientists suck as predicting the future when it isn’t a simple problem. Elites generally aren’t elite.

    People can be fed, housed, and clothed cheaply only because we have a high productivity. If we diminished productivity, clothes, food, and housing would all get more expensive. There are always going to be poor and always going to be rich. If there is abundance, than your poor don’t have to starve to death.

  33. Eric the Leaf

    Richard Heinberg (RH) on efficiency, technology, and the end of growth:

    Full inteview at http://www.postcarbon.org/article/470476-how-to-talk-about-the-end

    LC: But there are two areas that many people turn to when refuting ideas (and research) that point to the end of growth or the limits to energy. Both involve innovation. Either the “technology will save us argument.” Or that business will always find a way to adapt and reinvent itself. You look at this in your chapter “Won’t Innovation, Substitution and Efficiency Save Us?”

    Why are you skeptical about these perceived miracle cures?

    RH: Efficiency, innovation, substitution are all real phenomena. As we changed our light bulbs from incandescents to compact fluorescents and then to LEDs, that’s substitution and it’s increasing energy efficiency. It’s a good thing to do and we use less energy to produce the same amount of light. Great.

    But efficiency, energy efficiency is subject to the law of diminishing returns.

    Now once we get to LED lights, we kind of got all the low hanging fruit. LED lights first of all are currently pretty damn expensive. Hopefully they’ll get less expensive, and we’ll be able to change out all our lights for LEDs at some point in the next few years. But once we’re there, there are inherent technical limits to how much electricity will produce how much light. And we’re certainly within those limits.

    That wasn’t the case when we were using incandescents. Those were relatively very inefficient so that it was easy to increase the efficiency of lighting relatively cheaply. Now to get even another increment of efficiency is going to be difficult and expensive. That’s true in all areas of society.

    Further, the kinds of innovations that we’re looking at — I think most people have too high expectations in that regard. We look at computer and cell phone technologies, it’s always changing. It’s amazing what we’re doing today in these technological fields. Communications, computing.

    However that’s only one small sector of technology.

    The technologies that we mostly rely on in our daily lives whether we think about it or not, are in the food system, and the transport system, and the energy sector. And the technologies in those fields are slow moving. They’re slow to adapt and slow to change and it’s very expensive to get fundamental technological change in those areas.

    Yeah, we have electric cars now. But you know, how long would it take at current rates of adoption for, let’s say 50% of the US fleet to be electric cars? Well, it’s not going to happen next year, or the next, or even in a decade or two at current rates of adoption. It’s probably going to be more like 50, 75 years. Of course, by that time we’re looking at a post-, a deep post-peak oil world where it’ll almost be a moot question as to what’s powering our cars because we probably won’t even have cars at that point.

    LC: Is that where people, perhaps in the popular mind — again because there’s failure of leadership to have these kinds of conversations — that your average person considers only the fuel that goes in to driving the car, but not what it costs to make all the other component parts of the car, to maintain the car, to pave the roads that the car drives on, the lights that the car stops at? And the energy that goes in to all that?

    RH: Right.

    LC: These multiple factors just for one aspect of our life, just the transportation piece of it. Is that not well understood by the average person?

    RH: Right, right. We don’t encourage people to understand that because we want them to believe that technology can do anything. Again, when I say “we,” I’m really putting myself in the shoes of the managers of the economy.

    Because there is profit to be made from new technologies, so there is also profit to be made from spreading the view that technology is capable of miracles. We’ve been sold that point of view over the course of decades.

    When you go back to the 1930s and look at the covers of Mechanix Illustrated, and some of the other popular science magazines of that era, and it’s just absolutely blatant, it’s funny. It’s kind of cute and wonderful —

    LC: Kitsch?

    RH: Childlike. Yeah, right. This childlike faith that technology is just going to make anything possible. “We’ll live forever! Everyone will be the equivalent of a billionaire! We’ll have robots taking care of all of our needs!”

    LC: Ha, ha.

    RH: To a certain extent that’s happened. You know, within limits, the average modern American is living a lifestyle that’s the equivalent of a king or a queen in ancient times.

    But there are limits. And we’re approaching those limits. And technology per se isn’t going to make that much difference.

    Technology, innovation and efficiency will be ways of helping us to adapt to a post-growth economy. But they’re not going to forestall the end of growth.

    LC: But there are two areas that many people turn to when refuting ideas (and research) that point to the end of growth or the limits to energy. Both involve innovation. Either the “technology will save us argument.” Or that business will always find a way to adapt and reinvent itself. You look at this in your chapter “Won’t Innovation, Substitution and Efficiency Save Us?”

    Why are you skeptical about these perceived miracle cures?

    RH: Efficiency, innovation, substitution are all real phenomena. As we changed our light bulbs from incandescents to compact fluorescents and then to LEDs, that’s substitution and it’s increasing energy efficiency. It’s a good thing to do and we use less energy to produce the same amount of light. Great.

    But efficiency, energy efficiency is subject to the law of diminishing returns.

    Now once we get to LED lights, we kind of got all the low hanging fruit. LED lights first of all are currently pretty damn expensive. Hopefully they’ll get less expensive, and we’ll be able to change out all our lights for LEDs at some point in the next few years. But once we’re there, there are inherent technical limits to how much electricity will produce how much light. And we’re certainly within those limits.

    That wasn’t the case when we were using incandescents. Those were relatively very inefficient so that it was easy to increase the efficiency of lighting relatively cheaply. Now to get even another increment of efficiency is going to be difficult and expensive. That’s true in all areas of society.

    Further, the kinds of innovations that we’re looking at — I think most people have too high expectations in that regard. We look at computer and cell phone technologies, it’s always changing. It’s amazing what we’re doing today in these technological fields. Communications, computing.

    However that’s only one small sector of technology.

    The technologies that we mostly rely on in our daily lives whether we think about it or not, are in the food system, and the transport system, and the energy sector. And the technologies in those fields are slow moving. They’re slow to adapt and slow to change and it’s very expensive to get fundamental technological change in those areas.

    Yeah, we have electric cars now. But you know, how long would it take at current rates of adoption for, let’s say 50% of the US fleet to be electric cars? Well, it’s not going to happen next year, or the next, or even in a decade or two at current rates of adoption. It’s probably going to be more like 50, 75 years. Of course, by that time we’re looking at a post-, a deep post-peak oil world where it’ll almost be a moot question as to what’s powering our cars because we probably won’t even have cars at that point.

    LC: Is that where people, perhaps in the popular mind — again because there’s failure of leadership to have these kinds of conversations — that your average person considers only the fuel that goes in to driving the car, but not what it costs to make all the other component parts of the car, to maintain the car, to pave the roads that the car drives on, the lights that the car stops at? And the energy that goes in to all that?

    RH: Right.

    LC: These multiple factors just for one aspect of our life, just the transportation piece of it. Is that not well understood by the average person?

    RH: Right, right. We don’t encourage people to understand that because we want them to believe that technology can do anything. Again, when I say “we,” I’m really putting myself in the shoes of the managers of the economy.

    Because there is profit to be made from new technologies, so there is also profit to be made from spreading the view that technology is capable of miracles. We’ve been sold that point of view over the course of decades.

    When you go back to the 1930s and look at the covers of Mechanix Illustrated, and some of the other popular science magazines of that era, and it’s just absolutely blatant, it’s funny. It’s kind of cute and wonderful —

    LC: Kitsch?

    RH: Childlike. Yeah, right. This childlike faith that technology is just going to make anything possible. “We’ll live forever! Everyone will be the equivalent of a billionaire! We’ll have robots taking care of all of our needs!”

    LC: Ha, ha.

    RH: To a certain extent that’s happened. You know, within limits, the average modern American is living a lifestyle that’s the equivalent of a king or a queen in ancient times.

    But there are limits. And we’re approaching those limits. And technology per se isn’t going to make that much difference.

    Technology, innovation and efficiency will be ways of helping us to adapt to a post-growth economy. But they’re not going to forestall the end of growth.

  34. TomInAK

    “You simply don’t get it. People can be fed, housed and clothed at a fraction of the energy that we consume today . . . . .”

    Sure. We could all live in a mud hut and work in a rice paddy. Most of us don’t want to do that, and most of mankind’s existence has been a struggle to rise above minimal conditions. The problem with making statements like yours is that “too much” is a subjective thing. I can almost guarantee that your lifestyle, no matter how “green”, is considerably more opulent than you “need” to survive, and is most likely something that a third-worlder would give his eyeteeth to have. Will you please make do with much less? If not, perhaps we should forcibly keep you from obtaining the goods and services you need to maintain your lifestyle.

    ” . . . producing and shipping around the world goods that nobody really needs but are produced, aggressively advertised and eventually sold for the sole reason that GDP can grow . . . . ”

    Goods tend to be bought because people find utility in them. Perhaps they make life easier or more pleasurable, or enable the buyer to be more productive. Goods tend to be produced because the maker believes that someone else will value them enough to part with their money. If nobody finds utility in something that’s being manufactured, the manufacturer will soon be out of business. Your assertion that “nobody really needs” what’s being produced is, again, completely subjective. What do you find pleasure in, or find useful? I’m certain that you don’t really “need” it.

    “People can live quite well without any of the above, and they can also live quite well having a single kid or none at all until population decreases to the necessary level without any violence or coercion. But that would take knowledge, understanding and wisdom, all of which are in sever shortage.”

    So since the masses, lacking the “knowledge, understanding, and wisdom” to agree with you, remain intent on perpetuating their lineages and bettering their lots you’re cool with coercion?

  35. Hugo Schmidt

    TomInAK,

    If you follow my link to the earlier thread, you find 1985 salivating over the prospect of tyranny.

  36. TTT

    Mike H: Earth may well be finite as far as man’s consumptive behaviors fo, but the universe certainly isnt.

    Magic thinking and wish-craft.

    We will never colonize or minerally exploit other planets or asteroids. The energy outputs for the vehicles required, the perfect-from-the-start-and-never-breaks demands on any dwelling spaces required, and the unfathomable amounts of both money and political will required, all make it impossible. It would be many orders of magnitude easier and cheaper to try to construct self-sustaining colonies on the ocean floor, yet even that has never happened and surely never will. Heck, it’s proving hard enough just to keep cities in operation in the desert.

    We are stuck on Earth, with what Earth has to offer us. We don’t get to escape reason or responsibility by supposing a magic escape hatch will just fall out of the sky like in “Contact.”

  37. 1985

    35. Hugo Schmidt Says:
    August 31st, 2011 at 4:34 am
    TomInAK,
    If you follow my link to the earlier thread, you find 1985 salivating over the prospect of tyranny.

    Actually, if one reads what I posted there he will find no such thing. It is your reading comprehension skills that are the problem here, not what I wrote then

  38. JimBobBillyBob

    I’m not sure why this is even a topic for discussion. If the American’s don’t like it then we’d be more than happy to turn off the tap and lay off thousands of American workers. Plus they can go to their most popular friends and get whatever oil they need from there.

    Most people don’t realize how many U.S. workers are here in Calgary, I see U.S. plates from all over the place; additionally, the U.S. should look at their own backyard crap first before telling other countries how to run their business.

    We are your friends not your enemy, but it seems like most U.S. citizens will never understand this concept.

  39. TerryEmberson

    The energy requirements to launch vessels into space are fixed. The maximum energy that can be extracted from resources is finite. The efficiency at which we presently do so is extremely low, but it is getting better all the time. Contrary to what TTT and 1985 have to say, we will one day be able to afford travel off of Earth for commercial reasons because the rewards will cost less than the outlay in energy. That is called growth.

    Right now, we rely on chemical energy, though we can produce energy through nuclear means. Fusion is a proven form of nuclear energy that we have harnessed repeatedly in our history. We are learning to harness it a little more slowly as well. A fusion reactor is going to be a BIG facility, but there are methods to turn that energy efficiency toward lifting objects from the earth.

    It WON’T be this century. It will only be in my lifetime if Ray Kurzweil is correct, which I doubt. If you look at the predictable ability of humanity to harness energy, a clear exponential growth pattern exists. Failing to extrapolate present trends toward future results is EXACTLY what is wrong with those who deny the existence of global warming. That pattern means that about 2 centuries from now, we will have the energy to send expeditions to our neighboring stars. 3 centuries from now, we will be able to do so with impunity.

    That trend only exists as long as we don’t let politics get in the way and bring about another dark ages of stagnation and death. That which does not grow, dies.

  40. Chris Winter

    Terry Cooney wrote: “Any dissents allowed?”

    Certainly. Dissent is common on this blog.

    “There is NO renewable energy that has been shown to be able to supply the country with its energy needs. Something has to be done in the meanwhile.”

    Again, this is inarguable. But no one AFAIK is proposing to immediately replace all of the country’s energy sources with renewable ones. Instead, we look to phase out fossil fuels over a period of the life of the power plants that use them. That period might have started two or three decades ago. Your “meanwhile” keeps stretching out.

    I note that the Republicans in Congress voted to cut funding for renewable energy research but didn’t want to touch oil-industry subsidies. It seems they’re dedicated to making “meanwhile” last a long, long time.

    Where is the support for getting serious about energy efficiency, which Brian Too in #31 calls a no-brainer. He’s right; we could be saving scads of energy with an aggressive program of conservation — maybe enough that we wouldn’t need the tar sands. But no one in government wants to get behind that.

    “If the country is stopped from planning for growth and increased demand on the fear-mongering alone, EVERYONE will suffer. Protest all you want; it’s healthy and brings some issues to light. But let’s not ignore economic reality in the name (or face) of celebrity representation. Why not, for instance, look at large scale geo-thermal, tapping the heat of the earth underlying the Midwest? For every plan, someone with a loud voice can think of reasons why it MIGHT be dangerous. We are tying our own hands with fear and indecision. What a disappointing cycle!”

    I would say rather that our hands are being tied in favor of the status quo.

  41. 1985

    40. Chris Winter Says:

    1. Our socioeconomic system is based and entirely dependent on growth.

    2. Infinite growth in a finite system is impossible

    3. From 1 and 2 it directly follows that no alternative, conventional or any other energy source or technology can save us

    4. There are hard thermodynamic limits to how efficient things can get. It takes a certain minimum amount of energy to move objects from one place to another and you can not do the work for less than that. From this, and from 1 and 2, it follows directly that no matter how efficient we get, this will make no difference either

    5. So the only real solution left is dismantling the system that relies on perpetual growth for its continued existence and replacing it with something that doesn’t.

    Which should be obvious to anyone who has passed second grade in school, but somehow even people with PhDs will confidently tell you that the laws of physics do not apply to humans….

  42. 1985

    40. TerryEmberson Says:
    August 31st, 2011 at 12:46 pm
    The energy requirements to launch vessels into space are fixed. The maximum energy that can be extracted from resources is finite. The efficiency at which we presently do so is extremely low, but it is getting better all the time. Contrary to what TTT and 1985 have to say, we will one day be able to afford travel off of Earth for commercial reasons because the rewards will cost less than the outlay in energy. That is called growth.

    Have you ever done that math? Are you aware how much energy is needed to send a given mass into orbit and bring it back?

    I have seen all sorts of lunatics tell me that there is no problem with Peak Oil because there are huge oceans of hydrocarbons on some moons in the Solar System. Well, yes, there are, but we would be at a huge energetic loss simply due to having to overcome gravity if we were to bring them here; the huge problem of scaling such a process aside.

    It simply makes no sense for hydrocarbons. It makes little sense for uranium either, and it makes no sense for the proposed fusion fuels such as Helium-3 for the simple reason that while those may be abundant on the Moon and elsewhere, they aren’t found in concentrated pools; the mineralogical barrier exists everywhere else just as it exists on Earth

    Right now, we rely on chemical energy, though we can produce energy through nuclear means. Fusion is a proven form of nuclear energy that we have harnessed repeatedly in our history. We are learning to harness it a little more slowly as well. A fusion reactor is going to be a BIG facility, but there are methods to turn that energy efficiency toward lifting objects from the earth.

    What are you talking about? Nobody has ever run fusion at a net energy profit. Nobody has even come close. Yes, we should be investing heavily in it, but at this point in time it is vaporware that only a fool can bet the future on

    It WON’T be this century. It will only be in my lifetime if Ray Kurzweil is correct, which I doubt. If you look at the predictable ability of humanity to harness energy, a clear exponential growth pattern exists. Failing to extrapolate present trends toward future results is EXACTLY what is wrong with those who deny the existence of global warming. That pattern means that about 2 centuries from now, we will have the energy to send expeditions to our neighboring stars. 3 centuries from now, we will be able to do so with impunity.

    1. Kurzweil is a lunatic.

    2. Climatologists are not extrapolating current trends into the future, they are much smarter than this.

    3. Even if we had unlimited amounts of energy, all it would do is cook the planet. Useful reading for the unaware:

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/galactic-scale-energy/

    At current rates of growth of energy consumption, the temperature of the planet would be 100 degrees Celsius in less than 500 years…

    That trend only exists as long as we don’t let politics get in the way and bring about another dark ages of stagnation and death. That which does not grow, dies.

    That which grows indefinitely is called cancer

  43. Nullius in Verba

    “Have you ever done that math? Are you aware how much energy is needed to send a given mass into orbit and bring it back?”

    Heh.

    Just for fun:
    Low Earth orbit is about 200 km up, and requires travelling at about 8 km/s.
    Potential energy requirement is 2 MJ/kg
    Kinetic energy requirement is 32 MJ/kg

    For comparison, 34 MJ is the energy in a litre of gasoline.

  44. Nullius in Verba

    “It takes a certain minimum amount of energy to move objects from one place to another and you can not do the work for less than that.”

    Exercise for all those who passed second grade in school: how much energy does it take to move the entire Earth through half the circumference in its orbit around the sun?

  45. 1985

    45. Nullius in Verba Says:
    August 31st, 2011 at 7:39 pm
    “It takes a certain minimum amount of energy to move objects from one place to another and you can not do the work for less than that.”
    Exercise for all those who passed second grade in school: how much energy does it take to move the entire Earth through half the circumference in its orbit around the sun?

    The next thing I expect to hear from you is that the Second Law of Thermodynamics disproves evolution…

  46. TTT

    we will one day be able to afford travel off of Earth for commercial reasons because the rewards will cost less than the outlay in energy. That is called growth

    Billionaire thrill-seekers skimming into low Earth orbit is entirely possible, and entirely worthless in the context of a discussion of adding new material resource inputs into our finite system. They’re not gonna find and exploit any new energy sources anywhere in our immediate neighborhood, because there aren’t any. That’s the problem. And it will never be physically feasible–much MUCH less commercially feasible–to set up shop anywhere else.

    “We’ll figure it out in 200 years” is not a serious discussion of near-term resource problems. I’d consider it far more intellectually respectable for people to say that since they, personally, will not be seriously impacted, they choose to ignore the problem.

  47. Nullius in Verba

    #46,

    Is it? I notice you didn’t answer the question. You did pass second grade, didn’t you?

    #47,

    We have no near term resource problems, and the only way we could spend the next 200 years without inventing anything is if you Greens succeed in sending us back to the dark ages. The predictions of doom are all predicated on the idea that our capabilities and resources stay exactly as they are now, while our needs continue to expand in line with recent history. But our recent history is that our capabilities and resources have expanded even faster than our needs.

    There is no problem – apart from the people trying to persuade us that there is a problem.

  48. Hugo Schmidt

    Before this silliness get’s completely out of hand,

    We have barely even scratched the surface of our planet when it comes to getting materials to dig out and exploit. Then there are advances in recycling – if it becomes necessary – and new ways of extracting material.

    Long before we have to even think about going elsewhere, we have more than enough stuff to work with for a thousand years. At least.

    There is only one limited resource, and that is human ingenuity. That is it.

  49. Hugo Schmidt

    Here’s Yaron Brook making the same point much better than I ever could:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLq13m-6Sm4&feature=related

  50. 1985

    48. Nullius in Verba Says:
    September 1st, 2011 at 2:16 am
    #46,
    Is it? I notice you didn’t answer the question. You did pass second grade, didn’t you?

    I very much answered it. Using that as an objection to what I said is equivalent to claiming that the Second Law disproves evolution. Same misunderstanding, no need to say more

    #47,
    We have no near term resource problems, and the only way we could spend the next 200 years without inventing anything is if you Greens succeed in sending us back to the dark ages.

    We have a laundry list of very serious resource problems

    Oil
    Gas
    Coal
    Uranium
    Water
    Soil
    Phosphates
    etc.
    etc.

    The predictions of doom are all predicated on the idea that our capabilities and resources stay exactly as they are now, while our needs continue to expand in line with recent history. But our recent history is that our capabilities and resources have expanded even faster than our needs.

    The predictions of doom are based on analysis of the available data and on the well known fact that all past civilizations except ours have collapsed, often precisely for reasons having to do with resource depletion and environmental degradation.

    Humans have an extremely poor track record of innovating their way out of resource crisis. For two reasons: one, they are nowhere nearly as smart as they like to think, and two, it is simply not possible to sustain the unsustainable. The only reason we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise is that in addition to all of the above, we are also very poor at learning from history and from using scientific knowledge and thinking to guide our decision making.

  51. TTT

    @48: the only way we could spend the next 200 years without inventing anything is if you Greens succeed in sending us back to the dark ages. The predictions of doom

    –are child’s play compared to yours. Each prediction of environmental laws wrecking our economy and standard of living is ever more false than the last in an unbroken 100-year litany of failure, and so to compensate they must grow more alarmist and hysterical every time.

    And we will never invent the means to colonize other planets, any more than we will invent time travel. But in that regard your stance that there are no resource problems is actually a good thing, as it adds even more deserved folly to the promises of magicking ourselves onto Earth-2 to escape them.

  52. TerryEmberson

    It is a sad, sad world that Green’s live in. I prefer to live with rational hope. Rational because the last 150 years have failed to create the Malthusian collapse Green’s predict and hope because even in actual (and not projected) despair, there is hope.

  53. 1985

    Prophets of Doom need only be right once. In the long run they are axiomatically right because infinite growth in a finite system is impossible. The fact that we haven’t collapsed yet is irrelevant, even more so given that it isn’t even true – we have collapsed many times in the past, only it was always local, while now it is global and the stakes are much higher

  54. Nullius in Verba

    “I very much answered it. Using that as an objection to what I said is equivalent to claiming that the Second Law disproves evolution. Same misunderstanding, no need to say more”

    The idea that the second law disproves evolution is based on most people having only a vague idea of what the second law says, and figuring that if you keep on making vague claims that things are forbidden by the second law and citing “hard thermodynamic limits” without ever explaining what you mean, that people who are scientifically illiterate might give you a pass.

    Unfortunately for you, I do know what the second law says, so it’s not working.

    You said that it takes a certain minimum amount of energy to move objects from one place to another and you can not do the work for less than that. So what is the minimum amount of energy needed to move the entire Earth half a solar orbit? In Joules, please.

    Is it not obvious to anyone who has passed second grade that the Earth requires no energy source to keep moving, that this principle applies in general, and in fact there is in general no minimum energy required to move things from one place to another? Moving from the bottom of the hill to the top does require an input of energy, but moving in the reverse direction is able to give back that same energy – and hence has a negative ‘requirement’.

    It’s much the same with the rest of it. You boldly assert, and cite misunderstood bits of physics you’ve picked up, and try to bluster your way past any awkward questions or counter-examples anyone offers. It’s very entertaining.

    Do please keep it up. Perhaps for your next trick, you could have a go at explaining how we can possibly run out of water on a planet that is 2/3rds covered in it.

  55. 1985

    55. Nullius in Verba Says:
    September 1st, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    The above is precisely the reason I said that I expect you to say next that the Second law of Thermodynamics disproves evolution

    Because the misunderstanding there is treating the Earth as closed system when it isn’t and we have something quite similar here

    Why the hell are you asking me about the energy that it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun when you know perfectly well what I mean. It is completely different situation on Earth. The kind of things that people need moved from one place to another have to do so against significant forces in the opposite direction. Cars wouldn’t need fuel if this wasn’t the case. Why would you ever bring this up for any other purpose than to troll???

    Perhaps for your next trick, you could have a go at explaining how we can possibly run out of water on a planet that is 2/3rds covered in it.

    Very simple, but it is more helpful to think about things in terms of entropy and negentropy (which is what we are really talking about but I avoid using the term because when people don’t understand energy you can’t expect them to understand the concept of negative entropy).

    It matters very little that there are huge quantities of water on the surface of the planet, what we need is relatively pure water while the majority of it is impure salt water. The former is in a state of low entropy, the latter in state of higher entropy. You need quite a lot of negative entropy to make the impure water pure. So if you transfer too much of the pure water into the big pools of salt water or you contaminate it directly with various impurities that make it unusable, you shift it to a state of high entropy that you again need a lot of negative entropy to return it back to pure form from

    Since negative entropy is scarce, it is not at all hard to run out of usable water. Which is what we are doing – aquifers are being pumped at rates much larger then their recharge rate all over the world, rivers don’t even reach the sea because all the water is used for human purposes, countless lakes and rivers are so contaminated that the water is unusable for humans.

  56. Nullius in Verba

    “Because the misunderstanding there is treating the Earth as closed system when it isn’t”

    That’s not the reason.

    “Why the hell are you asking me about the energy that it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun when you know perfectly well what I mean.”

    Yes, I know what you mean. I know why it is wrong, too. It was more or less the same misunderstanding Aristotle had (so you are in illustrious company) when he said that being at rest was the natural state of things, and that it took a continual supply of force to keep things moving. But that idea went out of fashion with Galileo.

    “The kind of things that people need moved from one place to another have to do so against significant forces in the opposite direction. Cars wouldn’t need fuel if this wasn’t the case.”

    There is no fundamental physical reason why they have to, it’s just the inefficiencies of current technology. They are limits that future technology would potentially be able to bypass. They’re not set by thermodynamics, they’re not hard, there’s no reason they should limit our future capabilities. Which is what you were saying.

    “Why would you ever bring this up for any other purpose than to troll???”

    I’m bringing it up as the blindingly obvious example showing why you’re talking nonsense. You’re taking practical limitations of current technology, and declaring them (with no justification) to be absolute limits of fundamental physics – thermodynamics specifically. Cars use fuel to overcome friction and air resistance. Remove the friction and air resistance, and you can go as far as you want on arbitrarily little energy input. And there is no fundamental lower limit to friction.
    (It might take something like room-temperature superconductor maglev in vacuum tubes to do it, but it’s not against the laws of physics.)

    It’s the same with a lot of your stuff – you declare things to be fundamentally impossible that we’re already doing, or that there’s no fundamental reason we can’t do. There’s plenty of it that we can’t currently afford to do, but there’s no telling what direction future technology will go. It’s like looking at a horse-powered civilisation and declaring nothing greater than what can be done with horses is possible.

    Take this fresh water thing. You could have said all that more simply by saying that desalination costs energy, which costs money. In fact, it costs around $0.50/m^3, and an average person in a developed country uses roughly 500 litres per day, or 190 m^3 per year, costing $95 (with current technology). It’s actually considerably cheaper, because huge amounts are desalinated naturally – a lot more than we use – so $95/yr is as expensive as it can get. The main problem being that the distribution of fresh water doesn’t match the distribution of population, so we would have to pump it around from place to place, which we haven’t done yet. Again, it’s a practical limitation of current technology and economics, not a fundamental problem in the physics, and there’s no reason whatsoever we could not solve it in the medium-term future. We don’t say we’re short of metals because they only exist as ores which have to be processed to get pure metal – water is the same.

    We’re currently running at only a tiny fraction of our carrying capacity – which the greens grossly underestimate. Yes, there are limits, but it’s not currently relevant because we’re nowhere near them, and very unlikely to ever get to them, either. I would say it’s not a problem at all – and certainly it’s a lot less of a problem than plenty of more immediate problems we face.

    We have a long way to go, yet, but there’s no fundamental physical reason we can’t get there.

  57. 1985

    I am just commenting on several things because they are sufficient to illustrate the absurdity of your thinking

    Remove the friction and air resistance, and you can go as far as you want on arbitrarily little energy input.

    So how exactly are you proposing to eliminate air resistance if it is not a secret? Move us to the Moon?

    We’re currently running at only a tiny fraction of our carrying capacity – which the greens grossly underestimate.

    Carrying capacity is determined by the resource or waste sink that is in shortest supply. To say that the carrying capacity is vastly underestimated is to claim that all resources and waste sinks are orders magnitudes larger than what we think they are. Which is nonsense that one must have completely lost his mind to seriously claim. There are no substitutes for food, energy and environment suitable for human habitation at the very least. I posted a very useful article above, here it is again:

    http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/galactic-scale-energy/

    Given that we are past Peak Oil, and are wrecking the climate and the ecosystems of the planet, how exactly are we way below the carrying capacity of the planet? At the very least, the carrying capacity of the planet is limited by photosynthesis efficiency. And before you start with the nonsense about how we should convert the whole planet into a giant human feeding lot, how we can engineer better photosynthesis, and the rest, let me cut you off on time and point out that this is precisely the thing we should not be doing because this will completely destroy the ecosystems of the planet which are absolutely necessary for our survival.

    We don’t say we’re short of metals because they only exist as ores which have to be processed to get pure metal – water is the same.

    I talked enough about entropy above, why the hell are you saying this then????

  58. Nullius in Verba

    “So how exactly are you proposing to eliminate air resistance if it is not a secret? Move us to the Moon?”

    Future technology cannot be predicted. If it could, we’d already be doing it. I don’t say that we will, and frankly I doubt that we’d bother, it’s just that there’s no fundamental physics saying we couldn’t.

    It’s like someone in a horse-powered civilisation demanding to know where you’re going to get all the extra horses from – by recruiting donkeys? It’s not a question that can be answered from the perspective of a worldview stuck in the past.

    “To say that the carrying capacity is vastly underestimated is to claim that all resources and waste sinks are orders magnitudes larger than what we think they are.”

    Larger than what the Mathusian Greens estimate them to be, yes.

    “Which is nonsense that one must have completely lost his mind to seriously claim.”

    What, anyone who doesn’t agree with you must be mad?!! Heh.

    “There are no substitutes for food, energy and environment suitable for human habitation at the very least.”

    Each sort of food substitutes for all the others, each source of energy substitutes for all the others, and we’re nowhere near running out of space, which we can make habitable, as we’ve made the spaces we already live in habitable.

    “Given that we are past Peak Oil, and are wrecking the climate and the ecosystems of the planet, how exactly are we way below the carrying capacity of the planet?”

    Whether we’re past peak oil or not is unknown, and pretty irrelevant anyway. It’s like saying we’re past “peak horse”, because the amount of horse power we use is declining.

    And we’re not wrecking the climate or ecosystems. You know my views on climate. The ecosystems are adaptable and ever-changing, anyway, and we’re now prosperous enough to devote some time cleaning things up. We never got near the limits, and things are getting better.

    “At the very least, the carrying capacity of the planet is limited by photosynthesis efficiency.”

    No it’s not. It’s limited by photosynthetic efficiency times our energy supply. It takes a square of land less than six metres on a side to grow enough food for a person, and with artificial light you can stack them on top of one another. Modern methods have far less impact on the planet.

    And engineering more efficient photosynthesis would be a great help to the ecosystems of the planet, increasing diversity, and the density of life that a given area can support.

    “I talked enough about entropy above, why the hell are you saying this then????”

    Yes, I know you talked a lot about entropy. It wasn’t anything I didn’t already know – just a more complicated way of saying we need energy to make stuff. We don’t go around telling everybody we’ve “run out of aluminium” just because the natural supplies are all locked up in ores that require energy to separate. We don’t say we’re “running out” of new TVs or mobile phones because the raw materials require effort and negative entropy to put together. They’re manufactured. How much of them we have depends on how much we manufacture, and if we want more we just need to make more.

    Negative entropy – or energy as we more commonly describe it – is not in short supply. We already use it for manufacturing things, so to say we don’t have enough to do so is contradicted by simple observation. Saying the same thing in more technical terms doesn’t change that.

    It takes $95-worth of negative entropy per year, per person. We’ve got plenty.

  59. TTT

    Future technology [to reduce friction / eliminate air resistance] cannot be predicted. If it could, we’d already be doing it…. There’s plenty of [new tech] that we can’t currently afford to do, but there’s no telling what direction future technology will go

    This is not an intellectually useful answer. One might as well say that it’s okay to fritter away your life savings because there’s no way to know when you’ll come up with the ingenious idea that makes you a trillionaire.

    The economic K-T event through which we are currently descending has a fair amount to tell about our future tech options, if only people would listen. Grand dreams of socially engineered technocratic perfection aside, you cannot change human nature and you cannot decouple our potential for achievement from the relative ease of discovering and exploiting the energy sources required for it. We don’t even fix our bridges anymore.

  60. Susan Anderson

    FWIW, K-T event was extinction of most species on earth, and that’s exactly what’s going on. We are addicted to a Roman Circus of continuing consumption and dominant entertainment, along with a “virtual” reality which does not depend on being present in the world.

    However, this is not a winning strategy. There is a great deal more potential in clean alternative energy and local transmission than industry and their fellow travelers would have you believe. Expanding extreme fuel which is by definition difficult to extract – resource intensive of precious things like clean water and the local environment – and transporting it thousands of miles – even if the “protections” guaranteed were honest, which they demonstrably are not (viz. the smaller Keystone pipeline which has a poor safety record and in our current climate is likely to become poorer) – is a fool’s choice.

    We all need to wake up and notice what is all around us, discard our expensive toys and work for and with each other instead of demanding ever more poisonous fuel for those toys.

  61. Nullius in Verba

    “We all need to wake up and notice what is all around us, discard our expensive toys”

    So when do you plan to discard your computer, internet connection, etc? No time like the present, eh?

    We’ll miss you.

    PS. I like your new house. I hear Al Gore lives in one just like it.

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