The Corpus Callosum

You Have One Wish Left

i-5eebd5353229dfda386f12c34d709692-newgin.jpgThe old
riddle goes: you were granted three wishes, and you have one
wish left.  What do you wish for?  Everyone over the
age of 6 knows: more wishes.

When we figured out that there was oil under the ground, and figured
out how to use it, it is as though we had been granted three wishes.
 Now the oil is running out.  It is as though we have
one wish remaining.  So what do we do with it?

What we have done in the meantime, is run around looking for more
Genies.  Coal?  No, too dirty.  Nuclear?
 No, can’t figure out what to do with the waste.
 Solar?  Wind?  Geothermal?  Tidal?
 Biofuels?  No, they are intermittent, too costly,
and won’t make up for the energy that we already are getting from oil.
 

No worries.  Yankee ingenuity will solve the problem.
 LED lighting, ultracapacitors, hybrid cars, hydrogen fuel
cells…


Except, so far, none of those really solves the problem.
 Plus, with climate change, we may be running out of time.
 

href="http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080618/ap_on_bi_ge/fuel_prices_noaa;_ylt=A0WTUdgesllI9AwA9w2s0NUE">Catch-22:
Feds cut climate research to save fuel

By BRIAN SKOLOFF, Associated Pres Writer Wed Jun 18, 3:54 PM ET

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – They haven’t rechristened a ship the Irony, but
federal researchers are canceling and cutting back on voyages aimed at
studying climate change and ocean ecosystems so they can save money on
boat fuel…

…In a June 10 e-mail to NOAA field offices and others, portions of
which were obtained by The Associated Press, NOAA warned of an
“approximate” $1.7 million budget shortfall due to fuel costs, and
noted the agency has proposed cutting 231 ocean research days for the
year.

href="http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0616/p08s01-comv.htm">For
mass transit, mass investment

June 16, 2008

High gas prices are prying record numbers of Americans from their cars
and onto buses, subways, and commuter trains. That has many pluses: It
eases pocketbook expenses, road congestion, and pollution. But it’s
also straining providers of mass transit – a signal for needed change…

…Mass transit depends greatly on local, state, and federal money -
from sales taxes, for instance, which are slowing with the economy, and
from gas taxes, which have not kept up with inflation.

As a result, public transit operators are increasing fares and delaying
projects and improvements – just what the country doesn’t need at a
time of increased demand. APTA estimates that $45 billion to $60
billion annually is what’s needed to invest in America’s aging public
buses, rail transit, and facilities. Yet current capital spending is
only about $13 billion a year.

Human ingenuity may yet solve the energy and climate change problems.
 But, it takes energy and financial resources to have a
realistic hope of solving these problems.  As the two articles
above point out, we are running a bit short on both kind of resource.
 

Yes, Brazil href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4563896.stm">recently
announced a major oil find.  But it will take seven
years to bring online.  Yes, there are enormous reserves in
the Caspian area, but there are href="http://trots.blogspot.com/2004/08/how-world-war-iii-will-startand-where.html">problems
there, too.  ANWR and Florida coastal fields are too small to
make a big difference.  Add to this picture, the fact that the
population keeps increasing. Also add the fact that the proportion of
the population that utilizes a lot of energy is also increasing, and
the problems become even more difficult to solve.

We know that we can buy more time if we all agree to vastly reduce
consumption.  This is proving to be difficult to implement on
a wide
scale.

Nobody can predict the future.  I personally think it is
unlikely that we will find a source of energy than can provide the same
standard of living that oil provided for 6 billion people, back when
the world population was only 6 billion.  It is possible,
though.  However, it is not possible to get a meaningful
estimate of the probability that the problem will be solved.
 If we could get some kind of consensus on a rough estimate,
it would help prompt people into appropriate action.  The
appropriate action is for people to do what they can to conserve, while
we use the remaining resources to enable even more conservation (e.g.
mass transit) and to develop sustainable sources of energy.

Free-market types despise the idea of subsidies for sustainable energy
and mass transit.  But the free market appears to not know
that it is running out of wishes.

Comments

  1. #1 Daniel Newby
    June 20, 2008

    “Nuclear? No, can’t figure out what to do with the waste.”

    Most of what is called nuclear “waste” is actually valuable, high-quality nuclear fuel. In fact, most of it is the original unburned fuel that went into the reactor in the first place.

    Political lobbyists got it classified as “waste” by legislative fiat as part of a scheme to make American nuclear power unprofitable. The scheme worked, and they achieved their goal of keeping America stuck in the Tar Burning Age. (Well, OK, their goal was actually utopia, but judged by the effects of their actions they strongly resemble an Exxon sock puppet.)

    “Free-market types despise the idea of subsidies for sustainable energy and mass transit.”

    Are you kidding? General-purpose subsidies are hands down the best way of pointing the R&D process in a particular direction. Capitalists love nothing more than being given bales of cash to blow obsolete competitors out of the water.

    What capitalists DON’T like is subsidies that are nothing more than give-aways to particular cronies, such as the idiotic corn-to-fuel graft program. Many mass transit programs fall into that category, costing more and burning more fuel than the equivalent amount of transport provided by taxis.

  2. #2 Joseph j7uy5
    June 20, 2008

    I used to work at a nuclear reactor site (research, not power generation). I am not strongly anti-nuclear. I can confirm that spent fuel is not necessarily waste, as much can be reprocessed. But there still is highly radioactive material left over that simply cannot be used for anything. It is waste.

    Reprocessing of spent fuel is a contentious issue. Spend a few minutes with your favorite search engine to find out why. At present, it is not economically feasible, but that likely will change as the price of uranium ore increases. My informed-but-not-expert opinion is that we should continue to study and refine reprocessing technologies, but it is not going to solve the third-wish problem.

    As for the next point, there is a difference between capitalists and pure free-market enthusiasts. It is true that subsidies can be misused. That is a general feature of any governmental activity that involves a large sum of money. It is not specific to the type of activity, nor is it specific to the governmental or market system in question.

    As for mass-transit subsidies, consider the case of rail service. Yes, it is expensive now. But when the price of diesel fuel doubles again, it may not be economically feasible to transport many goods by truck. Rail will be the only way to move, say, plywood, long distances. The longer we wait to redevelop the rail system, the more it will cost. It could get to the point that it simply cannot be done. After all, it takes gas to run bulldozers etc., and it takes a lot of steel to make rail. Making steel requires iron ore and energy, lots of it. That is the crux of the third-wish problem.

    While it may not be economically feasible to develop rail transport now, that is a short-sighted objection. What matters is not the economy over the next year, or next five years, but over the next 100 years.

  3. #3 chrisD
    June 23, 2008

    What we need more of is less people. No matter the improvements to infrastructure our perennial mating season will still exist. But the most humane way of dealing with overpopulation, sterilization, is so controversial that no one would submit to such a method even if it was to enhance the well-being of their far-off descendants. What will end up happening is instead of us taking the less brutal approach, nature will cull the living instead and it would be a class-based culling. This is why I believe sterilization after one child to be the best, and even the most humane, approach to dealing with the looming crisis.

  4. #4 Gingerbaker
    June 25, 2008

    Thermal heat mining seems to be the one technology that could make a real difference.

    Theoretically, there is little reason why it could not supply 100% of our energy needs worldwide for the next ten million years or so.

    I believe it was an MIT affiliate who recently predicted that a mere $1B investment would lead to thermal mining facilities providing a full ten percent of US energy needs by 2050. (A billion! Why not work with $100B?)

    Thermal; heat mining is a nearly ideal centralized energy source, while hydrogen has the potential to integrate with it to be a nearly perfect non centralized energy counterpart.

    If we can get hydrogen fuel cell technology up to speed, then every car and building can be an electricity/hydrogen generator/storage device, and thereby integrate solar, hydro, etc power with thermal mining.

  5. #5 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 1, 2008

    I wish for a pony.

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