Mike the Mad Biologist

A while ago, I raised the problem–an inconvenient truth, if you will–that moving to a renewable energy future is going to be difficult:

My impression reading a lot of commentary about renewable energy is that there’s this fantasy that we just have to build a bunch of windmills, install some solar panels, buy a Prius, and replace our windows and all will be well. But the brutal reality is that we need to urbanize our suburbs. We need to discourage detached housing. We need to massively fund local mass transit–not just SUPERTRAINS. We can’t have people firing up their own personal combustion engine to buy groceries. Most people will not be regularly driving to and from their detached house with a big front lawn and large backyard. This will require the kind of effort only seen with war mobilization–and, these days, we don’t even really mobilize most people even as we fight two wars (or three, if we count Libya).

I understand why the report downplays this: across the board, developing countries are actually increasing suburban housing, and de-urbanizing. In the U.S., even though cities are finally gaining population, this simply means that the increase in suburbanization is slowing. (Hooray for the first derivative!) Urbanization policies would be immensely unpopular, and meet widespread resistance (although some suburbanites would support urbanization if they could afford it).

Lance Mannion lays out what this would really mean:

Even if Americans could be persuaded to give up our current suburban idyll en masse, most of us can’t do it or don’t dare.

People can’t sell their houses because they’re not worth what they paid for them or won’t make them as much money on the sale as they’ll need to move. Even if they can sell their houses at something better than a dead loss, where do they move to? Closer to her job or his? Closer to his family or hers? Whichever job they choose, what’s to say it’s going to be there in a few years or even one? What’s the sense in moving closer to the office or the factory with the odds being good that the company’s going to go belly up or move its operations overseas before you have to replace the hot water heater or buy a new energy-saving dishwasher?

What are the odds we’re going to get a President with the guts to not only tell the American people, “It’s time to move out of the McMansion in the country to a bungalow on the outskirts of the city” but tell corporations, “No more making obscene profits by screwing your employees every which way and then moving your operations when you can’t make more money by screwing them some more”?

Radically changing the way we live and make money is a moral challenge, as well as a political one, and persuading us to make those changes ought to be the job of priests and preachers as well as politicians. But over the last forty years the priests and the preachers have been obsessed with sex and working hard to persuade us to a.) have less of it while b.) making more babies. A. of course doesn’t address the problem except by giving us less reason to go out on the weekends. B. makes it worse because more babies means, eventually, more cars and more McMansions and more lighting things on fire.

This is not going to be easy to fix. Not at all.

Comments

  1. #1 Tony P
    April 3, 2011

    I’ve lived in the city all my life and have no intention of ever moving to the suburbs. I see the detrimental effects of the suburbs on this country and I don’t like it very much.

    My work commute is 3 miles each way. Pretty much the ideal length and I do use public transit or it. I wish we had BETTER public transit. And by BETTER I mean tracked and electric, not hybrid electric (buses).

    I mean light rail that connects the Capitol City (Providence) into Pawtucket, Cranston, Warwick, Woonsocket,

    I mean commuter rail with stations in Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick, and Westerly.

    Then we can start eliminating the dependence on the automobile.

  2. #2 healthphysicist
    April 3, 2011

    The 3 Rules:

    1. The Universe loves entropy
    2. Humans hate entropy
    3. The Universe will win

    Complex life (a parcel of low entropy) only exists on Earth because it leads to greater entropy overall. It degrades the sun’s energy. The victim is the sun, but we don’t care because we benefit.

    We are limited in how much order we humans can get out of the sun’s energy, based on the sun’s energy density. We wanted lower entropy in our world (so we can live longer), but the sun doesn’t deliver it.

    So, we moved on to terrestial sources. The problem is that we are pattern seeking, goal oriented primates. We easily see the order we create, like in building a city. But since entropy is overall increasing, when we create order we also create disorder. We just aren’t aware of the disorder we’ve created or how it will change with time.

    There is a lot of disorder that hasn’t been realized yet. We know because we can see all the order that still exists (relative to only using the sun’s energy). We are just fooling ourselves if we think we can achieve EVEN GREATER order to solve our problems, because disorder must increase too, in ways we don’t understand.

  3. #3 Jim Lund
    April 3, 2011

    It will take a great effort, but let’s say the US starts to reduce CO2 emissions, first reducing the growth back to zero, then reducing emissions 1% per year, compounded yearly.

    Plausible changes that would take us the first two decades on this path can be planned out today, there are in fact many ways to get there. More renewable power generation, efficiency, nuclear power, the market pressure of a carbon cap & trade or carbon tax, peak oil pushing up oil prices, etc, to sketch out the better known options.

    And we’ll have twenty years of R & D, innovation, and slow changes in society to change what’s possible and practical. We don’t need to plan it all out today, it’s neither necessary or fruitful.

  4. #4 HB
    April 3, 2011

    We need to avoid the SUPERTRAINS completely. We have one going to start here in California that’s isn’t going to accomplish a gnat’s fart for the environment, and is just going to drain revenue away from better ideas.

    “I’ve lived in the city all my life and have no intention of ever moving to the suburbs. “

    Yeah, well, I lived in the city for a long while and I have no intention of ever going back. I konw a lot of people in the same camp. You can moralize all you wish on that front.

    Complex life (a parcel of low entropy) only exists on Earth because it leads to greater entropy overall. It degrades the sun’s energy.

    You want to explain the nature of the feedback link to the Sun?

  5. #5 healthphysicist
    April 4, 2011

    HB -

    There is no feedback link to the Sun. My point (somewhat abstract) is rather than think solely about the energy required to obtain our desire for order (streets, buildings, etc.). We also need to think about the disorder created.

    The disorder is diffuse. One example is global CO2, another is Fukushima fallout.

    We know how to price order. A power plant costs so much and someone makes a profit. Some people benefit from that electricity. Others benefit from those benefits.

    How is the disorder priced?

  6. #6 Peter Gluck
    April 4, 2011

    A very significant part of the New Energy production will be that of
    H-Ni based Low Energy Nuclear Reactions -it started as Cold Fusion but finished as something else;
    Randell Mills’ hydrino energy- the variant called CIHT see at the website of BlackLightPower Co.
    You can reject these from principle but you will regret this
    You can find some info at my blog Ego Out.
    The Rossi Energy Catalyzer is already a technological reality

  7. #7 Denier of Utopia
    April 9, 2011

    The automobile gives people independence. I live 12 miles from the nearest town and love every minute of it. Of course I live 42 miles from my workplace in another town. I love rural life. Out here I am a free man. I can ride my ATV when I feel like it, have a firing range in my back yard and love it. Freedom trumps tyranny any day of the week.

    Oil is a renewable resource. We will never run out of oil. Oil is naturally made within the earth and we cannot use it up. Now, government doesn’t want that information to really get out. it would destroy their marxist goals and lower the price of oil if everyone knew we would never run out. Now, we can’t have that now can we. Slowly, one by one, oil engineers and scientists are coming forward admitting taht oil is not a fossil fuel, but is naturally made. This concept first appeared in the 1960s but was hushed up. Then in the 1970s it came back. Now, more and more people are coming forth admitting that we have been duped.

    The whole climate change thing is bullshit. The ball really started rolling when The Club of Rome released a report in 1993 that stated that in order for wealth redistribution and global government to be fully formed and funded, a cause has to be created that would make the people of every country in the world be concerned. They decided that climate chnage would be the means in which they gained control, formed a new world government, funded it, and redistributed the wealth.

    In this case, we should capture them and sentence them all to life in solitary confinment naked at the South Pole with one blanket, one pack of crackers per day, and one candle for heat. It’s the least that should happen to these frauds.

    I do not like far left marxists running my life. Fuck the CFL light bulb nazis. I have stockpiled enough bulbs to last a hundred years plus have enough spares to make a fortune on them in the black market after the fascists ban them. I love capitalism – especially when communist overlords try to control it. It just makes the value of things go up more.

    I also hate your stupid little elctric cars. They are crap. They make you feel like you are driving a plastic Toys R’ Us car. Fuick that. Give me my full size sedan preferably with a V8 engine so I can laugh at you when I pass you. Actually I prefer a full size 4×4 truck with mud tires, dual pipes, and hefty engine.

    We cannot afford your train. get over it. We are 14 trillion dollars in the hole now. Funding your train for eternity without making any profits on it is a national disaster. Amtrack has never workded properly. It doesn;t make enough profit to keep itself going and keeps being propped up with MY money. I say cut it. No new choo choo trains for the environazis. Drive like normal people.

    Want to get the price of oil down? Fire the EPA, defund them and then drill the hell out of every oil reserve in this nation. This will sove so many problems. Oil would be cheaper, most people except the environazis, would be pleased.