There is no dispute that fossil fuels are finite. It took millions upon millions of years to give us the oil reserves we have today. And we aren’t exactly replenishing the oil supply, unless we halt all life on this fine planet of hours (including mankind), break down into our carbon and hydrogen components over millions upon millions of years in order to form oil. Then we can all come back and fill up our automobiles! Acceptable and realistic, eh?

Transhumanist Michael Anissimov recently writes about the vast quantities of matter and energy in our grasp that dwarfs what we have in fossil fuels:

Part of the rationale for being a “transhumanist”, or, more broadly, having grandiose dreams for humanity’s future, is the extremely simple and mundane observation that the available matter and free energy in our general vicinity is far larger than what we have utilized of it thus far. The incoming solar energy is about a million times greater than global energy consumption, and the available hydrothermal energy to be extracted from the energy gradient between the mantle and the upper crust is many times that. These energy sources far exceed that available from all fossil fuels, uranium, and thorium combined. In the long run (less than a century?), solar and hydrothermal will become our primary energy sources, simply because nothing else will be able to meet our exponentially growing demand.

I concur 100% with his observation. Our planet Earth offers ridiculous amounts of energy that we just aren’t making use of. And add the Sun to the mix, you add over a million more Earths in energy output. One of my big gripes with my wonderful country known as America (don’t fret patriots, my gripe list is shockingly off the norm and low) is that we don’t get excited as a nation about grand innovation and discovery much. The phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply to America when it comes to energy research and energy independence. This phrase fits much better:

If it’s broke, keep patching it. That will fix it!

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, that attitude just doesn’t fly these days. Solar energy is dismissed by many as too hard to obtain or impractical. Really? Look how hard the brave men and women who have built, currently work on, and maintain oil rigs work! Those platforms are difficult to build and the oil extraction process is always fraught with risk and danger. But oil extraction is considered normal and a viable business regardless. Then there are some of us talking about overcrowding and overpopulation being a barrier to alternative energy sources. I agree with another of Michael Anissimov’s points on this issue (from the same article):

The current impression that the planet is overpopulated is a selection effect resulting from people living in crowded cities, concentrated by technological and economic necessity. Decentralized manufacturing and high-resolution virtual communication will allow a more evenly distributed populace.

Just look at the population density of the United States in 2000 (lower 48 states only; the darker the color, the greater concentration of people per square mile):

USA_2000_population_density.gif

There are natural features such as mountains and such to contend with but even with that we are far from a more-evenly distributed populace. If manufacturing is decentralized and we use techniques like vertical farming (performing agriculture in high-rise buildings) we can increase food output and optimize energy production and use. This isn’t Star Trek, this is the now.

I challenge us to lead the world by adopting the attitude of “normal and viable” in pursing those other forms of energy that are so much larger than fossil fuels can ever provide. Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe patriotism is limited to the War On Terror and wars in general. But I can’t think of anything more patriotic than setting the future standards for the world in energy research, innovation, and discovery. Thus telling the world that the USA is breaking away from the tired old ways and engaging in bold new ways.

T-STEEL, Site Administrator
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cynicalone
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cynicalone
7 years 10 months ago
I agree with much of what you have to say but you contradict yourself. “Agriculture in high-rise buildings” and “normal and viable” don’t exactly mesh. A great deal of agricultural production and the most ideal locations for energy production through solar and wind happen to be in the center of the United States. A “normal and viable” solution would be more population concentration in this area but not enough to displace a significant amount of arable land. I believe “agriculture in high-rise buildings” stems from the idea of reducing carbon emissions through increasing the population density of cities and therefore… Read more »
undertoad
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undertoad
7 years 10 months ago

“Adopting the attitude” that other forms of energy are viable?

If we all just BELIEVE in it maybe it will become TRUE!

BarkyBree
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BarkyBree
7 years 10 months ago
People need to be careful with statements like “the incoming solar energy is about a million times greater than global energy consumption”. Although technically true, the problems are the conversion of energy like that to energy we can actually use. This involves the actual conversion process, and any loss associated with that. Then there’s the transportation of said energy, and when you talk about replacing the internal combustion engine, you need to make such energy portable and capable with retail trade. Solar, for example, does not convert well into electricity based on simple BTU calculations (see http://mb-soft.com/solar/photovol.html for an example).… Read more »
mikkel
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mikkel
7 years 10 months ago
Well they have recently announced that we are close to maximum theoretical efficiency (or if you go for a less efficient technology, close to having $1/watt) and that’s why the holy grail of energy has long been to cover massive parts of Arizona and New Mexico, combined with super conducting power lines. Well until fusion. I’m not saying that is necessarily practical now, but it might be within 10 years and projections say that it could be done for around $1-$2 trillion. I’m not sure it is really our best solution either…which is definitely increased efficiency. Fuel cells are also… Read more »
mikkel
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mikkel
7 years 10 months ago
Within 3-4 years we will have figured out how to do solar power at the same cost per watt as coal and MIT released a study on geothermal power that says it can supply enormous amounts of energy very cheaply. They said in some places a nuclear power plant’s worth for only $10-$20 million dollars! The problem is that both sides inherently protect the status quo. The “free market” side doesn’t appreciate what qualities are necessary to spur competition and efficiency: something that has killed us when it comes to energy and health care. When things require vast infrastructural changes… Read more »
T-Steel
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7 years 10 months ago

undertoad, attitude and belief are not the same. A certain attitude may steer a set of beliefs or change them. So your comment just doesn’t fly. Unless you being sarcastic, then your comment is funny.

cynicalone, vertical farming is an idea that may help highly urban areas deal with a readily accessible food supply. Your points about the ideal locations are sound. But I think a combination of urban vertical farming and migrating would be best.

Great comments BarkyBree and mikkel. I wish I could reply right now but I’m pressed for time. LOL!

Jim_Satterfield
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Jim_Satterfield
7 years 10 months ago
The problem is that both sides inherently protect the status quo. The “free market” side doesn’t appreciate what qualities are necessary to spur competition and efficiency: something that has killed us when it comes to energy and health care. When things require vast infrastructural changes or have very inflexible demand, then market forces will always select the status quo and price rises will be very hard to control, at least until there is a complete crisis and near collapse out of necessity. Precisely, mikkel. Market forces only naturally respond to existing demand with existing solutions. They are terrible at anticipation.… Read more »
DLS
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DLS
7 years 10 months ago
??? Do I need to re-post from earlier? Or did I post to the wrong thread? Was it too long? 1. Another, arguably prettier, view of population density is the “nighttime lights” view. http://www.census.gov/geo/www/mapGallery/2kpopden.html 2. Population density varies due to things that largely can’t be changed or always adapted to. It includes not only difficult terrain but climate (which makes farming in much of the West impractical). 3. Fission, then fusion, has been known not only by informed laypersons but also by nuclear physists and others such as James Lovelock. (The alternative energy sources are not substitutes at this time… Read more »
mikkel
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mikkel
7 years 10 months ago
Now that the necessary properties of superconductors has been solved on the atomic level, it is only a matter of time before we figure out how to do it cheaply. Graphene shows a good possibility for it. As for the other stuff I agree that efficiency is what should be focused on the most. Also about the free market stuff: systems theorists with an interest in economics are increasingly showing that market forces optimize efficiency through selection, integration and consolidation. In other words, they tend to pick the “best” solution, integrate it as part of the business/social web until it… Read more »
DLS
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DLS
7 years 10 months ago
“Market forces only naturally respond to existing demand with existing solutions …” Much else incorrect, too, but at least with the first statement here that you made, an example when it has been true can be used to explain when there is a corresponding case for interventionism. The example involves the center of this country and continent, and involves the settling and farming of those lands and the construction of railroads to those lands. Following the Civil War, in particular — with a West open for settlement before everyone — * The people won’t settle and farm the land until… Read more »
DLS
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DLS
7 years 10 months ago
Neither wind nor solar are replacements for fossil-powered or nuclear or hydropower production of our electricity now and in the future. Wind power is making more progress now than solar; both merit additional R&D money. Transmission efficiency (and cost) is also a legitimate object of R&D. That includes ultra-high-voltage transmission (many lefties hate that) as well as direct-current transmission. Transmission improvements make sense because transmission not only is a show stopper with wind or solar in remote locations far from where most of the population is, or offshore, but because it already is a problem with our conventional systems. Not… Read more »
futzinfarb
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futzinfarb
7 years 10 months ago
Your agreement with Anissimov’s claim that concern about overpopulation is a selection effect based on people living in crowded cities, is patently and quantitatively unsupported by your argument. Showing that there are regions of this country where population density is higher and regions where it is lower, imagining that somehow all the population might be spread out so that both yellow and blue regions turn green, and from that sunnily concluding that there are enough resources on this finite planet to support six billion, rushing headlong to ten billion, people is sophomoric at best. Randomly selected from among a vast… Read more »
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