Lately, I've been reading about global warming, environmentalism, and green (sustainable) energy. My conclusion is that there are three primary areas we need to focus on:
- Sustainable energy, including the energy (in the form of food for humans and animals) from agricultural products. Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) are not sustainable (because they will run out someday).
- The quality of human life (freedom, health, not subjected to pollution).
- The spiritual and moral dimension of human life.
Key Issues . . .
Efforts spent considering the things in this list will solve the problems. We can judge the effectiveness of our policies, plans, and activities by comparing them with items in this list.
- Energy from solar, wind, tides, waves, and geothermal require huge amounts of land (or water) area. The use of renewable energy is large and intrusive.
- Population reduction. There is a level beyond which human population cannot sustainably keep growing. I believe we have passed this point already.
- We should include all the damage from current energy sources (oil, coal, natural gas) when comparing sustainable and clean energy sources. For example: the amount of land destroyed and rivers polluted by coal mines should be compared to the amount of land needed for the same amount of solar energy.
- We must live less energy-intensive lifestyles.
- Pollution in all its forms and the effects on humans and animals.
- Advanced technology has a role. We need to fund Research & Development.
Immediate Actions . . .
Things we all should be doing now, immediately.
- Buy hybrid or electric cars
- Drive less
- Use public transportation, carpools, motorcycles, or bicycles
- Consume less; discard less
- Elect people who are effectively working on sustainable energy
- Focus on the big issues
- Throw out your TV — it pollutes the mind and destroys the spiritual and moral fabric of our civilization
- Complain about junk mail
- Bring your own bags to the market
- Buy local produce
- Reduce or eliminate meat
- Favor animal products that treat the animals humanely (at least until they are slaughtered which is, by definition, not humane)
- Stop smoking
- Buy products that can be repaired and reused
- Donate rather than discard old items
Short Term Solutions . . .
Our immediate policies should include these:
- Reduce dependence on oil
- Use natural gas
- Use coal (preferably clean coal; coal burned in a manner that is free of pollutants and carbon dioxide)
- Promote electric vehicles
- Promote public transportation including rail and bus
- Reduce population
- Discourage the radical materialistic lifestyle
- Stop junk mail
- Promote effective recycling
- Promote environmentally-friendly packaging and products
- Discourage "throw away and replace" consumer mentally (promoted by businesses who want us to buy more)
- Stop building oil-based infrastructure
Medium Term Solutions . . .
- Solar power
- Smart electric grid
- Wind power (can co-exist on land with agriculture or solar power)
- Rooftop solar panels for heat
- Stop using water for toilets
- Recycle everything
- Products should be manufactured to be recyclable
- Public transportation
- Perhaps growing oil from genetically modified algae will come to our rescue. We would need a chuck of land perhaps 300 miles by 300 miles. Oil obtained in this manner consumes as much CO2 as is produced during burning. And perhaps the algae will be able to grow in seawater or at least brackish water.
Long Term Solutions . . .
The sustainable solutions:
- Solar energy. Need to consider the cost and materials needed to replace and maintain the equipment. Need to consider water requirements (to wash panels and mirrors).
- Reduced population (without abortion, euthanasia, wars, plagues, or famine).
- Simpler, less energy-intensive lifestyle.
- Transportation must use electricity.
Guiding Principles . . .
There are three...
- When harvesting or utilizing a non-replenishable resource such as iron ore or oil, first determine how much can be taken per year such that the resource will not be depleted for 1,000 years. Then, do not harvest any more than this. Over the centuries the amount used will decrease giving plenty of time to find substitutes.
- Certain resources such as trees for logging and energy from dams should only use maybe 1% of the total available locations. In other words, we should not use up every location but should leave most in its pristine condition for humans to enjoy and for the animals to use.
- Renewable resources such as fishing grounds and water aquifers should always remain constant. There should be strict quotas so that the resource is never depleted. This implies we should use less or none during bad years.
Red Herrings . . .
These topics attract a lot of attention but are wasting everyone's time and efforts:
- Preventing global warming is an impossible task; the cost is too high and political realities will forever block it — we simply can't afford to capture and bury CO2. Therefore, efforts to reduce carbon emissions enough to prevent global warming are misguided. We should, rather, be planning what to do when global warming occurs (and building the infrastructure for sustainable energy).
- Finding ways to support 9 billion people on the planet; there is simply not enough time, money, or political will to do what is needed to effectively support more people — we will be hard-pressed to support the current population. We should instead radically reduce population.
- Some people assume that some as-yet-unknown force of nature will solve all the problems; perhaps a new form of energy or a new natural law will be discovered. Certainly nuclear energy fit into this category during World War II but it has not solved all our problems — it did the opposite by making the world less safe. Our understanding of physics is advanced enough today so that this option is a vain hope.
Sustainable Practices . . .
In the end, this is what we will do (because there are no other options once the oil, gas, and coal run out):
- Energy from solar, wind, water, waves, tides, geothermal, and possibly nuclear
- Radically reduced human population
- Simpler lifestyle using less energy
- For many, a return to the days of using horses for transport and labor; and of small, sustainable farms
- Cities friendly to pedestrians and bicycles
Unsustainable Practices . . .
In the end, this is what we will not do (because these don't work):
- Using oil for anything other than (in small amounts) the production of certain products that can't be produced without it.
- The use of biofuels (ethanol) for anything other than (in small amounts) the production of certain products that can't be produced without it: (1) we need the plants for food, and (2) it takes too much energy to create biofuels.
- Single-occupant transport for commuting to work.
- The business model that we must always be expanding to be successful. This thinking fueled mercantilism and is fundamentally no different than tribal wars of conquest used to increase wealth (by stealing it from your vanquished "enemies").
Resources . . .
Our use of resources such as fresh water, trees, soil, metals, etc. are limited.
- We are on the verge of serious water shortages. A part of the solution will be to reuse water.
Misc. Topics . . .
- Clearly, using grain and other agricultural products to feed animals is unsustainable at a certain population density — feeding the animals takes away from the food that could be eaten by humans. But I don't consider this as a significant issue because I don't believe we should be allow the human population to be so large anyway.
- Electricity should replace fossil fuels (I realize that electricity is not a source of energy as fossil fuels are; it is merely a way of transporting energy to where it is needed).
- Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy will likely not provide much of an impact because it is too costly; rather, concentrated solar power (CSP) using lenses or mirrors will predominate. In addition, beneficial local use will be made of solar heating by heating water to circulate in buildings. Roof panels will be of some help but will not solve the big problems.
- Burning waste yields small amounts of energy but it is probably better to do this than to bury it in landfills or flushing it into the water.
- Wind and solar power will require huge amounts of land. Only large countries will be able to supply sufficient energy using these.
- Salt water corrodes machinery. Offshore wind farms and other forms of energy will require a lot of maintenance.
- Wave power has little potential to solve the world's energy problems.
- Energy from tidal currents via underwater turbines is promising.
- Container ships are an energy-efficient way to transport freight overseas.
- Returning to the lifestyle we lived 400 years ago would require a serious population reduction. Today, each person uses 10 to 15 times the amount as 400 years ago. But even in a horse-based economy there were problems with pollution due to manure when the population density of cities became too great.
- People seem to think that if each person does a little bit, that the problems will be solved. This is untrue. What is required is that each person does a lot and that the society as a whole does a lot.
- Heat pumps should be used for air conditioning and heating of homes and buildings.
- Various schemes to provide heat and light in buildings should be used. This includes solar roof panels.
- Deserts should be used to generate solar power because of their abundance of sunlight. Unfortunately, this will destroy a lot of beautiful countryside (I love the desert).
- Bicycles are a good way to go but require certain conditions: (1) short trips, (2) only for people in good physical condition and without disabilities, (3) not good on ice or in bitter cold, (4) can't carry much, (5) can't transport children very well, (6) require bike lanes separate from autos and pedestrians.
- To maximize the energy efficiency, trains and buses should have full loads and trains should have many cars. This is difficult or even impossible to coordinate. During my daily bus commute I notice that half the buses are empty and many others are only partially full. The train I take is only slightly full.
- Lifestyle changes are necessary and will occur. Two options: (1) mass starvation, plague, anarchy; or (2) drastically reduce population, drastically reduce energy use. I suspect there will be some of both, hopefully more of option 2 than option 1.
- As much as I dislike government and am sympathetic to free market capitalism I am convinced that government has a big role in the solution. Two factors: (1) free market capitalism naturally leads companies to exploit people, misuse resources, pollute, and encourage people to become materialistic consumers never content with what they have; (2) the free market does not include these negative effects in its prices (if the full negative costs to the environment and to the welfare of humans were included in prices, we would change our spending habits in a way that would be sustainable). Only government has the power to influence this. Unfortunately, there are two factors in government influence that makes me wonder whether the benefit can be obtained: (1) political leaders are all-too-often corrupt or are not concerned with the well-being of those they lead, and (2) politicians are more concerned with getting re-elected than with implementing effective policies.
- Cities should be reclaimed for pedestrians and bicycles (perhaps bicycles could be rented throughout the city). This would require public transportation within the city and ready access to everything that is needed. In my opinion criminal activities should also be addressed — there are too many violent and unstable people allowed to roam the streets. For my proposal to solve this problem read Feed the Poor.
- Regenerative braking. Store the energy used in braking to be reused in accelerating.
- Hydrogen cars. I think these will prove to not work out — electric cars will win the battle. Hydrogen only has one fifth the energy as gasoline and it requires very heavy tanks. Hydrogen does not occur naturally and is therefore merely an energy carrier (as is electricity). I believe that electricity will prove to be a better energy carrier than hydrogen.
- Perhaps viral batteries and other biology-based technologies will allow us to produce elements in a modern sustainable society without as much pollution.
- Ocean liners for transporting people are very energy intensive, as much as airplanes. Perhaps nuclear power will be used for ships since a ship can contain its own nuclear reactor.
- Strategy for saving money on heating. Keep your thermostat on a low temperature and manually turn it up when you want more heat. Thermostats would have to be designed with this use in mind. When people are not at home the thermostat should keep the house above a certain temperature which would be too cold and require too much heat to heat up when the people come home. Also, each room should be able to be controlled individually. These factors would require specially-designed heating systems.
- Insulate older buildings and houses. But this is nowhere near as effective as building them with the proper insulation to begin with.
- All gadgets and appliances that use electricity should use extremely low amounts of electricity when not performing their main task. Currently, many of these are energy hogs (such as laser printers and phone chargers).
- We should use energy-efficient light bulbs. The new batch of LED bulbs will be the likely choice.
- It should be easy to check your home electrical consumption regularly so you can monitor use and adapt.
- To build the required number of new nuclear power plants is feasible (if we switch to mostly nuclear power for everything); this rate has already been attained in France.
- A common factor in the collapse of civilizations is that the population density became too great.
- Producing power near the ocean can also produce desalinated water as a by-product. Such locations as the Middle East, North Africa, and Chile are ideal.
- For wind power, there needs to be a way to store the energy during the lulls when the wind stops.
- Because economics will likely be a major factor in choosing how to provide energy, nuclear energy will at some point dominate (since it is by far the most economical form of energy).
My Predictions . . .
In comparing what we need to do with what we are doing it is easy to make these predictions:
- Our efforts will be too little, too late. Everyone doing just a little bit will result in just a little bit being done.
- Our current efforts are misguided, usually for political reasons. (Examples: ethanol from corn, emphasis on global warming without promoting immediate and drastic population reduction.)
- Global warming will occur. Sea level will rise. Temperatures will rise. Billions will die from famine, plague, war.
- We will abruptly run out of oil one day (peak oil scenario). There will be widespread anarchy and violence as the supply of food decreases. Many developed countries will experience an economic depression but will shift to a greater dependence on coal and natural gas.
- Many countries will one day shift into a "war-time" production of creating the infrastructure and production of sustainable energy sources. This will not occur until after a severe economic crisis triggered by dwindling oil supplies and increased competition for the few remaining supplies.
- To protect their oil interests, aggressive nations will likely risk escalating war by invading oil-producing nations.
- Those in developing nations or failed states will suffer severely. Many in developed nations will have to drastically reduce their energy use and lifestyles will change drastically. Electricity brown-outs and black-outs will be all-too-common.
Musings from History . . .
It is certainly possible that humans will not learn to become truly civilized. Even though us moderns like to think of ourselves as civilized we should note that this last century has witnessed the worst human abuses in all of history:
- Two world wars, many regional wars
- Atom bombs were dropped on cities
- Genocide of many groups
- The threat of nuclear war which would destroy human life as we know it
- The recent increase of failed states
- Many civil wars
- The wholesale slaughter of the innocent unborn (in the name of freedom of choice)
Perhaps human nature has not changed after all. Perhaps the pressures of population and the struggle for survival will demonstrate the true human condition — that we are plagued with sin and wickedness to the depths of our hearts. Life 1,000 years from now if history repeats itself:
- Without cheap energy, the extravagant lifestyle that some of us currently enjoy will only be available to the nobility and aristocracy who won't be shy about exploiting the masses of impoverished peasants (with threats and acts of violence) to provide the luxuries they will enjoy.
- For many, the unit of society will be the tribe. Tribes will engage in warfare to obtain needed food and materials from their weaker neighbors. These societies will be in a constant state of war (basically, as failed states).
- Perhaps some states will maintain law and order, and the lifestyle will be much the same as before the days of coal and the industrial revolution. Likely, there will be cycles of expansion and population growth followed by periods of calamity as the limit imposed by finite resources are surpassed with the resultant famine, plague, and war (reducing the population in the process).
- Perhaps some will be fortunate to live in a utopian society. However, the inherent sinfulness and wickedness of humans will likely cause these to be rare occasions: (1) corrupt leaders will seize control (as Hitler and Stalin did), or (2) others from the outside will invade.
- Perhaps a utopian one-world government will form. But history has demonstrated time and again that these are short lived; they decay into times of suffering, war, and other human misery.
- Perhaps the modern world will return to a horse-based economy (with its prerequisite population reduction). But likely, an increasing population density would periodically result in too much pollution from manure. People don't seem to know when to stop or reverse population increase.
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