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December 31, 2007

Comments

Roger Brown

Nothing is going to run out, but things are going to get more and more expensive. What do you mean by breakneck growth? My understanding is that the years between the end of the WWII and the oil price shocks of the early seventies had higher percentage growth in the global economy even than during economic boom of the nineties. Of course the absolute growth rate of recent years is higher; That's the nature of exponential growth.

Oil supplies are getting tight. Natural gas supplies are getting tight. Fresh water supplies are getting tight. Lumber supplies are getting tight. I do not know details on an element by element basis, but if recent increases in prices are simply due to an unexpected boom and not to any fundamental supply constraint then normal market forces should bring them back down relatively soon. When do anticipate copper prices dropping to their old levels?

Oil and natural gas supplies are tight today and I suspect will get signficantly tighter even in this decade. I think the need for a large contribution from non-fossil energy sources will come in a lot shorter time than 50 years. The issue is not whether or not solar energy can contribute signficantly to our economic productivity. Of course it can. But can it enable exponential growth (i.e. faster and faster absolute growth) for decades into the future? I do not find the fact that you cannot "imagine that it won't" a convincing answer to this question.

Furthermore, I do not see why the end of economic growth needs to be regarded as a tragedy. When we stop physically growing at 18 years age we don't moan and groan about the fact that we are not getting bigger and stronger any more. We concentrate on developing other aspects of our being. I do not see why striving to increase the size of our pile of toys or the magnificence of our personal dwellings has to be the eternal occupation of the human race. I see no reason why we cannot achieve economic maturity without giving up our intellectual and aesthic development.

Kit P

Scientific American has become Popular Science.

“Our analysis convinces us that a massive switch to solar power is the logical answer.”

I looked at the first five statement of the article and asked myself if they were true or not true. Not true five times in a row. The above statement is not true either. They performed no analysis and their answer is not logical.

Here are the facts based on my observations over the last 30 years. Solar does not work. All the experiments only show that solar is not a feasible source of electricity. As a long time solar advocate, I am more than a little disgusted with the solar industry that is more interested in selling product than producing energy.

DaveMart

With energy you can produce all the other needs - from ores, where you can mine lower grades, to water where desalination is not expensive and getting cheaper.
Oil and gas are tight, but the main concern there is that alternatives like oil sands are dirty - you should note the proposals in Japan to mine methane hydrates.
I don't necessarily advocate the exploitation of all these resources, but for most of the world exploiting them is far better than a low growth alternative.
As regards the other point about growth having been faster in the past, in places like Japan, sure, but we are presently talking about another 2billion people in China and India joining the industrialised world, and that really can't be compared in terms of the need to expand the resources used with anything that has gone before, so to that extent I can see where you are coming from, but there are plenty of resources about, and recycling is now very effective for the vast majority.
Peak oil, sure, but no reason to believe that the vast majority of people can't reach a decent standard of living, and no reason for those who already have that to pull up the ladder.

Roger Brown

Peak oil, sure, but no reason to believe that the vast majority of people can't reach a decent standard of living, and no reason for those who already have that to pull up the ladder.

I am not suggesting pulling up the ladder for Bangladesh, Botswana etc. Nor am I suggesting that we should stop pursing scientific and technological knowledge. What I am suggesting that continuous economic growth for all communities at all times is a crazy goal. Within the OECD countries if our current economic production equitably distributed then standards of living would be quite adequate for everyone. If we still have capability to increase our productivity we should leverage this productivity to produce the same standard of living with lower consumption of resources thus lowering global demand and helping the underdeveloped world to catch up to us. Personally I think that even more than standing in place will be required; The OECD countries we will have to lower their material standards of living in order for the currently underdeveloped world to acheive a decent quality of life.

Of course I do not have whole lot of hope of rational voluntary actions with respect to the restriction of consumption will take place and suspect that instead there will be an involuntary economic collapse. There are too many people like you who are mesmermized by the growth paradigm and incapable of thinking beyond it.

DaveMart

Roger said:
'Personally I think that even more than standing in place will be required; The OECD countries we will have to lower their material standards of living in order for the currently underdeveloped world to acheive a decent quality of life.'
That is the reason I picked up on this thread, because this attitude is pretty common, and is certainly not peculiar to yourself.
I suppose I could reply in similar terms to your own 'argument' and say that there are far too many people like yourself who are mesmerised by their vaguely religious millenialism, and love to feel guilty.
But that kind of statement does not really add to anything, so it is perhaps better to say that this negativity seems groundless, and a matter of taste rather than founded on any evidential grounds - really just as well for the many millions of people even in the developed world who are far from rich, and have a job to make ends, without having to cope with measures which are drafted with the aim of bringing any increase in their living standard to a grinding halt.
A more can-do attitude gets my vote!

bigTom

Economic growth measured as world GDP has been the fastest ever the past few years. But I think we are talking about growth in the richest countries. Clearly we can't continue ever increasing resources to feed this growth. I suspect that if we make our toys last longer, and require less power to operate, we can still maintain something that feels like growth. That is where we need to start heading short/medium term.

The change from a growth economy, to a more-or-less steady state economy will be a tough one. Our current system runs on return on investment. ROI in a non growing economy will be lower than we have become accustomed to. Nearly all of our financial products (insurance, retirement, endowments, government programs) currently assume a minimum level of ROI. The adjustment towards nogrowth will not be an easy one.

Clearly any medium/longterm energy program needs to be adaptive. That means as costs/benefits become better understood, and new unexpected technologies become feasible the program needs to be able to adjust in a rational manner.

DaveMart

bigTom,
We sure need to be a lot more economical with resources and get good at re-cycling, for instance water needs to be treated as though it has a real value rather than used extravagantly.
Major progress is being made in efficient resource utilisation, and growth is pretty well de-coupled from big increases in inputs, although admittedly a lot of stuff which used to be made here is made in China.
If you look at the inputs in detail, I really don't see why growth for the next 100 years or so won't be feasible, and pausing growth from then would cause a lot less pain.
There is no major resource we should run out of, except for oil and gas which we probably should not burn too much more of anyway.
Perhaps it's me, but I just can't see why growth needs to stop anytime soon, and I certainly don't think it desirable.

Roger Brown

You seem to completely miss my point. I clearly stated that I did not believe we should stop pursing scientific and technical progress. The question is to what ends should we direct our continued development of knowledge? My answer is that we should direct them them to creating stable, equitably shared community wealth. Every person should have adequate food, shelter, sanitation, health care, and access to educational resources. But no one 'needs' plasma screen televisions, 300hp sports cars, jet skis, 100watt per channel stereo systems etc. Our current economic model is one of mindless growth. The 'health' of the current economic system does not depend on poor people's needs being served. The system does not care what items are being sold. Increased sales of 8000 square foot starter castles, Hummers, August ski vacations to Chile, etc. while children die from contaminated water in Bangladesh. Who cares? As long as the total volume of economic transactions is increasing the stock market is healthy and we all cheer.

You are accepting the hugely inequitable wealth distribution of the current economic system (Bangladeshi subsistence farmers work just as hard or harder than you and I do) as inevitable, so that consequently overall growth of the global economy is the only path to prosperity for those currently at the bottom of the economic heap. They work like slaves now and have to survive on two dollars a day of income? Let them eat growth.

Do you really believe that in 2050 every Chinese, Indian, Southeast Asian, African, and South American family will live in a 2000 square foot home with two cars in the garage, refrigerator/freezers, multiple televisions, stereos, dishwashers, washing machines, electric stoves, etc.? And if not why is it that the people who already have these things have the right to go striving to get richer for the next five decades?

Let us get collectively richer in knowledge, in community solidarity, and in creating a healthy ecosystem which will sustain the human race through a long and creative future. Of course such an enterprise requires sweeping social and political changes which is why a major breakdown in the current system is probably required before real change can take place. Rome was probably clueless for a long long time that its days as an empire were numbered.

cjohnson

bigTom,

It is interesting, since our economy is pretty much based around the idea that we can grow it forever. Of course growth requires more and more resources and efficiency increases often have that pesky tendency to increase overall consumption (e.g. Jevons Paradox)

People might have to learn to do things for themselves again, rather than going to (often crap) jobs for 8 hours a day then using the money they make to pay someone else to do everything for them.

cooking, cleaning, home repair, gardening, etc. will likely become more popular personal occupations.

Our lifestyles we have now makes us so interdependent on other people, companies, and the central economy. People work their butts off so much at jobs (where they are making a profit for someone and doing jobs for other people in order to make that profit) and then they get home and have no time to cook, no time to fix the broken window, no time to tend to plants.

Some reversion to doing things for ourselves is in order.

As for the solar plant, don't generate all the juice in one spot. We could have 70% solar (the sun is quite reliable! No geopolitical price fluctuations attached!), but generating it all in one location is probably not a good idea. Roof tops make excellent open space for PV!

DaveMart

I don't miss your point - I just don't agree with it.
for 'my' program all you need to do is continue with some modest progress, try to take sensible options and not give up, and to answer your question directly, yes, I do think that every Bagladeshi family will have good living conditions and transport, although the means they use to this end will obviously differ form what is current in the Midwest in 2007, just as it differs in Tokyo.
All 'your' program needs is for human nature to change, and for all the socialist measures which have spent the last century failing to suddenly start working.
It ain't gonna happen - in a world which was operating at nil growth, then savage conflict would ensue, and the strongest would take all, just as has happened in those circumstances throughout history.
It seems to me that not only is nil growth and redistribution not going to happen, it is not even desirable for it to happen.
The poorer people in the West should strive to attain the same standard of living as the richer, and should not allow themselves to be diverted from this, and that applies even more to the poor in the third world.
Lester Brown has been declaring for donkeys years that everything was about to fall apart, and (not that I associate you with such crassness), saying that medicine etc should not be provided.
He is still at it, even though his predictions have come to nothing umpteen times.
I think part of the more rational debate is about what is economic growth - I obviously do not think that more fish can be pulled from the sea in increasing quantities forever, or that you can chop down more and more tropical rainforest, but similar issues have occurred throughout the last few hundred years, and we have adapted past it and retained growth.
The 'resource' of buffalo in the plains was rapidly used up, and growth in the hunting sector stopped, but changing to growing wheat allowed overall growth to not only continue but accelerate.
If we do things in an even half rational way, then there is no reason why great growth can't carry on for a very long time.
Of course, we may screw up! - and a prime reason for that if we do would seem to be the anti-growth rhetoric, and emotional environmentalism as opposed to rational.

DaveMart

cjohnson:
Good point about the Jevons paradox - taxes really have to be appropriate in increasing the costs of resources, and encouraging the use of labour, otherwise you do not minimise resource use at all.
Dunno about eh 'back to the soil' argument - that is pretty much what William Morris and his crowd were arguing in a reaction to Victorian industrialisation, and not many went back to making their own wallpaper.
It's what Ghandi argued, when he advocated spinning by hand instead of using 'evil' mass looms, and that certainly an effect, as it contributed to a lot of half-assed projects in India which may have helped to keep people poor for ages.
No-one now hand-spins unless it is for a hobby.
The same argument cropped up again, in hippy times in the sixties, and other than a few tie-died tee-shirts, most manufacturing stayed as mass-manufacturing.
In very wealthy areas you get some hand-crafting boutiques, just as you get some small farm producers who are on first-name terms with all their pigs, but the standard of living which enables the rich and fortunate to play with such things is based firmly on mass-production- most of us can't afford much that is hand-crafted, and certainly don't want to go back to a peasant society!
I completely agree with you about non-centralised solar - solar thermal in residential properties is pretty economic now in most areas.
This centralisation, government directed and subsidised, and based on a lot of unproven technology is the last thing we want.

Cyril R.

They don't take into account roads and other infrastructure, to include temporary and permanent housing for the construction and maintenance crews, the trunk lines leading out, and the inevitable boom towns that would surround the project to provide services. Can you imagine a construction firm undertaking a project like this without, say, restaurants, schools, family activities and so forth following in its wake?

Actually they do in the article. I've quoted them on that. They added 1%. You could add 10% to be very generous. This doesn't alter the picture fundamentally.

As for the MOAB, it is a low impulse area effect weapon, not one designed to penetrate a hard target.

Like I said, I'd reckon there would be a big shockwave that could destroy fragile reactor or control equipment parts. Still, it's all hypothetical. The point was that solar thermal isn't any more susceptible to terrorism or vandalism or even open war than nuclear powerplants. For example, you note:

As far as it being crazy and unfeasible to destroy a square mile of mirrors, it's not as hard as you make it. Let's say the situation in Mexico deteriorates further and some parties blame us (which some do). Let's say a drug cartel comes across the border with a 81mm mortar or a 120mm mortar. Even these small, highly portable weapons, which are widely available have ammunition capable of air-bursting and sending shrapnel over a very wide area--I've seen it.

BUT: if they were really out for such damage, and had the means to do it, why not go to a multi GW nuke and blow up the power lines going out from it. That should be much easier than destroying a whole square mile of solar arrays. Plus, they'd throw whole GW's off the grid in stead of just a few hundred MW's.

I'm also familiar with the military bases in the Mojave, but that hasn't done anything at all for illegal immigration, now has it? Small groups like that are intrinsically difficult to track and interdict.

Small groups like that could just as easily knock off the power lines going out of the nuke, so that wouldn't be an advantage nuclear power has over solar thermal.

As for the comment about the nodes and key lines as a vulnerability, the article basically has the entire US powered by these systems in the Southwest US. Yes, they are dispersed and have small lines individually, but that high voltage DC grid they mention to power the rest of the country would necessarily be very concentrated (i.e. getting the power from Arizona to New York).

That's why I disagreed with them. We do not currently have such critical junctions and we do not need them in the future. However in one of their comments they did mentioned this - HVDC would not be fundamentally more concentrated than AC lines. Why would all power lines to New York etc. be bound together in one string? Just spread them out. You're absolutely right about diversification though. If for example, solar thermal electricity has to meet 20% of electric demand in the future, then the land area required shrinks 5x!

In conclusion, I would say that grid and generation security are pretty much non-issues for both nuclear and solar thermal, if it is done right.

Cyril R.

Moreover, if you are waiting for the government to do something, forget it.

It is extremely likely that we wouldn't have had much nuclear power at all if it wasn't for the government. Not just in the US - look at France. You didn't actually think they would be mostly nuclear power now if it wasn't for their government do you know?

The government can be quite useful. The way I see it, the government needs to provide additional financing and the right legislation to facilitate the rapid building of a bigger, better, smarter, continentally interconnected grid. That would be a fair subsidy as every power source would benefit from it - even nuclear power. The actual generation part could be left to non-government, without any subsidies. Just phase these direct subsidies out over time. Sounds like a good strategy to me.

Cyril R.

Now about breeders and reprocessing. All things considered, I do not these are a good idea. Not yet.

I'm in favour of sea water uranium mining. It would solve a lot of problems:

* Near endless supply of fissile materials
* Less resource conflicts due to ubiquitous nature - any nation with access to seas or an ocean could do it.
* Very little 'mining' impacts eg no land required, no physical damage to ecosystems.
* Affordable per kWh price.

That way, there is no pressure to develop currently less enticing alternatives such as breeders and reprocessing.

Sea water fissiles in modern reactors is pretty much as sustainable as solar.

Cyril R.

Cyril, you can shove your insights on what I seem to be thinking where the sun doesn't shine, and instead concentrate on the facts, which are that 90% of American energy consumption by 2100 is fucking useless. Call me short sighted, but I'd like to see lowered carbon dioxide levels within my lifetime.

You will no doubt see a strong emissions reduction happen. I agree 2100 is not ambitious enough, but then this solar scheme is dogmatic anyway, and proof of favoratism rather than realism. The quickest route to carbon dioxide reduction may be government socialism eg the French nuclear program. I prefer a more liberal approach though, and that almost certainly prohibits the dominion of any one clean power source for a long time to come. The government shouldn't be picking winners especially in this premature stage of many alternative energy developments, as there will be a serious risk of choosing wrong or at least sub-optimal. Maybe you feel different. Perhaps the urgency of carbon dioxide emission is such that government socialism is necessary. But then, most governments on the planet have to do this for it to be truly effective, and I don't think that such heavy socialism in every country is a very realistic supposition. To be fair, Germany is different in that it's solar resource, especially solar thermal, is just not very good. There's a pretty good geothermal resource, which could be exploited relatively quickly. Alongside wind and in particular nuclear, perhaps even 'less dirty' coal with sequestration, and PV in the longer term, Germany could very well decimate it's emissions before 2050. And I am convinced heavy socialism isn't strictly necessary to achieve this. Just taxing the carbon - worldwide that is - should be enough government intervention, allowing the market to decide what combination of clean power sources there will be. In the case of Germany, that likely means a lot of nuclear power. In other countries it may be very different.

DaveMart

Cyril said:
'In the case of Germany, that likely means a lot of nuclear power. In other countries it may be very different'
That;'s what is so odd about German policy.
As a densely populated, northern country they are just about as least favourable as you can get for solar, and about best for nuclear of any country.
Politics mean though that they are even considering siting the nukes they desperately need in Scandanavia!
I suppose the lack of logic is not all bad, as they are effectively subsidising photovoltaic power so generously that for places like LA it may be economic within ten years, although not, of course, for Germany!
That's politics for you!

Cyril R.

Well the fact that they are densely populated also gives some problems with siting of nuclear powerplants. A lot of people still don't want a nuclear powerplant near their home, even though they really are quite safe. I suggest building new ones adjecent to older ones, or even just expand the capacity of older plants. There's not really any pressing need to develop new locations so why bother with all the siting difficulties? Of course, even expanding the capacity of older plants is going to be met with some stiff public resistance.

What's wrong with siting the plants in Scandinavia? The cold seas there are an excellent heat sink. Transporting electricity with HVDC over several hundred miles (or AC if the distance is short enough) is not that expensive per kWh and it's not rocket science either. In China, a lot of coal fired plants transmit their electricity over hundreds of miles to centres of demand because it is more economical to build the plant next to a coal mine and transport the electricity than transporting the coal and have the generation close to the load. Scandinavia is politically friendly to the Germans. It's doesn't sound like a lack of logic to me.

DaveMart

Britain seems to be moving towards siting new nuclear plants at the same location as the old ones.
I am interested in the ideas on this blog for increasing the capacity of plants by using doughnut shaped fuel cartridges, and using thermoelectics to make more of the heat into power - apparently we might around double output by these methods - that would mean that for relatively few plants the UK could generate a lot of power - if anyone has more information they can share on these possibilities, I would be interested.
I agree with the present political realities in Germany it is logical to look to site new plants in Scandanavia, so perhaps a better term for that which I am seeking to express is that it is ironic that the Green movement seems to have mainly just moved the plants a few hundred kilometers, rather than altering sources of supply.
Of course, the greens have also been instrumental in making the biggest projected new source of power in Germany coal, as they have rejected nuclear.
That super-green Scandanavia is considering allowing their siting there does perhaps indicate a sea-change in attitudes to nuclear power though.

Cyril R.

and using thermoelectics to make more of the heat into power

While that is technically interesting, it is worth noting that only small amounts of this have been made to work in laboratories. It's a relatively undeveloped technology, and current designs are dubious for GW applications. It's difficult to say how this will develop, but I wouldn't put thermo-electrics in any real energy plan just yet!

If it does develop nicely, then I'd imagine this could work for all thermal plants, which would be great! Nuclear-thermal, solar-thermal, biomass-thermal.

Imagine thermal storage: Just a bunch of hot water (cheap) could effectively be used as a reasonably efficient method for storing electricity instead of just heat.

Lots of potential, but as usual, very risky.

Roger Brown

I think part of the more rational debate is about what is economic growth - I obviously do not think that more fish can be pulled from the sea in increasing quantities forever, or that you can chop down more and more tropical rainforest, but similar issues have occurred throughout the last few hundred years, and we have adapted past it and retained growth.

This is the standard argument of growth forever (or at least for a couple of more centuries) proponents; “We didn’t mean continuous exponential growth of energy and material use. We just meant exponentially growing productivity.“ Economist Herman Daly refers to this idea as the fallacy of the angelized GNP. In the future the material component of new economic output will become vanishingly small, so that we can go on exponentially increasing our life satisfaction forever without increasing our consumption of energy or other materials and without any negative impact on the environment. This idea is not completely without merit in the sense that if providing the real necessities of life became very efficient and sustainable, then we could concentrate our intellectual and creative energies on other enterprises than increasing the variety and sophistication of our pile of toys. However, why this pursuit of non-material satisfaction has to take the form of competitive accumulation of money is beyond me.

I am not sure what you mean by socialist experiments. I do not like the word 'socialism' precisely because it is so freighted with propaganda that it is difficult for people to think objectively about its meaning. I prefer the expression ‘democratic, cooperative, economic production’. Neither the Soviet Union nor Communist China was remotely close to being an experiment in such a form of social organization. Drawing inductive conclusions from history about what forms of social organization are possible is a dangerous game. Did the failure of the Greek city states or of the Roman republic prove that democracy was inconsistent with human nature?

We are dependent parts of a community whether we like it or not. If Bill Gates were stranded on a distant planet with a mountain of gold bars, but no other intelligent life forms, he would not be rich no matter how hard he worked. A community of educated, skilled workers, and a sustainable resource base are the only true sources of wealth. Continuing to trust in an economic system whose primary driving force is the competitive accumulation of private wealth is a dangerous game. Yes the earth is a large place with vast resources and the technological prowess of the human race is great. The fact that we have stayed ahead in the productivity game until now does not mean that we will do so forever. We need to start taking the long view and make sure real sources of out wealth are going to continue to support us into the future.

Cyril R.

Let's take that 0.24% land figure, and include auxiliaries (infrastructure, workers houses etc.) say 0.25% would be reasonable. So let's take 20% solar thermal as a goal, that would require about 0.05% of all US land. Use of those fancy thermo-electrics (if they can scale to such levels comercially) could half this to 0.025% of all US land. Then there's the improvements in design that have to be taken into account, so 0.02% of all US land would be reasonable figure. 0.04% without thermo-electrics. Sounds very doable to me.

DaveMart

Roger said:
'Economist Herman Daly refers to this idea as the fallacy of the angelized GNP. In the future the material component of new economic output will become vanishingly small, so that we can go on exponentially increasing our life satisfaction forever without increasing our consumption of energy or other materials and without any negative impact on the environment.'
At that extreme, no extra materials, it sure is absurd.
But we don't have to operate within that tight a constraint.
The 'materials component' is certainly shrinking as a percentage of GDP, and government policy can help that with the right tax incentives.
Around 90% of the materials and subsequent waste of the mining industry is getting coal.
If for other reasons like CO2 we choose to move to solar or nuclear, or perhaps geothermal, then you could increase the use of most other resources by around 10 times and still have around the same impact as at present.
We can also do a lot better with recycling - the differences between the situation in Germany, say, and the Midwest of the USA, for instance, is already large, and future technological advances, coupled as always with the right incentives, would make the possibilities even better.
Now I don't know if we are going to deal at all sensibly with productivity and the environment, but I am pretty confident that we can for a long time increase real living standards whilst minimising environmental impact.
For an example of this, encouragement for green roof technology, which is well-proven in Germany and Austria, would minimise heat island effect in cities and save fuel for air conditioning as the ambient temperature would be reduced.
Not only would the inhabitants be cooler at less cost, they would also have the use of very nice roof gardens!
I dunno if this counts as 'unlimited growth', but there are umpteen ways we can be smarter and live comfortably without destroying the environment.
On your second point that socialism may not be the right term, I don't think it matters too much what you call it, if it barks it is probably a dog.
People are likely to carry on acting pretty much the same way as they always have, with some sort of mixture of a bit of social conscience as long as it does not cost too much and a real urge to look after themselves and their families.
In a nil-growth scenario people grabbing as much as they can of the limited cake seems to me the reaction with historical precedent, rather than some urge to pass it on to the least fortunate.
Fortunately, possibly the best chance ever to increase the standard of living of many of the world's poor is likely to become available soon.
Almost all of the very poorest live in areas with high solar incidence, and developing a grid for them would be vastly expensive.
Although IMHO virtually useless in Germany, where a lot of money has been spent on it's development, Solar PV should, in this somewhat counter-intuitive fashion, soon reach the point where for most of the world's rural poor it will be the best most economical solution.
Interestingly this vast increase in well-being should have very little impact on the use of resources, and in fact should lead to a better chance of avoiding deforestation, if coupled with solar thermal.
As Ian Drury said - 'Reasons to be cheerful!'
:-)

DaveMart

Cyril, absolutely correct that in a more reasonable view of penetration rates the use of land area should not be excessive.
One other factor on top of the figures that you give is that I think that with cheaper PV many will choose to mount roof-top arrays, and not just in the South-West.
We might also manage to build in PV into roofing materials, and if the cost of that is low enough then huge amounts of PV would be generated without even the need to fix separate panels.
Or Nanoflake technology at 30% efficiency would change the ball-game - my guess is towards more locally generated energy rather than just in the South-West:
http://www.gizmag.com/nano-technology-to-boost-solar-efficiency/8540/
The future seems bright for PV to me - just not in Germany, in spite of it's huge investment! ;-)

Roger Brown

The 'materials component' is certainly shrinking as a percentage of GDP, and government policy can help that with the right tax incentives.

Do you have any data to support this statement? The data would have to apply to the global economy. Looking at OECD economies in isolation gives a false picture since so much manufacturing is done offshore. Electronics manufacture is one area where this statment might be true, since increasing minaturization has lead huge increases in use value being packed into a given area of silicon circuitry. Nevertheless the total aread of silicon wafers being processed keeps going up. We leverage our increased efficiency to increase the total volume of sales as quickly as possible.

I dunno if this counts as 'unlimited growth', but there are umpteen ways we can be smarter and live comfortably without destroying the environment.

You are absolutely right that we can live smarter. But the smartest action is to produce an economic sufficiency with greater and greater efficiency thus reducing our ecological footprint. Automobile engines have continuously become more sophisticated and efficient, but our cars have increased in weight and high speed performance. We have leveraged our increased effiency to produce more luxury and performance rather than to decrease our impact on the environment. Private finance capitalism has no institutional interest in people living smarter. It only has an interest in increasing the total volume of sales.

Charles Barton

cjohnson You make several mistakes about economic growth. First no all growth requires more resources. Look at the effect the computer, internet growth has had on the economy. Many knowledge workers and other workers no longer need offices to work out of. They can work out of their homes, eliminating the need for office structure, as well as the need to commute to work.

Industrializing societies require massive amounts of material inputs, but mature economies while requireing large amounts of energy, can make do on far less new steel and concrete, than they did during their initial industrialization phase.
Just compare the use of raw materials between China and the United States. China uses far more raw materials than the United States does. What you accomplish with your denunciation of economic growth is to deprive the worlds poor of a good standard of life.

Without material growth the poor of the world of the oportunity to lead a good loife. Are there enough resources to give all the world's poor a good life? Yes there are.

The world has enough resources to sustain much more growth than we have had now.

Paradoxically plans to build enormous new solar or wind arrays will require very large material inputs. How much steel and concrete will go into 1 million 200 foot high towers, each with a 10 ton wind turbine on top?

How much metal and glass will go into 8500 square miles of solar array.

Conpaired to such enormous construction project, the construction of 1000 reactors is just a drop in the bucket.

What we get from our commitment to energy is a better life.

Charles Barton

cjohnson You make several mistakes about economic growth. First no all growth requires more resources. Look at the effect the computer, internet growth has had on the economy. Many knowledge workers and other workers no longer need offices to work out of. They can work out of their homes, eliminating the need for office structure, as well as the need to commute to work.

Industrializing societies require massive amounts of material inputs, but mature economies while requireing large amounts of energy, can make do on far less new steel and concrete, than they did during their initial industrialization phase.
Just compare the use of raw materials between China and the United States. China uses far more raw materials than the United States does. What you accomplish with your denunciation of economic growth is to deprive the worlds poor of a good standard of life.

Without material growth the poor of the world of the oportunity to lead a good loife. Are there enough resources to give all the world's poor a good life? Yes there are.

The world has enough resources to sustain much more growth than we have had now.

Paradoxically plans to build enormous new solar or wind arrays will require very large material inputs. How much steel and concrete will go into 1 million 200 foot high towers, each with a 10 ton wind turbine on top?

How much metal and glass will go into 8500 square miles of solar array.

Conpaired to such enormous construction project, the construction of 1000 reactors is just a drop in the bucket.

What we get from our commitment to energy is a better life.

Nucbuddy

DaveMart wrote: The same argument cropped up again, in hippy times in the sixties, and other than a few tie-died tee-shirts, most manufacturing stayed as mass-manufacturing.

In very wealthy areas you get some hand-crafting boutiques

This was one of the principal themes of the science-fiction book The Diamond Age: A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

Nell and Harv reach "Dovetail," a settlement of artisans who produce hand-made objects for the Neo-Victorians. (The Neo-Victorians are connoisseurs of hand-made objects because they have not been made by matter compilers.)
Roger Brown

First no all growth requires more resources. Look at the effect the computer, internet growth has had on the economy. Many knowledge workers and other workers no longer need offices to work out of. They can work out of their homes, eliminating the need for office structure, as well as the need to commute to work.

Knowledge workers (e.g. software programmers) have so much work to do because new computers with faster CPUs, more memory, more hard drive space etc keep rolling off the assembly lines, not to mentions hand held devices, smart appliances with microprocessors coming out the wazoo etc. The fact that the hardware is largely manufactured offshore does not mean that energy and material consumed should not be counted against our economy. We cannot have China manufacture most of our consumer goods and then crow about how our economy is being dematerialized relative to theirs.

What you accomplish with your denunciation of economic growth is to deprive the worlds poor of a good standard of life.

I do not denounce economic growth. I embrace the idea of economic maturity. I do not see the rural poor of the developing world as having achieved economic maturity, but I do not see how our getting richer and richer is doing anything to help them. I do understand how continuing to increase scientific and technical knowledge is of benefit to everyone, and I have said repeatedly that knowledge work should continue. You are the one who is incapable of conceiving of such work in any other context than that of the competitive accumulation of private wealth.

What we get from our commitment to energy is a better life.

I said absolutely nothing about decommiting from energy technology. Of course we need to develop non-fossil energy sources. But using those energy sources to manufacture and market new toys for rich consumers at the maximum possible rate is not an intelligent use of our creative energies.

By the way my name is Roger Brown not cjohnson.

DaveMart

Roger, apologies for the delay in replying to the very interesting points you make.
You said:
'Do you have any data to support this statement? The data would have to apply to the global economy. Looking at OECD economies in isolation gives a false picture since so much manufacturing is done offshore.'
This was in reference to the idea that materials input is decreasing as a percentage of GDP growth.
I'm afraid that the data is often not collated on an aggregate basis, and my time is a little limited to really extensively search for precise data, but I have located this pdf:
http://www.forestprod.org/cdromdemo/ev/ev4.html
More generally, although as you say much of the original material now comes from China and so on and so artificially reduces the input of materials into advanced economies, in Europe at least the obligation is to recycle whereever the goods came from, and on that basis across many industries, and on an individual basis steady improvement can be shown in the amounts of materials recovered for re-use.
As an arbitrary example, chosen by random googling, here is the progress which is being made in the EU, or more particularly the UK, under the influence of EU legislation for battery materials:
http://www.greenstar.co.uk/Battery_Directive.aspx
Another proxy method for evaluating world resource use/GDP is to look at any industry, say for instance the steel industry, and look at the improvements being made to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
Potential efficiency has increased substantially.
This trend is even greater for developing countries, sine they are often using old processes, and when they upgrade can potentially skip development stages the West has gone through - an example of this would be the way China tries to make it a condition of opening a new coal plant that they should pay to close an old one, which belch emissions and are grossly inefficient as well as dangerous.
Here is an example of increasing energy efficiency logged against GDP for India and China - remarkable progress:
http://www.ecoworld.com/home/articles2.cfm?tid=440
If you are interested you can just log the major inputs, say steel, against world GDP growth.
GDP grows faster, for most things, the exceptions being when a new industry is established, the one which springs to mind although not really the most apposite as it is not recent being the production of aluminium, which when better processes were discovered to make it cheaply grew explosively for a number of years before slowing down.
I hope this goes some way to fairly answering your question.
Things like solar power should in my view further accelerate the 'etherialisation' of production, if it replaces dirty old coal
Of course, you correctly say, Jevons law means that without the right taxes, any gains will be largely eaten up - but perhaps we can enjoy many more years of GDP growth providing we are not completely stupid - which is never guaranteed! :-)

Roger Brown

Dave,

Thanks for the response. I am skeptical that smart taxes are capable of fixing Jevon's paradox, although they are probably the best strategy within the context of the current economic and political system. Ephemeralization (This is Buckminster Fuller's expression) or not our economic output cannot expand exponentially forever. My intuition (for what it's worth) is that then end of growth is a lot nearer than you believe that it is. That's why I spend time and energy thinking about forms of economic organization that are not structurally dependent on continuous growth. Sooner or later we are going to need such forms.

DaveMart

Roger, resources are certainly allocated by individuals and companies according to overall costs including taxes, and the vastly lower energy use (and higher costs!) of energy in places like Japan and Italy show this, I believe.
The same impact can be seen in the building of windmills in California, which was initially completely uneconomic, but state policy made it pay.
At some stage on a finite earth then limits are reached, but as you say, the vital question is when.
With so many poor people around, both in the developing world and in the West, then hopefully it is some way away, and without absolutely rock-solid evidence that that point has been reached it would seem more than a shame to me if we should even partially alter policy and make things tougher for those at the bottom to progress.
Although I don't for a moment associate you with such arguments, I remember (I'm pretty old!) how many were arguing back in the sixties that population increase meant that we should not encourage more people breeding by feeding those suffering from famine!
The point being that if we can't do much to improve things overall, then choices change, and the poorest will always be the ones to suffer.
I therefore think that the onus is on those who are confident that the limits to growth are upon us to be pretty specific on what we are going to run out of that forces us to that conclusion - FWIW I think that the nearest that we can come to that case is via the possibility of man-made global warming, which would certainly restrict fuel options, or water shortages, which we use inefficiently at the moment.
Anyway, I have greatly enjoyed the debate, and you made me think harder than I had hitherto in looking for evidence for my position - I hope that a couple of the points I made have opened up some new avenues for you in your thoughts.
It seems to me that in many respects what you mean by encouraging technological progress in a nil growth environment is similar to my suggestion that GNP can continue growing for a long time - that 'applying technological progress' in a reasonably clever way will produce rises is GNP.
I'll shut up now! - I'm just thinking out loud!

Solar Power Light

Nice plan. Thanks you very much for this post.

Tommy Tokar

I found this to be very interesting. There is alot of discussion about Renewable energies and its place in our future. One thing we can all agree on is that the current plan isn’t working anymore. In order to really be able to solve the energy crisis you need to look at every option and determine what will work in a particular geographic area.

We have companies that charges millions of dollars just to move power from one part of the country to the other. What’s the point of that? I am excited to see these large deployments of Wind and solar farms.

However the average home owner will just have to write a check to a different company. That is not my plan. I envision a majority of the homes generating enough power on their own to power their homes and autos without the cost of fuel and electric.

It you’re looking for Economic stimulus the average home can spend up to a $1000 a month on Fuel and electric. It certainly would help it those funds were available for other things.

Tommy Tokar
President
SolarMecca Inc.
214-550-9817 Main
214-550-9817 Ext 704
ttokar@solarmecca.com
http://www.solarmecca.com

GHD Pink

Good thoughts. I think we need leadership to force a zero emissions manhattan project since average joe's only care about sitting on their fat butts and watching t.v.

Jake S.

I am in full support of this article. While other countries have been making major efforts to rely more heavily on alternative energies the US has been lagging behind. This annoy's the hell out of me. For 1. we have the land mass that most first world country's lack, we also have the money, and ingenuity. Now if we can just get out of the vice like grip of these huge multinational corporations, I really think we can get a lot of these new technologies implemented.

Igor

Cheaper to replace the energy source than to fight the effects of commonly used ... www.energyland.org.ua

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A Solar Grand Plan sounds great to me!

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How is this solar power plan coming along now?

Air Purifier

Can I still read this somewhere?

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You're right, there are so many forms of energy now, not just solar.

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