I’ve been having a sometimes rather heated debate with doomers over at Guy McPherson’s blog. One commenter there Cleitophon objected with some fairly important questions that I mistook for the usual doomer memes. As far as I can tell, Cleitophon is trying to discover a non-dogmatic, honest answer to the question of whether there is enough time for our technologies today to adjust to ‘peak everything’ and indeed whether or not we can.
But first a question about the overall tone of Guy Mcpherson’s article, The Ascent.
1. What is wrong with incremental growth in technologies?
We all know that incremental growth in bad things results in huge impacts over time, like 1% population growth doubling the world’s population every 70 years. So why can’t incremental growth in technology efficiency and new technologies still be considered an ‘advance’?
2. True innovation is being funded by some, despite an appearance to the contrary.
////The true innovations, which go to the heart of society are therefore the ones that have our interest. This is where development seems to slow: ////
Many would agree with you Cleitophon! Vinod Khosla is a venture investment who totally agrees, and is sick of slow, incremental advances in the same old technology. He wants radically new approaches, and funds them!
In this Q&A from Scientific American Vinod says he would rather invest in Phd researcher trying something radically new, even if it has a 90% chance of failure, because that 10% that succeeds will not only hit on a radically new technology by definition it will be a game changing technology. Vinod is funding radical green technologies ‘too good to be true. Ultimately these will make more money.
So rather than fund a tiny percent increase on algae returns — none of which he’s bothered with so far as the 20 or so companies that have tried to approach him for funding will still not be economically viable after 7 years of scaling up in the market — he’d rather fund a few radical new approaches to battery technologies. Vinod has said he would make a bet that in 15 years you won’t be able to buy lithium ion batteries because one of the researches he is funding will crack ‘some new quantum storage thingamajig’.
3. What is wrong with copper?
Cleitophon rightly asks whether or not there is enough copper. I have also written about peak copper, asking questions on various science forums and wondering how on earth we are going to supply electricity to the world’s population. (As only a lifestyle that meets all our needs encourages the demographic transition). Indeed my recent replies to Cleitophon tell me I may have to edit my ‘peak metals’ page as there have been a few new developments.
- Unlike oil, copper is not consumed. It has not gone away or disappeared, it is still there. It can be recycled. Our cities are great store houses of copper.
- With deep sea mining we may just have thousands of years of accessible copper at current rates. New materials sciences allow better underwater drills and equipment.
- Demand for metals drops off a little once a nation has thoroughly developed and modernised. Lester Brown explains that while all the power lines and bridges are being built there is a huge demand for raw materials, but after a nation has developed some of the demand drops off.
- With enough baseload power (from GenIV nukes) surely we’ll end up with fairly strict copper recycling programs reducing the amount we need to mine in the first place. Lester Brown documents how America is recycling more and more of it’s steel, at between 50% to 70% recycling depending on the category of steel. (Steel beams from buildings are at 95% recycled).
4. I may grant an ‘energy bottleneck’ with some fuel rationing in the coming decade/s, but the other side of this market rationing looks huge once we switch to abundant nuclear power and renewable mixes.
////By far the majority in modern society are not interested in hearing, reading or contemplating the decline of globalization or energy shortages – it is simply too miserable.////
That’s because even the general public who do not blog very much already know that we are working on a whole variety of solutions. Gen4 nukes will provide reliable baseload power. Queensland just endured the horrors of Cyclone Yasi. I wonder how many wind turbines and solar panels were smashed to shreds? Nukes can provide cheap electricity in cyclone proof concrete bunkers in any environment on the planet. As we face an era of changing climate and weather patterns, surely that is another factor worth considering?
5. I totally agree with Cleitophon as he laments the sheer time wasted sitting in traffic, which is one of many reasons why I support New Urbanism.