- Site summary
- Energy is our biggest problem
- Environmental challenges are also critical
- Economic and population growth
- The 3 E’s have mostly been ignored by governments
- Doomers & the suicide that changed me
- There is hope if you get involved
- The Eclipse is Now
- Other Rules for Recovery
- About me
1. Site summary
The 3 E’s of Energy depletion, the Environment and the Economy are 3 interacting systems that will challenge national security and world peace this century. I am technically optimistic about what we can achieve to provide everyone on earth by 2050 with all the energy and food they need. But am not sure that as a culture we are prepared. There is just too much ignorance and fear of the necessary solutions the experts propose. In a small way, I hope to change some of that. We live in interesting times!
2. Energy is our biggest problem
- Oil production is about to peak and begin a long and permanent decline.
- The Australian Senate investigated it and found there was no silver bullet to replace oil (back then). They found that if there was even a risk of it happening in the decades ahead, we should be preparing for it now.
- Oil discovery has dropped for 50 years, and we’re now burning oil our grandparents discovered.
- It took me years to come around to this position, but wind and solar cannot replace cheap fossil fuels for our civilisation.
- They are intermittent and unreliable and storage systems are vastly too expensive to make them viable sources of electricity for our modern economies. Trying to do so would have us living more like the Amish but with some daytime power. We cannot afford it, and
Even climatologist Dr James Hansen said believing in renewables is “like believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”
- Public opinion is biased by the media news cycle which does not reflect the scientific debate. Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio popularise the latest study into an all renewable grid, but they don’t recant their endorsement when the National Academy of Science debunk the very same study. The public are left with a sense that wind and solar offer a rosy secure energy future, when they still face enormous challenges.
- Our economy runs on cheap coal fired electricity to run factories and produce goods and services, and then we move these goods and services around with cheap oil.
- The very food we eat depends on cheap oil, as it takes 10 calories of oil energy to grow 1 calorie of food energy. As the wiki says:-
- “Since supplies of oil and gas are essential to modern agriculture techniques, a fall in global oil supplies could cause spiking food prices and unprecedented famine in the coming decades. Geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer contends that current population levels are unsustainable, and that to achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster the United States population would have to be reduced by at least one-third, and world population by two-thirds.”
- Peak oil will be here soon, then peak gas and peak coal.
- We urgently need abundant clean energy to replace all fossil fuels anyway, as from a climate change point of view we shouldn’t burn the remaining oil let alone the gas and coal!
3. Environmental challenges are also critical
- Industrial agriculture kills 100,000 km’s square farmland a year
- Scientific American warns world’s farmland topsoils could be gone in 60 years.
- Underground water aquifers (bore water) are running dry.
- 75% of fisheries are on the verge of collapse.
- Forests and other habitats are under stress as we use half the land surface of the earth for grazing and farming. (Cities only take up 3%.) We have introduced pests, hunted the apex predators, and polluted with plastic and other toxic wastes.
- This creates biodiversity loss which in turn threatens ecosystem services.
- We will mine most conventional metal ores by 2075.
- Increasing use of fossil fuels will — by 2028 — commit us to 2 degrees of warming.
- Climate change accelerates all these bad trends and attacks us in four main climate FOES: Famine, Oceans rising, Extinctions and Storms – with crop yields cut about a quarter as the human population rises about a third!
4. Economic and population growth
- Exponential growth is accelerating many negative trends. If the human population grows by 1% per year for a human lifespan of 70 years, at the end there would be twice as many people. 2% growth over 70 years is 4 times, 3% is 8 times, all the way up to 6% growth per year being 64 times!
- Human population grows by 75 million annually. It’s like adding a new United Kingdom every year.
- This basic maths works for anything whether population or economic growth.
- Economic growth usually means more goods and services and these require more resource extraction.
- If you hear about 2% economic growth, your first thought should not be that we’re all getting richer, but that over a lifetime that’s 4 times as many resources consumed and all the associated environmental damage
- Putting it all together, for the first time we appear to be sailing into a comprehensive range of resource and environmental threats on a global scale.
- Previous civilisations rose and fell as they used up local resources and environments, such as when Roman topsoil washed into the Mediterranean, shrinking the supply of cheap food. These civilisations sometimes took decades or centuries to unwind. Once the environmental damage was done, the outcome was inevitable. We are about to crash into a number of global resource limits, all at once, on a warming and overpopulated planet.
5. The 3 E’s have mostly been ignored by governments
As Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond said, “People are worried now.” Hardly a year goes by without a careful scientific organisation sounding the alarm. We read Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and watch Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth“. Governments pay lip service with a few rebates to renewables. But sadly, my Limits Page documents a growing list of papers from the classic and disturbing 1970’s Limits to Growth (which is still on track 40-something years later) to more recent work by other scientific panels.
6. Doomers & the suicide that changed me
- Many peak oilers become doomers, depressed at the potential for anarchy
- Some even rejoice in the ‘inevitable’ collapse of civilisation, and become Doomsday Preppers that feel they have the edge on everyone else.
- One specific doomer meme is a technical argument that nothing can ever replace the energy density of fossil fuels.
- They convinced me of the two main concerns:-
- Were we bound to live like a bit like the Amish — with only a little electricity during the sunlit hours of the day? And how would society transition to such a low energy system? Would farming adapt in time? If I abandoned my car and managed to cycle to the store would there be any food when I got there?
- How many regions would collapse into anarchy during this unpredictable time?
- Sadly, these doomer arguments and memes proved deadly to one young man on a certain peak oil forum. He cycled out to his favourite tree and hung himself.
7. There is hope if you get involved
- That suicide changed me. I became appalled at the Malthusian prophets of doom gloating on their internet forums like so many campers telling ghost stories around the campfire. Robbing young people of their hope. I took another look at the 3 E’s above. Slowly, over time, this blog became a collection of existing, established technologies that could solve our problems.
- I’m now convinced there is no technical inevitability of a worldwide collapse. That’s just a myth. However, the problems with renewables and storage remain. So what’s the answer?
- I am convinced that the energy recommendation below is the only way to prevent profoundly dangerous climate change and energy supply issues. But it is controversial, and I spent the first 40 years of my life hating it! This is where I would love you to read on. If I can wrestle with these issues and change my mind, you can to.
- The answer? Nuclear power. Did you just roll your eyes? Do you think nuclear power is unnecessary, dangerous, expensive, slow, and limited because it leaves waste forever and will one day run out of uranium? If so, you’re not alone. That is exactly what I used to think. The good news is modern reactors have completely turned this upside down.
- ESSENTIAL: Nuclear is necessary because important energy analysts have calculated that renewables are too unreliable and storage is too expensive.
- SAFE: Nuclear is the safest form of large scale energy we can deploy — coal kills as many people as about 650 Chernobyl accidents a year!
- If we scaled rooftop solar power up to the same enormous power output as nukes, more tradesmen would die accidentally falling off solar rooftops than have died in nuclear accidents! (And those nuclear accidents involved outdated old technologies we would never build again!)
- FAST: Dr James Hansen says the world should build 115 GW of nuclear reactors each year. Once the industry is scaled up, nuclear power can deliver fast climate fixes. 115 GW provides clean power for everyone on earth by 2050 (including population growth). If counted as on a reactor to GDP ratio, this is slower than the French already achieved in the 1970’s. We know we can do this, because we’ve already done it.
- Yet it gets better. Cleaning the electricity sector also cleans up about 3/4 of the transport sector as well as we replace oil with EV’s! We can split seawater to make E-diesel and airline jet-fuel. Trucks can also run on burnable, recyclable boron powder. While EV’s take over the family car and small truck, e-diesel and / or boron can take over the larger vehicles.
- WASTE: New breeder reactors eat nuclear waste, getting 90 times the energy out of uranium! America already has enough nuclear waste to run her for 1000 years! In other words, nuclear waste isn’t a problem, it’s the solution!
- COST: Nuclear is affordable. Indeed, if Germany had poured their money into nukes instead of wind and solar, they would have weaned off all fossil fuels by now, including oil! The image of nuclear becoming ever more expensive is based primarily on bad American policy.
- In other words, everything I used to fear about nuclear power was exactly back to front and wrong!
8. The Eclipse is Now
I originally used the symbol of an eclipse to promote the meme that “We must eclipse ourselves or be eclipsed.” But now I see that as too melodramatic, too life or death, too all or nothing, too binary.
I can now see a thousand ways we might succeed in some areas and fail in others. While we might not “be eclipsed” and collapse back to the stone age, we risk being stuck in the twilight. Unless we accelerate rolling out the Rules for Recovery below, our children will inherit a planet we hardly recognise, with half the biodiversity extinct by 2050 and possibly billions living in poverty, hunger, and war. There are dangers ahead. What if water stress becomes too much, and existing international tensions boil over into water wars? What if we fight over the remaining oil, water, and farmland? What if we postpone nuclear power in vain hopes of a super-cheap battery to save renewables? How will we respond when today’s refugee crisis is multiplied tenfold, maybe a hundredfold, due to rising sea levels and famine? How do we prepare for mega-droughts, especially when America has almost used up all their fossil water? What other wild-cards are coming our way?
If you have read this far, you are most probably an environmentalist, so please read through the “REFUEL” nuclear links above. Remember, I grew up hating nukes! I’ll repeat it. There is no technical reason we cannot wean off fossil fuels. We need to do so quickly. However, it’s going to take a lot of involvement to change public opinion on this, so please, if you learn something about nuclear power that excites you, please share the movies and sources I’ve collected here.
Here are some further positive technologies and cultural trends I’ve collected that I find inspiring and hopeful.
9. Other Rules for Recovery.
You may not agree with all my solutions, but the many professors signing onto the EcoModernist Manifesto agree with the most important one — nuclear energy.
We need to:–
REFUEL on today’s safe GenIII reactors as we perfect new GenIV breeder nuclear reactors that eat nuclear ‘waste’. Just today’s nuclear waste could run the world for centuries. Nuclear waste is not the problem, it is the solution. Nuclear power MUST form the reliable baseload power that modern grids need, and then we can see how much wind and solar is also added to the mix.
REZONE our cities around New Urbanism which I describe on this page as:-
“An attractive and culturally appropriate town square surrounded by walking distance shops and services and neighbourhoods.” They are places of economic and social vitality, and are just pleasant to visit. New Urban ecocites must of course have a strong backbone of RAIL, using trains, trams, and trolley buses as appropriate.
RECHARGE our cars instead of burn oil. About three-quarters of existing cars could be charged on existing grids if the power plants were turned up full, and nukes are most economic running at full power day and night. There are a variety of options for a post-oil world including Electric Vehicles, synthetic diesel from seawater, and even a recyclable metal powder called boron that can be burned for fuel!
RECYCLE all our waste using Plasma Burners that rip waste apart and sort it at the molecular level. We can get rid of rubbish tips forever, and turn household waste into many of the materials necessary to build the next house or car or boat!
REINVENT industry to run on mostly renewable materials. We need to reinvent processes so they use clean, recyclable materials. Governments should encourage Green Chemistry, Nano-technology, and even lower technology solutions like building Skyscrapers out of wood!
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE can replenish the soil and not mine and destroy it as does Industrial Agriculture. This means adopting nutrient recycling schemes, using biochar to bring the soil back to life, and not flushing the invaluable phosphorus and other nutrients in our sewage out to sea! It means our sewerage departments need to speak to our agricultural departments.
REPAIR ecosystems so that nature will continue to give us ‘Ecosystem services’. Nature gives us free services that increase our health and wealth. Without them we would have to pay for all our fresh water, soil, clean air, certain waste processing, etc. But we can repair ecosystems by making more national and private parks, keeping threatened animals in zoos and breeding centres, and gradually replanting and restocking the wild.
REDUCE population growth by meeting all human needs, especially by empowering and educating women! Empowering women in developing countries not only helps them and their families achieve their potential, it helps those families not see children as some form of superannuation. Studies have proved it prevents population growth, and can stabilise the population.
Does a cause above grab you? Read the pages, google around, find an online group and please, get involved! Support just one of the causes above. You could make an incredible difference, and make friends along the way.
10. About me
My name is Dave and I live in Sydney, Australia. You can contact me at:Qualifications: First place: Advanced Diploma in Social Sciences, so I approach these questions from broad societal issues and yet try to condense the science down into easy to remember English sound-bytes.
I’ve had many different careers and a broad life experience, from time in Survey Corps in the Australian Army to working as a Child Protection offficer with the NSW DOCS / FACS. I am now the Director of our family design studio.
I love the slow-motion conversation of sustainability blogging. It has changed my politics and understanding of the world, and even my aesthetic appreciation of varieties of eco-cities. My concern is for the overall shape of the trends threatening society, and the overall shape of the solutions.
I have a wife, 2 children, and a Russian Blue cat named Darcy.