free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 169. THE FUTURE GETS COMPLICATED

Sunday, November 20, 2005

169. THE FUTURE GETS COMPLICATED

One of the main problems with the dieoff is crowd is their assertion that such a scenario is unavoidable. Apart from the diceyness of their data and the failure of their past predictions, the also greatly underestimate the complexity of the future. The future is not simple, nothing in it is inevitable, and doomers do not know more than anyone else. They made this mistake back in the 1970s, and after the reading the Ehrlich's One with Nineveh and the Club of Rome's new number Beyond the Limits, it's clear that they don't want to make it again. "If the projected increases in energy use were derived from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels," concedes Ehrlich, "and if the population's peak size could be kept well below 10 billion, the outlook would become considerably brighter" (compare this to the quotes in #146). These original doomers have now become cautiously optimistic about the ultimate fate of the planet, perhaps because they realise that unless people believe problems can be fixed, they won't try and fix them.

Peak Oil, on the other hand, has been hijacked by a niche community with a fondness for gloomy-looking websites and folk-tales about the grisly end of suburbia, with the Hubbert Peak the unanticipated final straw that will swiftly bring down a well-deserved Malthusian catastrophe on the cancerous mass of humanity. (Read the latest issue of the Magazine "Adbusters" to get a taste of such hysterical fear-mongering.) As long as Peak Oil is associated with this kind of culture it will be viewed as a kooky theory not deserving of public attention. It needs to be rationally examined and recognized for what it is, i.e. another troubling but solvable issue along with Climate Change, environmental degradation and poverty. In other words, Peak Oil needs some context. It's far from the only thing going down on Planet Earth right now, and for this reason I thought I'd share some other trends and ideas that might give some perspective to the whole thing. Please suspend your cynicism, doomers, and enjoy the ride.

An Ecological Revolution

Oil is just one part of a larger issue, ie that humans are, and have long been, straining the boundaries of the planet. This is mainly because the current economic system ignores the state of the environment, assuming there will always be more resources and more space to dump the waste. Yet politicians continue to espouse the oxymoron of "sustainable growth", and treat the environment as a separate issue. This is, said economist Herman Daly, like looking only at an animal's circulatory system while ignoring its digestion.

While many people look at this and see disaster, others, like Amory Lovins, see opportunity. His argument is that the current industrial model is an obsolete relic of the 19th century. Back then, we were limited "not by the number of trees but by the number of axes". We used machines to extend human productivity, resulting in the Industrial Revolution. Today, Lovins argues, that situation is reversed: we have too many axes, but we are running out of trees. Hence, we need a Second Industrial Revolution which will reflect these changed realities. Just as the First Industrial Revolution got 200 times more productivity out of each worker, the Second Industrial Revolution will get 200 times more efficiency out of its raw materials. It will view waste as a profit-leaching evil, and appreciate the true value of Natural Capital and the free services that nature provides, reconciling the interests of environmentalism and business. The goal is to minimize the flow of materials by maximising the flow of information.

Lovins is on the right track because, as JD says, our current society is appallingly wasteful. In the book Natural Capitalism, Lovins and his co-authors give countless examples of how to eliminate this waste with a combination of new technologies, better design, new cultural attitudes and pure common sense. Lovins reckons that pretty much everything produced by industry today is very badly designed, which is true. Examples of good design include the Prius, this custom-made fridge, and the book Cradle to Cradle, which is made not out of paper but from a water-resistant synthetic material derived from plastic resins and inorganic fillers. (Link: http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm).

The idea of an ecological revolution gives a wider frame for our efforts to make the world more sustainable, and this revolution is already in progress all around the world, particularly in Europe. As Lovins points out, societies usually move down the path of least economic resistance, and it’s increasingly the case that sustainable practices are more cost-effective than unsustainable practices (a situation to which Peak Oil will contribute). The situation can only improve since the cost of technology falls exponentially, while non-renewable resources invariably don't. Inflexible old players (like the big car companies, or the United States) must recognize this, or they'll get outpaced by agile newcomers. Why do you think British Petroleum changed its name to Beyond Petroleum, or an array of European countries pledged a "factor four" increase in efficiency, or McDonalds replaced polystyrene containers with biodegradable material?

Neo-Capitalism

Perhaps this Revolution goes even further, to the social and economic system itself. There is increasing recognition that GDP is not a good measure of a society's well-being, particularly as it also measures undesirable things like crime and waste. Technology cannot increase efficiency forever, and even if it does we are looking at a population implosion before 2050 as a result of declining birthrates. So maybe it's best to begin transitioning to a Steady State Economy. This would not rule out occasional periods of economic expansion thanks to new technologies or population increases, but it would abandon a 3%-a-year growth of GDP as the overriding preoccupation of policymakers. Instead, they could concentrate on actually improving services and boosting quality of life.

Of course, a Steady State Economy poses some challenges because we have to work out how to adjust our "perfect" economic system to accommodate it. Just as the 19th century gave rise to new social theories and forms of government, so the 21st century will have to perfect "Neo-Capitalism", a tweaked version of the capitalist system which (a) Accounts fully for human dependence on the environment and (b) Does not require constant growth to function. While I'm sure this is possible with Islamic Banking and the elimination of risk-free government loans, perhaps the biggest challenge will be the cultural shift required to defeat the dogma of GDP-worship which currently pervades society.

Nanotechnology and the Kurzweil Singularity

Imagine that before we've even started adjusting to these changes, something else comes along whose impact far dwarfs anything we've yet experienced, making our social, political and economic systems obsolete, replacing all our challenges with new ones, and raising unprecedented ethical questions about the nature of consciousness and the meaning of life. That something is Nanotechnology.

In the shorter term, Nanotechnology will revolutionise manufacturing by using nano-factories like this, which can assemble products at the molecular level from a small range of raw materials. The cheap, widespread affordable use of such machines, coupled with extremely cheap energy, would mean that manufactured products basically cease to have monetary value, and the only use of money would be for 'unique' commodities like real estate, antiques or human services. Concerns about population could be diminished by producing food this way. As a result, all the problems that Natural Capitalism and the Steady State Economy tried to address are basically solved, replaced by new ones like how to deal with spiralling unemployment, how to avoid nano-warfare, and how to redesign society from the ground up to accommodate such changes. (Link: http://www.crnano.org/overview.htm)

The fun doesn't stop here. Ray Kurzweil, a pioneer in text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and music synthesizers, has dedicated much of the recent part of his life to advancing a theory known as "The Singularity". Kurzweil believes that the rate of 'salient events' follows an exponential curve either upward or downward, proportional to the amount of "chaos" in the system. While development of the universe is getting slower and slower, the speeds of both evolution and technological development are speeding up. We are currently approaching a "knee in the curve" where technological advancements happen so fast that within a few decades we will reach a "singularity": a point where life changes so much that it is beyond the capacity of earlier humans to reliably predict or even comprehend – like trying to explain world trade to a caveman.

In The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil predicts, probably correctly, that the power of a $1, 000 computer will soon exceed the human brain. Advances in neuroscience will allow a person to be scanned and transferred into a computer. There will be two intelligent and conscious species on Earth, one evolving faster than the other. Meanwhile, lifespan could be drastically extended by using medical nanobots to fix bits of your body as they deteriorate. Ultimately, the human body could become obsolete altogether as we transfer our consciousnesses into computers where our intelligence could be augmented thousandfold and we could travel independent of physical matter. We could actually "be" a spacecraft or other vehicle, or imbue physical matter with intelligence. Aliens have probably done this already, which would support the old ants vs. humans argument for the current failure of SETI (that aliens are on as different a plane of existence to us as we are to the ants).

The point is that both Richard Duncan and Francis Fukuyama have both announced the "end of history" too soon. The future is a lot more complicated. We're looking at two new Industrial Revolutions, the complete redesign of our social and economic system, and developments that will irrevocably change the nature of life on Earth beyond our present capacity to imagine. These are only some of the possibilities, and you and I could see them all in our lifetimes. What are we complaining about? We live in the most exciting century in human history.

The Naivety of a Simple Future

Right now the doomers are probably saying, "You've got your head in the clouds. If we fall off the Olduvai Cliff then all of this is completely irrelevant". Which is true, but it completely misses the point, just as the hysterical doomer Kurzweil's online forum with scary messages about the dieoff has missed the point. Doomsday scenarios are not obstacles in the way of the future, they're simply undesirable future possibilities that we are trying to avoid. The future is far from simple and it's definitely not certain. That's why the gospel of intractable doom is as damaging to the environmentalist cause as cornucopianism. It's why blind faith in technology is no worse than blind dismissal of it.

In preparing for the future we've got to realise that we can never be quite sure what we're preparing for. It's like someone in the 1880s inventing a machine to clean manure from city streets, and completely failing to foresee the invention of the automobile. Or Arthur C. Clarke in the 1950s figuring out how to support the crew necessary to change the vacuum tubes in his communications satellites, and completely failing to foresee the transistor. Likewise, as a society we've got to prepare for the worst-case scenario – that is, the most "conventional" scenario. But one thing working in the favour of optimism is that there are always wildcards. We've got to work out how to transition to a Steady State Economy, but before we’re done we may find that Nanotechnology made the economy obsolete. We need to solve the immediate challenge of Peak Oil, and work out the finer details of the hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure in the year 2040 … but when the year 2040 rolls around we may find we're living in another dimension.
-- by Roland

58 Comments:

At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 5:38:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The future is only truly bleak when none remain with the courage to change it.

The future is uncertain, and in this case, that should be reason for optimism as much as pessimism.

Blind faith/no faith, 2 extremes that can't be relied upon.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 5:49:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roland,

I found techno-Jesus by reading the holy prophets Kurzweil and Lovins!!!

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 5:53:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roland wrote:

"Ultimately, the human body could become obsolete altogether as we transfer our consciousnesses into computers where our intelligence could be augmented thousandfold and we could travel independent of physical matter."

Roland,

I'm glad to see you're emphasizing pragmatic responses and realistic solutions to resource depletion.

For a moment there, I thought this whole thing might end up with the US invading the Middle East and then over the course of a few years all holy hell breaking lose as humanity fights over a dwindling resource base.

But now I realize I had been reading PeakOil.com too much. In reality, we're just going to transfer our brains to computers and then be able to teleport across the galaxy.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 6:36:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

I thought this whole thing might end up with the US invading the Middle East and then over the course of a few years all holy hell breaking lose as humanity fights over a dwindling resource base.

LOL. It must be really discouraging for you to hear that the U.S. is going to pull out of Iraq soon. I guess they'll be going back to really do the job next time, after they borrow another $200 billion from China.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 6:42:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JD,

The US is building 14 permanent military bases in Iraq.

We are never leaving. The recent bruhaha will simply allow Hilary Clinton to get elected. Once she does, she'll substitute UN troops for 50,000 of the US troops and then blame her inability to get us out on Bush.

Meanwhile we will be there for as long as there is oil there.

There may still be US troops in Iraq in 2040. There won't be people who have downloaded their brains into computers and teleported to Jupiter (or wherever)

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 6:54:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

The US is building 14 permanent military bases in Iraq.

Wake me up when the U.S. army starts seizing Iraqi oil. Until then, it's all hype.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 6:58:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But now I realize I had been reading PeakOil.com too much. In reality, we're just going to transfer our brains to computers and then be able to teleport across the galaxy."

You completely missed the point. That was not being offered as a solution to PO. Please reread the post.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 7:02:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't bother responding JD. Just another idiot from peakoil.com

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 7:43:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JD wrote:

"Until then, it's all hype"

Tell that to the families of the 2,000 you retarded fuck.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 7:58:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tell that to the families of the 2,000 you retarded fuck."

Um, so your saying that their families would have been prouder to hear that they were there just for the oil, rather than to liberate people?

"The hype" is that we went in mainly for the oil. No one is going to be retarded enough to say that US troops never went in there.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 8:13:00 PM PST, Anonymous Omnitir said...

“There may still be US troops in Iraq in 2040. There won't be people who have downloaded their brains into computers.”
Have a crystal ball do we? How can anyone be so sure about the future? At least optimists admit that any number of outcomes is possible. Doomers tend to act like they know exactly what is going to happen.

It’s an interesting concept of downloading human consciousness into a virtual world. Consider that if such a technology was developed, and at the same time it tuned out the doomers where largely right – billions of people starve to death, then what do you think people would choose: to leave their frail and dying body to live in a kind of matrix like world, or die? When you think about it like that, it actually doesn’t seem like such an unrealistic option (assuming it’s possible).

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 8:58:00 PM PST, Anonymous Reality Check said...

Omnitir,

You've lived your whole life either watching television, playing video games, or surfing the internet, haven't you?

Reality Check

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 9:16:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wake me up when the U.S. army starts seizing Iraqi oil. Until then, it's all hype."

Hi JD,

Have you not considered that the US doesn't need to sieze the oil at all? US dollar hegemony can substitute just as nicely as a mechanism for getting all the cheap oil America needs. That's what the US troops are there for - to protect US dollar hegemony. A currency backed up not by gold, but oil! A switch to another currency for the purchasing of oil by an OPEC member like Iran would flush billions and billions of US dollars out of its central bank repository to be replaced by the new currency. This could lead to a chain reaction causing foreign funds to stream out of the US stock market and dollar denominated assets, effectively sinking the US currency and economy with it. This is how Saddam sealed his fate when he decided to switch to the euro back in 2000 as a way to force Washington's hand over sanctions. This was a challenge that could not go unpunished.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 9:38:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Living in another dimension"

hahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahha!!!!!!!!!

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 9:58:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If oil gives the US dollar it's value, what gives the Euro it's value?

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 10:47:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the first-half of the article… but the second-half is just too much wishful thinking and sounds like The Matrix.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 10:51:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If oil gives the US dollar it's value, what gives the Euro it's value?"

Europe.

 
At Sunday, November 20, 2005 at 11:49:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess the singularity is like your version of the rapture, right Roland?

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 12:50:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

One who talks about 200 times in efficiency improvement doesn't know what he is talking about. There can not be 200 times in efficiency improvement. There is a mathematical limit of maximum efficiency, which is 100%, above 100% it breaks physics conservation laws and becomes impossible. Unless something currently has an efficiency of less than 0.5% it can not be improved 200 times. Many things currently have an efficiency not too much below the theoretical limit.

Some already has an efficiency of 100%. For example, An electrical device that sits in a room and plug in to heat up the room temperature is already working at 100% efficiency: It converts the energy 100% into heat. A computer in this sense is also a 100% efficient device. Whatever energy a computer consumes, it all ends up becoming waste heat and heats up the room temperature. If your computer consumes some what less electricity, it releases less waste heat and so you just have to tune up your electric heater a bit extra to feel comfortable during the winter nights, and end up not saving any electricity out of your computer.

This web page explains that even without the consideration of the cost factor, solar energy still would not provide any where close to the amount of energy we use today, due to the fact that we simply can not cover more than a small fraction of the earth's surface with solar panels.

Dieoff will occur for sure. I don't see why those suggesting dieoffs are necessarily doomers. The fact of the matter is dieoff is nothing new, it occured repeatedly during the whole of human history, each time the total population is slapshed by a big proportion, some times 90% or even 99%. But each time a small portion of the population manage to survive and prosper later. This will be the case also for peak oil. There is no way all 6 billion people can survive this crisis. But at the end of the day, after a sufficient dieoff, the survivors will live on and maybe even manage to prosper again. But how the civilization will look like will be a different story.

Quantoken

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 1:07:00 AM PST, Anonymous p said...

"Apart from the diceyness of their data and the failure of their past predictions, the also greatly underestimate the complexity of the future. The future is not simple, nothing in it is inevitable, and doomers do not know more than anyone else. They made this mistake back in the 1970s, and after the reading the Ehrlich's One with Nineveh and the Club of Rome's new number Beyond the Limits"

Roland, what predictions that the Club of Rome made have failed to come through? Or come to think of it: What prediction did the Club of Rome make for the year 2000? The original Limits to Growth book has no dates in it, but speaks of a future a hunderd years beyond. That would be 2070.

Have you actually read it?

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 2:00:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

The so called singularity is no singularity at all, but merely a different kind of Hubbert Curve, before it hit the peak.

The nature has no infinity. It always has a limit for every thing. And we are confined by the natural limits. We are not supernatural. We are part of nature.

Quantoken

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 2:37:00 AM PST, Blogger Jan-Willem Bats said...

Many people posting here seem to have trouble understanding how our civilization may head towards a Singularity.

But since I have written a Singularity FAQ, all those misunderstandings are not necessary.

http://jwbats.blogspot.com/2005/07/singularity-faq-for-dummies.html

http://tinyurl.com/8bhxy

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 5:19:00 AM PST, Anonymous p said...

"I'm glad to see you're emphasizing pragmatic responses and realistic solutions to resource depletion."

One of the things that people attending these discussions need to start realising is that all over the world different preconditions will result in different consequences of peak oil. You may see an increase in chaos in one country, the return of famine in another (Like Zimbabwe now for instance) and successful transformation to biological agriculture in yet another country (Like Cuba). Existing problems may be exaggerated. Small government may turn out to be weak government as well.

On account of Singularity and all that sci-fi mumbo-jumbo: Now who boasts a crystal ball, Roland? You too aren't able to predict the future. I've been hearing about the enormous impact of nano-technology for half my life and have yet to come by a product that has been produced that way. The human body obsolete? We could actually "be" a spacecraft? Are you seriously trying to argue that we should not worry about peak oil because soon we will be able to "be" a spacecraft? I'm on the verge of declaring you an idiot of the same category as Michael Ruppert..

To those of us who remain sound of mind this: The future may very well belong to those pragmatics that know the value of hybrids, and are able to combine the age-old with the modern. Hightech efficient woodstoves might very well be the an example of the future. But then again I do not own a crystal ball, so who knows..

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 6:05:00 AM PST, Blogger Jan-Willem Bats said...

No chrystal balls needed. Simple extrapolation will do.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 8:48:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, seriously, every other currency on the planet is not based on oil - the dollar is backed soley by oil.

I find this amazing, so the entirety of the United States, it's industrial capability, technology, and military isn't worth anything whatsoever?


Why is so little of the US economy directly tied to the oil industry???

Please someone explain the basis of money to me, I'm trying to figure out why the fact that oil is traded in dollars is significant in any way (other than Savinar's assertion that the US dollar is based on cheap or readily available oil)

I thought the fact that the US was the world's largest exporter and importer of goods had something to do with why the dollar has value.

Presumably all money is oil so shouldn't the euro be worth *less* than the dollar because it's not tied to oil, which is getting more expensive?

Here's a theory, only 8% of the US GDP is tied to energy, and even less of that is tied to oil, so my theory is that it's a load of crap and oil has nothing to do with the basis of money.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 8:54:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One who talks about 200 times in efficiency improvement doesn't know what he is talking about. There can not be 200 times in efficiency improvement."

Actually you don't know what you are talking about.

Let's say a car gets 10 miles per gallon, it's a big smelly suv or something ok, now we make it 200 times more efficient - and it suddenly gets 2000 miles to the gallon.

Now this is in all likelyhood impossible from a technological standpoint but the laws of physics don't make it impossible, because it still isn't 100% efficient.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 8:55:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The US is building 14 permanent military bases in Iraq.

We are never leaving. The recent bruhaha will simply allow Hilary Clinton to get elected. Once she does, she'll substitute UN troops for 50,000 of the US troops and then blame her inability to get us out on Bush."


We have a military presence in virtually every former combat zone on the planet, I would be pretty shocked if we left without bases in Iraq.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 9:03:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.aims.ac.za/~mackay/oomm.html

Just read this webpage about solar that quant posted. Some issues with this:

1) The guy fails to take into account that solar will be built on top of already existing buildings in more areas. I think saying that Human structures (not humans) occupy 1-2% of landmass is not an untrue claim.

2) Assuming that 15% is going to be a max people can reach is unrealistic.

3) Solar is only a portion of the plan. Nuclear will add a huge chunk(already has, for that matter) to our power generation capabilities.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 11:02:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Anonymous:

I am not sure if your limited physics education will allow you to realize this, but let me try:

The maximum solar irradiation is about 1357 Watts/M^2, not counting any attenuation by the atmosphere. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann law this corresponds to a heat source of 393K, which is near the boiling point of water. Presuming the environment temperature on the surface of the earth is 20 degree celsius, i.e., 293K. Therefore the ideal efficiency of the Carnot cycle between the heat source and heat sink is Q = (T2-T1)/T2 = (393K-293K)/393K = 25.4%.

That is, the theoretical limit of efficiency of any solar panel, is 25.4%. You can at most convert 25.4% of the 1367 Watts/M^2 into useful energy, which is 347 Watts/M^2. This 25.4% is a theoretical limit, imposed not by technology limitation, but by physics laws. You would have to break the Second Law of Thermal Dynamics to go beyong that 25.4% limit. And the Second Law of Thermal Dynamics is one of the most sacret physics laws we ever know and nothing in the universe is observed to break it so far.

When you are seeing solar panel rating of efficiency like 30% or 50%. Chances are they are talking about 30% or 50% realization of the 25.4% theoretical limit. For example a 1 M^2 solar panel that generates 120 Watts max could be rated as 35% efficient, since 120/347 ~ 35%.

Now the 15% that the OOMM author talks about is actually 15%/25.4% = 59% of the theoretical limit. It is very reasonable to believe that 59% of theoretical limit is pretty much the best the technology can get you.

Quantoken

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 11:28:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't see why you had to insult me, just because there were flaws with the article you posted.

You seem to be mistaking pure solar energy with solar water heating. The efficiency of the cell is limited by the spectrum of light that the material can absorb.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell

The current plastics that are being tested have a theoretical absorbtion of 30%, and have a current maximum absorbtion of 15% of total "radiant light," not this 25.4 that you seem to have dragged out of nowhere.

Even a factor of 2 would halve the area needed to be covered by solar cells, by your own logic, fallacious as it is.

I see you left points 1 and 3 uncontested.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/0114_050114_solarplastic.html

Please do your homework before insulting others.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 11:29:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"not this 25.4 that you seem to have dragged out of nowhere.
"

To clarify, I mean, not 15-30% of the 25.4% limit as you claim, but out of all the energy hitting the earth from the sun.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 11:36:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

quantoken, the Carnot equation there applies to heat engines. A solar panel is not a heat engine.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 12:01:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"only 8% of the US GDP is tied to energy, and even less of that is tied to oil, so my theory is that it's a load of crap and oil has nothing to do with the basis of money."

clueless idiots abound this blog.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 12:04:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Anonymous:

It is not an insult to suggest that you do not know physics. Many physics professors are poor in basic physics knowledge, least to say the general populace.

The concept of Carnot engine helped the development of thermal dynamics. But the concept of entropy and second law of thermal dynamics go far beyond Carnot engine and covers EVERY thing in the universe. Few people could appreciate how profound the Second Law is.

You could build something that absorbs the full 1367 watts/m^2 and convert into electricity, ASSUMING you can find a material that ONLY absorbs radiation and NOT radiate it away. Unfortunately such thing can not exist because such a thing would allow you to build a device that allow heat to transfer from a lower temperature source to a higher temperature one, without draining energy. That's the so called second type of perpertual motion machine that breaks the second law of thermal dynamics. Perpertual motion machines of any kind can not be built, period.

Keep one thing in mind, any material that has a certain efficiency in absorbing photons of certain energy has exactly the same efficiency of radiating the same kind of photon. ALWAYS. This is a given by the physics laws.

Quantoken

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 1:03:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could build something that absorbs the full 1367 watts/m^2 and convert into electricity, ASSUMING you can find a material that ONLY absorbs radiation and NOT radiate it away."

The only person even suggesting 100% efficiency was the person in that article you posted and they were only doing it as a theoretical exercise. Where am I suggesting that we are going to make 100% efficient solar panels? We don't need 100% efficient solar panels even if all our energy was going to come solely from them.
You remind me of a certain person on Peakoil.com who hides behind physical laws even when no one is planning on violating them.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 1:37:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually you don't know what you are talking about.

Let's say a car gets 10 miles per gallon, it's a big smelly suv or something ok, now we make it 200 times more efficient - and it suddenly gets 2000 miles to the gallon.

Now this is in all likelyhood impossible from a technological standpoint but the laws of physics don't make it impossible, because it still isn't 100% efficient.


Actually the example you gave about a 2000 miles per gallon SUV is not just technically impossible but physically impossible as well. 1 gallon of petrol (or gas) contains around 128.69 megajoules (MJ) of energy. Even if the said SUV weighs only 40kg and a single occupant that weighs 60kg is using it, 128.69MJ is less then the work required to move a mass of 100kg 2000 miles (3218km) on Earth even with 100% efficiency.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 2:08:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this post is one of most delusional, ridiculous pieces of peak-oil related literature I have ever read.

JD, if you want your blog taken seriously, you need to cut this crap out.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 2:26:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, it really is those things if you stubbornly refuse to look at the messages conveyed in it and choose to take his examples of unlikely but dimly possible technologies as predictions of what will happen and suggestions of how to fix peak oil. You people are so myoscopic I can't believe it. 90% of the complaints in the comments to this entry are just people whining about the impossibilities of things he doesn't even say are likely to happen, much less suggest as solutions.

AND FOR THE LAST TIME, it was NOT WRITTEN BY JD. Do you people even read them or do you just skim them incredibly briefly for something you can dismiss as "pie in the sky, cornucopian bs"?

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 2:55:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, how did i manage to add a sco to myopic :(

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 3:24:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually the example you gave about a 2000 miles per gallon SUV is not just technically impossible but physically impossible as well. 1 gallon of petrol (or gas) contains around 128.69 megajoules (MJ) of energy. Even if the said SUV weighs only 40kg and a single occupant that weighs 60kg is using it, 128.69MJ is less then the work required to move a mass of 100kg 2000 miles (3218km) on Earth even with 100% efficiency.

What if it was some kind of yet-to-exist crazy multi-fuel hybrid gizmo which hovered using some kind of whacky sci-fi magnet setup?

Technically possible? Probably not, against the laws of physics? No.

It's only *against the laws of physics* if it is over 100% efficient, anything else is a technical limitation.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 3:30:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

""only 8% of the US GDP is tied to energy, and even less of that is tied to oil, so my theory is that it's a load of crap and oil has nothing to do with the basis of money."

clueless idiots abound this blog."

This would be why I asked someone to educate me about the basis of money, do you have any links to any economist who claims oil is the basis of money?

I realize how important oil is to the economy, but I still fail to see anything ominous about the fact that oil is traded in dollars, nothing is stopping them from trading it in any other currency right now if they want to.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 3:32:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Thank you everybody for the comments. With regards to efficiency, it's important to remember I wasn't talking so much about the energy-efficiency of a single device such as an electric heater. Rather, I'm talking about our society as a whole. You can't make a 100% efficient heater more efficient, but you can cut transmissions losses, or make the room smaller, or insulate it, or put windows in it, or move to Hawaii, or wear a jumper. I'm sure you agree, Quantoken, that our society is very wasteful? That's the point. Please read the Lovins book I'm referring to, or the many posts by JD about the same subject.

Secondly, as I tried to say in my post, I am neither hiding from Peak Oil or asserting that I can predict the future. However, I like to put reducing oil dependence into the wider context of making our civilization more efficient and more sustainable, something which is desperately needed but just hasn't had enough economic incentive in the past. I believe businesses are just beginning to realise how financially beneficial it can be to design an office that saves money on energy and increases workplace productivity, or market a product like the Prius.

Thirdly, whatever you think about the singularity, Kurzweil's core argument is hard to deny. Computer power is increasing exponentially and will probably continue to do so until it reaches its limits (the atomic level). Computer R&D is not as energy-intensive as, say, spaceflight, and although it may be slowed by something like Peak Oil it's unlikely to stop. Do some simple maths and within a decade or two a cheap computer will surpass the power of the human brain, and perhaps be intelligent. This has some pretty profound implications. Regarding nano-fabrication, have a look at the work of Eric Drexler. HIs predictions in the past, like Kurzweil's, have been flawless. The implications of being able to produce anything you want almost for free using generic raw materials are just huge.

As I said in my post, I was just trying to put Peak Oil in a wider context:

(a) All efforts to solve Peak Oil should be seen as part of a wider goal, that is, the creation of a sustainable society. Oil is not the only thing going on in the world.
(b) Extrapolating current trends, nanotech, biotech and AI will probably affect our lives in immense ways in the coming decades. In my opinion Peak Oil is unlikely to change that. It will probably contribute to it.

(I do agree in principle with the comment about the wood stove. We need to look at all technologies, past, present and future. After all, the best method of transport ever invented is the bicycle! I never said we need fusion-powered-virtual-reality-hyperspace-SUV-spaceplanes to get around.)

Regarding solar energy, I agree that simply chucking PV panels everywhere to power electric Chevy Suburbans is never going to work. Ultimately I think we will have localised biomass, solar-electric, solar-thermal, wind, geothermal, tidal and hydroelectricty, all producing hydrogen (or 'hydricity') for the homes and vehicles of a smaller population in a more energy-efficient society. We have coal, natural gas, nuclear power and non-conventional oil to tide us over. Hydrogen is starting with businesses buying commercial fuel cells and/or powering their fleets with it, and eventually it will spread into homes. Meanwhile let's get to work on fusion, zero-point energy and space energy; we might need those in the 22nd century.

Anyway, thanks for all the comments.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 3:56:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, seriously, every other currency on the planet is not based on oil - the dollar is backed soley by oil.

But of course it is backed by oil because if I want to buy a barrel of oil I must purchase it in US dollars. What's so hard to understand about that?

I find this amazing, so the entirety of the United States, it's industrial capability, technology, and military isn't worth anything whatsoever?

Whoever mentioned such a thing? We are only taliking about the the US dollar's unique position as the currency of the oil trade.

Why is so little of the US economy directly tied to the oil industry???

This is not the point - without access to the oil your sunk. trying running your economy without even a fraction of it. The US currency is the hegemonic denomination worldwide and is the only one that presently you can purchase a barrel of oil with. This provides certain advantages to the US in the way money flows in and out of its borders.

Please someone explain the basis of money to me, I'm trying to figure out why the fact that oil is traded in dollars is significant in any way (other than Savinar's assertion that the US dollar is based on cheap or readily available oil)

If I am a foregner and want to but a barrel of oil I must buy it with US dollars. However I cannot spend those US dollars directly in my home country so I must convert them to my own denomination usually through my reserve banking institution. The reserve bank in my country suddenly has a surfeit of US dollars that it also cannot spend at home so must invest someplace whare that currency is freely exchanged. That would be in the good ol' US. My reserve bank therefore invests that money in either US stocks or bonds in order to get a return. The US now in exchange for paper promises of future perfomance suddenly has hard currency to use at it sees fit. Often it lends this money to third world countries through the mechanism of the IMF or Word Bank on which it charges a higher interest rate usually than what it provided to my reserve bank when it bought its bonds because "third world countries are riskier investments". Sounds like easy money to me. What other currency worldwide presently has this advantage?

I thought the fact that the US was the world's largest exporter and importer of goods had something to do with why the dollar has value.

Although the US by definition rich, has low unemployment and even lower inflation, but its economic structure is a de-industrialised, service dominated husk totally dependent on cheap manufactured imports from the New Industrial Countries, which now include China and India, and on cheap energy imports from the world's oil and gas exporters.

Presumably all money is oil so shouldn't the euro be worth *less* than the dollar because it's not tied to oil, which is getting more expensive?

Europe acounts for 16% of the world GDP and actually still makes things of value so its currency does not need to rely on its hegemonic position to draw an unfair advantage.

Here's a theory, only 8% of the US GDP is tied to energy, and even less of that is tied to oil, so my theory is that it's a load of crap and oil has nothing to do with the basis of money.

Yes, the US has done a lot to transfer its energy demands offshore to third world entrepot countries where US corporations can take advantage of tax breaks, cheap labour and raw materials, so to the uninformed it may seem that energy only makes up a teeny weeny bit of the US's GDP. So what? Without that cheap oil your services economy is sunk. Try running suburbia/exurbia without it.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 4:44:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if it was some kind of yet-to-exist crazy multi-fuel hybrid gizmo which hovered using some kind of whacky sci-fi magnet setup?

Technically possible? Probably not, against the laws of physics? No.

It's only *against the laws of physics* if it is over 100% efficient, anything else is a technical limitation.


Not on the face of Earth and about moving at least a single person at a useful/meaningful speed (say 50kph) that 2000mpg is just not possible no matter how crazy future technologies will be. Unless you are talking about a SUV in the vacuum of space and not on Earth.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 5:38:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roland

"Do some simple maths and within a decade or two a cheap computer will surpass the power of the human brain, and perhaps be intelligent."

I really do not agree.

Computer surpassed the human brain "power" regarding mathematical calculations decades ago.

But there is no computer that have passed Turing's test yet.

Will a computer pass Turing's test someday?

Of course, but not in 10 or 20 years.

 
At Monday, November 21, 2005 at 6:25:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He didn't say it would pass the Turing test. He said it might. Basically, you're saying "I disagree with you" and then restating exactly what roland said.

 
At Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 2:30:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The maximum solar irradiation is about 1357 Watts/M^2, not counting any attenuation by the atmosphere. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann law this corresponds to a heat source of 393K, which is near the boiling point of water. Presuming the environment temperature on the surface of the earth is 20 degree celsius, i.e., 293K. Therefore the ideal efficiency of the Carnot cycle between the heat source and heat sink is Q = (T2-T1)/T2 = (393K-293K)/393K = 25.4%."

What a load of shit. A solar cell is not a heat engine. This only applies if you run heat engines off insolation without concentration. Why anyone would do that is beyond me.

 
At Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 9:46:00 AM PST, Blogger Dukat- said...

I watch the nanotechnology video which was linked and I must say I am sceptical. One part that stood out as totally flawed at the very start was when they used a little merry go round machine to sort though molecules of atoms which was just 1 hydrogen and one carbon. Apparently the merry go round machine had a tube which was just wide enough to let these molecules in and reject any which were bigger. The flaw is, if your on the atomic level, how can you have a pipe that will allow certain atoms into it, while rejecting larger ones. Atoms are the smallest part of matter, so what are these tubes made out of which allow these 2 atom molecules in?

 
At Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 10:41:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Europe acounts for 16% of the world GDP and actually still makes things of value so its currency does not need to rely on its hegemonic position to draw an unfair advantage."

"
Although the US by definition rich, has low unemployment and even lower inflation, but its economic structure is a de-industrialised, service dominated husk totally dependent on cheap manufactured imports from the New Industrial Countries, which now include China and India, and on cheap energy imports from the world's oil and gas exporters."



"dependent on cheap manufactured imports"?!

This is odd, how come I can affoard to buy all American made products if I want to - http://www.howtobuyamerican.com/ , and it won't cost me much more than buying imported goods, hmmm?


The most ludicrous thing is the assertion that the US makes nothing of value ("Europe still makes things of value", implying that the US doesn't)
This is a load of bull, the United States is the #1 exporter of high quality goods (and goods of all kinds, DOMESTICALLY PRODUCED US GOODS ACCOUNT FOR OVER 10% OF ALL EXPORTS) on the planet, such as industrial equipment, computer components, defense technologies, and the like. Things that are used in every first world country.

Breakdown of top 10 US exports (more than double the exports of China, btw, I got them from this very blog, I'd link to the source but since you make this vacant assertion you can't be bothered with things like facts)

1- Electrical Machinery, Apparatus & Appliances
2- Motor Vehicles
3- Transport Equipment
4- Office Machines And ADP equipment
5- Power Generating Machinery
6- Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles
7- General Industrial Machinery
8- Professional Scientific Instruments
9- Specialized Machinery
10- Telecommunications Equipment







So what you have to buy a barrel of oil in dollars, you have to pay a monthly fee for certain massively multiplayer online games in dollars too, does that mean that is what backs the dollar? What about the fact that if I wish to order something from europe I have to do so in Euros, that must mean whatever I'm ordering backs the entire european economy??


The fact is America spends FIVE PERCENT of it's GDP on oil, quite a bit more once you factor in securing supply lines, roads, etc etc. So how can something which we only spend 5%-10% of our income on be the *basis* for our money??

Please someone link me to an academic website proving me wrong, or show me any economist who says different. All I have seen so far is totally unsupported assertions.

 
At Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 11:10:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon said

"He didn't say it would pass the Turing test. He said it might. Basically, you're saying "I disagree with you" and then restating exactly what roland said."

And Roland said

"Do some simple maths and within a decade or two a cheap computer will surpass the power of the human brain, and perhaps be intelligent."


Computers ALREADY surpassed human brain power, at least regarding brute force calculation.

I doubt that computers will pass Touring's test (a.k.a. human-like intelligence test) in 10 or 20 years .

Maybe in 50 or 100 years.

 
At Wednesday, November 23, 2005 at 3:43:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be very careful with zero point energy, unlimited energy and machines more intelligent than humans. Do you actually think the human race can survive with such things? I'd give it five minutes...

 
At Friday, November 25, 2005 at 4:16:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Monday, November 28, 2005 at 1:31:00 PM PST, Blogger Rik said...

As a newcomer, I do apologize, but I must insult all of you (but the author): YOU MORONS!!!

1) virtually no one takes the post serious. *Proof: no one seriously replies to the original post. Everyone responds to PeakOil nonsense. Go read Wired's december-issue: $5 per gallon is good! The less there is (the more expensive in the western world), the sooner we will see a transition to... whatever.

2) The PeakOil-ers do not want to imagine any future but Gloom & Doom. Fine. Bye-bye.

3) The point about uploading consciousness is our technical ability. It doesn't matter whether 'you' are a soul in the brain or some sort of brainconfiguration. What matters is: can you transfer or not? If not, then everything stops at death. If you can, then why not to a machine?

4) Last but not least, blogging from CRN makes very interesting reading. Not long ago, they came up with a quote from Arthur C. Clarke, about three stages in the acceptance of revolutionary ideas: 1) it's impossible, 2) it's possible, but not worth doing, 3) I told you along we could do it! Most scientist are, as far as nanotech is concerned, steering toward 2), where the MSM and every wouldbe policymaker of the general public is locked in 1). Until, of course, it arrives on their doorstep. (like selfdriving cars and such)

Do note that Roland, on the matter of PeakOil, seems to hover somewhere between 2) & 3).

What will our future society be like? It seems reasonable to assume that liberal democracy - and everything that goes with it - is the best system we know NOW. Will it last forever? Duh. Think, people! and dream. Let your wishfulfilment fly. Who knows: you might actually get it... (i'd know what to with molecular manufacturing)

 
At Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 12:34:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Thanks for the kind words Rik. Great to see that at least someone got the point of this post!

 
At Monday, December 19, 2005 at 4:40:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Thursday, February 9, 2006 at 1:44:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I watch the nanotechnology video which was linked and I must say I am sceptical. One part that stood out as totally flawed at the very start was when they used a little merry go round machine to sort though molecules of atoms which was just 1 hydrogen and one carbon.

Actually, it would use an "active tip" with a kind of atom that binds to the desired atom. Of course then you have the problem of detatching it but these problems are being worked on.

I might add that I am personally sceptical about Strong AI and consciousness uploading, however I wanted to portray the often-neglected wideness of views about the future.

I also think nano- and bio-technology will have a big practical role to play in solving energy and ecological problems, thanks to molecular manufacturing and solar panels.

 
At Thursday, February 9, 2006 at 1:52:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Computers ALREADY surpassed human brain power, at least regarding brute force calculation. I doubt that computers will pass Touring's test (a.k.a. human-like intelligence test) in 10 or 20 years. Maybe in 50 or 100 years.

It depends how you calculate the power of the brain. Computers are better at calculating numbers, but their actual power is equivalent to that of a small insect.

I personally think the Turing test is flawed, because it doesn't tell you whether the machine is conscious or not. I think machines can never be conscious, and Weak AI is what's really important here. Still, a machine will be able to simulate a convincing human within a few decades.

What's really important here is nanotech, biotech, global integration, weak AI and other trends. Read "Our Molecular Future" by Douglas Mulhall. He's a sustainability consultant who talks about nanotechnology. Nano- and bio- are part of the future, not an "alternative" to sustainability.

 
At Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 3:27:00 PM PDT, Blogger mike3 said...

This is half right and half wrong. Peak oil is a real problem, but does not mean we have to go back to the stone age. Back in the 1600s we were not using oil but were not in the stone age either.

Technology is not good or bad. It is just technology. Did you see the people on Easter Island, who wasted their resources and doomed themselves? They were quite "primitive" technologically. Obviously, the level of technology is not what really causes the problem.

The real problem is we don't want moderation. We've made a system dependent on endless growth and wasteful consumption, even though that is impossible and it does not take a Ph.D. in science to realize this. That system is what needs to change. What is tough, however, is everything is built around it. Like the current car-centric towns and stuff we have now. Oil-dependent agriculture that also poisons people. And "planned obsolescence" -- a real enemy of real sustainability, which would imply just the opposite: goods that last and last for a loooooooooooong time.

The end of suburbia, as prophesied in the film of the same name, could very well happen, but I don't see it as "Dooms Day". What I see as "Dooms Day" is that crap about going to the stone age. They obviously don't get history: we were out of the stone age a few thousand years BEFORE we entered the oil age. We don't HAVE to return to the stone age just because we are going to leave the oil age. Nor do we have to give up all our technology. Many of the "technological" goods we have can be produced from renewable sources. It's just that they cannot be produced in the quantities required to satiate our _reckless greed_ and _horrid appetite for growth_. And _that_ is what has to go. There is a reason that greed is considered a deadly sin in the Bible and many other great religious works. Even if you do not believe in God, the logic behind this rule should be very obvious.

(Actually, I'd see the "end of suburbia" as possibly being a *good* thing: that way people can rediscover how to live together and it would help bring down some of this nasty cult of individualism. And living together, now that's an art that has been forgotten and to our great detriment. I believe our destiny as a species is to come to a point where we will all be like one family, the human Family.)

There's no doubt that peak oil is a serious problem. Probably one of the biggest we have. But when it comes to "don't bother trying to change everything, just let it burn and go back to the stone age", then we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. There may not be any way to salvage the _present_ system, but the _new_ one need not be stone-age level. It surely will be _different_, however.

 

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