Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Argh, that cost me an hour to read over 300 comments.  Kos is way too crowded a form, it seems to me, hard to keep up with the volume (and besides, a thread that long takes forever and a day to load even over my ADSL).

I note that good ol' Plan9 is in there swinging as usual, promoting nuclear power;  my notes on that debate are still languishing unreviewed so I won't tackle that one right now, just note for the record that I remain skeptical.

The usual suspects are trotted out -- fusion (maybe even cold), TDP, algae ponds, solar, strange Larry Niven fantasies about whizbang orbital constructs that we couldn't have built even at the peak of our industrial resources (round about 1970-1980 I reckon, give or take  some years).  Suggestions that we only need to buy ourselves some time, a few years at most, so that our high priests (sorry, scientists) can "come up with something."  I think others have addressed most of these (though the cellulase stuff is interesting and I would like to read more about that).  There was some good critique of my admittedly nontechnical mumblings about energy vs time (I told Jerome it wasn't a finished essay, dammit).

I would say briefly about TDP and the notion of using algae to process the massive petrochemical runoff from industrial ag (Salton Sea for example) into propulsion diesel:  both these "miracle solutions" rely on the continuation of an enormous waste stream, one which would only continue as it is now if we did not run short of affordable oil.   In other words, conceptually they are about scavenging the waste stream of an energy (and petro) profligate society, which makes them not a solution for a society about to be forced into lower profligacy, because the waste stream is likely to become narrower, or less dense, or however you want to think of "smaller" in this instance.

The assertion that electric supply is the sine qua non of all social well-being is I think either disingenuous or not deeply considered.  When we say "places where there's no electricity are places where women are enslaved, public health is lousy, and hunger is commonplace, therefore electricity equals feminism, health, and food," I think this is conflation.  I know plenty of people who live on cruising boats without refrigeration;  the lack of electric refrigeration does not make their lifestyle as grim as that of a poor woman in Somalia :-)  

What makes the life of a poor woman in Somalia rotten is that she's poor and female and Black -- in a country exploited by the First World, additionally exploited by local elites, in a culture patriarchal and oppressive to her as a woman by local tradition, lambasted by drought and AIDS, plagued by war and infrastructure vandalism, environmentally degraded for varying reasons... not simply that she doesn't have 120VAC power available at the flip of a switch. I think this argument conflates "centralised electricity utilities" with "wealth" and then concludes that "because wealthy countries have centralised electricity, and wealthy countries have better food supplies, water supplies, and medical/transport resources, centralised electricity is the magic ingredient and sole factor predicting access to these goods."  And therefore if we were to lose, say, unlimited (cheap) 24x7 electric service, we would immediately revert to some kind of Hobbesian sub-peasant lifestyle.  

We might as well say that everyone on Earth should have an SUV, because in countries where there are no SUVs, there is more poverty and disease and patriarchal obstructionism.  And if we were to stop having SUVs, we would immediately revert to, etc.  Surely there is some middle ground.  Or so one hopes, anyway.

What I am trying to figure out (just for myself if for no other purpose) is what I really mean by "a decent life."  I think I can live without conveniences like cars, exotic imported fruits, 24x7 120VAC, blazing neon signs and animated billboards, and a long, long list of other things;  especially if by living without those things I can preserve other things that seem to me far more essential and important, like (for example) wireless network communications and cell phone service, or pressurised water delivery, or a modest amount of task lighting for reading and working after dark, or basic civil order.

What counts is security -- by which I mean access to land, housing and food security, adequate water supplies, personal security -- and while these things might be obtained by throwing electricity at the problem, they might also be obtained by throwing less electricity at the problem, or in other ways;  I know many happy and healthy Amish families who have never had electric service at their farms and never plan to;  and there are plenty of poor, ill, frightened, hungry and battered women in the electrified slums of the industrial nations.


I'm puzzled by suggestions that I somehow "want" industrial civilisation to fall on its ass.  Industrial civ -- the culture of the fossil fuel bonanza -- has been good to me, and to all privileged people like myself.  I'm very attached to it;  I grew up with it and it's familiar and comfortable.  I'm actually very frightened by many of the logical conclusions I reach when I consider the stream of present news on both energy and environmental fronts.  I have, if I'm lucky (or maybe not) a few more decades to live in this world and would really rather it didn't turn into a nightmare during my later years, when I have less energy, physical and emotional strength, flexibility, etc. to deal with challenges and hardships.  It would be very nice indeed if everything would just go on comfortably as it is.  

But I don't think it will, or can.  I would have preferred a Star Trek future, if I'd had the choice;  but now I'm thinking about how to mitigate, as best we can, the contraction into an expensive-energy future.

And I think that desperate attempts to make things go on just as they have during our lifetimes, rather than adapting to new circumstances, are likely to make matters even worse than they otherwise woulda been.  Coming to grips -- intellectually, emotionally -- with an unwelcome new reality is the first step in trying to deal with it or survive it.

I'm trying to come to grips with the possibilities and limits myself, all the time.  Wanting these things to happen has nowt to do with it.  They're already happening.  (OK, I admit a world with far fewer automobiles in city and town centres would, imho, be far more pleasant -- I reckon it's human nature to scrabble for any possible upside to cling to when massive scary changes seem to be barrelling down on us.)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Apr 2nd, 2006 at 01:43:52 AM EST
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