simple science

There is one fundamental fact that is often forgotten in the discussion of energy security and carbon dioxide emissions. It is that the combustion of fossil fuels invariably has two consequences. It is the source of the energy that does useful work in industry in the process of being dissipated as waste heat. It is also the source of carbon dioxide that irreversibly increases the level in the atmosphere and the oceans. It is the source of carbon dioxide that has distorted the natural cycle. The ratio of the amount of carbon dioxide exhausted to the amount of heat generated is highest for coal and least for natural gas. But the principle invariably applies for the fossil fuels. There is an immutable duality between the use of these fuels to supply the concentrated energy used by industry, commerce or in the home and the carbon dioxide emissions that are powering climate change. Industrialized civilization is addicted to using the concentrated energy from fossil fuels. The Pandora box has been opened. This use has enabled the build up of the high materialistic standard of living for many. This use has enabled the parasitic urbanization. This use has enabled the reliance on mechanical transportation. This use has fostered unsustainable agribusiness to provide food for the vast population. This use has fostered decimation of biodiversity. But this use has also initiated climate change. This addiction cannot readily and in a timely fashion transform to a lesser dependence. Development of renewable and nuclear sources of energy can, at best, slowly provide a partial substitute in powering down the modern edifice. This means that severe climate change is irrevocable. No amount of rhetoric, obfuscation or bargaining by the powerful is going to change this irreversible devastating trend. And climate change is predicted to exacerbate other problems for the gross over population, like food production and water supply, particularly in the least industrialized regions. The die has been cast. Civilization is in senescence. The irony is that the supply of the exhaustible fossil fuels is becoming scarce so they will not be readily available to partially counter the problem they have generated for all, the impact of climate change. Denis Frith Melbourne Australia ‘What went wrong? The misdirection of civilization.’ ‘The Usufruct Delusion’ ‘The Dependence on Nature Law’ ‘The Immutable Duality’ ‘Unsustainability of civilization’ ‘Industrial civilization Pandora's box’

What is this thing called "Progress"?

Many people look forward uncritically to a future not too different from the cartoon-world of the Jetsons, where people have mechanical maids, whiz around in airborne cars, and take space-cruises to asteroids and far off planets. Politics continue benignly and poverty has no place. Political rank is preserved in the form of cheerful paternal talking heads, but the slave and servile ranks have been transformed into machines which cannot feel pain or humiliation. A wealthy, not too intelligent middle-class has inherited this astro-playground and keeps order among itself by switching from child to parent in an artificial recreation of the family and original clan system. The explanation for this apparent chronological march to perfection is 'progress'. Belief in 'progress' is the 'modern' state religion, shared by communist and capitalist alike. This is the religion that the West seeks to bring to the East that the United States takes as its holy war against the Muslim defenders of Arab sovereignty over oil who may still seek their reward in heaven, sublimating their rage in the arms of many virgins. It was Calvin who first unleashed the great God of progress, whereby the righteous were rewarded with power and wealth on earth. It was Darwin's thesis, but not Darwin's view, that was adapted to secularise this notion. The variables of population and resources and technology are constantly confused. An interpretation of the demographic transition by Ronald Lee relies on the idea that population growth forces the invention of new technology, although it doesn't say why population grows in the first place and has no predictive ability. There is a space and volume aspect to progress. Progress demands huge amounts of materials and fuel for technology and mass production. As these materials and fuel run out in one locality the progressive economy and its population must expand to locate and liberate them wherever they can be found. The factories of progress demand many workers and their products require many markets. To a point yet to be located, the more workers available, the more materials and fuel can be liberated, the more factories can be built to produce products. Population growth is required for this expansion and expansion would be impossible and pointless without this population growth which creates more markets for the products of progress. This is why we have, on the one hand, an ideology that suggests that overpopulation is a bad thing and another one that suggests that drops in population growth are reasons to panic. The two attitudes have become hopelessly confused by the 'benign demographic transition' which suggests that for industrial societies you must first have overpopulation in order to have populations stabilise at some optimum level. The problem is that wherever population has been inclined to stabilise the priests of growth economics do everything they can to drive population growth up, by promoting higher birth-rates through tax rebates and by promoting immigration because economic growth depends on population growth to drive consumption and to multiply transactions. In the ideology of progress, time is relative only to human aspirations. Einstein notwithstanding, time is goal directed. According to this perspective, we humans face forward and march onward to perfection, every day getting better and better, continuously improving. We are taught to regard the past and old people with contempt because the further away from now, the further away from the future you are, the closer to imperfection, to ignorance, to naivety, to 'inefficiency', to 'primitiveness' or an earlier stage of 'development'. Progress is not just an attractive option; we must have progress. We have no choice. Anyone who would stand in the way of progress stands in the way of wealth and human destiny and must be swept aside for … for …progress. So goes the circular argument. The media market 'Progress' and manage any little rebellions along the way. For instance, as human population growth drives competition for land it brings about ecological destruction and denies people access to familiar places and activities. These changes give rise to concerns over loss of sovereignty and outrage our sense of place. Our reactions to being boxed in and dictated to then tend to stick in the gears of the progress machine. These human limits to the machine of progress are a part of wider thermodynamic processes by which everything from landscape to metabolism simplifies and eventually loses its identity. Progress hastens this process of 'entropy'. The modern mainstream media has evolved as the mouthpiece of corporations. Indeed it has become inseparable from them. It is owned by them and it owns them. It is a collection of corporations with interests in just about everything. It is a collection of seats of power. Media corporations do not just sell TV programs and newspapers. They own and sell property, mines, materials, natural resources, technologies etc. Increasingly they own governments because politicians and governments depend on the mainstream media to deliver their campaigns to the electorates. The corporatised media does not deliver campaigns for politicians that do not do what it wants or who wish to reform it. Politicians who condemn the progress ideology are characterised as kooks by the mainstream media. This does not mean that they really are kooks, but perception is what matters and the media control perception. As limits begin to impose themselves in many different ways on this principle of endless human expansion and populations groan with resentment at being manipulated to serve economies, ideologies and spins must be found to keep the mob moving. In early 21st century Australia, aggressive, self-styled 'no-nonsense' stances set the tone for coercion, as in this manic article for the Brisbane Courrier Mail, Australia, entitled, "Damn 'em all". [Paul Syvret, 'Damn 'em all', 23 May Courrier Mail, Brisbane, Australia.] In it the writer is talking about the Queensland State government's attempts to force a new dam on a region in order to cope with a growing population's increasing demand for water. That the same government invited interstate immigrants to the region and caused the problem in the first place is glossed over. "…. The sky is falling. The end of the world is upon us. Our cities are too big, choked with gridlocked traffic and toxic fumes. …We're running out of energy resources, the greenhouse effect will end up frying us all and as the temperature rises we won't even have enough water to drink. …Fix it, but please, not in my backyard. Or, as the new acronym BANANA, build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. … Tough." The writer acknowledges that there are scary problems. A stoic supporter of Progress, he doesn't protest at the costs; he volunteers for sacrifices. "Someone has to pay a price for progress. And I for one accept that living in a big, fast-growing city comes with noise, air pollution and, increasingly, higher-density living." Living in a big city is posed as an unquestionably desirable thing. In this way any challenge to the idea that population growth itself might be halted is pushed aside. Anyone who would not desire to live in a densely populated city is crazy, ungrateful, or unrealistic. The costs of supplying water are trivialised; at no time does the writer canvas anything more than the near future. At no time does he question the constant additions to the population. "…Now we are … looking at dams in catchment areas where occasionally water does still fall from the sky, such as the Mary River dam. Yes there will be communities hurt by this. Yes there might be a rare purple-striped eighteen-hyphen gilled trout … inconvenienced by… extra megalitres of water washing around. If you don't like it, come up with a viable alternative." By avoiding questioning the necessity or inevitability of population growth, the writer can use the arguments of conservationists against them by pretending that there is no choice. If there really were no choice then protest would indeed be unreasonable. He hints that more unpleasant decisions are in the wind: recycling of effluent, desalination plants, and nuclear power plants. We are expected to swallow a lot of s*** for Progress. The writer reviews the menu, as he sees it: "Recycling effluent? No, can't have that because, well, because it sounds yucky. Desalination plants? No, no, no … can't have them, they use too much energy. Ah, energy. There's a touchy subject. The tree-huggers don't like coal-fired power because the gases the power stations emit allegedly will cause global warming. But wait, we can't have nuclear power because before you can say Chernobyl we'll all be glowing more brightly in the dark than one of the mutant cannibals from the hills have eyes. Oh, and wind farms are out, too, because a lesser known pink-speckled migratory stuttering sea-albatross might inadvertently fly into a whirling turbine. Buggar. Solar is good, they say. Terrific. Try powering a city with solar panels, which one would think rely on massive amounts of energy in a nasty factory to be produced in the first place, probably using stuff made by a petrochemical plant for their components." The writer is correct to say that many who identify as part of "the Green movement" are energy, technology and population ignorant, believing that we can adjust to endless growth benignly. But the writer himself has no idea of the size of the problem. Most of his proposed solutions are not only finance and energy costly; they are also finite and their expiry dates are constantly brought forward with population growth. But we are assured that the Emperor really does have a wardrobe of new clothes. Granted they will be costly, but the outcome will be splendid: "…Three cheers to Prime Minister John Howard then for truly opening up the debate about nuclear power. Yes, it does work. Yes, its emissions are nothing like carbon-based power, and yes, it's reliable." In fact the cost of building conventional nuclear plants and the energy cost of processing nuclear and managing the products and bi-products are hugely fossil-fuel expensive and pollutant. They are not carbon neutral at all. They use halogenated compounds with climate change impacts many times that of carbon dioxide. In the same way that an internal combustion engine requires a car to be built around it and roads to run on, factories to build these, mines to find materials and economies of scale involving mass production, the nuclear power plant needs huge amounts of infrastructure, mines, chemicals, land, water and transport systems. But clearly Syvret believes that the new 'solutions' will be as elegant as the alternatives will be ugly and atavistic. "New transport corridors. New sources of energy and new water supplies. Go for it fellas, I'm happy my rates and taxes are going towards them. If you don't like it, leave. Go and find some drought ravaged shrubbery outside civilisation to live under, build a bicycle made of dead tree roots and make fire from the leftovers. … ." Needless to say, there are few places to run to due to 'development' and there isn't much firewood, due to land-clearing. We are captives of this 'Progress'. We cannot easily get free. And the writer of "Dam 'em all" wants to dig us in even deeper.

Response to Roger Bezdek Peak Oil interview on "The National Interest"

This was posted to ABC Radio National's "National Interest" on 24 June 2007. It concerned an , who is warning us that we need to prepare now for the inevitable inability of the oil industry to maintain supplies of oil sufficien to meet demand after the production of oil 'peaks' in the near future. His prediction that oil production will peak in 2020, whilst at variance with that of most in the oil industry, seem s remarkably optimistic to myslef who is expecting teh total global production to peak any day now. I can only hope that he is right. Nevertheless, even if he is right, his message did not seem to convey what I consider to be the necessary degree of urgency. Message insufficiently urgent I think, whilst Roger Bezdek's message, that we need to prepare well in advance for Peak Oil is a good one, I think we need to do so with a much greater sense of urgency. I am surprised that he dismissed the suggestion you put to him that we should cease forthwith the expansion of our road, bridge and airport infrastructure. Over-consumption and planned obsolescence wastes scarce petroleum We also have to grasp the fact now that the present high levels of consumption of petroleum-based consumer items, most of which end up in landfill after a matter of months (usually needlessly due to planned obsolescence), will be paid for in only a few more years time when we will not have enough petroleum and other non-renewable natural resources left to allow us to meet far more basic needs. When that happens we will then understand the stupidity of today's accepted practice of buying a new mobile phone, computer, or iPod every one or two years, or of building supposedly 'energy-efficent' refrigerators which turn into rusted pieces of junk after a mere five years. Raising oil prices alone not the answer Raising petrol prices alone, then leaving the rest to market forces cannot solve the problem. We have to be allowed through democratic processes to intervene to stop the 'free market's' needless waste of natural resources. Furthermore, it is important that the cost of preparing for Peak Oil be fairly shared amongst all sectors of society. It shouldn't be just the poor and disadvantaged who should be made to pay the price. How can we meet Peak Oil threat if population numbers go on increasing? The other obvious point is that the more consumers of petroleum products there are, the harder it will be to meet the challenge. The Australian Government's encouragement of record immigration (which according to Ross Gittins ( SMH, 13 June 07) is not the official 150,000, but in fact 300,000 ) is insane in these circumstances.

China chokes on a coal-fired boom

China chokes on a coal-fired boom Michael Sheridan 31 December 2006 at the Times Online Toxic cloud of progress can be seen from space A GREAT coal rush is under way across China on a scale not seen anywhere since the 19th century. Its consequences have been detected half a world away in toxic clouds so big that they can seen from space, drifting across the Pacific to California laden with microscopic particles of chemicals that cause cancer and diseases of the heart and lung. Nonetheless, the Chinese plan to build no fewer than 500 new coal-fired power stations, adding to some 2,000, most of them unmodernised, that spew smoke, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. It is the political fallout of that decision that is likely to challenge the foundations on which Britain and other developed nations have built their climate change policy — even as there are signs that ordinary Chinese citizens are at last rebelling against lives spent in poisonous conditions. Cloaked in swirling mists of soot particles and smoke, cities such as China’s “coal capital” of Datong are entering the coldest period of winter in which demand for power and heating produces the worst pollution. It is often darkness at noon in Datong, just 160 miles west of Beijing, where vehicles drive in daytime with their headlights on to grope through the miasma. One of the four filthiest towns in China, it stands at the heart of the nation’s coal belt in Shanxi province, a region that mines more coal every year than Britain, Russia and Germany combined. Cancer rates are soaring, child health is a time bomb and the population, many of whom are heavy cigarette smokers, are paying the price for China’s breakneck rush to riches and industrialisation — an estimated 400,000 premature deaths nationwide because of pollution every year. Now, for the first time, the Chinese media have reported a revolt among the choking citizens of Shanxi. More than 90% of people surveyed by the provincial bureau for environmental protection said economic growth cannot go on at such an appalling cost. That puts them on a collision course with their rulers — the same survey, reported by the China Youth Daily, found that 90% of mayors and local cadres opposed any moves to protect the environment that might slow the economy. It is not hard to find the reason why. One mine boss in Shanxi named Zhang owns three Rolls-Royces of different colours plus a fleet of other luxury cars for his extended family, according to the Chongqing Morning Post, a daily newspaper. “While normal people die of polluted air and water, officials use mineral water to wash their vegetables and even their feet,” said Yue Jianguo, an analyst, commenting on the Shanxi survey. “People can’t tolerate the pollution any longer but officials only care about their political achievements of hitting targets for growth. If this policy isn’t stopped, China will become a land where there are only graves, no people.” Coal is king in China. The nation’s hunger for energy appears insatiable. Oil, costing more than $60 (£31) a barrel, is too expensive. Nuclear power is a distant option. Giant hydroelectric projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam, generate a mere fraction of the demand. Wind power and other alternative technologies make a minimum impact. So China is digging furiously and fast in more than 21,000 mines. Last Wednesday Zeng Peiyan, a vice- premier, disclosed that coal output had doubled in the past five years. The nation will use 2.5 billion tons in 2007.