Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Economist Debate - Correspondence.

Hi Peter,

it's still "Chris", I just use the (hard-earned!) title when I think it might give a bit more gravity to what I'm saying, as on The Economist site!

I like your remarks here, and it does seem there is a general convergence away from "new technologies" in the sensible awareness that we need to find solutions NOW not in 20 or 50 years time. There may be all kinds of energy sources by then, but mankind has to get through a particularly troubling interstitial period, as cheap fossil fuels run scarce.

In my opinion, for what its worth, energy efficiency is the way to go and that seems to centre around the curbing of oil-fuelled personalised transport, focussing around more local economies and restricting much movement of freight and passengers to that which is necessary.

Someone on the Economist site passed a remark as to how would this be "enforced"? I think the simple answer is that no military or governmental-style enforcement is necessary and these changes will be accomplished by simple economics. If people can't afford to put fuel in cars, they will drive less, as is happening in the U.S.

Firms may find it more cost-effective for their employees to tele-work, using the vast network of telecommunications we have ready access to now.



Peter wrote:
Hello Professor Rhodes.
Thanks for your kind words on my recent post to your "Energy Balance" log. Your mention of the Economist site led me to it, and quite frankly, there are so many posts there one would need to dedicate 100% of ones time to read them all, so I didn't.
However I became intrigued by the proposition itself, its wording.
I drafted out a small note for your blog, but then on consideration thought that too many entries would smack of egoism, so I posted it, instead, on the Economist, which will let me get it off my chest and ensure that it is safely lost, and never read, in that huge site. (It was not easy to find your contribution there!).
Conscience dictates that I copy the post to you, as you started me off in the first place.
So here it is.
Sorry for taking up your time.

/ //The proposition is: “This house believes that we can solve our energy problems with existing technologies today without the need for breakthrough innovations”./

/ It appears as if we are offered a choice, either carry on as we are doing now, or invent something clever. /

/ In fact this is not the case, the proposition merely asks “..can we continue as we are now and by doing so, that is, do nothing new, solve our energy problems..?” /

/ Let us suppose that this means to maintain our present level of energy availability into the future, even including the current net increase of 180,000 people each day. That is what we are doing now, with our present rate of exploration, our improvements in machines, so the condition is fulfilled./

/ However, if our rate of discovery, our ingenuity, in the future falls behind the rate of increase of world population, we are in trouble. This will certainly be the case as our rate of population increase is remorselessly exponential, whereas our rate of discovery of new sources of energy is linear. Therefore resources will lag people and it will be necessary to find new sources of energy. This will likely require breakthrough innovations./

/ Even if our discovery rate could be made to match the birth-rate, we would still be in trouble, since we inhabit a finite planet and eventually resources will be exhausted (as Prof Rhodes has been saying all along). In this latter case, a mere breakthrough innovation will not be enough. There will not be any resources to make breakthroughs on. /

/ We will need something like beamed-down power from satellites. However beamed down power would create its own problems, in that energy (=heat) will be beamed down to the earth’s surface and the result will be true man-made global warming./

/ Or we will have to emigrate./


Peter Melia

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