Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Energy Cannot Be Destroyed

A young, brilliant economist with whom I am acquainted (he is my nephew) recently wrote a column in his blog. He maintains that nothing needs to change because energy is not destroyed, but merely altered through its use. Admittedly, he has a point. What is sadly lacking, however, is the technology today to derive energy from the discharged results of, say, the internal combustion engine. Today we call those discharges “pollutants.” We know that pollutants will eventually destroy our environment and ability to have any existence.
If we review available energy alternatives, most reviewers agree that use must be made of all known alternative sources in the future. Even then, economic growth will never equal what we have known during this age of fossil fuels.
Many look to cold fusion to fuel civilization in the days to come. If that theory can be brought within the realm of the practical, it may well provide the answer that will send man to the stars and beyond. Today, unfortunately, practicality of cold fusion is elusive.
Energy from the use of nuclear power plants has its own set of problems that technology today cannot resolve. In addition, the cost of such plants is prohibitive in today’s economy.
Most of the population does, however, assume that yesterday’s truths will always be truth. It happened yesterday, hence it will happen tomorrow. This has been dubbed the “recency” effect by persons studying human behavior and their acceptance or denial of inevitable change.
The God of technology has served our species well to date. It may well be short-sighted to think that there are limits to what we can achieve through known technology. But, the laws of Thermodynamics are immutable. When you have converted all the energy in fossil fuels to another unusable form, the human species will be in deep do-do unless replacement alternatives are developed. Economic growth will not continue at the current pace.
Present indicators do not portend a form of available energy at that time in adequate amounts to permit folks to live in the same way in the future that they do today.
The impossibility of distant future living in the same way that we live today may not be bad. Life in the future is not without hope. While that life will be different than today, it may well be a better existence if everyone lives in a more cooperative fashion.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Future of Whale Bone Corsets

The obdurate nature of humans has guaranteed their own demise. Even the most, well obdurate, among us concede that the day of plenty is fast drawing to a close. In the elapse of the century since use of the whale bone corset, cheap energy in the form of fossil fuel has brought amazing increases in human population and calamity to the planet. These increases have also brought knowledge and new technological levels.
In one day now, through the marvel of the internal combustion engine fueled by petroleum, one man and a machine can accomplish what forty men and mules did a century ago. The unbinding of energy that lay sleeping under the crust of the earth for millions of years has led to the creation of some good and much bad by that scamp we call human. A veritable Pandora’s Box has opened and from it has emerged a garrulous and hither before unseen human population on the globe that grasps, twists, and undulates like a great serpent that seeks to swallow itself.
Underlying all the scientific discovery permitting the defeat of much disease plaguing our species since its inception, has been growing yet another and more deadly disease: the destruction of the diversity that has permitted a delicately balanced and carefully tuned world to continue its existence. With the discovery of cheap energy have also come antibiotics and vaccinations. No longer is a cancerous like growing population stymied by the boundary of infection. Population increase, and its attendant problems and strains upon the maintenance of diversity, seems unabated.
Abatement is, however, on the way. Much like moral of the story of the little red hen, the “obdurate” nature of most individuals has led to enjoyment of the present with little regard for the future. Despite the brilliance of some minds in the eons of human evolution, the horrible reality of what happens next seems to have taken a back seat to heathenism. At a time when emphasis in on the individual and introspection of the individual’s needs and wants, most humans have forgotten or were never cognizant of their inclusion within that one huge group of all living humans. Each individual has regarded him or herself as a separate identity apart from the greater herd.
Individuals have at their core a need to obtain that which satisfies them through alliance with others that agree with them on those individual goals. When other alliances of individuals that may differ in seeking satisfaction are confronted, the result is conflict. Such conflict continues until there is resolution. Usually the only resolution is subjection of one alliance by another, a process called empire building. In today’s world, the process of empire building is reaching its apogee. Cheap energy has brought great knowledge with its concomitant population increases on the world. That cheap energy is now reaching the stage, as exemplified through the world economy, where it will be more and more expensive. Alliances have already begun to fight and struggle to obtain more of that sacred elixir called petroleum with the very possible conclusion that modern warfare could decree that corsets may be forever discarded along with the bodies that may have worn them.
In the event that such an apocalyptic result is avoided, chances are good for the future of whale bone corsets.