By Jerry J. Toman, ScM, ChE
The first article in this series focuses on five policies that are feeding the two headed dragon. Business as usual cannot continue on with minor adjustments; we need to make major changes in order to defeat the two headed dragon.
The Political Religion of Economic Growth
Reliance on the old-time political religion of economic growth (usually defined as by economists as GDP growth) calculated using formulas which involve circular reasoning. The GDP formula is a crazy concoction of indices (70% based on consumption) that do not measure the quality of human activity and its product for their ability to increase the amount of enduring, inter-generational wealth.
Furthermore, the existing formulas do not take into account valuable resources which are used up irreversibly by man’s activities, nor do they consider any degradation of the environment, which, in some cases, may be permanent. It’s as if the welfare of future generations simply does not count in the assessments. For these people, the worry is not so much that the chickens might be coming home to roost, but rather that there will be a dearth of chickens.
Economists are NOT scientists. The #1 indication for this is in their incorrect use of logic, as indicated by Jay Hanson who states: economists use “correlation” and “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” (after-the-fact) reasoning, rather than the “scientific method”.
This has resulted in the inclusion of host formulas into models, based on neo-liberal economic theories which, in effect, result in the addition of apples to oranges. Conversely, they do not include equations which approximate physical and biological processes of the real world, nor do they include in the formulas any notion of limits. The world is NOT flat (i.e., infinite).
If the above-stated deficiencies in current models were not enough, consider the implications of what is claimed by Dr. Albert Bartlett, a distinguished professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis. His claim is that, among the human race’s various shortcomings, one of the greatest would be in its failure to understand the exponential function.
Tragically, the GDP has been universally adopted as the principle objective function of economic accomplishment. This number has been foisted upon the public in order to create the impression that long-term progress is being made, often when the complete opposite is actually true. Meanwhile the government continues to express GDP change in exponential terms.
Bottom Line: Unless and until we abandon the GDP as our economic compass, and replace it with one that supports sustainable endeavors, economic chaos will surely continue to reign, regardless of who happens to be The President.
Continue to Practice Incrementalism Above All Else
Continue to practice incrementalism above all else, as the dominant means of solving the problems we are facing. In this approach, attention is given to, or funding is provided for the adjustment of parameters relating to just a few improvement variables. More often then not, these adjustments do not represent fundamental change, but rather, merely decree a repositioning of the goal-posts.
Sometimes, attempts to increase energy supply at the margin or to improve the energy efficiency of existing practices can be fruitless, or possibly even be misguided. This occurs when the proponents of a policy are unaware that the legislation will produce no tangible improvement, often because its tenets become overwhelmed by larger economic forces that emerge post enactment.
An obvious example is Congress’s single-minded approach to reducing dependence on “foreign oil” by mandating changes in CAFÉ standards to increase mileage of individual cars. Fuel scarcity, if not economic hardship, will soon make these new standards irrelevant. Even if such scarcity or hardship could somehow to be postponed, the full impact of changes in standards would not be felt for a decade.
Little or no consideration has been given to programs what would reduce consumption of fuel per passenger mile, such as those that might encourage increased occupancy rates. Similarly, there exist any number of ideas that could diminish the distance traveled weekly in a SOV (four day work-week, anyone?).
While incremental adjustments are necessary, for the most part they are not, in and of themselves, sufficient to achieve the required goals. The human population on the planet is in extreme overshoot based on the available space. What the human race needs, in its present circumstance, are revolutionary technologies that tap large-scale renewable energy resources (e.g., Convective Available Potential Energy, warm seawater—see Part III, Solutions) available in most places where people either now live, or where they could be readily encouraged to live.
Rushing Into Mega-Projects
Embarking willy-nilly into mega-projects that utilize technologies that often are half-baked in terms of knowing what the overall costs, impacts and benefits would be. Typically, they would result in the consumption of large amounts of capital, material and manpower, use technologies of limited energy productivity or be temporally uncertain in their supply and thus require expensive storage systems.
Some resources are not widely available where people live, or alternatively its transformation to electricity cannot be (or has not been) decentralized (power is assumed only to be produced efficiently when done so in large amounts at a specific location). Such technologies are likely to require significant additional investment costs, as well as to incur transmission losses, have a questionable reliability and/or safety record, or could have a catastrophic environmental impact (e.g., nuclear power plants, wind farms).
Ignoring the “Carbon Balance”
Ignoring the “carbon balance” aspects of current practices and future remedies—e.g., cap-and-trade systems, the true intention of which is to allow corporations to conduct business-as-usual, if not enrich them even more. A direct, government-levied tax based on a fuel’s energy content, carbon emissions and the affluence of the offending party would be a far better solution. Such a program would encourage the development of renewables based on the competitive advantage they would have, vis-à-vis carbon fuel burning technologies.
Rain forests are currently in retreat, and even now are only capable of storing but a small fraction of our current emissions. Their conservation should not be counted as offsets to allow future increases in carbon emissions from other sources. Only carbon (from renewables) actually stored in the ground (e.g. terra preta) should count for this.
Relying on Technologies that Rely on Mining the Earth
Relying on technologies that involve extensive “mining” of the earth’s solid surface for minerals, as a means to achieve sustainability. The most egregious of these, in this author’s opinion, are coal and uranium mining. Our pursuance of mining activities (except as noted below) will someday be judged as pure insanity. To be sure, there is extensive debate about this topic in the literature and on the internet, and is much beyond the scope of this article.
However, I would just like to point out the falsehood of one meme being pushed by some advocates of nuclear-based energy with regard to the long-term availability of uranium supplies. With regard to this, I would like to be perfectly clear:
The mining of the OCEANS to obtain uranium values is not now economic, nor will it ever become economic. This fact becomes evident upon insertion of the extremely low (in sea water) values of diffusivity and concentration of the uranium (U-235) ion into the controlling mass-transfer equation for diffusive flux.
Two possible exceptions to the mining rule may exist, which would require us to continue some form of this practice, at least on a temporary basis. First, the mining of certain fertilizers, such as phosphate, needed for food production, might be continued, at least on an interim basis, until more is known. These resources are likely to be limited in their availability on earth; this problem needs to be studied intensely. Meanwhile we should be careful to minimize waste through overuse, and monitoring should start immediately.
The second exception might be to allow mining operations that can be practiced in-situ. However, this should only be allowed if thorough and rigorously performed environmental impact statements show that the rate of release to the earth’s surface of any toxic by-products from the process would be insignificant over a very long period of time.
What the Next Posts in this Series Will Discuss
Part II focuses on a discussion of the largely unforeseen costs of dams and levee systems, costs that are being shown to in many cases outweigh the benefits of these mega-engineering projects. Part III will move the discussion to Agri-Biz, Housing and Transportation, Techno-imperialist policies, and the invisible Thought-Perimeter imposed on option development by the Mainstream Corporate Media and its shills.
In Part IV, potential solutions that lie” outside the perimeter” will be described.
© 2009, Jerry_Toman. All rights reserved. Do not republish.