Current location: California
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 24,989
Current location: California
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 24,989
I'm a very dangerous fellow when I don't know what I'm doing.
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Combined cycle gas power plants, synthetic fuels, solar and wind power, electric and hydrogen powered cars, bell bottom pants, and permed hair are the future, man!
Let's party like it's 1970.
Nah, that's not me.
It's a human trait that we don't often wonder what will happen after we get what we wish for.
Even the very best of today's "clean" fossil fuel technologies, widely applied and supplanted by wind and solar power, are not good enough.
If we are unable redefine our definitions of economic "productivity" and "success" we will still be screaming down the highway to hell. Solar panels on the roof only make the bus go faster.
If there's anything we can be certain of, it's that those things which are unsustainable will not be sustained. Humans don't occupy any special place in nature. We won't be the first species to experience exponential growth and then crash, and we won't be the last.
I have a few ideas how we might cope with the crash, mostly of the love-your-neighbor sort, or more immediately, the don't-vote-for-Trump sort, but we will crash.
People who criticize that perspective as some kind of self-fulfilling prophesy are simply wrong. The universe doesn't give a shit about what we humans think, doesn't pay any attention at all to our hopes and dreams. A big asteroid could be coming our way and there would be nothing we could do about it.
There's something just as bad coming our way, it's already claiming it's first victims, and it's a catastrophe of our own making. Like we couldn't help ourselves.
As an amateur paleontologist with some formal training and field experience, this is a fascinating time to be alive, literally the end of an epoch.
Posted by hunter | Sat Sep 10, 2016, 03:45 PM (0 replies)
You can find any sort you like, from right wing authoritarian assholes to progressive social democrats who are indistinguishable in their politics from socialist atheists.
I happen to exist in a very progressive and pacifist Catholic community which is for the most part second and third generation Hispanic, Filipino and wild west white people. No Trump supporters there. I've also lived in "conservative" Catholic communities where the Priests are dumber than rocks and the old people are still bitching about Vatican II and slapping kids who don't dress up for Mass.
My ancestors were frontier Catholics, Jews, and Anabaptist pacifists living in the heart of Mormon territory. They were valued as people who could settle disputes outside of backstabbing Mormon politics. A few of them were water-masters and surveyors, later managing the phone lines too. And a few of them were purveyors of alcohol and French postcards. As teens both my grandfathers dreamed of owning gas stations, repairing the automobiles of travelers, and conducting other delicate business on the side. Damned all of them were thoroughly contaminated by the Irish too.
My mom wanted to be a nun when she was a kid. She was jumping through the hoops. Then she met a leering hard drinking hard smoking venal Catholic priest. That was when her Berserker genes asserted themselves.
My mom still had a bunch of kids Catholic style, drove a car with "Choose Life" license plate frames, but her method of preventing abortions was to be an evangelist for birth control and happy safe consensual sex. Me and my siblings were all terrified we'd have unplanned for children because my mom told us she'd take them as her own if we could not, and none of us wanted the three bedroom house to be any more crowded.
I was changing babies' diapers when I was ten years old. I knew babies were a messy business. I also knew where they came from.
When I was a teen my mom had a local radio show and she invited the Bishop who was in town to speak. It was a perfectly lovely show, how we should support the local Mexican farmworker community and everything.
After the show, myself an unfortunate witness, my mom brought up the issue of a local pedophile priest who'd been transferred to Ireland. The argument ended in a literal queen of all she surveys bitch-slapping match that my mom won. No, not just words, but actual bitch slapping. Later that year my mom ghost-wrote a ferociously anti-Catholic book for someone who'd been abused as a child.
I'm a son of a bitch.
Nevertheless, I'm some kind of Catholic. That's my community. Human baby souls do not get to choose their parents or where they will be born. It's all fucking random.
My wife and I enjoyed a big Catholic Wedding and I was terrified the night before, not about getting married, but that my mom or her literally religiously insane wild west mother (who was later buried in a plain wooden box with a Star of David on it) would make some kind of scene. My dad's dad did not attend our wedding because I was, in his own words, marrying a "Mexican Girl."
He got over that.
Posted by hunter | Fri Sep 2, 2016, 05:21 PM (1 replies)
But natural gas power plants augmented by solar and wind are a damn fine energy system, cleaner than coal, and economical too. Plenty of giant industrial and energy companies are eagerly pursuing that. Call Siemens, write a big check, and they'll build it however you like, from megawatts to gigawatts. Call one of the energy companies and they'll sell you the gas.
There are several mega-gas projects being built by Exxon, Chevron, and Shell. These are astonishingly HUGE projects, among the largest projects ever attempted by human beings. They will produce plenty of gas for everyone for the rest of the 21st century; gas that will be used to generate electricity, gas that is easily turned into liquid fuels.
An example would be the Gorgon project in Australia. Another example would be the giant floating processing plant Samsung has built for Shell:
The largest vessel the world has ever seen
Climbing onto the largest vessel the world has ever seen brings you into a realm where everything is on a bewilderingly vast scale and ambition knows no bounds.
Prelude is a staggering 488m long and the best way to grasp what this means is by comparison with something more familiar.
Four football pitches placed end-to-end would not quite match this vessel's length - and if you could lay the 301m of the Eiffel Tower alongside it, or the 443m of the Empire State Building, they wouldn't do so either.
Here's the big gas power plant in Humboldt Bay, California, next to the old nuclear plant:
Yep, it's basically a building full of natural gas fueled diesel engines of the sort you might find on a ship. The advantage of this setup is that diesel engines are fairly efficient, and they can nimbly balance out intermittent wind and solar inputs to the electric grid. Larger "combined cycle" plants use a clever arrangement of gas and steam turbines.
Many different manufacturers would be happy to set you up with such a plant, and many big energy companies would be happy to sell you the gas. With a fifty percent duty cycle for wind, and a fifteen to thirty percent duty cycle for solar, some days you'll achieve near 100% renewable, the diesels on standby. It's truly an awesome clean low carbon energy source.
Here's the point of my questions: What happens when most of the world's population is enjoying our standard of living; charging their electric cars, air conditioning their 2500 square foot homes, and so on? I'm sure you'd agree, nobody should be left behind in our glorious expanding economy!
The problem is I can't get the math to work for seven and a half billion people, or worse, a future ten billion people.
"Better than coal" isn't nearly good enough.
If it's any consolation, it's pretty much the same with nuclear power.
A world economy powered entirely by "renewable" energy, or by nuclear energy, would look nothing like the economy we affluent people, we "one-percenters," enjoy today.
The clean energy, non-nuclear, future we dreamed about in the 'seventies is here, with electric cars and everything!
Yet every day the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases at an accelerating rate.
The next future we dream about has to deal with that reality. We have to discover some fossil fuel free comfortable lifestyles that people will willingly choose, and we'll have to learn to cope with climate change refugees in some manner other than killing them or watching them kill one another.
Posted by hunter | Mon Aug 22, 2016, 07:40 PM (2 replies)
The neutral dispassionate observer is always a fiction, even in science.
Posted by hunter | Thu Aug 18, 2016, 03:05 PM (2 replies)
Burning ANY amount of fossil fuels in an expanding economy is a death warrant for this civilization and most of the ecosystems we humans evolved in.
What we now call "economic productivity" is a direct measure of the damage we are doing to the earth's natural environment and our own human spirit.
Compare every bad nuclear powered thing, from Nagasaki to Chernobyl, to every bad fossil fuel thing and note there is no comparison. Fossil fuels are more destructive in EVERY WAY.
Day in, day out, hungry humans with guns and chainsaws and motor vehicles are more destructive than any exploding nuclear power plant.
Even if we follow the German model of economic development, expanding it to all the world, "first world" affluence for all, this world civilization still ends in flame, the oceans rising faster than we can cope, and areas inhabited by humans for many thousands of years becoming uninhabitable.
We already live in an authoritarian hell. The unemployed and the unemployable are severely punished. The angry destructive unemployable people are imprisoned, and in a very racially biased manner. The vast majority of us suffer work that's destroying us and this planet we share with so many other sentient species, the elephants, the apes, the cetaceans, the birds...
So explain to me again, why should I worry about nuclear power?
If I were to worry about any source of energy today, it would be the huge gas projects, things like the Gorgon project in Australia, or some of the horrors China is cooking up to solve their air pollution problems.
I'm not a complete pessimist, ready to pull up an easy chair and have a few beers as I watch the world burn. As DU'er Recursion has observed, the future human will live in a mega-city, and their individual environmental footprint will be smaller than yours or mine.
The details of success will be mundane. Toilets draining to modern sewage treatment plants that recycle the water and reclaim the nutrients. People walking or using electric public transportation in their daily lives, having no reason to own an automobile. Free healthcare, birth control, and education. Many ways to live a very satisfying life, even with a minimal income.
We'll figure it out, or we'll die. We're not special. The earth has witnessed many innovative species grow exponentially and then collapse, often to extinction. In a hundred thousand years this civilization will be a weird layer of trash in the geologic record.
I'm an evolutionary biologist by inclination and much formal training. I take the long view. I also have serious mental health issues, major depression accompanied by godawful nightmares, nightmares that sometimes follow me into wakefulness as hallucinations. Migraines are more tolerable, and I get those too. When my meds are not right I'm a mess, and they are not right now. I spent the other day in the hospital and I'm just now looking at the monster bruise on my arm where they stuck the needle in.
Of course I believe this gives me the ability to unflinchingly observe the world as it actually is. The world is not well, and I can't pretend wind turbines and solar panels will solve our problems.
The trouble is, and always has been, humans and our magical thinking. We live in oceans of toxins of our own making, many of them with half-lives of forever yet somehow radioactive toxins are magically worse. Too many of us believe we are the exceptional children of some crazy ass god who will take care of us if only we follow his crazy ass rules, and punish us if we don't. The earth itself doesn't hear those voices in our heads. We all live and die by the math. It's chemistry, physics, and biology. Doing the math on human population, on fossil fuels, on all the natural resources diverted for human use, leaves little room for optimism.
But it also gives us a few clues on how we might prevent our own extinction. That's the light I live in. I don't need any greenwash.
Posted by hunter | Mon Jul 18, 2016, 12:51 AM (1 replies)
Economic "productivity" as we now define it is a direct measure of the damage we are doing to the earth's natural environment and our own human spirit.
Most of us are not lucky enough to have jobs that make the world a better place, or even enough to bother getting a passport for international travel. Most of us do not have the opportunity to wander, not even in our own imaginations. Our choices as individuals are severely limited by oppressive and ultimately unsustainable "free" market economies.
I'm a very fortunate child of this world. I was born in the U.S.A.. My parents are artists, neither especially successful in terms of selling their own art, but with skills they could apply to their day jobs. My dad's trade had a strong union. We could travel. My dad could even quit work for months, once more than a year, at and return right where he left off.
As a kid we lived in Europe for a year. We were living in Franco's Spain, but we had to leave in the middle of the night after my mom told a pompous and petty government official what she really thought of him. My dad couldn't sleep that evening, so just past midnight we stuffed our car with everything we could and left for France.
We were living as indigent Americans in a French public park because my dad's money was in Spain. This was before VISA cards and ATMs. The local French community was so disturbed by our presence they bought us gasoline for our car and ferry tickets to England. Barclay's Bank allowed my parents to open a checking account with a negative balance and Barclay's eventually recovered my dad's money from Spain.
It was a different world then. How did this story happen? My dad got some really, really, inexpensive tickets on a ship that was leaving New York for Europe to be refitted. We took the train from Los Angeles to New York, sleeping in our seats, eating mostly food we brought for the trip.
My own young adulthood was even more intense.
In this modern automated world our food, shelter, basic medicine, birth control, and electronic communications are cheap. Anything we choose to do beyond these things ought to be a matter of personal choice.
The neighbors I see picking strawberries in the fields near my home are subsidizing the very wealthy.
Fuck that shit.
Posted by hunter | Wed Jun 29, 2016, 01:44 PM (1 replies)
The larger the streams of money they control, the more they can siphon off for things like CEO pay, corporate jets, hookers, and blow.
Here's what we could do:
1) nationalize the health insurance companies, either explicitly, or by more thorough and effective regulation
2) institute a single payer system
3) implement free education for doctors, nurses, med techs and other medical professionals; pay off the student loans of those professionals working in a single payer environment.
4) pay for pharmaceutical research on safe, effective, and inexpensive medicines and devices which can be sourced from multiple manufacturers. Purchase the patents of safe, effective, and inexpensive medicines and devices developed by individuals and corporations.
We also need to open a national debate on what is, and what isn't, appropriate and effective medical care. Medicine can't fix everything. Too frequently expensive medical intervention makes things worse.
Posted by hunter | Sat Jun 4, 2016, 08:06 PM (3 replies)
Running a healthy economy is like maintaining a healthy pond. You've got to skim the scum off the top and keep clean oxygenated water circulating in the depths.
In economic terms that means steeply progressive taxation and the aggressive removal of corrupt officials rising to the top of our financial and political institutions.
Posted by hunter | Mon Apr 18, 2016, 12:30 PM (0 replies)
Even thousands of human physicists operating in perfect parallel processing mode are going to be blind to anything but the boldest outlines of reality. Even our most speculative explorations of reality are colored by our own evolution. Anything that doesn't matter to the propagation and survival of beings such as ourselves, beings made out of meat, all survivors, every one of us, by billions of years of natural selection, all these other aspects of the universe are essentially invisible and inaccessible to us.
Consider yourself. Every one of your ancestors, as far back as you wish to go in the story of life on earth, survived to reproduce.
Forget any lottery. You are a winner of the biggest lottery ever played.
But one consequence of this evolution is that we don't see the universe as it *IS* we only see the forces that most matter to our propagation as living beings. You are a larger mammal. Gravity can easily kill you. Elephants are even more aware of gravity than we are. Jumping is never an option for elephants. Jumping is death.
Anyone who doesn't look at the universe from that meaty perspective is considered a crackpot, and usually that assessment is correct. Yet I've met some brilliant mathematicians and physicists who are very clearly solidly grounded and celebrated in the realities of their chosen fields of study, who sometimes appear to be quite insane whenever they are pushing the limits of what is known, and what *CAN* be known by creatures such as ourselves.
Posted by hunter | Sat Jan 16, 2016, 07:19 PM (0 replies)
Some of the beers I've been brewing these last few weeks are turning out pretty well...
Posted by hunter | Sat Dec 26, 2015, 03:56 PM (0 replies)