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Reply #46: Things having worked out O.K. in the past doesn't mean they always will. [View All]

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cosmicaug Donating Member (676 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-17-04 04:09 PM
Response to Reply #22
46. Things having worked out O.K. in the past doesn't mean they always will.
Birthmark wrote:
All quotes are taken from this site: http://dieoff.org/page171.htm

"Ultimately the renewable must completely fill the gap left by the depletion of oil, for the nonrenewable beyond oil which include coal, nuclear, oil sands, shale oil (so far an unrealized source), geothermal energy, and hydro-electric power, will also ultimately be gone."

Geothermal energy is going to be gone? lol When? A million years or a billion? I don't think that the earth is going to run out of heat anytime soon. The overwhelming majority of scientists would agree with me.
You're using a straw man argument. Clearly you've read the note which you quote below and should know that you're debunking something other than what the author intended? He claims that geothermal plants diminish in efficiency over time and clearly, with at least some arrangements, this must be true (you are using deep rock/earth as a heat sink and if you manage to change its temperature significantly due to excessive heat flow to your heat engine you will reduce the temperature differential and thus the efficiency of the engine). Now, whether that is, in real life a long term concern or not I cannot tell you but I can tell you it is not the physical absurdity you're making it out to be. The other issue is whether it is practical to put this form of energy into general, widespread use to a sufficient degree so as to actually offset enough oil consumption to make a difference. We don't know the answer (one clue, however, would be to note that if this essentially free form of energy production was very easy to implement in general, everybody would be doing it).

Birthmark wrote:
Similarly, I see no reason to suppose that rivers will stop flowing. I guess that I'm just not enlightened. I mean, after all I didn't even know this:
As to hydroelectric power, the same applies. You've read what he's written and you should know he's not claiming water will stop flowing. He's talking about a sedimentation issue (though, I suspect the timetable might be a little long --i.e. this probably doesn't make a great deal of difference in the big scheme of things because, if we are to be screwed, it will happen long before it becomes an issue).

Birthmark wrote:
"(Note: Dammed reservoirs eventually all fill with silt, and all geothermal electric power facilities show some decline to a greater or lesser extent. In the longer term, neither hydro-electric power nor geothermal energy for electric power generation is a renewable resource)."

See? I'm such a dunderhead that I thought that we could build new damn dams! Of course, I still think that since the author never makes it clear why new dams can't be built
As to the issue of just making more dams, that clearly ignores the fact that damns have associated costs with them which we may or may not be able and willing to pay (such as loss of living space, ecosystem damage, loss of arable land --that last one could become a biggie). This is not to say damns are good or bad. They have their place. The issue is whether the electrical output can be ramped up to a sufficient degree to make up sufficiently for the drop from oil based energy production as to make a difference. The other issue is whether it can be ramped up fast enough (damns --or most other forms of energy production, for that matter-- cannot be created overnight). We don't know that.
Birthmark wrote:
"There have also been some interesting advances. One is the production of oil from organic waste - which won't be running out any time soon. There are some interesting developments elsewhere on the energy front. (I'll see if I can dig up some links)
O.K., that can get just a little bit silly. It will be of help, there's no doubt about that. However, you should note that a lot of that waste has been made with oil in the first place and that you will never (I try not to use that word because it's almost always wrong, but this time it's right) get as much energy out of it as you put in. That leaves you with agricultural waste and begs the question of: whether it will be enough and whether it will be the best use for agricultural "waste" (remember, unless you think this process is magic, you won't get enough energy from it to want to waste it on fertilizer production).
Birthmark wrote:
But let's not let inconvenient facts get in the way of a good 21st century re-working of Malthus. After all:
The only reason Malthus gets a bad rap is because we humans hate to admit that the consequences of laws of physics have the very real potential of applying to human populations as well as they do to populations of bacteri in a Petri dish (newsflash: they do). Well, that and dogma led magical thinking by economist types such as Julian Simon.
Birthmark wrote:
"When one examines suggested alternatives to petroleum, two facts stand out. First, the use of oil and natural gas as a huge supply of raw material for myriad petrochemical products importantly including fertilizer and pesticides, is unrivaled. Second, energy is energy in a sense, as it is defined as the ability to do work."

Of course, this may be true. But the author has to find a way out of this unaccountable moment of clarity. Ah, here ya go!

"It is important to note that the end product of many alternative energy sources such as nuclear, hydro-electric power, wind, solar, geothermal, and tides is electricity, which is not a replacement for oil and natural gas in their important roles as raw material for a host of products ranging from paints and plastics, to medicines, and inks. But probably the most vital of all uses is to make the chemicals which are the basis for modern agriculture. Electricity is no substitute."

There is a logical flaw that is cleverly hidden in the author's contention. That is, that one source must fulfill all of oil's uses. This is patently untrue.
In my opinion, you're seeing a flaw where none exists. What you're replying to can be summarized with "electricity is no substitute", which is true. As to what would be a substitute, that is easy. Any process which ends up producing a mess of carbon chains of different lengths is likely to provide a decent starting point. The aforementioned process to turn waste into fuel (assuming it works well and scales up in time) could be one such starting point. Simple biomass would be another possibility. You still have to realize that it will involve costs which we may not be willing or able to pay (if you use biomass for fuel or, as a raw resource for raw materials at a greater extent than we currently do now, it'll involve diversion of crops for the purpose of feeding --this at a time when we'll have no fewer people to feed and a likely loss of productivity from lower usage of fertilizers).


Birthmark wrote:
Any reduction in the use of oil by alternative power for whatever purpose will lengthen the time until we run out of oil.

If we reduce our use of oil by say, 50%, then we have twice as much time to deal with the problem, assuming the problem actually exists in the first place. I'm not exactly clear on how soon that they say we will run out of oil. If it's 50 years at current consumption, then a 50% reduction would give us 100 years.
That's your biggest mistake right there. It's not about running out of oil. It's not even about human economies adjusting to an increasingly tight supply. The issue is about how the adjustment is likely to take place (is it going to be Mad Max after a massive die-off or is it going to be Shangri-la). The answer is that we don't know.

This is also true with various ecological doomsday scenarios. Anybody who thinks that they can mean the end of life on earth is wrong. The problem is that they may mean the end of life on earth as we know it where "not as we know it" may or may not be much fun at all (if it even includes humans --which in my opinion, it probably would though the question again reduces to Mad Max or Shangri-la).

Birthmark wrote:
Think of the advances that have been made in the last 100 years. Nuclear power was undreamed of! As was solar. 100 years is a very long time in our technological society. Of course, if we could reduce our use of oil by 90% (which is extreme, I'll admit), then we might buy ourselves another 450 years. I won't even attempt to guess what advances are possible in that span of time.
That things have worked out O.K. in the past (actually they haven't but at least we're still here) doesn't mean they always will turn out O.K. in the future. This argument only works until it stops working (and by then it's too late). Again, it's dogma led magical thinking by the Julian Simon types.

Birthmark wrote:
"A recent review of the future prospects of all alternatives has been published. The summary conclusion reached is that there is no known complete substitute for petroleum in its many and varied uses (Youngquist, 1997). The distinguished British scientist, Sir Crispin Tickell (1993), expresses a similar view: "... we have done remarkably little to reduce our dependence on a fuel which is a limited resource, and for which there is no comprehensive substitute in prospect" (p. 20)"

Note the clever use of the words "complete" and "comprehensive." There is no reason in the world to suppose that a single souce must do all that oil does. The replacement for oil might (and probably will) involve several substitutes, used for several specific purposes.

Certainly if we are to significantly reduce our dependence on oil it'll be through conservation and through expansion of energy production from other sources. The issue at heart is whether the present alternatives can be expanded sufficiently (and on time) to prevent serious problems. The writer of the piece you quote opines otherwise and you haven't presented a convincing argument to contradict that.
Birthmark wrote:
As I said in my first and much briefer post, Peak Oil is alarmist bunk.

Or not.
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