It’s easy to accept convential wisdom that we are someway doomed to energy poverty, and in the current environment of over-regulated energy and the impacts to food production I can see why some folks go there. I refuse to because history demonstrates that humanity almost always figures a way to muddle through — that “almost” deserves some consideration, but I won’t dwell on it.
Jerry Pournelle is waxing a bit apocalyptic which is fair given current energy situation, political environment, and the wave of populist pseudo-science sweeping the nation. However as the survivalists of the ’80′s discovered scarcity only gets to pinch middle america so long before there’s a response. Jerry has re-opened discussion on burning food here, and here, both are worth reading.
Jerry’s making a lot of sense in his stance – e.g. if we can’t develop our own sources of energy due to political ennui, then ethanol in all of its ugliness is preferrable to sending our billions to tyrants. Even then Ethanol’s not enough, and we must continue to investigate Hydrogen and other means.
Worst come to worst, we do have energy solutions – if the situation gets to the point where it starts affecting Little League and soccer, then it will get taken care of. We have plenty of inelegant, ugly sources of energy if we choose to use them. Coal use could be ramped up, coal gas could be ramped up, we could drill offshore. We could drill ANWR, we can go after oil shale, we can damn more rivers and creeks – the energy is available given the will and the want.
On the other hand we could remove some prohibitive regulation to build 80-100 new generation Nuclear reactors and plug this gap quickly, cheaply, and cleanly.
Whether it’s food to fuel our bodies or fuel to move our cars, everything comes back to energy availability — and given sufficient cheap energy all things become possible. Whether it’s cleaning our environment or saving the rainforest energy abundance is the key.
The conventional concern over liquid or gaseous fuels is habitual thinking – burning hydrocarbons is how we move our vehicles now but it doesn’t have to be. We really don’t need to burn anything to get our cars to move – we could electrify the major roadways and our cars if we had sufficient energy and zero gas or liquid fuel to burn.
Before you say that’s crazy, electrifying roadways and putting whips and electric meters on cars requires a lot less labor, capital, and infrastructure than paving the roads did during the 1940′s-1980′s, prior to that most roads were unpaved. If we implemented electric roadways on a large scale backed by next generation reactors, then efficient ways to do it would be discovered because that’s just human nature. Our freight could transport on mag-lev rail, and our ships would move with the proven technology of naval nuclear reactors.
The real challenge given zero combustable gases would clearly be aerospace, not ground or sea transport.
Meanwhile there is hope for improved cheap nuclear and enough to satisfy our needs. Huffpo gets math and assumptions egregiously wrong here, but please note that McCain is the only candidate fully backing nuclear energy.
The challenge this year and next is to get congress off their duff – they need to make it less prohibitive to build nuclear energy plants, they need to allow some more drilling as a stop-gap, they need to create a transcontinental high speed rail right-of-way with a power intertie and OC128 Fiber routes in it for kicks.
Solar and wind need more maturing before they replace the proven technologies, and we are about to hit the wall where fuel scarcity starts affecting middle class lifestyle in America in a big way.
Meanwhile the strange bedfellows alliance of global warming activists, greenpeace anti-nuclear groups, ethanol lobbies, and coal lobbies continue to really drive energy policy in this country. You’ve seen the results of that dark cabal of collective political interests over the past 30 years, and you see it echoed in Obama’s speeches on how we have to give up some things. Obama is the candidate of of entropy, ennui, and a low-energy future. It’s time to drive these energy stasists out of politics, it’s time to take your children’s future back from them.