I think everyone should take a moment to read this 60 minutes article posted by CBS News on their website.
Saudi Arabia talks about this new oil field that production costs will be under $2/barrel; yet, they need to sell oil at least at $55 to run the Saudi Government. And who is their largest customer? US, as in United States.
So now that the world economy is screwed, and the US economy in particular; they’re going to cut production 1.5 million barrels in order to drive prices back up.
Anyone who isn’t bright enough to realize that we can’t keep running on oil for environmental reasons, ought to realize that we can’t allow our country to be held hostage in this manner, regardless of environmental issues.
We’re financing people that don’t like us at all, and they’re putting their own country in jeopardy out of greed. This situation isn’t sustainable for us, and it’s not sustainable for the Saudi’s.
If the Saudi’s were smart, they’d be using their huge income to build sustainable energy sources for themselves and export sustainable energy instead of going to extreme ends to tap remaining deposits.
We can’t keep depending upon Canada or Mexico either. Sooner or later Canada is going to tire of bulldozing their forest to feed our SUV fleets and Mexico’s huge disparity of income as well as that in the US is going to create a great deal of civil unrest in both countries.
Our ability to pay for imported oil depends on our ability to produce something of value and export it; but weather pattern shifts threaten to our ability to produce food for export, while warmer climates up north promise to make Canada the new bread basket. When that happens there goes our one major export.
We need to achieve energy independence and we need to do so in a sustainable and growable manner. Being able to feed ourselves in the future, let alone grow enough food for export, is going to require tremendous amounts of fresh water, and that’s going to require even more energy. The longer we wait to address these issues the more difficult it is going to be, and at some point difficult will cross the threshold into impossible.
Right now we’ve got 12% of our population or more unemployed. Oh yes, I know official Republican figures put that at less than 7% but that’s because they changed the formula to exclude “discourages workers”, those who have been unemployed long enough that unemployment benefits have run out, back in the Reagan era.
So why not put those 12% to work building a sustainable energy infrastructure that will make it possible for agriculture to survive weather pattern shifts by supplying necessary water when nature does not, as well as one that provides energy cheaply enough that we can once again build and have a competitive manufacturing base?
Unless we all relish the idea of living in impoverished third-world conditions, this is something we need to do now.
And speaking of third world conditions, our planet today is no longer one that is large enough that we can isolate ourselves from the plight of human beings in other regions and pretend nothing is wrong in the world. Disease knows no national boundaries and today even oceans provide no real barrier. AIDS and West Nile virus are here, African killer bees are here, and if the weather warms up and what is now temperate climates in much of America become what was formerly tropical climates, we can expect to see Malaria and other such maladies follow.
When people in Africa or elsewhere aren’t allowed to reach their human potential, then all of humanity isn’t able to reach it’s potential, and if you look at the realities of our medical and education system, we are rapidly joining the ranks of these poorer nations.
Right now our planet is approaching a population of 7 billion human beings. One thing we know, populations increase in impoverished destitute regions, developed affluent nations have neutral or negative population growths excluding immigrants. So if we want to address the world population in a human way, rather than through starvation, disease, and war, we need to address poverty on a global level.
It takes energy to do create economic growth and eliminate poverty; and we can’t increase our energy production to the necessary levels without completely ruining our environment if we continue to depend upon burning hydrocarbons. In fact, even if we’re willing to completely ruin our environment, hydrocarbons give every indication of being incapable of being scaled to the required levels.
The only thing that we know of today that can provide the energies we need are atomic sources, nuclear fission or fusion. Either combining light atomic nuclei into heavier nuclei, or splitting very heavy nuclei into lighter nuclei, to release energy.
This can take the form of utilizing natural fusion and fission reactors (the Sun is a natural fusion reactor which fuses approximately 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium every second producing a power output of approximately 4×10^27 watts. In the Earth, radio active elements decay and produce heat, natural reactors have occurred in the Earth’s crust where concentrations of Uranium were sufficient, and there is some evidence that a natural reactor still exists at the core.
Nature provides us with these already in place operating reactors and for the most part handles the safety, waste disposal, and fuel production issues for us.
But nature also provides us with the fuels, and the laws of physics with the means, of building our own fission and fusion reactors, allowing us to scale energy production and the location of that production to our own needs, however, going this route we also have to deal with safety, waste disposal, and fuel production issues.
My own belief is that the best route is to exploit those reactors nature provided to the fullest, but because the density of the energy provided by nature is low and some applications, primarily transportation, require high density energy; we also need to develop our own reactors. Between fission and fusion, the latter is both more scalable.
Fusion produces approximately 7x as much energy per gram of fuel than fission assuming a deuterium-tritium fusion fuel and Uranium-235 fission fuel, 1-in-2000 atoms of hydrogen in seawater are deuterium and deuterium can be bred into tritium with a lithium blanket catching neutrons from a fusion reactor, and there are other (better and cleaner not involving neutron production) fuels for fusion as well. Where as Uranium-235 constitutes only .7% of naturally occurring Uranium which is far far more scarce. In addition fusion produces helium waste, an inert and commercially valuable gas, fission produces both highly radioactive fission products as well as long-lived transuranic radioactive elements so dealing with fission waste products is more difficult.
Putting too much fissionable fuel in one place yields a chain reaction, which makes safety an issue and also makes it an attractive terrorist target. Putting a lot of fusable material together makes oceans, which have demonstrated long term stability on the planet, so both the fuel and waste products of fusion are infinitely more manageable.
However, at this point fission technology is developed to the point of being already commercially applied, fusion is not; and fission for all it’s problems and safety issues still is much better than burning coal for energy.
There are new promissing fusion technologies, in my opinion the Bussard Polywell looks to be the most viable, but there are dozens of potential competing technologies and I feel all of these should be explored to the fullest and a crash program developed to bring fusion power production online in the very short term, not 25-50 years from now as the oil company lobbiests would like.
The bottom line is we can’t keep doing what we are, or perhaps we can but misery and suffering will be the inevitable consequences.