Drilling For Energy at Yellowstone

One of the big arguments of the anti-environmentalists, oil company lobbyists, or what have you, is that solar and wind, the most commonly mentioned renewable energy sources, aren’t available 24×7 (at any one location). They can’t provide so called “base-load” power.

On the other hand, we’ve got this rumbling at the east side of the Yellowstone caldera, possibly the world’s largest super volcano, and it’s threatening to awaken. We know there is a huge pool of magma, scientists say 4 miles or so down.

It’s powering geysers and hot springs all over the park. At times the land has become hot enough to set vegetation on fire and kill animals in the area.

Seems to me Yellowstone is situated pretty good to supply electricity to the nations grids; extend the eastern grid over with some high voltage DC lines, and tie it into the western grid.

Then build some BIG geo-thermal plants; the more heat we can remove from that potential disaster the better. If Yellowstone has a major eruption, the US is largely toast and a good portion of the worlds population will starve to death. The present day economic grief will seem like a picnic.

We don’t have to drill all the way to the magma, just down to rock hot enough to turn water into superheated steam to run turbines. The more heat we can extract the better. Chances are slim that we’ll make a big impact on a heat source of that size even if we power the entire country off of it; but if it slows the potential for an eruption at all great, and if not it’s still non-fossil fuel renewable energy that can be obtained without any technological breakthroughs. It’s heat the would have escaped anyway so might as well have it do some useful work while making it’s escape. Any volcanic gases vented would have vented anyway.

Global Warming

Last winter was the coldest winter on record in North America. Last night, the temperature plummeted to 13°F here in Shoreline Washington (13 miles north of downtown Seattle). For this area that’s not unheard of but it is extremely rare.

Global Warming portrayed in the popular media is a gross over simplification. There are natural causes of climate change and there are man-made contributions. The relationship between the two is extremely complex and poorly understood.

Popular media would have you believe two things about the relationship between natural changes and man-made changes that are completely wrong. First popular media would have you believe that man made changes are much larger than natural changes. Second, that our scientists and climatologists actually have a firm grasp on the subject.

In actuality neither is true. Climatologists have developed computer models that fit past data. On the basis of the past fit they claim that their model is correct and therefore will make correct predictions of future changes.

This is wrong, and here is why. There at least a dozen competing models that fit the past to present data but they all predict different future climates and they can’t all predict different things and be correct. In addition, past computer models haven’t predicted present conditions accurately. There is no reason to believe that magic happened and all of the sudden their computer model accuracy has tremendously improved.

With respect to the relationship between natural changes and man-made changes, there is a 22 year solar cycle in which the suns magnetic field goes from north at one pole to very little field to south at one pole to very little field and then back to north again. When the polar fields are strong sunspot activity is high, and during the reversal process, sunspot activity drops, usually.

There is about a .3°C difference in Earth’s temperature between a normal solar peak and solar low. But there is also a great deal of variability between the intensity of the individual cycles as well as some long term cycles and some unexplained solar vacations. The sun normally goes from peak to low to peak every 11 years, taking 22 years for the magnetic field to return to it’s original polarity but there is a peak and low every 11 years. By contrast, a steady warming relating to increased carbon dioxide levels appears to be only about .1°C per decade.

So during during the portion of the solar cycle where the activity is on the upswing, the planet seems to be warming really fast and people will say things like the oceans are going to rise 200 feet by next week and the pretty soon wood frame houses will burst into flames from the heat. Then we get into a cooling part and eventually people aren’t so convinced.

In truth though, man-made warming even though it’s a smaller scale than natural changes, is unidirectional whereas natural variation is in part cyclical and in part chaotic. I want people to understand that what I am saying here is that even though nature makes bigger chances, nature makes them in both directions so over the long haul it averages out, but man is affecting the climate in one direction only, so over a long enough period of time our contribution, if left unchecked, will indeed be catastrophic.

The sun and it’s vacations are of particular significance right now because we’re now in a 50 year low in terms of solar activity, and historically when it’s done this in the past it’s gone into a long term minimum pattern and temperatures across Europe have fallen as much as 8-13°F during these times. The growing seasons shorted, people starved, and it looks like that’s where we are headed now.

But now we’ve got an additional danger. If people are lulled into thinking, ah global warming is all bogus, and they easily could be since the complexities were never really explained and things were exaggerated significantly for political reasons, then they’ll start burning coal like there was no tomorrow. After a decade or two when we’ve got the CO2 levels up to 500ppm, and people are croaking of asthma and cancer at even faster rates; the sun will re-establish a more normal pattern and global temperatures will go through the roof overnight. Then we will have really big problems.

There are other factors. It was once believed that there were around 20,000 under water volcanoes. We now know there are more than two million. We do not understand the scale of the impact that these have on global climate and ocean temperatures and currents but I have reason to believe they are substantial.

Another source of heating that until recently was grossly underestimated is the effect of currents induced in the Earth’s crust by solar wind particles interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. It used to believed that that energy was on the order of only a few tens of gigawatts, but we now know it is vastly larger and that the torque it imparts to the Earth’s crust is substantial and may be even enough to affect geological activity.

The fact of the matter is climate is naturally variable, change is the norm and occasional periods of unusual stability are the exception. We need to adjust to this reality and burning fossil fuels not only exacerbates the problem but also will never provide us with the amount of energy we need to survive extreme climate changes which will occur, with or without our input, nor will fossil fuel energy scale to the levels needed to alleviate global poverty, and that’s something I really want to see happen.

Nature has provided us with abundant energy resources that are much less environmentally damaging but generally a lot less convenient than fossil fuels, not just sun and wind, although those certainly exist and we should utilize them to our maximum advantage, but there is also geothermal, ocean wave, tide, thermal, and currents. There are forms of hydroelectric generation that can make energy from the natural flow rather than requiring the water be damned up.

There are advanced fission reactor designs that can not only provide more than 100x as much energy from natural uranium as conventional plants, but can do so without producing the long term actinide (transuranic) wastes of conventional one-pass boiling water or pressurized water reactors. These plants can also use the actinide wastes of conventional plants as fuel. This is a far better option than burying this waste at Yucca mountain because it converts it all to short-lived fission product wastes that will decay to a natural level (the same level of radioactivity as the ore from which it was mined) within 300 years rather than 50,000 years.

Of the fission products, there are only a couple of isotopes with significant half-lifes, and those can be destroyed using accelerator technology completely eliminating the long-term waste issue.

These advanced reactors also eliminate plutonium in the end product, and even as an intermediate product it is never in a state where it can be used for bombs, thus significantly reducing it’s potential for terrorism uses. Because it is present with other actinides and isotopes of plutonium with much shorter half-lives, it is too “hot” to be made into a bomb, any attempt would result in premature reactions that would fizzle, and any terrorist attempting to make a bomb out of the stuff would die of radiation poisoning in short order. This stuff would be processed in integral recycling facilities onsite and re-used as fuel rather than being shipped, stored, or buried.

Fusion is the real holy grail, and it is reachable today; we spend less on fusion research in a decade than we do in oil imports in a day. That is the only reason fusion isn’t online producing power for us today. In spite of oil company claims to the contrary; we’ve solved the big scientific problems. We know now how to adequately confine the plasma, we know how to make superconductive magnets that can achieve the necessary strength, and we have a pretty good handle on what materials will work for the diverter.

The US has withdrawn from ITER, I wish I could say that I disagree with this but I don’t, I think ITER is a waste of money. Originally, it has several goals, one was to develop the necessary superconductor technology but the Chinese couldn’t wait 12 years for ITER to be built so they built EAST with superconductive magnets, they worked. What EAST doesn’t accomplish is commercial power levels.

The British established the superiority of the spherical or short-aspect-ratio Tokamak over the convetional Russian Tokamak design. The spherical Tokamak achieves a confinement product approximately 3.5 times better then conventional designs, and this is another reason I believe ITER was a bad design, it was not a spherical Tokamak.

The British team the designed START and MAST went on to design a spherical Tokamak power reactor. It would produce approximately 600MW of power, and cost less to build than a fission reactor of similar size. Both START and MAST outperformed their design objectives so there is every reason to believe this power reactor would be equally successful.

ITER by contrast would have cost ten times more and even though it should achieve commercial power levels and be useful for material engineering tests, it is not an economically viable design for a commercial power reactor.

There are also even more promising newer designs that should be explored, the Bussard Polywell reactor, the levitated dipole, and some newer Z-pinch designs that can operate reiterively and do not destroy their electrodes with each firing.

We need to fund these projects fully and bring them online, but in the meantime, we need to pursue clean renewable alternatives, and in my opinion advanced fission reactors are also necessary to deal with the transuranic waste we’ve already accumulated from conventional reactors rather than burying it and creating a disaster for future generations to deal with.

We need to do these things now. Climate change and major Earth changes are already underway, we need to gear up our ability to adapt in real time to these changes. Instead of fighting nature; we need to find ways to work with nature and be what we are, a part of nature; not something set against nature.

Is It Our Responsibility to Finance Saudi Arabia?

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.

Hydrocarbon Fuels

Economic growth requires more than the free flow of capital. It requires energy.

The world economy hit the wall because the supply of energy available from conventional sources also hit the wall and nobody thought ahead enough to put the necessary infrastructure in place to assure access to the energy we need for sustained growth and economic well being.

The Fed, the worlds banks, the worlds governments all attempted to prop up failing economies by injecting more liquidity, more capital, more money, that which facilitates the flow of goods and services.

Because oil in particular was at the supply limit, all the injected capital simply drove up the cost of oil higher sucking all the money back out of the economies.

If we drill deep enough there is more oil. Oil is not made exclusively biologically. Much of it is made through an chemical process requiring only heat and pressure and the proper ingredients which are water, iron oxides, and calcium carbonate; all of which are available in large quantities where the ocean floor is subducted under continental crust.

This process has been replicated in the laboratory and works just fine without the aid of bacteria. It in fact works at a pressure of a hundred atmospheres and a temperature of around one thousand degrees Fahrenheit.

When you put iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and water under these pressures and temperatures, you get out a mix of hydrocarbons that is characteristic of light crude. If this mixture rises up from the mantle and encounters a non-porous cap of granite or basalt, or some other non-porous substance, then all of the hydrocarbons are trapped until tapped and represent a source of light sweet crude.

If no non-porous capstone exists; then the lighter distillates evaporate off and what you end up with is heavy crude and bitumen. It’s also possible for the oil to pick up sulfur and other impurities along the way or they may be present in the original mix. When the crude contains a lot of sulfur it is said to be sour.

The Russians know about this abiotic oil, the Chines know about it, and US oil companies know about it, but it is expensive to tap because it required drilling 20,000+ feet through granite or basaltic basement rock, or it involved drilling under miles of water through miles of seafloor.

US oil companies have only recently developed or acquired the necessary technology to tap these very deep deposits and presently there is a world-wide shortage of drilling rigs capable of tapping these deposits. Drilling to this depth requires tungsten or depleted uranium drill bits, both are expensive and the latter is hazardous to work with.

Between increased demand from China and India, and the lack of equipment necessary to tap these deep deposits; we ran up against the supply wall, and the worlds economy attempted to adjust; but governments kept injecting liquidity and that delayed adjustment until an absolute crises forced it and now we’re in the middle of it; the economy collapsed and oil demand fell back to levels supply could keep up with.

All things left to their own, eventually the world wide supply of these drilling rigs will catch up with demand and supply will increase.

The real problem we all face isn’t lack of oil, it’s lack of atmosphere. We can not keep turning all of our oxygen into carbon dioxide and survive. Doing so not only alters the climate, it alters the atmospheric chemistry.

People will say, healthy people can tolerate as much as 5000 ppm over an eight hour period, but what people don’t realize is that the human lungs become less able to rid the body of carbon dioxide and more sensitive to carbon dioxide partial pressures with age. While young people can withstand 5000ppm, 500ppm can be fatal to the elderly at sea-level, and tolerance decreases with altitude as well.

So in a way this whole global warming thing is somewhat self-limiting, because as levels approach 500ppm, we’re going to see the incidence of cardio-pulmonary issues and deaths related to same increase among the elderly. In other words; we’ll reduce global population by killing off the elderly and people with lung disease while many others who were formerly healthy will become less able to tolerate exercise.

This is particularly true of people at higher altitudes. Many conspiracy theorists have predicted that the capital will be moved from Washington DC to Denver. This might actually be a good thing because not only would it make the capital more centralized, but it will also place it at a high altitude, where our legislators will be particularly subjected to the effects of the increased carbon dioxide levels.

And then there is the “clean coal” idea, the idea that one can sequester carbon dioxide and thereby make it safe to burn coal to generate energy. I’m really not in favor of this idea, because to make the carbon dioxide that will be sequestered, you have to take oxygen out of the air; and instead of being recycled by natural means, plants turning it back into carbon compounds and releasing the oxygen, instead of that happening, that oxygen is gone for as long as the carbon dioxide is successfully sequestered. In case it hadn’t occurred to you yet, oxygen is what we breath and there is not an unlimited quantity of it.

Even this doesn’t result in clean coal because coal also contains mercury, radium, and a host of other substances you don’t want to be released free into the environment. These things are better left locked up in the mineral they were in and left in the mountain. Whether these things go up the stack or into a landfill, they’re still very problematic materials. Unless you can find uses for all of these materials coal is still anything but clean.

At best, switching from being heavily reliant on coal to being more heavily reliant on an even more carbon intensive hydrocarbon, coal, only delays the problem. The bottom line is that, over the long term, we do not have enough oxygen in our planets atmosphere to satisfy our growing energy needs by reacting it with carbon or other elements even if we have plenty of carbon to react it with and can find a safe method of disposing of the carbon dioxide.

So what we need to do is modernize our power grid, that alone will save the energy equivalent of all of the oil we import, just eliminating the majority of unnecessary losses in the power grid. Then with that modernized grid we need to add renewable sustainable energy sources, wind, solar, geo-thermal, ocean-thermal, wave power, tidal power, ocean current power, or controlled hydrogen fusion, which I believe can be done.

There are multiple technologies that can make controlled hydrogen fusion a reality, the conventional Tokamak, which is what ITER is, is perhaps the second worst choice because that technology can only work on a very large scale and is extremely expensive.

A huge improvement on conventional Tokamak designs is the spherical or short aspect ratio Tokamak. These improve the confinement by approximately 3.5x which makes a much smaller and less expensive machine possible. A machine that could be built at a cost similiar to a conventional fission reactor but one in which the fuel is essentially free and no long-term nuclear waste is produced. There are however short-term neutron activation products produced in a Tokamak because at persent we can’t obtain the necessary energy levels to fuse anuetronic fuels such as proton-boron.

However, there are at least three alternative fusion reactor designs that have the potential to reach the necessary energies, the most promising is the Bussard Polywell reactor, but the navy funded it and is now keeping it out of public view. While it will be good to have the dirty fission reactors on aircraft carriers and submaries replaced with much safer and cleaner fusion reactors, it still ultimately is for destructive purposes that don’t benefit mankind. I would very much like to see this technology wrestled from the navy and made available to the private sector for power production.

While too large to power cars and probably even trucks, the Bussard reactor is sufficiently compact that it could power trains, cargo ships, ocean liners, possibly even large aircraft, in addition to the military fleet.

There are also alternatives known as the Z-pinch reactor. Early models were a one-shot affair destroying their electrodes with each firing and thus not useful commercially, but new designs involving robust coaxially positioned electrodes that aren’t destroyed with each power shot, promise to make the reactor one that can be used for continuous power production.

There is also a new design called a levitated dipole, and it’s based on the fact that the Earth’s magnetic field very efficiently contains a very hot plasma, all three of these devices have the promise of producing energy without neutrons and thus without even signficant quantitues short-term radioactive wastes. Very minor quantitues are produced by unintended side reaction but these are minimized in the Bussard design by the fact that the colliding energies are finally tuned so that they are only efficient for the desired atoms to interact. The Z-pinch and levitated dipole are still thermal devices and so these devices will have more undesired side reactions than the Bussard machine.

We don’t know how long it will take for any of these to come online, but the sun shines and the wind blows today and the Earth has hot magma under the surface today, and the oceans have currents and tides and thermal gradients today. We should take advantage of all these things today; to eliminate the energy barrier and allow the global economy to prosper.

Energy – Oil – Economy

It’s incredible how short-sighted people are today. Oil prices decline for a few weeks and OPEC starts talking about a production cut, Chevron puts tar sand projects expansion on hold; and people start driving their SUVs again.

Folks, it’s TEMPORARY. First, the oil tycoons want to keep Republicans in office. They give 11 times as much in campaign contributions to Republicans as they do their opponents because they like the status quo. They also know an election is coming up in just a few days and that high gasoline prices will encourage people to vote Republicans out of office, particularly if they’ve lost a job or a son in Iraq.

About this Hubbert curve crap; the theory being that the peak happens when half the oil is pumped out; that’s just crap. There is a lot of oil in the ground, much more than has been pumped out. The problem is that the light sweet crude (requiring minimal refining) close to the surface under pressure (so you don’t have to expend energy to pump or otherwise force it out) in giant pools (so one can get a lot of return on discovery investments) is gone.

What remains near the surface is heavy sour crude. Heavy crude is crude with a heavy mix of long chain hydrocarbons which has a very high viscosity sometimes requiring heat or solvents to get it to flow. Sour crude is crude with a high sulfur content requiring additional sulfur removal steps in the refinery process. Heavy crude also requires cracking and reforming to convert long-chain hydrocarbons to shorter more commercially valuable hydrocarbons. This takes additional energy and in extreme cases you can end up using the energy equivalent of five barrels of oil to produce one barrel of refined product.

Manufacturing the necessary drilling rigs to drill deep takes time, upgrading our refineries takes time. Even with the necessary upgrades it still costs more to produce and refine this oil than it did the light sweet crude near the surface that existed in the past. We really must start thinking of energy in terms of sources other than fossil fuels.

Our flavor of capitalism which utilizes money created by a private banking consortium which is loaned to our economy at interest, requires constant economic expansion to pay that interest. Constant economic expansion requires a constant expansion of energy supply, which, if we continue to rely on oil, can’t continue indefinitely at the required rate. The growing economies of India and China exacerbate this problem by placing additional demand on limited oil supplies.

Until we adequately address our energy needs, we are going to see extreme instability in the economy where the economy grows until it runs into an energy wall, energy prices rise precipitously, our economy shrinks rapidly, the demand decreases, and then prices fall, and the cycle repeats itself. But as India and China continue to grow economically, and as inexpensive oil supplies continue to shrink, with each cycle we’ll see less economic growth, higher energy prices, and a deeper depression following the rise in prices.

The best time to put alternatives in place is now; as time goes on we will have less and less energy and capital available to make the necessary infrastructure changes.

Now is the time to modernize our electrical grid converting all long distance lines longer than 300km from AC to DC transmission. This step alone save the energy equivalent of all the oil we import. At night we can not throttle down electricity production as much as demand decreases. If we used all of this surplus electricity to recharge plug-in hybrids and used that for our daily commute; we could eliminate again the energy equivalent of all the oil we import. Between these two things we could eliminate more than the energy equivalent of all of the oil we consume.

There is more that we can do, wind power is less expensive than even coal fired power stations. The argument is that we can’t use more than about 20% wind power on the grid and that we must back any added wind capacity with an equivalent amount of base power generation. This is simply untrue; if we have a modernized grid capable of sending energy anywhere in the country, geographical diversity will allow us to depend upon about 30% of the installed wind capacity. That is, the wind is always blowing somewhere, and the minimum amount generated is about 30% of the capacity if you have reasonable geographical diversity.

There are ways we can use the excess to better effect when we are making more electricity than we need, we can make aluminum, we can electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen, we can store energy in large Redox battery systems which use oxides of vanadium as liquid electrodes, we can pump water up hill and run it through turbines to drive generators later.

If we were to go to a real-time metering systems in which the cost of energy varied with supply and demand, people and industries would shift their consumption habits to better match availability. People would do things like shift their laundry to times when energy costs are lower, install larger water tanks and heat water during off-peak periods, construct homes with larger thermal mass and other passive devices that will allow them to utilize less energy and time their usage to lower usage periods.

Instead of building a super highway between Mexico and Canada up the middle of the United States, we should be expanding and electrifying our railroads. We need to have a way to continue moving food and goods across our country when the oil runs out. If we wait too long to put this infrastructure in place; a lot of people are going to starve to death.

There are people who say that it’s not possible to replace fossil fuels with renewables, that they aren’t scalable enough. That is just hogwash. I’ve looked at this problem and we have ample renewable resources requiring no new technological breakthroughs. We could power this country off of geo-thermal, solar, or wind alone many times over, however, none of these can be ramped up instantly, neither can our automobile, train, and aircraft fleet be replaced instantly, so we really must do everything we can.

We should start developing our geo-thermal resources rapidly, particularly I think we could kill two birds with one stone and over time decrease volcanic hazards in some areas like Near Mt. Rainier or Yellowstone. Geo-thermal has the advantage of being “baseload” power, that is it is available 24×7 and not just when the wind blows or the sun shines.

We should build actinide burning fast-flux reactors and place them inside the hollowed out Yucca mountain repository; along with intergral pyrolytic reprocessing facilities so that we can get rid fo the long term radioactive waste instead of merely storing it, and derive huge amounts of energy in the process, approximately 100 times as much as was released in the initial one pass through a boiling water reactor.

Low grade heat from the fission products that remain could be used for everything from industrial source heat to home heating. Since the Yucca Mountain repository was designed for the long-term storage of waste; in the event of an accident in one of these reactors, the radioactive contamination would be contained as well.

We can have the largest depression this country has ever seen, with no recovery and the bulk of our population starving, or we can have a robust economy, a clean environment, and a comfortable sustainable future. It is our choice, but we are rapidly approaching the point where we will no longer have the necessary resources to build new infrastructure and then the choice will be taken from us. We can not allow our oil company owned politicians to steal our future from us.

Future

There is lots of negativity in the media right now and a lot of negative things have happened, but I think that the reason for this is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be lead by leaders who use fear as their principal form of motivation.

What about the positive possibilities, the things we could achieve if we focused on solving our problems instead of fighting? If we took the resources that we now use to protect ourselves from each other and turned those towards benefiting all mankind and our planet as a whole, what could we accomplish?

I keep having these dreams of going to a distant planet and living there, and this is not a planet around another star; but around our Sun, but it’s unlike any planet I am aware of orbiting our Sun. I though to myself what could this be, if not Mars, what is it? Can’t be a gas giant, and it didn’t seem like a moon of a gas giant.

Out past the orbit of Neptune there is a group of minor planets in an area known as the Kuiper belt. We’ve discovered a number of these, Pluto was the first, but now we know of at five of these minor planets in a 3:2 resonant orbit with Neptune, and past the Kuiper belt, the Ort Cloud, where based upon statistical evidence, there may be as many as 10,000 of these Pluto sized objects and perhaps as many as ten Earth sized objects.

Those objects are all in sort of a suspended animation deep freeze. What if we could add enough energy to thaw some of them out? We have just recently acquired the technological know-how to build a fusion reactor that actually produces energy; that knowledge has been sequestered away by the US Navy, but what if it were available? Not only could we eliminate poverty and greatly improve our environment by eliminating dirty power sources on Earth and having adequate energy to make recycling feasible on a much larger scale and have all the clean water we need making it possible grow as much food as we need, etc.

We’d also have energy that would make space travel to distant planets in our lifetime practical and we’d have the energy necessary to transform those planets, thaw them out, light them up, provide artificial suns of sorts, we could potentially have thousands of habitable planets in our solar system, and hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, so this could be very sustainable.

Those distant planets wouldn’t be dependent upon energy from our Sun, they’d be depending upon energy we get from fusing hydrogen in man-made reactors, and that’s got some wild possibilities; we could accelerate that planet out of orbit and through deep space, a planet space ship.

I wonder if other alien civilizations haven’t done the same? We know there are these rogue planets in deep space not orbiting any stars; and surely some of those were ejected from orbit through natural processes, but I wonder if there aren’t a percentage that aren’t just freely flying through space but are occupied and directed towards some destination star?

This is just exploring one direction, of billions, that our development could take, and they aren’t all mutually exclusive either, we don’t have to take just one path, we can go in many directions, but if we can’t get past fighting and bickering and living in fear; we can’t go anywhere.

Racism Is Alive And Well

I make this assertion based upon the fact that the race between Obama and McCain is even remotely close, I’m confident that if Obama was white and had a white sounding name, there wouldn’t even be a contest.

If you look at what the Republican’s have done for us in the last eight years, they’ve gotten us in a war that has dragged on for seven years and drained the national treasury, quadrupled the price of oil and gas, rang up the largest national debt and deficit in the history of this country, sent the US constitution to the shredder, and totally ruined the economy.

A 72 year old republican presidential candidate who has had malignant cancer four times with a running mate that has political experience of being the governor of Alaska for 2 years, and had exemplified Republican family values (her unwed daughter pregnant at 16), Obama can say the kids are off-limits but you know if it was a democratic candidate the republican’s would be all over it.

Now as we watch the stock market melt down, after watching our income deteriorate over the last eight years, the polls are showing the candidates head to head.

Obama not only gives a good speech but he actually has some understanding of options available to get us off of dependency upon foreign oil. McCain’s solution is drill more; problem there is that already there is a world-wide shortage of oil drilling rigs, and where oil is available now requires unconventional extraction, either deep off-shore drilling, drilling very deep, or dealing with heavy crude which is something our refineries aren’t equipped to handle.

If we could somehow ramp up the production of oil drilling rigs rapidly, and especially the type of equipment necessary to do slant, horizontal, and steerable drilling as well as very deep drilling, then we could significantly increase our production of oil; but at best that huge investment would be only a temporary solution because ultimately even if we don’t run out of oil, we’re running out of atmosphere.

It makes more sense to pursue permanent and scalable solutions, producing more oil is a temporary solution at best and while I actually agree it’s part of the mix; we can’t stop there, but that’s what will happen with McCain; McCain is not willing to make the kind of investment in new infrastructure that is necessary for our future.

I was surprised to find out that Barack Obama is familiar with the Bussard Polywell fusion reactor. That’s a rather obscure development that few people are familiar with and it’s an extremely important development because, if the navy could be convinced to make the information public, it means we could bring fusion online as a source of energy production in the near term not 25-50 years down the road.

While we’re watching our economy go down the toilet, the important thing to understand is that money is just a means of exchanging goods and services. The existing republican administration has tried to address the economic problem by adding more money; but the fundamental problem is a shortage of goods and services to exchange, and the fundamental cause of that is our nation’s energy supply is inadequate.

Drilling for more oil may help things in the short term but it will not solve the problem in the long term it will only delay the total collapse of our economy and global starvation by a short period of time. We may need to do that while we bring these other things online but we need these other sources to be brought online and ramped up as fast as possible. If we continue with the existing situation, we’re going to reach the point where we no longer have the means to bring new sources online and then the only thing left to do is die.

So I hope that we can get over racism enough to move on. Not only will it allow us to proceed with changes we need to make but it will also open up the office of the presidency to a larger pool of qualified candidates in the future.

I have to admit that the Democratic party has really disappointed me as well, first, we have a democratic speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi. Prior to her taking that position, I understood why the Republican’s ignored impeachment petitions from Illinois, Washington, and California, in spite of the fact that the constitution requires that they be first order of business on the House floor. I expected this would be corrected when Pelosi became speaker, but she is continuing to ignore the requirements of the constitution.

I also think an Obama / Clinton ticket would have been a much better option than Biden. Obama is energetic, intelligent, and driven, Hillary is equally driven, but moreover she has enough experience with Washington that it would have been difficult for the sharks to eat her or the team if she was part of it. I think they would have made an excellent team, but they couldn’t get it together even though the country and the party both would have benefited.

There is plenty of blame to spread around, but we can’t keep going down the path we’re on. It’s a path to death and destruction and no future.

Instead of concentrating on the distribution and exchange of wealth, we need to concentrate on the production of goods and services in a manner which is sustainable indefinitely, and the fundamental requirement of that is an adequate, scalable, inexpensive, and sustainable energy supply.

Fusion is the ultimate energy source that could be available to us, within the bounds of our existing knowledge of physics. That is to say; if we had a more fundamental understanding of the nature of energy, matter, and reality itself; then perhaps there is something better; but given what we know it is the most ideal source because it is infinitely scalable for all practical purposes.

In seawater, approximately 1-in-2000 hydrogen atoms are an isotope that contains a neutron, deuterium, that can be more easily fused; there is enough deuterium in the Earth’s oceans to provide all of our energy needs at current levels for 15 Billion (1.5 x 10^9 years). Our energy usage will certainly increase; but no matter; if we have fusion technology we’ll never run out; hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. It powers close to a trillion stars in our galaxy alone and there are close to a trillion galaxies, or around 10^24 stars, and that number gets ramped up each time we get a better telescope.

The current mainstream path to fusion is via something known as a Tokamak magnetic confinement reactor. Conventional tokamaks can provide fusion energy; however, only on a really large scale. A type of Tokamak known as a short aspect ratio of spherical tokamak can produce energy on a much smaller scale; similar to the size and expense of a fission reactor, but without the radioactive waste, plutonium production, or meltdown potential.

Any type of Tokamak still has significant engineering hurdles to overcome before it can be commercially viable; particularly existing Tokamak research reactors in this country use copper magnetic coils limiting them to maximum of about 1-minute of operation before the coils are overheating and eating a large amount of history. A commercial reactor will require superconductive magnets that can operation continuously without the energy loss. ITER, the international test reactor was to prove this technology but it won’t be operational for more than a decade and we can’t afford to wait. Fortunately, both the Chinese and South Koreans have not waited and both the Chinese EAST reactor and the Korean KSTAR reactor have come online with superconductive magnet coils proving the technology feasible.

Another technological hurdle is the survivability of a device called a diverter which removes helium ash from the plasma during reactor activation. Without a full power working reactor, materials can’t be proved, and without that proof, nobody wants to invest in a full power reactor, so unless China or Korea or some other country that has more concern for their future that we here in the United States does it, that won’t be proven until ITER comes online.

So tokamaks aren’t likely to be a short-term producer of fusion power, so then what? Well, the Navy has paid for a new type of reactor known as a polywell reactor; instead of using magnetic fields for plasma confinement, it uses magnetic fields to confine electrons only which is much easier because they have only 1/2000th the mass of a proton requiring a much weaker field; and then electrostatic acceleration of the nuclei to be fused. This reactor has two major advantages, it doesn’t require huge magnetic fields, it’s physically much smaller, it’s about 1000 times less expensive than even a fission reactor, and it can use aneutronic fuels preventing problems with neutron activation and embrittlement of the reactor structure. Problem is after paying for it’s development, the Navy has taken it out of the public’s view so this energy source, which could potentially eliminate our energy problems, is unavailable to the public.

President Obama is familiar with this reactor; and as such I think there is potential if he is elected that we could see this deployed for civilian energy needs. I’d be happy to see the navy replace the fission reactors in their nuclear subs and aircraft carriers with fusion and thus stop dumping nuclear waste into the ocean, but we really need this energy source to be available to provide energy for the worlds civilian needs.

If we make this available, it will eliminate much of what we fight over; with unlimited clean energy; we’ll have unlimited clean water; and with that the ability to make much land around the world that is currently infertile into productive land; eliminating human hunger. With unlimited energy; recycling of almost anything becomes economically feasible; reducing the need to mine for raw materials and dispose of waste.

Most of our wars are fought over oil or arable land; yes politicians use religion to motivate people to fight giving people the impression that wars are religion in nature, but if you look at what is behind it, resources are always involved. So if we eliminate any energy and food shortages; we’ll eliminate most of our motivation for killing each other.

So let’s change paths folks; enough of the war mongering and greed; let’s get on with making this a better planet.

Aside from the Polywell reactor, there are about a dozen other potential paths to fusion that could potentially lead to a commercially viable power planet but money is not getting put into the research of these alternative methods.

However; we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket; and we have many other alternatives, solar, wind, ocean currents, ocean thermal, ocean tidal, geo-thermal, biofuels (efficient biofuels like switchgrass and certain algea, not horridly inefficient ones like corn and soybeans), conversion of waste streams into oil or gas fuels, etc. We could also recover a huge amount of energy being dissipated in inefficient, unreliable, unsafe, and outdated electrical transmission systems. Many other areas of conservation are available to us.

Bottom line is that we are no longer in a situation where we can afford to wait another presidential term or two to change, or very survival, in the near term, depends on making massive changes to our national energy infrastructure now, and that means an administration that understands energy in terms of something other than fossil fuels.

Super Giant Oil Fields Discovered since 1969

The current high price of oil has given new life to “peak oil” and it’s tempting to just ignore it and let people believe it because we do need to get off of oil and I’m not sure anything else will get people to even look at alternatives. But it’s a lie and people are getting hurt so I’m going to say as much.

We keep hearing about there being no new super-giant oil fields discovered since 1969. Why the media keeps repeating this lie when the information which contradicts it is publicly available to anyone willing to do a little digging, well I guess because there are so few people willing to do a little digging and it seems that if you tell a lie often enough people will take it for the truth.

So here is a list of super-giant oil field discoveries since 1969 (a super-giant field being defined as any field with recoverable oil of 5 billion barrels or more).

So media, please quit telling this lie. There are eleven super giant fields discovered after 1969 and there are probably more that I am unaware of.

In addition there are other reservoirs that have been known about but previously were either uneconomical to tap or technology was not up to the task but economics and improvements in technology now make them practical to place into production.

A good example of this is the Bakken Play, the largest contiguous geological oil pool known under North Dakota and Saskatchewan, estimated to have around 100 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Successful recovery of oil from this structure requires deep and sometimes slant or sideways drilling to tap. Much of the necessary technology did not exist until recently so even though geologists knew about this formation, getting to it was problematic.

A problem that we face right now is that it takes 5-10 years for production of new fields to ramp up to significant levels while the economies of India and China have been growing very rapidly. Add to that the fact that we’ve taken about a million barrels a day of production off the world market by invading Iraq, while consuming a huge amount of oil doing so, and at the same time many existing fields are aging and we’ve got a situation where demand hasn’t been able to keep up with supply. This is not the same thing as peak oil, it is oil production lag.

In addition to that, we’ve got between 2.3 and 3.5 trillion (yes with a ‘T’) barrels of oil in US oil shale structures but we have a federal moratorium on federal oil shale leases so that it can not be extracted.

We’ve got as estimated 15-90 billion barrels of oil along the continental shelves yet to be discovered but that’s presently off-limits. Given the recent discoveries elsewhere, I am of the belief that there is probably more than even the high estimate. Just one field 150 miles off of New Orleans has 35 billion barrels.

If we want to be able to continue to breath and eat we need to get off of this stuff, but I’d much rather see us make a good decision fully informed and move to new energy sources in an efficient smooth way than to see people lose their homes or starve to death based upon a lie.

Declaration of Energy Independence

We’re coming up on the 232nd anniversary of our nation’s independence from England. We now find ourselves owned, controlled, and at the mercy of other countries for our nations lifeblood, energy. King Abdullah tells us to get used to high oil prices.

It’s time folks to send a hardy FU to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and take our energy needs into our own hands, and it’s not for lack of resources that we haven’t done this already.

America has the means to be entirely self-reliant from an energy perspective, moreover, we have the means of being entirely self-reliant in a clean sustainable manner and becoming a significant world energy supplier. For too long the American dream has been just that, a dream. It’s time folks that we collectively and cooperatively make it a reality.

Let’s talk about what conservation can and can not do for us. Conservation can’t make energy, our best conservation efforts won’t eliminate the need for primary sources of energy. Conservation beyond a point entails lifestyle trade-offs that for many are unacceptable. Some people might be happy in an 8×10 foot room with a couple of LED lights and eating only raw vegetables, but many of us can not be happy that way, we are biologically omnivorous, we like to have a little space, we need intellectual stimulation and physical exercise. Providing for these things requires substantially more energy than the most simplistic survival lifestyle.

Conservation can significantly reduce the size of the problem. There are many conservation measures that we can take that not only don’t reduce the quality of our lifestyle but can actually enhance it. We should be pursuing these with a great deal of zest.

In the short term, to some degree we are going to have to rely on dirty energy sources, to the degree which conservation can reduce demand, it reduces the environmental damage caused by those sources.

More than 26% of our nations total energy consumption is radiated away as 60 Hz electromagnetic radiation or dissipated as heat in our nations power grid. That is, more than 1/4 or our energy is wasted in our antiquated inefficient electrical distribution system. A good portion of that energy comes from the dirtiest possible source, coal.

Eliminating the waste in our electrical distribution system or at least reducing it to it’s practical limits, would make huge impact on our nations carbon foot print. The single largest waste on the grid is in the long distance AC transmission system. The problem is long wires act like antennas and radiate a good portion of that power away. Not only is this wasted energy but power line frequency electromagnetic radiation has been shown to increase the rates of leukemia, lymphoma, and some other cancers. Harmonics of 60 Hz also cause the familiar buzzing radio interference while listening to AM stations.

The solution to this problem is to convert all transmission lines which are 300km or longer to DC transmission. DC lines do not radiate. There is a small conversion loss at either end of the line, converting from AC to DC, and then at the other end from DC back to AC, but it is less than 1%, and for any lines longer than about 300km, the reduction in radiative losses more than compensates for conversion equipment losses.

This change would reduce losses in our electrical distribution system to about a quarter of what they presently are, eliminate cascading failures, and provide immunity to space weather induced failures. In addition it would greatly increase the capacity of our grid system enabling a larger share of renewable sources to power the grid. This single change would save almost as much energy as we currently import and it would only improve our lifestyle by reducing power brownouts and blackouts.

Energy wasted in the distribution system is only one source of waste in our electrical system, the other source is the mismatch between demand and supply. Our generating system has to be designed to meet peak requirements, which tend to happen during mid-day. But neither coal fired plants nor nuclear plants can be effectively throttled. It takes too long to bring up the reaction rate in a nuclear plant from a shut-down condition, about three days, and coal fired plants also can not change their combustion rates rapidly. The result is about 75% of our generation capacity runs at full tilt all the time, only natural gas and hydro-electric generation lends itself well to being throttled. Our nighttime demand falls to much less than 75% of peak and as a consequence all of this excess energy is wasted. Coal is burnt, heat goes up the stack and is lost; nuclear fuel is fissioned, waste is created, but heating up the cooling towers and downstream water is all that we get from it during the night.

What if there were a way we could capture and use all of this excess energy when we needed it? Well, it turns out there is. If the nations commuters replaced their cars with plug-in electric hybrids with an all-electric range of 40 miles or more, almost the entirely daily commute could happen without the use of gasoline, and there is enough wasted generating capacity at night to charge all of those vehicles without fissioning a single additional gram of uranium or burning a single additional ton of coal.

Switching all of our commute vehicles to plug-in hybrids would enable us to eliminate our oil imports. This would remove all the carbon dioxide generation associated with those oil imports without putting a single additional carbon atom into the atmosphere from power generation.

If we did this AND converted all of our 300km or longer transmission lines to DC transmission, and added some East-West interties so that we could take advantage of time zone differentials, we could eliminate all oil imports and 15-20% of our coal and natural gas usage for electrical generation. So that’s what conservation in just two areas CAN do for us and it’s quite a lot! That’s what conservation can do without getting into all the little things we can do at home, switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent and as technology allows, to LED lighting.

Incandescent bulbs convert between 3-5% of their electrical energy into visible light, compact fluorescents between 15-20%, and currently available LED’s from about 15% to 30%, but LEDs in the laboratory have achieved close to 100% conversion efficiencies producing more than 300 lumans/watt which is approaching 100% efficiency.

People have various objections to compact fluorescents, but most of those are based upon bad experience with older technologies, though the garden variety CFL bought at your local retailer still has much to be desired in my opinion. The cheaper CFL bulbs tend to have two phosphors, one producing a greenish light and one producing an orangish light balanced to give the appearance similar in color to an incandescent bulb, and while on a white wall the color may appear similar, the CFL’s short comings become apparent when you have colored items, reds appear extremely dark because CFL’s give off very little red light, the same is true of violet, and blues and yellows appear muted.

You can buy full spectrum bulbs that, while not providing the completely continuous spectrum of a black-body source, does have lines in all of the colors from violet to red and thus render color much more vividly. Phosphors that provide these colors are more expensive and this cost is more than reflected in the cost of the CFL bulb. The other thing is that the eye is less sensitive to colors at either end of the spectrum than those near the center and as a result these full spectrum lamps appear dimmer than their orange/green counterparts. I have found that even amoungst the cheaper bulbs, there is considerable difference in the quality of the phosphors used. So if you don’t like the color of one brand, try another. I personally have found the Phillips CFLs provide a more pleasing light than many. Lights of America bulbs tend to provide a cooler white with more blue and I think better overall color rendition but the quality of their ballasts seems to leave something to be desired. I have experienced a high failure rate with Lights of America bulbs.

Domestic heating and cooling is another area where we use a lot of energy but addressing that involves better insulation and more effecient heating and cooling apparatus which, like replacing vehicles, tends to be expensive.

It is clear though that conservation can buy us a lot even before we step into the realm of degrading our livestyle, in fact it is apparent that many of the things we can do will enhance it.

Look at plug-in hybrids for example, if we eliminate all that gasoline burning, the air quality in major metropolitan areas surely will be much more pleasant than it presently is.

But now we get realities to deal with. Our economy is already wrecked, most of us can’t afford to go out and buy a new plug-in hybrid, even if such were already on the market, which they aren’t in the United States.

So we’ve got to do other things in the short term, things we can afford to do, things like car pooling, bicycling, relocating closer to our work, or telecommuting and working out of our homes, and most of us can afford to replace our incandescent lamps.

We need to increase our nations domestic energy production so that less capital gets sent out of the nation and is available for things like improving the electrical grid, buying plug-in electric hybrids, and developing new energy sources.

To the degree that we rely on oil or hydrocarbons, our dependency should be completely upon domestic resources. We have more coal than any nation in the world, gasoline, diesel, heating oils, and jet fuel can all be made from coal. We have around 3.5 trillion barrels of oil in the form of oil shales, about half a billion of which is recoverable with existing technologies. Presently we have a federal moratorium on leasing of oil shale extraction rights. There is significant oil deposits along the continental shelf but we have a drilling moratorium prevent these from being tapped.

I’m not in favor of environmental damage that these sorts of projects would entail, however balanced against the damage we are doing in Iraq and the potential for a war with Iran, I think we should be developing our own resources. Beyond that, in my view it’s not ethical for us to inflict environmental damage on other parts of the world to sustain our own needs.

In California we’ve got heavy crude reserves approximately equal to those of Venezuala but we aren’t tapping them. I don’t know to what degree California’s environmental laws play into that, but even if we were to tap these resources, we lack the refinery capacity to deal with heavy sour crude. Given that heavy sour crude is mostly what is readily available, even though it’s more expensive to refine, the raw supply costs less and we should have refinery capacity to use it. We also have tar sands in other parts of the country that yield similar heavy sour crude.

I can envision a time when we no longer require oil at all, not just for fuel but where we can get hydrocarbons we need for plastics and what not by recycling existing materials, or agricultural and forestry waste, or even by the growth of oil-rich algae, but in the immediate future we are still going to need it.

One place we could grab some free energy from an clean up the environment in the process would be to retrieve the mid-pacific plastic whirlpool garbage and process it either into new plastics or through thermal depolymerization, into other hydrocarbon products. It would be nice to eliminate that floating garbage dump and given that it’s a potential energy source, why not tap it?

In terms of renewable sources, we’ve got plenty; for example we have enough geothermal sites in the non-sensitive areas of the Rocky mountains to supply the electrical energy needs of the entire nation. Likewise, we have enough wind resources in just three states to supply the entire nations electrical needs. A relatively small portion of our land devoted to solar power production could supply our energy needs. There are many other options, ocean currents, tidal, ocean thermal, wave power, etc.

We’ve got to commit the resources to do whatever we need to do to eliminate our dependence upon foreign energy now, keep our dollars at home and provide jobs here.

Society

One of the major problems our society has is that social rules do not acknowledge the reality of what human beings are, a mammal, a primate, that sexually reproduces and has all the drives that served to make us a successful species which evolved over millions of years to the point where we’ve now changed our environment so radically that we’re maladapted to the environment we’ve created.

We have jailed 2% of our population and in my view this is wrong. Instead, what we should be doing is trying to find a way to adapt to the environment we’ve created, or alter our environment to be more suited to that which we’ve adapted to over the last several million years. We have people in jail for drugs, sex crimes, theft, and various violent crimes among other things.

Over millions of years we developed the most complex brain of any land mammal on the planet. Our brain developed over a period of time when generally food was scarce, consequently where food is plentiful, we tend to be fat.

Our brains evolved reward feedback loops where if a given action lead to a reward, doing this got us food, sex, comfort, whatever, then that behavior was reinforced. It’s not something we are consciously aware of yet it had survival value because it reinforced the behaviors that got us food, shelter, and propagated our genes. Of course this adaptation happened before we had the ability to chemically create rewards.

Enter the modern era where we can make all sorts of chemicals or cultivate plants that make them, that affect this reward circuit and now what used to be an adaptive behavior becomes a destructive behavior. Snort this, shoot that, smoke this, swallow that and the reward center is chemically stimulated, and the behavior that lead to that is reinforced, addiction. And now that is what the majority of our jail population is there for, addictions. Many secondary crimes, theft, violent crimes, are related to addiction.

Is it their fault that an adaptive mechanism is now being presented with a situation for which it is now maladaptive? No, and yet rather than treated, most are punished for it. As a society, we really need to find better ways to deal with this whole addiction thing, whatever the addiction might be it involves that same reward-feedback mechanism that prior to artificial stimulation used to enhance survival in an environment that proceeded the artificial one we’ve created only recently.

Sex crimes are another area that largely represents a maladaptive response to our present environment, but several thousand years ago when we were living in small tribal groups without religious convictions that tried to tell us we’re not animals, behaviors which are now criminal were at the time adaptive.

In the last hundred years we’ve gone from a situation where it was routine to marry someone off as soon as they reached puberty, to a situation where they’re not allowed to consent to sex until they’ve actually passed their physical reproductive prime. Life expectancy has also dramatically changed in that time but better nutrition and artificial chemicals in our food and water supply that mimic hormones, particularly that mimic estrogen, have advanced rather than delayed puberty. This really creates a situation that is much different than we were adapted to even a hundred years ago.

Laws which regulate such things as sodomy and prostitution even among consenting adults, are influenced by a couple of forces. Religious ideas that suggest that we are different from other animals, that we have a soul and animals don’t and that we are imbued with original sin and animals are not, have been reflected in laws that frankly do not reflect the physical reality of our nature.

These religious beliefs are codified into laws because if we are allowed to act upon our nature it threatens the believes of those that hold those religious views and by extension their immortality. No matter what your religious convictions, biologically we are still animals, primates, that reproduce sexually, and religious views do not change the brain wiring, hormone system, and the drives that result, which developed prior to religion. If someone’s religious faith isn’t strong enough to be maintained in the face of physical evidence to the contrary they should deal with it rather than trying to impose laws to hide the physical aspects of our nature.

As a society, it is OK to decide some behaviors which were adaptive in the past no longer are adaptive in the present, but I think we also have to acknowledge that we can’t discard millions of years of evolution overnight and jail everyone who fails to do so.

Rather I think we need to change the environment we’ve created to more closely match that to which we’ve evolved and we need to provide help for individuals who are having difficulty adapting to our changed environment.

To do otherwise is really no different than Hitlers proposal of Eugenics, just kill everyone who does not possess the genetic makeup that society deems proper. By jailing 2% of the population and preventing them from participating in society, this is effectively what we are doing.

But then the one thing you can say about the Nazi’s, what they lacked in compassion they made up for in efficiency and given what we’re doing in Iraq perhaps we are simply in an era where efficiency counts, greed, money, power count, and compassion, love, freedom, life, do not. Our big developed brain has allowed us to invent an incredible set of tools for repressing and killing each other.

I’ve really had these feelings about society for a long time but when I was younger, as I saw the new millennium approach, I thought, an irrational thought I know, but I thought, 2000 would be a new era. When we enter the new millennium, people will look back at what we’ve done, all the people we’ve slaughtered, all the people we’ve repressed, and see that it was bad, and decide collectively to make the new millennium better.

It has not happened yet, instead, we’ve used our technological prowess to maim, kill, and repress far more effectively than we could before. It is time to put the dark ages behind us.