Unlimiting an Energy Limited Economy

We’ve all experienced the economic booms and busts, the ups and downs, and the feeling that sustained growth is something of the distant past never to be experienced again.  Some would argue that it’s better that it not be experienced again because the more the economy grows, the faster we destroy our environment.

These assumptions are both not necessarily true.  I mean that literally, they perhaps are true the current way we’re going about things, but they aren’t necessarily true if we do things more intelligently.  It used to be common wisdom that organisms would multiply to consume the available food supply and that humans were no exception.  Thus if you improved the economic conditions in impoverished regions of the world, their population would multiply as food supply permitted, until they were again impoverished.

More recent studies have shown that, where good economic conditions exist, people have fewer children, and in the United States, were it not for immigration from more impoverished regions, we would have negative population growth.

I would argue that another way that poverty hurts our environment is that it results in desperate measures to survive.  The future seems less important if we are in immediate danger of starving to death.

Right now the US economy, and to a large degree, the global economy, is limited by energy production.  As the economy grows, it reaches a point where it is consuming energy faster than it can be produced, the price of energy soars, and clamps economic growth.  Thus we are locked in this cycle of economic oscillation around energy supplies.

This not only locks us in a cycle of unnecessary misery and suffering, but it also results in unnecessary environmental harm.  When energy prices go through the roof, highly polluting sources like coal or fracking for hydrocarbons become appealing.  We’re willing to dirty the air or water table in order to meet our immediate needs and avoid starvation.

There are long term clean solutions.  If we analyze where all of our energy ultimately comes from, it is either hydrogen fusion, or to a lesser degree radio-active decay and fission, and even to a lesser degree than that, energy from the gravitational collapse that created the Earth.  Energy that we release through burning fossil fuels is energy stored that was originally created through fusion of hydrogen in our Sun.  When we build a Geo-thermal plant, we are using heat that is both generated from radio-active decay, some fission, and left over heat from gravitational collapse.  Wind farms capture energy that originated from hydrogen fusion on our sun.

Releasing the stored carbon in fossil fuels results in millions of tons of carbon dioxide entering our atmosphere.  When the Earth last had an atmosphere that was mostly carbon dioxide, the Sun was hotter but smaller so it’s effective radiation less.  The additional carbon dioxide kept the Earth from being a frozen ice ball but it didn’t provide for an ozone layer that blocked ultraviolet light.  That’s why early life on Earth was under water.  Under a few feet of water was the only place where ultraviolet light didn’t immediately destroy it.  Returning Earth to that environment wouldn’t be healthy for existing life forms, including humans, but now with the Sun a larger more mature star giving off more heat than it did in it’s early days, the Earth would also be much hotter, approaching Venus like temperatures.

Clearly, we need an alternative to fossil fuels, and going to the sources of the stored energy, nuclear fusion and nuclear fission, are the most promising solutions.  We can collect solar energy as it arrives at the Earth.  The problem there is that it is diffuse.  Solar energy when it strikes the surface at 90º, which only happens within 23º of the equator, and then only for a small fraction of the year, amounts to about 900 watts / square meter at sea level.  Still, this is enough for the rooftops of many homes to provide sufficient energy for that homes electrical needs.  Wind and hydroelectric power are basically using nature to concentrate energy collected over a larger area into a smaller area to harvest.  Germany and The Netherlands both derive a substantial portion of their electrical needs from wind power.

A more concentrated form of energy is desirable, that derived directly from releasing a portion of the nuclear binding energy in atoms, either in the form of nuclear fission or fusion.  Nuclear fission thus far has been an unreliable and extremely dangerous technology which produces a hazardous waste which must be stored 100,000 years before it decays back to a level which is safe.  Nuclear fusion hasn’t yet produced a watt of commercial power.  But there have been promising developments in both fields.

In the area of nuclear fission, a type of reactor which rather than putting the fuel in solid rods, suspends it in liquid salts, called a molten salt reactor, promises to change the nuclear industry in ways that would make it compatible with people, both in terms of safety and in terms of radioactive waste.  Conventional pressurized water and boiling water reactors have solid fuel in fuel rod assemblies. The solid fuel is usually in the form of uranium oxide and sometimes plutonium oxide is also used as a portion of the fuel.

The Uranium used is a combination of U-235 (the fissile material) and U-238 (the fertile material).  Natural uranium is around 99.3% U-238 and .7% U-235.  It has to be isotopically enriched to around 3-5% U-235 for use in most commercial power reactors (Canadian CANDU reactors can operate with as little as 2% enrichment).

In a newly fueled reactor, if an emergency occurs and control rods are used to shut down the reaction, the fuel quickly cools because the natural decay rates do not provide large amounts of heat.  After a reactor has been operating a while, several things happen, U-235 is split into fission products, atomic fragments, many of which are unstable and have short half-lives.  Uranium also captures neutrons and forms transuranic elements (elements heavier than Uranium) some of which have short half-lives and some very long half-lives.  Now, if an emergency occurs and the reactor is shut down, these fission products and short-lived transuranics, continue to decay emitting a large amount of heat which is sufficient to melt the fuel and the reactor vessel in the absence of active cooling.  This is what makes these reactors so dangerous, even if they’re shut-down, that doesn’t stop them from melting down.

The long term transuranic elements, especially plutonium, are what make the radioactive waste from these reactors such a problem.  Because it takes 100,000 years for this mix to decay to the point where they are safe, it creates a storage problem that no civilization including ours can hope to solve. On the other hand, the fission products are mostly short-lived and within a couple hundred years will decay to a safe level, making them a less tractable storage problem.  Because conventional uranium fueled reactors produce one particular isotope of plutonium, Pu-239, in preference to others, and that isotope is ideally suited for making bombs, conventional reactors are also problematic in the area of nuclear proliferation.

Since conventional reactors hold their fuel in solid fuel rods, the fission products are also held in those same rods.  Many of those fission products absorb neutrons efficiently and poison the nuclear chain reaction.  As a result, these rods must be removed and reprocessed when only a small portion of the fuel is “burned”.  The fuel has to be stored in on-site ponds until the radiation level cools to the point where it can be transported and reprocessed.

New molten salt design reactors address all of these problems.  The fuel is suspended in molten salt rather than in solid fuel rods.  This allows waste products to be continuously removed so that they do not continue producing heat if the reactor is shut down.  Reprocessing takes place on-site so there is no need to store fuel rods or to transport them offsite for processing.  This reduces the potential for accidents and terrorist actions.

The molten-salt reactor naturally has a negative temperature coefficient, which means, as the temperature increases, the reaction rate decreases.  This is caused by two physical effects.  As the temperature rises, the salts the fuel is suspended in expand, and as they expand, it moves the fissile atoms farther apart decreasing the reaction rate.  The second effect is related to Doppler shifting of the neutron energy level.  Only neutrons of a specific energy level are readily absorbed by fissile atoms creating a fission.  As temperatures increase, the relative movement on one atom nuclei to another increases, causing the energy spectrum of the neutrons emitted by one atom as seen by another to be broader, and as a result, a smaller percentage of neutrons fall within the energy window where they can be efficiently absorbed maintaining the chain reaction.

If the temperature rises too high, a melt plug in the bottom of the reaction tank melts allowing fuel to drain into a much larger holding tank.  The geometry of the holding tank is such that fuel is dispersed over a much larger area by gravity.  It can no longer maintain the reaction, and since it’s not carrying a large amount of fission products with it, quickly cools and solidifies.  This makes the molten salt reactor an inherently safe design in that, if cooling is lost, it shuts itself down and contains the fuel.

The molten salt reactor, in addition to being able to burn uranium fuel, can also function with a thorium fuel cycle.  Thorium, which is four times as abundant on the Earth’s surface as uranium, also does not produce large quantities of Pu-239, and does provide many other isotopes which render it’s transuranic produces much less suitable for bombs than uranium fueled reactors.  In addition, molten salt reactors can be configured as “burners” rather than “breeders”, using fast rather than thermal neutrons, to burn transuranic waste products produced in other reactors, leaving only short lived fission products and transforming the 100,000 year nuclear waste problem into a more manageable 200 year problem.  It is estimated that we could provide for 70-100 years of the worlds electricity needs by using existing waste alone and not mining another gram of uranium.  Just to be clear, you can’t run a molten-salt reactor on just transuranics (except for Pu-239), because, with the exception of Pu-239, other transuranics have a less than 50% probability of fissioning after absorbing a neutron so they won’t sustain a chain reaction alone.  They can only be used mixed with U-235, U-233, or Pu-239 fuel.

The problem we face with nuclear fission isn’t a scientific problem, it’s a political and economic problem.  With all of the problems we’ve had with conventional reactors, there is significant resistance to building more conventional plants.  This makes investors less willing to back something new, but something new is really necessary, not only to address our energy problems but also to clean up the huge mess that we’ve already made.

Are molten salt reactors completely safe with no potential problems?  Well, no, plumbing still breaks.  Anytime you have something mechanical, things break.  Putting that much energy into a small area stresses materials, things break.  But they can be designed to be passively safe, that is, lose active cooling, electricity, and not melt down or release fuel or fission products into the surrounding environment.  Bottom line though, I think there is a viable sane route to using fission for electricity production, it’s just not the one we’re on now.

In the arena of fusion interesting things are happening. Skunk Works Program Manager Charles Chase has outlined their plan for creating a 100 MW Fusion prototype by 2017.  What we aren’t being told is the specifics of how he plans to do this other than it is a scaled down fusion reactor, around 100MW.  This is exciting news if it is true except that the question of whether or not this technology will be available for civilian purposes remains since Skunk Works develops technology under military contracts and thus under military restrictions and controls, it’s possible this technology may never see civilian light.

Then there are some exciting developments in the arena of cold fusion at NASA and elsewhere.  It’s no longer marginally reproducible, and it’s more complex than simple fusion, the most recent incarnations also transmuting nickle into copper in the process.  The energy to weight ratio is on the order of 1000 times better than gasoline.

Personally, I’m betting on the Chinese to be the first to bring fusion online for commercial power generation owing to their willingness to put the necessary resources into developing it, and their willingness comes out of necessity, they’re currently choking on coal emissions and they’re still struggling to provide for the energy needs of industry and also rural electrification.  But there does seem to be quite a lot of promising developments in this field.

The Grid, AC/DC, Good News

If we were to have another Carrington event (huge solar mass ejection in 1859) today, we would have massive damage to our electrical grid.  The reason for this is that when a large CME hits Earth’s magnetosphere, it compresses the Earth’s magnetic field on the Sun side.  As it does, the magnetic field lines cut across long distance transmission lines, inducing a very low frequency current (almost DC).

Transformers that terminate the line on either end are inductive.  They have a high impedance at 60Hz (or 50Hz in some countries) that they are designed to operate at but a very low impedance at the low frequencies induced in the lines by Solar CME’s.  The actual voltage induced in the lines isn’t large but because the transformers impedance is so low at the frequencies induced, huge currents flow, burning out transformer windings.  The longer the line, the higher the voltage and thus currents.

High voltage DC transmission lines are not affected because the voltage induced is only a very small percentage of the line voltage and can readily be compensated for by the terminal equipment.

High voltage DC lines also require fewer conductors and can be operated at 1.414 times the voltage of an AC line using the same insulators owing to the fact that insulators need to be sized for the peak of the AC waveform and not the average.  This allows a DC line to carry considerably more power than an AC line using the same insulators.

A DC line can also be operated at a higher current for the same conductors.  There are two reasons for this.  AC lines can tolerate very little heat because it causes the cable to sag, resulting in a longer path, and thus shifts the phase of the AC power so that it won’t be in phase with other sources.  Because DC has no phase concerns, higher temperatures and more sag can be tolerated. Lines carrying AC power also suffer from what is known as the skin effect.  The current flowing through the conductor creates a magnetic field that induces a counter current and tends to force the current to the outside of the conductor, thus the inner portion effectively carries little current.  Because a constant current flows in a DC line, magnetic lines of force are not moving, no skin effect results.

Long AC lines are effective antennas and radiate away a significant portion of their power, sometimes as much as 20% for very long lines.  DC lines do not radiate and so do not loose power to radiation.  This is not only good from an efficiency standpoint, it’s also good from a health standpoint.  50HZ and 60HZ AC magnetic fields have been associated with higher levels of leukemia and bone cancers.  DC lines eliminate this low frequency AC field.

For those curious as to how a low frequency AC field can induce cancer, AC fields cause ions to spiral as they cross through ion channels in cell membranes.  This reduces the efficiency of cell membrane ion transport.  Some blood pressure drugs that work by decreasing ion transport across cell membranes have also been linked to slightly higher leukemia and bone cancer rates and so it is plausible that low frequency magnetic fields may be causing these cancers through this mechanism, but I know of no definitive research to validate this hypothesis.

Eliminating this radiation is a good thing. Although the magnetic fields from the wiring in your house is probably much stronger owing to your closer proximity to them. This probably accounts for the weakness of the statistical link between power lines and these cancers. The AC magnetic field radiated from your house wiring obscures the effect of that radiated from power lines because of proximity.  Electromagnetic field strength decreases as the square of the distance, the fields generated by the power lines are much greater but you are much closer to your house wiring.

Using DC transmission is one way to inter-tie grids of different frequency or phase.  Presently there are three different grids in the United States and phase differences are the reason they can’t be inter-tied with AC transmission links.  When the distances get too great, phase shift caused by line sag causes problems.

DC transmission lines become financially economical when their length exceeds approximately 700km.  The terminal expenses for a DC line are greater, but the transmission line is less costly, because the same copper and insulators can carry much more DC power than AC.  Less land is required because there is no electromagnetic radiation from DC lines and fewer physical lines are required.

DC transmission lines are more efficient when their length exceeds about 300km.  There is some loss in the AC/DC and DC/AC conversion process in the terminal equipment, but if the line is longer than 300km, the reduced losses in the line more than compensate for the loss in the terminal equipment.  For long lines, the savings can be tremendous.

In the United States, as is many countries, the population centers do not correspond well with the location of renewable energy resources.  In the United States, one of the most economical renewable resources is wind power in the mid-west, but demand is largely on the East and West coasts and Great Lakes region.  The problem is that grid capacity to get power from the mid-west to these regions is insufficient to non-existent.

As those of you who have followed this blog over the years know, I’ve been advocating the adoption of high voltage DC power transmission for lines longer than 300km for years.  In China, DC transmission is already widespread, but in the United States, it’s adoption has been slow.  So when the big CME hits, the whole world won’t go dark, much of China and parts of Europe will still have a functional grid.

The good news is there is some movement in the United States to remedy this situation.  The Tres Amigas project aims to create a 5000 MW DC-to-DC inter-tie in Clovis, NM, to tie together the Eastern, Western, and Texas grid.  This would also provide a place from which mid-west generated wind power could feed into all three grids.  Unfortunately, DC would only be used to inter-connect the three grids, transmission to and from this facility would still be over inefficient and vulnerable AC transmission lines.  Also, there is no completion date as of yet, this is still a project in the planning and funding phase.

A 500 mile HVDC line that would span from O’Brien County, Iowa to Grundy County, Illinois, would bring power from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota where there is much wind generation potential but where existing transmission facilities are already operating at capacity and thus unable to take further power, to Chicago and cities farther East.  This line is scheduled for completion in 2017.  There is a group opposing it as it will compete with energy produced in Illinois and the East Coast (yeah, we just love our coal soot).

The TransWest Express Transmission Project aims to build a 3000 MW HVDC transmission line from an area near Rawlins, Wyoming, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to deliver power from wind farms in Wyoming to Nevada, Arizona, and California.  This project is scheduled to begin construction in 2014 and be operational in 2015.

The Pacific Inter-tie originally went into service in 1970 using mercury ARC tubes for conversion, transmitted 1400 MW from the Pacific Northwest to California.  Between 1984 and 2006, a series of upgrades ultimately raised the capacity to 3500 MW.

There are a few other small DC lines in the United States, but the big HVDC build outs are happening in China.  I don’t know what happened to this countries ability to get it done, but it seems we are lagging behind the world in so many ways, when we used to be leaders.  It seems all of our capital goes into the war machine and now the domestic spying machine instead of needed infrastructure and innovation.

Hydrogen Fusion, Energy, and Idiots

An article on Forbes by Richard Martin astounded me in that it’s almost unbelievable that anyone could be that short-sighted.  If humanity is to have a future, we need to overcome this kind of thinking.  To summarize, “If there isn’t a quick buck in it for me, then there is no reason to do it” is the mentality that went into that article and which will doom mankind if we can’t move past it.

The long term survival and development of mankind and civilization requires several things.  It requires that we establish ourselves on more than one planet because planetary scale disasters happen and sooner or later we will go the way of the dinosaurs if Earth remains our only home, that’s nearly impossible using chemical propulsion.  In the long term, it really requires that we have the ability to make a home for ourselves on planets orbiting distant stars because events that sterilize regions of space several hundred light years in diameter with intense gamma radiation do happen from time to time and the sun will only sustain life here on this planet for so long, perhaps another five hundred million years if we’re lucky.  And yes, the sun won’t run out of fuel for perhaps another five billion, but as it evolves it will become redder and expand and that will evaporate the oceans and make this planet uninhabitable.

Another thing that our long term survival requires is that we have the ability to adapt to a changing environment, both natural changes and the more rapid changes we make ourselves.  One necessary part of this adaptation is the education necessary to exist within today’s technological society.  We’ve created a world of gadgets that we’re dependent upon but our educational system is still mostly churning out ditch diggers.  So we create these huge “infrastructure” projects to keep them employed, while the real needs of society go unfilled because nobody has the education necessary to fulfill them.

We need the ability to feed ourselves, and today’s huge commercial mono-culture farms that relay heavily on artificial fertilizers and waste huge amounts of water, are not sustainable.  Planting rice in the desert and then spraying water on it from 100 feet away, isn’t going to cut it as the world’s population approaches 9 billion.

Energy is another problem, closely related to the others, for if we have adequate energy than water becomes a non-problem because the oceans are plenty but they’re salty, energy can remove that salt and make fresh water.  Fracking isn’t the solution, it’s a temporary bandaid that only slows the bleeding for a short time.  And while it slows the bleeding, it’s poisoning the patient, contaminating ground water, bringing up radioactive materials to the surface, and geologically destabilizing the planet. They tell us that we’ve got 100 years worth of cheap natural gas.  Actually, they’ll get at the cheap gas in the near-term and then what remains becomes increasingly difficult to get at, just like oil.  We can not keep burning hydrocarbons indefinitely.

This research being done at the University of Washington is valuable because it aims to address at least two of these problems, to give us the means of viable interplanetary travel, and to solve our energy problems, and at the same time some folks are getting educated in the process.

I’m not suggesting for a second that we rely solely on hydrogen fusion, Solar and Wind have become much more economical, and solar is often most economical near where it’s going to be used, such as in California or Arizona, where the solar peak corresponds nicely with peak-load since much of that peak load is air conditioning.  Wind power is a little more problematic since some of the best wind resources are not where the grid is.  I think we need to make the investment to build the grid out and take advantage of wind where we can.

One renewable that one doesn’t hear much mention of, except in Hawaii, is Geo-thermal.  That’ s a shame because Geo-thermal is uniquely able to provide the kind of base-load power that the utilities are so quick to criticize Wind and Solar for being unable to do, although both the Netherlands and Germany have proven that solar and wind can reliably provide a much larger portion of our power needs than the utilities here will admit, by virtue of geographical diversification, and the United States has much more territory to diversify over than either Germany or the Netherlands.

Presently, we have a moratorium on power production in Yellowstone, but it is both our largest and potentially most dangerous Geo-thermal source, if not tapped.  We’re better off taking any heat out of that system that we can.  Yellowstone, if it were to have a major eruption, would instantly depopulate about 1/3rd of the United States while causing food production problems for the remainder of the globe.

All the wealth in the world isn’t going to do Richard any good if there is no food, water, or energy to be purchased.  We really need to start thinking about how we’re going to survive as a species and recognize our dependence upon the rest of the life on this planet, and give some serious thought to what kind of a future we want to have.  The path we’re on now is going to take us to more death, disease, destruction, and poverty, but we can make other choices.

The Seeds of Change


The dots are the seeds of change.  The seeds for change in the future are planted in the present.

Presently, things look pretty dark.  Those in power have brain-washed the masses into believing that they are superior and know what’s best for us all and what is sustainable.  Their actions would indicate that they are neither interested in our best interests nor in sustainability.  People have come to expect that Big Brother will provide for them as long as they do what they are told even though events like Katrina have proven that Big Brother is neither capable nor interested in providing for them.  People have given up their constitutional rights in return for perceived safety even though that safety is only a perception.

From a biological perspective, we are a species that has internal programming both for self-preservation and propagation and for group preservation and propagation.  We’ve not arrived at this point without a great deal of internal conflict.  Every one of us exists because our parents were successful at acquiring the necessary resources for their own survival and in reproducing.  Many who were less driven to obtain resources didn’t survive.  Many who were less driven to reproduce had no offspring.  They are not our parents, they are not represented in today’s gene pool, and this process has been going on for thousands of years.

From the days where we first banded together to hunt more effectively, we became more effective at gathering resources as a group, and groups that were most effective at interacting in a productive manner, their members survived and reproduced more effectively than those that did not, and thus our genes also have encoded in them characteristics directed at group survival.

There are conflicts between group and individual survival.  An action might benefit the group but result in the death or significant harm to the individual.  An action might benefit an individual but harm the group.  And there exists more than one group, in fact entire hierarchies which complicates things further.  If it only were as simple as Spock put it, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.   It is not so simple because there are often great discrepancies between the needs of the individual and the group. What might be the difference between the survival and death of an individual, might be only a very small inconvenience to the group.  It’s not an absolute black-and-white but many shades of grey.

These dark times we are presently in result because there are very great conflicts between the needs of individuals and the collective, because there are great conflicts between various groups that exist within the hierarchy of groups, and because within groups, the balance between individual and group needs varies greatly from individual to individual.

Society would function best if the interests of the group and the individual were balanced, and if all members of the group benefit equally from their participation.  Right now we are so far from this.  We’ve got a handful of people who are manipulating the group for their own benefit, and the rest of the group is willing to roll over and play dead, no balance at all, neither between the needs of the group and the individuals, or between individuals within the group.

I can see the seeds of change however, with events like Edward Snowden revealing the illegal activities of the NSA.  People are getting tired of being exploited and starting to resist, like the hacker group Anonymous.  I don’t think all the Homeland Security Departments two billion bullets can stop it.

It seems clear to me change is in the works.  That change can come gradually and peacefully or quickly and violently.  Those who are manipulating us collectively must make a choice now, they can allow our participation in self-determination and allow the resources to be shared more equitably, or they can remain greedy and wait until people are totally fed up and rise up violently as in the French revolution and put the lot of them to death.  One way or the other change is coming, I fear it’s going to go the violent route and I’d rather it not, but if people persist with their money and power greed I don’t see how it can go otherwise.

Agenda 21

Just because Glenn Beck says it doesn’t make it so…

To be sure, Agenda 21 is a real United Nations document that seeks to promote sustainability, some would say using Draconian measures.  Some suggest that Agenda 21 intends to eliminate capitalism, national sovereignty, property rights, and personal freedom.  However, agenda 21 is not a treaty and thus not law in the United States, and problems it addresses are real and not all of the ideas for sustainable growth are bad.

I do believe we need to move towards a sustainable future and we need to do it now but I don’t believe that means we have to stick all human population in 1% of the Earths’ land or that we have to eliminate many of the things we value such as the freedom to move about.

Agenda 21 makes the incorrect assumption that it is man verses nature. Inherent in that idea is that human beings are separate and distinct from nature and must, for natures sake, be separated from nature.  We are part of nature and we must learn to peacefully co-exist with the rest of nature, not separate ourselves from it.  Indeed, we’ve already separated ourselves from nature too much.  This is what has lead to an insensitivity on our part to that which sustains us.

A second assumption agenda 21 makes is that the carrying capacity of the Earth is around a billion human beings.  I think this assumption is wrong except that to carry a larger population in a sustainable manner we have to do things much differently than we are doing now.  Without the use of oil, or some other energy source to replace it, we could not sustain anywhere near the level of food production that we have today.  And without a substantial source of energy, water is going to soon become a problem because we are depleting aquifers faster than they are replenished naturally.  With adequate energy, we could desalinate seawater and eliminate that issue but our current energy supplies are not adequate or sustainable.

There is also a quality of life verses quantity of life issue.  Meat production takes about a hundred times as much resources as grain production.  Therefore, the percentage of our diet that is meat is a huge factor in how large of a human population Earth can carry in a sustainable manner.  This is bad news for me because I happen to like meat.

Some ideas presented in Agenda 21, I happen to agree with.  Mixed use buildings in urban areas, that makes sense.  It is convenient to be able to go from your apartment or condo downstairs and pick up whatever you might need, or go downstairs to work or maybe across the street, as opposed to driving a couple miles to a store or commuting ten miles to work.  And having retail businesses, restaurants, and other such facilities at the ground level of multistory apartment or condominium buildings has the additional effect of reducing crime and creating a better urban environment.

The idea that less of the planet needs to be covered in asphalt, I agree with that.  Asphalt relies on oil, which is running out, and we really use a large amount of land for our transportation needs, and it’s a non-sustainable form of transportation.  For local transportation, cars are fine, they can be replaced by electric vehicles and the electricity for those vehicles can be generated from sustainable sources.  For inter-city transportation, cars and trucking are not sustainable, and neither is our diesel powered railroads in this country.  We should be electrifying our railway like every other continent except for North America has done.

I am concerned that although it’s not law in the United States now, it may become law given our current governments general disregard for the Constitution and our rights as declared in it.  I am also less than thrilled with the way the UN decided to address the issue of sustainability.  Rather than say, here’s the problem and here is A solution, not necessarily THE solution, they just say here is the problem and here is THE solution and if you don’t like it we’re going to jam it down your throats anyway.

In my view, if we solve the energy problem we’re about 90% of the way to solving all the other problems and the energy problems ARE solvable if we’re willing to commit the resources to doing it.  Controlled hydrogen fusion, really the Holy Grail of energy production is technologically achievable, but it would have to be on a large scale with current technology.  Right now there is no one place where the grid capacity is sufficient to carry away the power of a 10GW plant but why not build that grid?

The natural fusion reactor in the sky could also be tapped to a much greater degree.  And in the US we have ABUNDANT Geo-thermal resources and in my view, we really ought to be taking away heat from Yellowstone as fast as we can anyway, because, if it blows, one-third of the US is gone in a flash and the rest of us will starve to death in time.  So might as well let some of the steam out now, even if it means Old Faithful becomes a little less so, our survival really depends on it.  Germany and Holland have both been very successful at tapping Wind energy, and in the mid-west we have ample resources.  Again grid capacity is the issue, let’s fix that.

Once we get the energy problem solved, we’ve solved the water problem as well as their is plenty of water in the oceans and we need only the energy to desalinate it.  And when the water problem is solved, so to a large degree is the land problem because we can then transform desert into arable land and eliminate the need to cut down all the forest for farmland.  There are to be sure other things we need to do like get away from mono-crop agriculture and aerial sprinklers and chemical fertilizers.  It’s all doable.

It’s interesting that some of the folks behind Agenda 21 are former oil company types, which leads me to believe that they’re not really interested in the environment at all, that rather this is a situation where people that have financial interests that are hampered by environmentalists are trying to create a situation so extreme everyone will rise up against it, and thus the restraints in their environmentally damaging agendas well be removed and they can go about plundering the planet as they desire.


A wavelength is the distance from a part of a wave to the same part in the next cycle.  It can be from one positive peak to the next, or one high pressure peak to the next, or the top of one water wave to the next, etc.  The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.  Also, the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength, the greater the energy.

I’m noticing something interesting on this planet, the trend seems to be to higher frequencies, shorter wavelengths, more energy.  Radios back in the 40’s used large vacuum tubes for amplifiers, they were big hunky things, and they tended to operate on rather low frequencies.  Today we use transistors and we can pack billions of them in a very small space of a few centimeters.

We used to use frequencies in the AM broadcast band for transmitting sounds, around 1 Mhz, or 1 million cycles per second, with a long wavelength of around 300 meters.  Now we’ve got Satellite radio broadcasting on 2.3 Ghz, that’s 2.3 billion cycles per second, a wavelength of .13 meters (typical receiving antenna will be 1/4 or 1/2 wavelength).

The thing that seems weird to me is that it’s not just technical things that are changing, it’s the pace of our lives, faster and faster, time intervals for things, shorter and shorter, we used to spend hours or even sometimes days reading a book, now we spend 15 seconds reading a blog, we used to live in good sized homes, now more and more the trend is towards tiny apartments and condos.

The logical conclusion to all of this is that eventually we’ll exist in no space at all for no time at all.  I don’t think I like where this is headed.

Where Are We Headed?

The department of homeland security is purchasing 2 billion (that’s 2,000,000,000) rounds of ammunition.

When asked the purpose of this purchase they say it’s for law enforcement practice.  There are approximately 100,000 US federal law enforcement officers.  That’s 20,000 bullets per officer.  That’s a lot of practice.

It appears to me that they’re preparing for a war against the citizens, a civil war.  The separation between the wealthy elite and the average American citizen has reached the point where 400 people own more wealth than the remaining 300,000,000+ ordinary Americans.  I can’t see how this trend can continue without it leading to a major bloody revolt and I think that is what the department of protect the ultra-rich wealthy elite from the rest of us security department is preparing for.

There are also these huge concentration camps, er, detention centers that are being built or have been built around the country.  Again I think preparations for a revolt they know is inevitable if something isn’t done to reign in the power of these wealthy elite and spread the wealth more equitably among the workers who actually create it.

And those are things being done along the lines of force.  Equally insane things are being done along the lines of domestic covert intelligence (spying).  The NSA is building a million square food super-computing center that will allow them to store every telephone conversation, e-mail, text-message, or any other communication forever.  This will allow them to go back and listen or read any communication you and I have ever had, not to mention the data mining possibilities, particularly as the field of artificial intelligence continues to advance.

Laws are starting to get passed to help them populate this center.  CISPA essentially will encourage corporations to share private information with the government.  It’s not just about hackers, it’s about anyone that uses a computer or phone or mail or any other form of communications having that information routed to the government and stored in this super computer center forever.

I’m not a big fan of hackers (in the illegal destructive sense), after having suffered a two week outage and nearly $20,000 in losses back in 1995 as the result of a break-in.  But, I have to say the message Anonymous has I think is spot on.  I don’t agree with their tactics, but I absolutely agree with their insistence that the meaning be restored to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, that the value of every individual life be respected.  And I think they are absolutely right that if congress does not allow this to happen peacefully, it will happen in a bloody revolution and I think that is what the 2 billion rounds of ammunition, federal detention centers, NSA super computer center, and CISPA are all about.

The Grand Experiment

It’s been two years since the three nuclear reactors melted down at Fukushima, the direct result of their emergency generators being swamped by a tsunami, resulting in loss of cooling.  But also the result of man being arrogant with respect to his ability to control the nuclear genie.

After two years, the levels of radiation in Tokyo continue to rise, and over here in the United States, snow still has twice the normal background radiation levels in some areas.  The atmosphere is now more radioactive than it was during the height of atmospheric nuclear bomb testing.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from around 250 parts per million a hundred years ago to around 380 parts per million today.  I had hoped, as we ran out of fossil fuels, that would taper off, but now with all the recent large “tight oil” discoveries, combined with technology for extracting it, directional drilling and hydrological fracturing, or fracking, there appears to be no end in sight, at least during my lifetime.

It does appear that this is an experiment we are determined to do, find out just how resilient this planet is.  It is an experiment I wish that we were not undertaking.

Humans need energy, and more energy available to us translates into a better standard of living.  A good standard of living for all of humankind is something we would  prefer. Is it a choice between global poverty and trashing our environment?

The original design for the Fukushima nuclear plant called for the emergency generators to be built upon a hill where they may have survived the tsunami without being swamped.  There is still a question of whether wiring would have survived, pumps survived, etc, but had the plant been built as originally designed, there is at least the possibility there might not be three melted reactors there now.

There is a nuclear plant on the California coast, approximately mid-way between Los Angeles and San Diego.  Like Japan, a seismically unstable region, but with two huge cities (that have for all intents and purposes grown together) surrounding it. We have the potential for a disaster very similar to what happened in Japan to happen here.  It seems highly likely that it’s just a matter of time.

The only thing that really matters to corporations is making money and that usually means doing things in the cheapest way possible, even if it does endanger tens of millions of people.

People say that renewable energy isn’t economically competitive.  The thing is nuclear and fossil fuels only are because they’re not being done in safe and environmentally responsible ways.  There are inherently safe reactor designs, designs you can turn the coolant off and nothing bad happens, reactors that will burn the actinides produced by conventional reactors eliminating the very long term wastes, but these are expensive, and so they don’t get built.

BP, the reason we had that big spill in the gulf was that the proper casings for that kind of oil pressure cost more and so they opted to go with what was cheap, before you consider the cost to the environment and the clean-up costs, which are nowhere near enough to REALLY clean it up.

If the oil and nuclear industry actually did things in safe environmentally friendly ways, they would not be cost efficient with respect to sustainable energy sources.  In real terms, when you include the costs to our environment, the costs to human health, the cost of waste disposal, etc, renewable sustainable energy sources are cost effective.

We really need to find a way to alter our economic system such that the true cost of energy production, food production, etc, is attributed to each producer.  If the costs of producing electricity using coal included for example, all the additional deaths from all the mercury and radon and other pollutants that get pumped into the air, and the health care costs prior to death that coal produced, then it would no longer be cheap and more sane alternatives would prevail.

There is a lot of misinformation being brandied about with respect to renewable energy sources.  Solar and Wind are intermittent and therefor can’t contribute to base power, some form of backup power is needed, and since nuclear and coal can’t be rapidly increased or decreased, that usually means gas or hydro where it is available, and hydro has it’s own environmental problems or so they say, fish they say can’t make the fish ladders, even though they did fine for decades prior to the modern era of over fishing and oxygen depleted streams because everyone has to have the perfect lawn.

Germany has proven that these sources can in fact make a much larger contribution to the grid if they are geographically dispersed.  Here in the United States, we have much larger landmass to geographically disperse them over.  However, there are deficiencies in our grid, or should I saw grids, that make this problematic.  Most of our long distance transmission lines are radiatively lossy AC lines.  If we changed all lines longer than about 300km over to DC high voltage, we’d lose a lot less power to radiation, and this would make it feasible to intertie the East and West grids because DC interties would eliminate the issue of phasing.  It would also eliminate 60 Hz radiation and the leukemia that is associated with it.  It would also give those lines immunity to solar flares and coronal mass ejections.  In the process of making it possible for solar and wind to contribute a greater amount of power to the grid, converting these long lines to DC would have all of these other benefits.  Existing lines converted to DC could also carry more power because they’re carrying the maximum current and voltage all the time instead of just during a portion of the AC cycle.

However, there is another renewable that can contribute base load power 24×7, and that’s geothermal power.  Nuclear decay and to some degree fission, occurring naturally in the Earth’s core produce heat that is trying to escape to the surface.  There is more than enough geothermal resources to supply all of our electrical needs.

When you turn on anything electric or start your car, don’t you feel a small twinge of guilt?  Wouldn’t it be good to not have to feel that, to be able to flip on a light switch, or turn up the heat, or the A/C if you’re in a hot climate, and not feel bad about it knowing that your energy is coming from an environmentally friendly source?

I’d rather not do the grand experiment and not continue to dump carbon dioxide into the air and not continue to turn the planet into a large nuclear waste dump.

Oil / Gas / Fracking

Recent shale oil discoveries make it appear that we won’t see peak oil for decades to come.  It’s turning out that oil reservoirs known as seeps tend to contain relatively small portions of oil compared to the source rock below them and a combination of horizontal drilling and hydrological fracturing (fracking) has given us the ability to access the source rock oil and gas.

I knew it was likely there would be more hydrocarbons to be found somewhere simply by the amount and thickness of the carbon dioxide atmosphere on Venus.  Venus is a planet similar to Earth in size, but with an atmosphere of almost pure carbon dioxide 99 times as dense as Earth’s.  That suggested a similar amount of carbon is present on our planet and since it’s not in the atmosphere, it must be stored in some other form, as buried hydrocarbons or carbonates, and the latter, at sufficient temperature, pressure, and in the presence of iron, tends to become hydrocarbons.

For those of you who want to keep driving your SUVs and Hummers around it’s great news, for the rest of us that want to breath, drink water that is uncontaminated, and not persevere constant low grade earth quakes, not so good.  Natural gas supplies will be abundant, unfortunately they’ll be laced with radon gas.  If you smoke and figure on dying of lung cancer anyway, no big deal, but for the rest of us, not good.

The supplies of hydrocarbons may be huge, but the supply of atmosphere hasn’t increased one bit.  It would appear now that we are destined to find out truly how resilient the planet is.  Will the ocean warm enough for methane hydrates to release their methane and cause a runaway effect or not?  How much will increased plant growth sink the extra carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere?  We don’t know, but looks like we’re going to find out.

Those of you who enjoy shell fish, better get used to doing without because as the quantities of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere continue to increased, so does the percentage dissolved in the ocean forming carbolic acid which dissolves the shells of shellfish.

This creates a situation globally where only by mutual consent of all nations will we have a chance to do anything about it.  We all share the same atmosphere, that means the negative consequences of burning these newly accessible hydrocarbons will affect us all.  But only the nations that do so will benefit economically.  So if Germany, a country that recently has been relatively ecologically conscious, chooses not to access shale deposits in their country, they still suffer from what the US, England, and other countries that do produce oil from shale contribute to the atmosphere.  All they gain is not benefiting economically.  If history is any guide, we’ll not come to any sort of global agreement.

It does devalue oil as a commodity to the point where maybe we will be ever so less likely to attack Iran for it’s oil, so there is one minor benefit.  I was really hoping we’d come to some state of sanity by necessity, switch to sustainable energy sources as a matter of survival.  Now that looks unlikely.


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We’ve got this huge energy problem. We’ve got this huge energy source, which, left to it’s own devices will release it’s energy violently, killing millions, rendering most of the United States uninhabitable, and altering weather globally causing a huge failure of crops and mass starvation.

Right now we’ve got a moratorium on tapping geothermal energy in national parks.  I think we ought to make an exception to this for Yellowstone, both for the energy it could provide and because whatever heat, however insignificant, we can remove from that magma chamber, which is enormous, might possibly delay a super-eruption.