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What's Our Real Challenge?

By Edited Feb 19, 2016 0 0

These days energy is a hot topic, and one of the biggest energy issues are the roles of various energy sources, with oil being played off against coal and green energy.

Some very interesting concepts come up like energy density and, of course, discussions of whether green energy is reliable or not also come up

We do know a few things about green energy.  Green energy is hard to tie into the grid,  it's not always dependable, storage is a challenge and the energy density is relatively low.

None of this is really controversial.  We recently witnessed Ontario stepping away from its green initiatives largely because it's just too expensive to plug alternate energy sources into the grid .

Ask someone who sells windmills. The  business model depends on government subsidies so much so that their association retain lobbyists for state and federal governments in the US.  They do well in the UK because  the population there are on side with large subsidies.

There is also the option of nuclear power, but  we all know the mantra: no nukes.  Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.   China syndrome.  Everybody knows that nukes are dangerous and yet nowadays when we think about green energy  ur renewable energy or small footprint energy nukes have a certain attraction.

Even hydroelectric power has its detractors. It has low energy density, it takes a lot space, it dams wild rivers and it can wipe out fish runs.

So what we do? Tough question.  The fact is we need energy.

Or do we?

And this is where it gets interesting.  There's nothing wrong with low impact energy as long as you exclude the economic aspect.  Just about everything negative about low impact energy can be solved with enough money.  And, as most people recognize, conventional energy sources are cheap in part because we don;t do a full accounting of their costs.

Its also clear that eventually we will have to exclude the economic aspect.  In the first place, we know that  we will eventually run out of oil, and its cost will increase aswedraw closer to that date.  We also know that oil was not good for our environment and we know that the environment is more critical to us than cheap oil.  We cannot live in a world that won't support us no matter how many dollars we have.

So if we can recognize the failings of green energy , why can't we also recognize the failings of of oil and other hydrocarbons?  The positions are not mutually exclusive and each can stand and fall on their own merits. 

The fact that green energy is not currently economically viable doesn't mean we have to demonize environmentalists as anti-humans who don't want any change to the world. Conversely, we don't have to demonize humans just because we're human and have an impact on the world. We are here we're not going anywhere. We're part of the environment.  Our challenge is to be able to live in harmony with our environment and to prosper while we're doing that. 

And let's face it: that challenge is big enough without making enemies.


This idea of evaluating the facts and then determining what the challenges are without demonizing the opposition just makes sense. Perhaps it's a little bit radical.  It's certainly not our normal mode of behaviour.  A  lot of us to enjoy arguing for the sake of argument, after all,  but while that is fun it diminishes the likelihood that we'll solve the challenge because winning the argument takes our eyes off the real prize.

And the real challenge is that we have too many people on this earth . Not too many absolute terms, at least not right now,  but certainly too many to maintain in a North American style.  And more and more of the world wants that lifestyle. 

To provide that lifestyle for the world population, given the level of our current technology, means we either improve our technology or get rid of some of the people.

The challenge is that simple.  Its not an energy problem, or an energy source problem.  It comes down to what we do with the people that we add  to the worlds population each and every day.

More people require more food, they require more water, more
clothing and shelter, and  they require more real estate just to stand on.  Human beings are 62% water.  The way we're going now the time will come when the oceans will dry up.   We'll ask ourselves where all the water went until someone eventually points out
that it's all walking around in the people.

Bert Ruttan made this point convincingly in a TED talk about space exploration and the role of the private sector. He feels the government is not going to be able to rise to the challenge of space exploration but that the private sector will be able to.  He points to our history of exploring the surface of the earth to justify his claim. He envisions colonization continuing into space as the solution to our challenge.

You can dispute his analysis but what can't be disputed is his recognition that the only alternative to space colonization is to limit the human population of the earth.  That population won't happen without wars and famine and police states.  History has taught us that again and again, and the lesson  is not attractive.

The better solution for excess population, whether it manifests itself in energy challenges, food challenges or real estate challenges is to find a way to allow private enterprise turn a profit with new technology.  Its equally clear that that challenge is one of accounting, and nothing more.

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