Friday, July 22, 2005

trash returned on trash invested

I suppose at some point, my sidebar links might explode. I link to Viridian / World Changing, as well as James Howard Kunstler. I've tried to provide a bit of a buffer - but html accidents do happen, and if the two should touch, there might be an explosion, like matter and anti-matter.

The heart of the disagreement is this: Kunstler argues the future will turn out to be "old fashioned" green, likely involving sour faced farmers (think American Gothic) holding organic pitchforks. The Viridian movement seeks to design a "bright green" future. What does a bright green future mean? Imagine the rain forest ascendant, with a huge plug to power all the laptops belonging to the howler monkeys. I imagine it will also glow.

Both are marketing a vision of the future.

Now, I don't mean to pick on these two competing visions. In fact, I have noticed that there are aspects of these philosophies that venn up, as when each propose efficient urban patterns for living that would save energy and increase standards of living.

I'm fond of all my links. Most I read daily, though some are vestigial organs. When they attack each other, it is rather exciting. I must take sides, if only for a day. And today I respond to blue.

Viridian Note 00449: The Mad Max Scenario
You can make synthetic oil from coal, but the only time this was tried on a large scale was by the Nazis under wartime conditions, using impressive amounts of slave labor. (((So, then, the Nazis had a Peak Oil problem, right? Did this make the Nazis collapse without a shot being fired?)))

Humans are pretty good at turning gruel into useful work -- for a time. If one were to instead propose using an industrial process to convert coal to gasoline, now we can hunker down to brass tacks and do an EROEI analysis. Cliff notes -- It is better to burn coal for electricity than convert it into liquid fuel. In an energy famine, would one waste energy, or start handing out donkeys?

Under optimal conditions, it could take ten years to get a new generation of nuclear power plants into operation, and the price may be beyond our means. Uranium is also a resource in finite supply. (...) ((( (...) the Manhattan Project didn't take ten years, and nuclear power wasn't beyond the very modest means of the 1940s.)))

The Manhattan project wasn't modest, but the safety standards of the day sure were. That's why the Columbia River glows, and you must drive through certain (large) stretches of Washington State with your windows rolled up.

Proposals to distill trash and waste into oil by means of thermal depolymerization depend on the huge waste stream produced by a cheap oil and gas economy in the first place. (((Wow, a Peak Oil trash crisis! We might run out of trash! Why isn't the Main Stream Media covering this menace?)))

This is a great point. Indeed! Our P├ętrole Epoque has left us with a TREMENDOUS endowment of trash. After oil runs out, immediately we shall begin to power our civilization on this heaped up refuse, and in fact, create NEW stylish trash with our trash endowment. However, the dark underbelly to this shining city by the sea is pointed out by our bearded prophet of DOOM, Kunstler.

You see, it is a question of Trash Returned on Trash Invested, or TROTI for short. And in converting Trash to Trash by way of thermal depolymerization, Trash is lost FOREVER.

Come to think of it, sign me up.

Thought should precede sarcasm. Peak Oil is not conventional consensus reality. Cheap energy underpins our civilization at present and people who draw attention to this fact are not the clowns in this narrative, even if some of their specific future scenarios are wacky and deridable.


At 10:23 AM, July 22, 2005, Blogger James Moe said...

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At 10:24 AM, July 22, 2005, Blogger James Moe said...

I was a little annoyed when I read Sterling's comments. It seemed like he was willfully missing the point as well as picking nits. However, I do tend to agree that Kunstler's doomsday peak oil vision isn't the most likely outcome.

Sterling did make at least one good point. "World War II was a 'military contest over oil' and the disorders led to centralized rationing, not a wild feudal famine." Taken more broadly, previous energy crises have resulted in rationing and improvements in efficiency, not collapse.

At 10:30 AM, July 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WorldChanging's deal with Kunstler is getting kind of's way too personal at this point. I think both of them have the same strength and the same problem, which is that they're focused on the world they want to see. Kunstler thinks we need to be punished and purified, and WorldChanging thinks we can simply sidestep some of the disasters we've set in motion.

I posted again today on the idea of a "dark green future," which is something of a joke, but also gets to the heart of the problem with WorldChanging, which is that it refuses to consider state power adequately...which is how they can speak approvingly of citizen surveillance of Malaysian traffic violators as something inherently positive. There are positive aspects to what they call the "participatory panopticon"...but there are also hundreds of serious problems with it, which they seem not to notice. And I'm still reeling from the article that agreed with David Brooks' idiotic critique of the Left for not having any philosophical underpinnings...that was absolutely shameful, I thought.


At 3:26 AM, July 23, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

I think Sterling is great. He's been ahead of the curve attacking big oil's interest in obfuscating global warming.

World Changing, Phila, I agree. Essential reading in some ways, infuriating in others, such as the editorial policy to only focus on `good' news (only happy thoughts!) -- Your piece on a "Dark Green Future" was excellent. Got to fix the people, the culture, rather than pretending the fix is technology. The Viridian design ethic, read a certain way, reads like we're gonna `design' a healthy forest ecosystem. Meanwhile, of course, we're destroying several.

If the future really is a verb, Kunstler wins.

At 5:16 PM, July 24, 2005, Blogger WHT said...

(((So, then, the Nazis had a Peak Oil problem, right? Did this make the Nazis collapse without a shot being fired?)))

Has anybody done any research on what importance this had in bringing down the reich? It sounds like an extremely interesting premise for a historical rendering -- revisionist or not.

At 4:48 AM, July 26, 2005, Blogger Big Gav said...

WHT - I think the problems the Nazis had as a result of failing to secure either the Caucasus or the Middle East have been blamed by a few historians for their failure.

Which is why El Alamein and Stalingrad are seen as the 2 key battles - losing these cost the Germans control of either major oil source and set the scene for their eventual destruction. Apparently things were very grim for civilians by 1944 (and ditto in World War 1 for that matter). They did get quite good at turning coal into fuel (and to a lesser extent creating some artificial rubber without oil) but its just not the same.

I think Heinberg covers this a bit in "The Party's Over"...


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