free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 186. THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE PEAK OIL TUNNEL

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

186. THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE PEAK OIL TUNNEL

As previously pointed out, the doomer concept of a permanent powerdown (and mass die-off) is a rather hard sell to the peak oil uninitiated. Regardless of what the different types of peak-oilers think the effects of peak oil will be, we can mostly agree on the need for raising awareness of oil depletion and conservation. Telling people we need to permanently powerdown and eventually die-out is no sensible way to encourage positive steps towards a better future. This approach tends to alienate people, often having the opposite effect then that desired by us all, resulting in people stubbornly ignoring the need for change.

This is why highlighting the light at the end of the tunnel is necessary when raising awareness of peak oil, and why it's important to keep an open mind about what the future may hold. If people believe that they are working towards a brighter future, they are far more likely to make the positive changes in their lives in order for that future to become a reality. Alternatively doomers would seem to prefer that the masses just give up and die, an attitude that will likely result in complacency, as is evident by many doomer attitudes on sites like peakoil.com.

So what exactly is this light at the end of the peak oil tunnel?

The industrialisation of space. The promise of a new, virtually inexhaustible supply of resources free for the taking, offering endless energy, mineral and economic opportunities and an endless expanse in which to expand and to grow far into the future, while simultaneously reducing the damage done to the planet and restoring it's former beauty.

But why bother with space, how is it even possible, and couldn't the money be better spent?

The why, is simple. The reason to exploit space is that either we find new locations of resources (off-world), or we deplete all of the Earth's finite resources and eventually face extinction. It really is that simple. The Earth only has finite resources. Even if we overcome the energy limitations of finite fossil fuels, there are plenty of other finite resources that humanity consumes. Eventually these finite resources will run out, and either we find more resources, or we shrivel up and die. But guess what? Surrounding the Earth and the inner solar system are vast quantities of everything we will ever need. It's all made from the same stardust that the Earth and everything on it is made from. It's only logical to use it rather then perish.

The how is more complex and will take several follow up articles to explain various aspects. But the important thing to note is that exploiting space isn't an unrealistic proposition of building some magical Star Trek like technology and zipping off to distant planets. It's merely a simple matter of continuing a process that began over 70 years ago with early chemical rocket technology. It's about deciding that we are going to make it a priority, dedicating the necessary resources, and continuing the process one step at a time. More on how to industrialise space for our long-term benefit later…

The costs of developing space are undoubtedly as astronomical as the dream itself. However considering the long-term payoffs, and especially compared to other endeavours of the modern world, developing space is actually a bargain. As many people know, NASA is far from a cost effective space agency, but even NASA's operations are cheap compared to other things the developed world wastes money on.

Lets compare some costs:

Costs of space (NASA and European projects, in year 2000 U.S. dollars):
A single shuttle launch is currently estimated at around $300 million, and a European Ariane 5G rocket launch at around $165 million. Source
The International Space Station is estimated at around $100 billion, Source and the Russian Mir space station cost $4.3 billion. Source
The latest NASA Mars rovers cost around $600 million, and the European Beagle 2 Mars
probe cost around $50 million. Source
The Apollo moon landings cost $135 billion in 2005 dollars.

As we can see, space is considerably expensive. Arguably NASA could do things far more cheaply and is a poor fiscal performer compared to similar projects by other space agencies, but even considering NASA's tendency for over budgeted projects, the costs of space development are still justifiable for an endeavour as noble as ensuring our collective future.

Now lets consider the costs of a few other aspects of the modern world:
According to a study by the NDIA, in 1992 drug abuse cost the U.S. an estimated $246
billion dollars, and the costs are increasing each year. Source
Thanks to fast food culture, overweight and obesity medical expenses in the U.S. accounted for $92.6 billion dollars in 2003, and like drug abuse, is a problem increasing each year. Source
And of course lets not forget war, the pinnacle of wasteful endeavours.
According to this Source, the Iraq war has currently cost U.S. tax payers over $200 billion.
This site also has some interesting cost estimates for previous U.S. conflicts (adjusted to year 2000 dollars):
American Civil War -$62 Billion
Spanish American War -$5 Billion
World War One -$290 Billion
World War Two -$2,300 Billion
Korean Conflict -$111 Billion
Vietnam -$165 Billion
Perhaps we don't have our priorities right? Surely working towards setting up countless future generations with access to virtually infinite resources should be important to people?

We mourn the deaths of the 18 humans that have died in space in the history of space flight, yet we willingly send millions more to their deaths in pointless things such as road accidents, drug and obesity epidemics, and wars. We gladly spend considerable sums of money on things that offer little long-term benefit to humanity, and many things that don't offer any benefit at all, and yet many people consider space development to be a waste of money. This is very misguided thinking. The fact is, space development and progress represents the best possible investment humanity can be involved in. The potential benefits are massive, and far outweigh the costs. And above all else, space development is humanities only shot at true long-term sustainability. Space industrialisation is the light at the end of the peak oil tunnel, but only if we adopt the right attitude.

In my follow-up posts, I intend to primarily focus on the long-term future of humanity, and to elaborate on how industrialised civilisation will not be dismantling and heading for the caves, but evolving and reaching for the stars.
-- by Omnitir

45 Comments:

At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 3:58:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're losing me. You not talking about colonizing other planets in our solar system are you? That's pretty nuts.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 4:31:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Omnitir is talking, in the near term, about harvesting energy and other resources from orbit and the moon.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 5:13:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good, because he talks about space too generally. Starts to sound like Captain Kirk. Junior High School level astronomy says were stuck here for good. You want to beam something off the moon, fine. We're not going anywhere habitable.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 5:26:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh jeez, here we go again.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 5:29:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your losing us JD, man that one is a bit too, err visionary... step away from the pipe dude.

Seriously though this is a LONG term goal, no?

I think the vision of stabilizing world populations at a sustainable level and achieving a non environmentally destructive and more equitable economic structure would be a more realistic light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel.

We split the atom with 2 billion souls on Earth... why do we need 9 billion to get into space. Powerdown, reduce populations, then think about Star Trek.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 6:03:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

You are talking fantacies again!

The point is there are plenty of alternative sources of natural resource in the universe, even within the solar system, or even within the earth itself. But none of them are even remotely accessible within the foreseeable future, before a total collapse of civilization due to oil depletion. And of course, without a prosperious economy of a civil society, any talk of futurist technology is only day dream.

We can go fetch some methanes from one of the outer planets. There are plenty for us to fetch. But there is no technology to do anything remotely close to that goal.

We can dig a big hole on the ground and build a huge Carnot engine based on the huge underground heat reservior, and the colder surface temperature. That energy can probably sustain us for a few thousand years. But we are at least 50 away from being able to utilize thermal heat in a massive scale, in a way that provides more energy than that we invest in building the eqipments and carry out the operations.

Hey, we have plenty of methane hydrates right at the bottom of the oceans, which is equivalent to several times of the petroleum reserves. But we have no way of accessing them and nothing feasible in the foreseeable future. Due to extreme pressure, reaching the bottom of the ocean is almost as difficult as reaching the moon.

In all, there are plenty of things we can think about. But none is both technically feasible and can ramp up and scale up to provide all the energy needs, within a short time period. Especially consider that we have just passed the peak oil.

And the Natural Gas spot price has now surpassed $17 per million BTU ($17 per thousand cubic feet). Some predit it will surpass $20 by the end of this year. And back in 2001 it was just $2. I suppose you can go mine some methane gas from the Neptune to reduce the natural gas price for the next month, while making a profit?

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 6:09:00 PM PST, Blogger dub_scratch said...

Perhaps space does offer humans the ability to bust through the natural limits of our home planet. But more people need to understand how to approach outer orbit human endeavor.

One thing I think we all need to understand is that we have no good reason to ever do space travel. Humans are bound to Earth. And if we are ever to cull the resources that lie beyond our orbit, we better figure that out. All exploitation of minerals and other resources should be done with robotics and communications. Putting humans in space is cumbersome, dangerous, costly and distracting from true purpose of space exploration and exploitation. NASA and other government space agencies have wasted time and money sending humans to space. This should be understood as nothing more than narcissistic stuntwork. It’s just a bunch of scientific and engineering boys playing with toys. Looking back we can see why so many government space programs have been unfocused. Sending & sustaining people in space has never been justified (why do it, because it is there?). Space travel should not be seen as a step in the progress of man.

So if we do ever want a reason to explore space it should be done with the purpose of accessing energy and resources, along with general scientific discoveries. And if we ever want to do that task effectively, it should be approached without ever attempting to send humans to space.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 6:21:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

quantoken,
Nobody except you is talking about fetching methane from the outer planets (or Neptune), Carnot engines in the earth, or methane hydrates under the ocean.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 6:25:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

So if we do ever want a reason to explore space it should be done with the purpose of accessing energy and resources, along with general scientific discoveries. And if we ever want to do that task effectively, it should be approached without ever attempting to send humans to space.

Excellent, excellent point. I couldn't agree more. Space should be developed with robotics and teleoperation. If you can do surgery by remote control, you can mine the moon by remote control.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 6:53:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Powerdown, reduce populations, then think about Star Trek.

From a political standpoint, your idea is dead in the water. What do you think ordinary people will support: population control and powerdown, or an exciting techno-fix like space, which promises more growth and increasing prosperity?

Even down-to-earth politicians like Bartlett say we need an energy program like the Apollo program. They just need to wake up to the fact that the energy program will be a lot more like Apollo than they realize.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 7:55:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it seems to me that nanotech assemblers will be feasible long before large-scale outer space resource extraction

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 8:17:00 PM PST, Blogger dub_scratch said...

The needlessness of human space travel is part of my corollary to Fermi's Paradox (why there cannot be extraterrestrial aliens). No technologically advanced and intelligent life form would ever travel in space. Surely if you're technologically advanced you can explore and exploit space with robotics & teleoperations. And you can do it in the comfort of your own home planet, where you don't have to endure high levels of radiation.

Space travel is for fun only.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 8:18:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

The reason to exploit space is that either we find new locations of resources (off-world), or we deplete all of the Earth's finite resources and eventually face extinction. It really is that simple. The Earth only has finite resources. Even if we overcome the energy limitations of finite fossil fuels, there are plenty of other finite resources that humanity consumes. Eventually these finite resources will run out, and either we find more resources, or we shrivel up and die.

Great post, Omnitir, but I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. I don't think we really need off-Earth resources to prevent extinction. When you say "we deplete all of the Earth's finite resources", what resources are these? To me, fossil fuels are the only finite resource, in the sense that they are the only resource that is completely destroyed in the process of using it. Metal can be recycled. Plastic can be made from plants. Food can be produced synthetically. Water can be treated and reused. We don't need any new resources, all we need is to recycle the ones we have to more closely mimic a biological system.

Note that "non-depletable" doesn't mean "unlimited". Yes, the Earth's surface is of a limited size, there is only so much water that we can use without disturbing natural balances, there is only so much space to live in, so even in a completely closed loop there is only so much capacity to support people. If our population continued to expand exponentially forever, we would eventually reach the maximum capacity of the closed loop. The point, however, is that our population will not expand exponentially forever. It's not even expanding exponentially now. When it starts to drop, GDP growth will be an anachronism because everyone will get richer just from receiving a larger slice of a constant pie. So while we may indeed get some energy and materials from space, but I don't consider this necessary for the survival of humanity, what with the freefall of global population due to increased prosperity, the exponential improvement of renewable energy technology, and enormous unexplored potential of closed-loop systems.

Personally, I believe that nanotech-based assembly will eventually make the concept of raw materials and specific resources irrelevant. Once things can be built on a molecular scale, we won't need to bring back stuff from the moon. We can create the ultimate closed loop, where anything can be dissasembled and turned into anything else. This will apply to food as well. There is no reason that this cannot be accomplished within fifty years.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago that mentioned abandoning our physical bodies. That's a whole other can of worms that I won't open here, but I believe that it is ultimately inevitable. Why is it relevant here? Well, if you're talking about mining the moon in the year 2200, I don't think it will happen because there will no longer be people walking about on Earth with two legs and arms. Actually, there will, but they will be the "abstainers" who have refused augmentation of philosophical or religious grounds, and there's no point worrying about them. (See my posts on transhumanism at my blog holophonor.blogspot.com)

So I'm not saying the industrialization of space won't happen. What I don't believe we'll ever say "oh crap, we're running out of resources here and the economy is gonna shrink and we're all gonna die so hurry up and let's mine the moon!"

As for Peak Oil, I don't think it requires space-based resources, it just needs some FT machines and a proper urban transport policy. If Peak Coal comes around and solar is still really expensive and nanotech turned out to be a dead end, then maybe we need to industrialize space. But I don't believe that the use of space resources is a life-or-death question for humanity. I don't think that Peak Oil is a tunnel either. Here's a different analogy:

We're on a road trip in a dodgy old car named "human society", driving up a hill, and our car's about to run out of fuel. Somone in the back seat is saying "we're not going to make it to our destination, because we'll run out of fuel, roll backwards down the hill and crash". Then someone points out that there's a petrol station just up ahead called "renewable energy". So we stop and fuel up the car and make it to the top of the hill.

As we stand at the summit we can see our destination off in the distance, and along the way are more petrol stations with names like "space colonisation" and "nuclear fusion". But then as we look around us we realise that atop the hill there is also a used car lot and a train station called "transhumanism". So we sell the car and use the money to buy a train ticket instead.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 8:25:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

One other thing ...

Quantoken, you said about methane hydrates that there is "no way of accessing them and nothing feasible in the foreseeable future." Actually, there are companies that are already hoping to extract them. This one in Japan wants to do it on a commercial scale by 2016:

http://www.mh21japan.gr.jp/english/mh21/02keii.html

Whether it will happen is another matter, and I don't personally think methane hydrates are the way forward, but nevertheless they are on the table.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 8:51:00 PM PST, Anonymous Flow said...

JD, I love the Blog and most of the stuff on here but when articles start to get posted about getting energy from space travel - you're killing me!

Why feed the doomers if you don't have too!

Again, I love the site but you really gotta stop talking about space energy dude!

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 9:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous PissedNortheastern said...

http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/051219/19energy.htm

Debunk that you heartless motherfuckers.

People are going to freeze to death, sewage pipes are going to be bursting,etc and you jackasses are debunking it.

Idiots.

 
At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 at 11:21:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

People are going to freeze to death, sewage pipes are going to be bursting,etc and you jackasses are debunking it.

Idiots.


Hey, you snooze, you lose. You foolishly wasted your share of the world's NG without thinking, and now you're going to pay the price for it. It's a moral tale. America is the grasshopper in Aesop's story. You don't deserve any sympathy.

If you've got a problem with your habits/infrastructure over there, you better start figuring out ways to fix it, instead of whining about nobody being there to hold your hand.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 1:11:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this scenario

http://www.communitysolution.org/pdfs/ThePeakOilWar.pdf

is far more likely than the space crap.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 1:18:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

the exponential improvement of renewable energy technology

Roland, is renewable energy technology actually improving exponentially? I'd like to see some real figures on that. For example, is the efficiency of solar cells improving exponentially?

I'd also like to see even a scenario (even a real rough one) describing how Japan could supply its own energy and raw material needs through renewable energy.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 1:46:00 AM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Some interesting comments. A couple of people are completely lost on the concept, but that’s to be expected. Later posts should clear things up a bit, but for now, try to imagine modern space agencies developing mostly automated industrial systems in space with current technologies, as opposed to people travelling and living in space with futuristic technologies.

As JD clarified, we are talking about resources within short range of the Earth, and within range of existing technologies.

Chris l is spot on about unmanned technology and is a point I was planning to elaborate on later. Though I’d like to add that I think there is a place for humans in space, however it is not at all an imperative, and it is not necessary in the short term. However that said, we still have a way to go before we can tele-operate machines to perform as effectively as a human in a space suit can. I think it’s likely that some degree of manned missions will be necessary, mostly in LEO, though the majority of space industrialisation should indeed be automated.

Roland, nice comments. As well as energy, raw mineral resources are finite, and in a growing world we need new inputs. I suppose one day we will be able to use extremely advanced technology, not to mention advanced political and economic concepts, to recycle waste products to be used in the construction of new products, but I think that day is most likely a long way off. The easiest way to allow increased growth and prosperity is to provide new economical resource input. That is not to say that I think a closed-loop system like you mentioned would not be a good thing. It would be amazing, though I suspect a very difficult thing to achieve.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 1:59:00 AM PST, Anonymous richard said...

If you put 300b US$ in renewables, you also pretty much dented peak oil to a pulp.

Put in another 300b US$ and we're home free.

So I am not sure why you want to go into space. Much cheaper solving the fix here at home.

Or am I missing the point here?

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 2:17:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

richard,
As i said to Roland: I would like to see the exact breakdown of how you plan to power the U.S. (or the UK, or Japan) with renewables. That would also include powering the industrial infrastructure.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 2:43:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Hi Omnitir. I agree with you and JD that we will probably use some resources from space, but I don't feel that it's a life or death situation. I don't think space is really necessary to avoid die-off/powerdown/extinction or whatever, but I acknowledge it could be useful.

As for the closed loop system, if you look at Julian Simon's bet with Paul Ehrlich (and yes, I know both of them are crackpots), the price of the metals went down because new metals could be made from old ones. Metal is not like oil which must be destroyed in order to be used. Likewise, water is overall a closed-loop system, although we could make the loop much smaller by recycling it all. Dry US states like Arizona recycle all their water, and Las Vegas is discouraging lawns and in-ground gardens because that is the only hole that exists in the system. Likewise with food, the loop can be closed by using crop wastes to produce biodiesel and to compost into organic fertilizer; and as JD has pointed out in other posts, most grain is fed to animals, wasting about 95% of its potential to feed us. That's without even considering synthetically-produced food. So a closed loop is already possible and in many cases it's already being applied.

As for the necessity of space to continue our prosperity, by the time it's providing enough materials to support a substantial portion of economic activity, the population will probably be declining anyway and GDP growth will not be necessary, desirable or even possible, because whatever we have can be allocated to more and more people, as I said. I agree that in the past the economic system has worked by finding more and more resources, but it has also worked by increasing the productivity of what it already has, and this could be just as important as going into space for things.

As for energy, I can see us powering our cities in thirty years or so by coating every surface (windows, walls, roofs, roads) with flexible solar panels. The grid, if it still exists, may be just a huge communal pool of extremely cheap electricity, or it may work as a backup system supplemented by stuff like wind space-based power. My apologies JD, the efficiency of solar panels for example is not increasing exponentially, but the cost is falling even faster than the oil price is rising! Solar panels are not really limited by efficiency, as there is more than enough space to power the whole planet with them; the main factor is cost and the availability of silicon, which nano and biopolymer solar can solve, I hope.

I'm sure space resources will be part of the future, but to me anonymous was right that "nanotech assemblers will be feasible long before large-scale outer space resource extraction". If you're talking a century or two in the future, and maybe even sooner, space-based extraction might not actually be necessary anymore because of nano-assembly. Just as well, because otherwise we might hit "peak moondust" in the year 4010! :-)

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 2:50:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Sorry, one more thing ... We don't need to power ourselves 100% with renewables straight away. After all, we have enough coal for at least another century, and there is always nuclear (although I don't really like nuclear). But if you look at the massive boost renewable energy got in the 1970s (unfortunately all wasted when oil prices came down again), just imagine how much bigger a boost Peak Oil and Peak Gas will give it! Renewables won't replace fossil fuels because we run out of fossil fuels, they'll replace them because they're better and cheaper than fossil fuels. Wind energy is already cost-competitive with coal, and imagine the developments over the next fifty years! We can power the world just out of energy here on the surface, but that's not to say space energy would harm anyone. It's a lovely idea and I'm sure somebody will do it.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 3:07:00 AM PST, Anonymous Pissed Northeasterner said...

JD,

When the US economy collapse, what do you think is going to happen to Japan?

You think you're going to be so smug when you realize how screwed you are?

What exactly do you do for a living?

Do you really think there will still be a demand for whatever you do when the global economy tanks?

Maybe then you support yourself debunking things.

JD wrote:


Hey, you snooze, you lose. You foolishly wasted your share of the world's NG without thinking, and now you're going to pay the price for it. It's a moral tale. America is the grasshopper in Aesop's story. You don't deserve any sympathy.

If you've got a problem with your habits/infrastructure over there, you better start figuring out ways to fix it, instead of whining about nobody being there to hold your hand.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 3:23:00 AM PST, Blogger Jan-Willem Bats said...

Roland,

"Once things can be built on a molecular scale, we won't need to bring back stuff from the moon. We can create the ultimate closed loop, where anything can be dissasembled and turned into anything else. This will apply to food as well. There is no reason that this cannot be accomplished within fifty years."

Actually, the current timetable seems to be a lot closer to 10 years than 50.

See www.crnano.org for details.


JD,

Yes, solar panels are growing exponentially. They improve a certain percentage each year. They're slated to become cost competative with conventional energy sources around 2010.

Kurzweil has calculated that we only need to trap 0.003% of the sun's energy to meet the entire world's energy needs.

It's in his new book, The Singularity Is Near.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 3:27:00 AM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

In terms of time scales of industrialising space, generally I prefer not to be too concerned with how long it takes. I think it’s completely possible to attain multiple resources from space in the short term (within a decade or two), and I think there is a good chance that this will be a central reason for the end of the peak oil caused recession (assuming there is a recession). However I also see industrialising space as a long-term payoff for humanity. I’m not sure where JD stands on this kind of very long-term thinking, but with space development breaking the peak oil recession, it seems logical that space would continue to be developed and eventually, many generations later, people will be able to live in space and have a new area of growth.

The concept of space or die is that if we limit ourselves to the Earth, our future is limited. I don’t think it’s likely that humanity could survive very far into the future without exploiting space. In fact I’m certain that if humanity doesn’t eventually (even if it takes 1000 years) learn to live in space, we will become extinct. We shouldn’t have all our eggs in the one basket.

But this is ultra long-term thinking. As far as the main page posts go, I’m thinking about the short-term as a way to ensure a long-term. Establishing industry in space ensures our species longevity. Permanently powering down ensures our extinction.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 8:04:00 AM PST, Blogger head lem said...

JD ---Good post.
The LNG is out there.

We don't even need to drill to find it. We just gotta haul it from Jupiter to here in space tankers so we can further increase CO2 and decrease O2 in our atmosphere.

Just kidding. The real answer is solar power. Mirrors in space and solar power. Good post.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 8:50:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The northeast is facing a natural gas shortage and lots of people could freeze to death this winter, but it honestly has nothing to do with peak oil, it has to do with America's desire to heat their entire house and the government not letting us know how serious the problem is.

I don't think that many people will actually die over it, infact I'd be suprised if it was one tenth as many that die from the flu each year, but we'll get by.

Interestingly enough even if gas was 3 times more expensive than it is now I'd be doing fine because I use significantly less than i do last year.

I think space power is long term, and I believe the US could be entirely powered by nuclear reactors, breeder reactors would have enough fuel to last very, very far into the future.

Entirely on renewables is extremely unlikely, but we've got at least a century before we "run out", more than enough time for these space programs.

I agree with the poster of this if we do this -

1. Mitigate peak oil
2. Deal with peak oil, build as much of a renewable based economy as possible
3. investigate more "exotic" alternatives (space based)

number 2 will likely compose the better part of this century.

But back to the gas situation, JD is right we made our beds now we gotta lie in them, I suggest you tell anybody struggling with energy costs JD's methods for saving NG, they don't work for everyone but damned if they didn't work for me

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 11:01:00 AM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this site. I think you should rename it, though. And you should limit your outer space talk to satellite or moon-based solar panels. You cannot talk about our minds leaving our bodies and migrating to outer space. You will have no credibility if you continue to post this kind of material.

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 1:44:00 PM PST, Blogger John Markos O'Neill said...

"You will have no credibility if you continue to post this kind of material."

I find it rather amusing that this was posted by, "Anonymous."

Why can't the debunkers talk about minds leaving our bodies and migrating to outer space? If Kurzweil can do it, so can we!

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 1:46:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I'm agree that we need to go into space or we will eventually go extinct. Particularly with the new potential for destruction that things like nanotech and zero-point energy will bring ... it's amazing we've actually survived having nuclear weapons until this point!

But when we do start moving to space in a significant way, it won't be in huge spaceships with space-consuming life support systems; it'll be in a transhuman state.

Jan-Willem Bats, I agree with you that nano-assembly will be sooner rather than later, and I have seen the movie on the crnano website. Fifty years is a conservative estimate designed to appease the doomers and nano-sceptics! Also, it will take time to completely replace our current infrastructure with nano-assembly, even once the technology is fully capable of doing so.

But seriously, none of this talk about interstellar travel and living hundreds of years is meant to solve the immediate problem of transport fuel shortages. I can see all the doomers laughing about that. Rather, it is the "light at the end of the tunnel", although I disagree with the metaphor of a tunnel. It is more like the destination we are going to. (See my earlier metaphor).

 
At Wednesday, December 14, 2005 at 8:54:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

I suppose a good way to sum up the point of this post, is that just as the military industrial movement for the second world war was the catalyst for the end of the 1930’s great depression, so too can space industrialism act as the catalyst for the end of the peak oil recession.

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 9:32:00 AM PST, Anonymous Fernando said...

And who's going to do this?

The market? The government?

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 10:55:00 AM PST, Anonymous popmonkey said...

omnitir's last comment is something that i think should be in the original post so people get it instead of mixing it up with some star trek babble (see first post to see how someone totally misunderstood).

the cost of WWII is negligible compared to what it did for the US economy. i don't have any numbers handy but i'm sure that by 1950 the "cost" of WWII was actually a sum gain.

not advocating war, just pointing out how large scale action in the face of adversity can have positive effects in ways we can't even predict yet.

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 1:42:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Fernando said:
"And who's going to do this?
The market? The government?"


Both. I believe space needs to be largely privatised to become a new area of economic growth. The government needs to stop working against private space-based enterprises and work with them, sharing knowledge instead of forcing the wheel to be reinvented, and encouraging new industries to emerge. For far too long the governments have been hampering a field of considerable economic potential, by treating that field essentially as a military speciality. It’s time to open up space to privatisation with real incentives, like the hey-day of early aviation. The market will take care of the rest.

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 5:27:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From a political standpoint, your idea is dead in the water. What do you think ordinary people will support: population control and powerdown, or an exciting techno-fix like space, which promises more growth and increasing prosperity?

Rubbish, regardless of peak oil, the pseudoscience of economics will have to be completely overhauled if molecular assembly becomes a reality. This process is already underway in academic circles... see Santa Fe Institute in particular W. Brian Arthur's work HERE

Population control will not be necessary in first world countries. Does Japan exercise population control? It is doing everything it can to encourage population growth because its population is ageing and shrinking. Molecular manufacturing could provide a high standard of living to countries now developing so they can skip 20th century industrialisation.

If we are going to populate space with AI and robots can you explain why we still need growth of populations on earth. Population pressure is the real culprit of habitat destruction and ecological dispruption... also remember that the economists of the 60's and 70's promised leisure lifestyles and wealth for all through growth and technology. This goal is as far away as ever, if not further...

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 9:25:00 PM PST, Blogger BlackSun said...

You can't talk about solutions without talking about nanotechnology and the singularity. Those who think it's all Star Trek haven't been doing their research. No energy discussion can be complete without understanding the impact of nanotechnology and replication. You've got to read Kurzweil, or you will be hopelessly stuck in the "linear intuitive" vision of the future, which is no vision at all. I do agree, however, that there are plenty of unexplored solutions to the energy dilemma right here on earth.

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2005 at 11:51:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

blacksun,
How exactly will nanotech, the singularity and replication produce energy?

 
At Friday, December 16, 2005 at 4:37:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

How exactly will nanotech, the singularity and replication produce energy?

With nanotech-based solar panels, of course.

But that's not to say the panels won't be in space.

There's room for both visions here.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2005 at 2:17:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

And also, remember that the singularity means technological progress has reached an infinite speed. This also applies to energy technology.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2005 at 4:57:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Can you explain that in more practical terms, Roland? Are you saying we're going to be producing an infinite amount of energy from PV? If not, what are you saying?

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2005 at 8:02:00 PM PST, Blogger Sonny said...

Great way to sabotage optimism about energy crises. Suggest the only hope is "space industries" without saying how they would produce any energy.

1) A rocket has to be fully loaded with chemical fuel to take off, and the payload that can returned from space is always much smaller in volume and weight. The payload must contain more energy than in any possible chemical fuel, for the project to be energy positive.

2) The cost of mining uranium on the moon instead of on Earth might not be high enough to make it energy negative, but there's little chance of it ever being more efficient than finding or more efficiently using uranium on Earth.

3) The moon's surface contains isotopes of helium and hydrogen that could be used in fusion power plants, except that fusion power plants haven't been invented yet. There's no need to mine the moon for extra fuel to put into imaginary fusion power plants.

4) It's possible to put solar panels in orbit around Earth and beam the power down to microwave dishes. This increases the solar energy reaching the panels by three or four times (with no night, clouds, or atmosphere.) It increases the panels' cost of installation by several million times. It would also cook birds and airplanes that cross the microwave beams, unless the power is beamed down at low enough density that the receiving stations might as well just have their own solar panels instead.

5) Solving these energy efficiency limitations by building a bridge to geostationary orbit is an idea supported by those who haven't heard of the jet stream and the need for bridges of even a few tens of meters to be reinforced against windstorms (see film of Galloping Gertie, the Tacoma Narrows bridge that collapsed by resonant vibrations without being in a hurricane.) Arthur C. Clarke wrote that some unspecified work on resonance mathematics would be done to solve this fatal flaw of the concept in one of his fantasy novels, The Fountains of Paradise.

 
At Monday, December 19, 2005 at 4:22:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

The singularity doesn't mean we will produce an infinite amount of energy from PV panels, but it means that technological progress on PV panels (and all energy sources, and everything else) will be very very very fast. If you need proof of the accelerating advances in PV panels then compare the progress on them from 1950-1995 with the progress in the past ten years. And the progress that is possible in the next ten years what with the new generation of organic and nano based panels.

When I said an "infinite speed" of technological progress that wasn't quite accurate. Rather, the idea of the singularity is that, extrapolating from the accelerating development of technology, the further we look into the future the harder it is to predict things and the faster things will be changing. Technological advancement will probably slow down at some point, but we're nowhere near that point now, and by the time we reach it things will be very different. We probably will have created AI. We will probably have drastic life extension. We will probably have 80%-efficient solar panels both in space and on earth.

The point is that in today's world, accurately predicting more than five or ten years in the future is really difficult, and predicting thirty years in the future is virtually impossible. I don't question that we will have industrial activities in space, but even with accelerating change it will be at least two or three decades before these projects provide significant portions of our energy and resource needs. By that time we may be flirting with the singularity. So yes, stuff will be happening in space, but it will probably look very different to how it's usually imagined.

 
At Monday, December 19, 2005 at 5:34:00 AM PST, Blogger JD said...

Roland, I don't deny that the future is hard to predict, and that technological progress is accelerating. I also think AI is a lot closer than most people realize. Even Google itself is a sort of primitive AI which "knows" an incredible volume of things (it just doesn't know that it knows it yet :-). I'm very sympathetic to your basic thinking, but I'm not so sanguine about energy. I agree with Smalley and Criswell that, ideally, we need enough energy to raise the standards of living of all peoples on earth, and I don't think that's going to be easy at all.

 

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