What do you think about the vision of the Energy Report?
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This reply was removed on 2011-02-03.
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A quick dose of realism and a detailed rebuttal of your cheery optimism here...
"That failure to come to terms with the realities of our predicament is by no means restricted to internet bloggers, to be sure. The World Wildlife Federation, to cite only one example, has just released a lavishly produced study insisting that the world can replace 95% of its fossil fuel energy from renewables by 2050, with ample room for population increases, ongoing economic growth in the industrial world, and a boom in the nonindustrial world that will supposedly raise it out of poverty. The arguments in the report will be wearily familiar to anybody who’s followed the peak oil debate for any noticeable length of time; Erik Lundberg of Transition Milwaukee has already commented on these in some detail.."
Mean Mr Mustard
I should like to make clear that I'm not the author of the 'Pyramids' piece, that is John Michael Greer. I'm one of his maany regualr readers. Erik Lundberg goes into greater critical depth in his separate artilcle.
Perhaps this rather 'Cornucoipian' report should have considered some basics such as the net energy content of those biofuels to feed the 9 billion of our overshooting population. Such as the fossil fuel content underpinning the fertiliser production, not to mention the separate minor issue of topsoil depletion...
Hectares per flying hour versus direct conversion to manual labour is indeed a most interesting equation. Thomas Homer-Dixon did a similar survey relating to the builders of the Colosseum.
I believe the calculations for pyramid construction vs an international flight are based simply on the calories required to do the work. I can't corroborate the truth of the comparison, but it is to make a point that something that is everyday and routine today is comparable to a monumental (literally) decades-long undertaking in the pre-industrial past.
The pyramids BTW were not built by slaves but were sort of a national service project. The people were not brought in as dedicated pyramid-builders, but would otherwise have been doing something else presumably labor-intensive, probably growing food. That's a testimony to the Egyptians' ability to put some of their annual production into savings.
Today, on the other hand, we are burning through what William Catton called "ghost acreage," which includes both production from the distant past in the form of fossil fuels and production we can extract at the expense of people and ecosystems around the world.
Re: your hectares for energy, where will they be? What local ecosystems and/or land uses such as farming food crops will they displace? What will be the cost to grow and convert the biomass to something that can fuel an airplane? Will it be as efficient as feeding people or animals or compost piles?
In Egypt today there is major unrest partly because of some of the political costs behind cheap oil, and partly because the globalized food markets have become a high-stakes casino, with commodities traders like Goldman Sachs and food conglomerates like ADM raking in the chips, and the people in the "developing world" left with few options.
Very interesting, this parallel energy and Egypt discussion! And what about even poorer countries? Every person who lives or who has travelled in LDCs has very likely been in a taxi. It is very likely that the driver will ask for advance payment, will stop at a tank station, will buy one litre of petrol and drive you to your destination. This is what I always have in my mind when I see fossil fuel prices increase. Any small (or bigger) business depending on fossil fuels is fragile. So much for the discussion on another forum where bloggers praise the great qualities of king oil. Yes it is a great asset, when you have the means to pay for it and when you forego its impacts on others (and maybe even yourself and your close relatives).
Both GeminiJim and Mr Mustard have highlighted the problems related to biofuels. This is certainly very close to our heart and I think this is expressed clearly in our discussion on biofuels in The Energy Report. Forests, soils and the environment in general are in great peril and bioenergy will not necessarily help to solve these issues. Only the best biomass solutions should be dedicated to energy production and great caution should be exercised. However, the alternatives right now are not very attractive. Oil? Tar sands? Coal to liquids? We must hope for the best biofuels and for better alternatives. As I said in my previous post, our final aim should be to stop extracting things from beneath the earth’s surface. Our planet is no Swiss cheese. Even wind turbines and solar panels of the future should only depend on bio-based materials. So much for the quality of our energy production. What about the quantity?
We certainly should reduce our dependency on silly sources and conversion of energy. The supporters of the internal combustion engine forget the 40 + % loss during conversion of oil, coal or gas into useful energy. We should also reduce our dependency on silly waste of energy. Do we need plane trips for a week-end? Do we need strawberries in the middle of a North European or North American winter? Does a French citizen need chairs from Indonesian wood? Does an Indonesian need French butter? Do we need to waste so much food?
The end question is: how far can we go and should we go? I don’t think anyone has the answer to this question yet. Some decisions should be obvious. Other decisions will be more difficult.
"As I said in my previous post, our final aim should be to stop extracting things from beneath the earth’s surface. Our planet is no Swiss cheese."
I'd like to highlight what another author put forward. That building renewable energy doesn't necessarily mean we stop extracting things from beneath earth's surface. One of the many peaks that we face is also rare earth metals and minerals. Extracting these to make all the renewable energy will also put enormous pressure on ecosystem and turn our beloved earth into a Swiss cheese.
"Whether the number of turbines required is in the millions, or tens or hundreds of millions, their manufacture will in any case be constrained by the availability of rare earth materials. One of these, neodymium, is not just used in the manufacture of the magnets used in wind turbines — it is also needed for electric cars. Pressure on supplies is already acute.
A report from Earth Policy is confident that any supply bottleneck could be overcome "if mining were increased by a factor of five" — but, like many of the promises in The Energy Report, there would be a hidden price to pay for that: A five-fold production increase in rare earth mining would have horrific consequences on the ground where it takes place. " source: Change observer
What seems to be happening here is that we are only displacing the cost from one place (the atmosphere) to another (the earth and it's ecosystems). What we need to do is merge the technological mindset with a psychological mindset where changing behaviours is taken into account as well. I'm sure that reports like these affect policy makers a lot, because they make a breakthrough in media, precisely because of this it's important to take both of these sides into account.
this is not the end of the game, it's just the start. In the end, as I said, all materials should come from above ground. Also materials used for renewable energy. And I completely concur with your last paragraph. We suggested a debate about diets, but there are several other urgent debates.
Congratulations on the recent publication of The Energy Report.
This is a very comprehensive scenario, and your work is a sign of hope for the future of human civilization. However, consider the following:
The scenario envisions the current consumption trends of primary sources of energy "peaking" around 2020, as shown in Figure 4, page 24, and other similar charts throughout Parts 1 and 2 of the report. This peak is followed by adaptation in the form of non-renewable (polluting) sources being substituted by renewable (non-polluting) sources by 2050. It is clearly stated that this is not an exercise in predicting the future, but a number of recommendations are offered as summarized in pages 8-9. Could you kindly consider these questions:
1. Is the convergence toward 100% renewable energy contingent on these recommendations being widely accepted and acted upon?
2. If so, and given current economic and cultural conditions worldwide, is it reasonable to think that this scenario is politically feasible?
These are honest questions. I would be grateful to get your response.
many thanks for your interest in the report. I hope you will share this with your colleagues and friends.
I will try to answer your questions the best I can.
We will not phase out fossil and nuclear fuels if people don't reconsider the way they eat, the way we move, the way we put our money on bank accounts.
Please note I say people and not politicians, or investors, or industry leaders. The decision to eat less meat could come from people themselves, or could result from new taxes on meat products, or could come from the fact that investors decide to prefer investments in other products.Same for energy efficiency, or for the development of renewables. The entire human system is geared towards the development as we know it. So 100% renewables requires a shift away from some of our development habits.
Mind you, our 10 recommendations are quite "vague", since we wanted every reader to find something valuable. It is to the reader to then decide what it means in his or her context.
Is this challenging? Yes it is. Is it possible? We believe it is. The change we are seeking does not require full action on each of the 10 recommendations at any time during the next 40 years. But it will need sometimes slow & steady and sometimes abrupt changes.
My conclusion would be: yes it is possible to get rid of fossil and liquid fuels. But it will require the support of every person of good will. Thank you for your support :-)