Ok so if steel, aluminum, etc, is out, what do you suggest as alternatives?
Sadly every major environmental group is touting them as the sole answer. Efficiency comes as the market demands it, but even that will not stop the increase entirely if the economy is growing.
The reason car fuel economiesdidn't go up for quite a while was because through the 1990's the price of oil went down, hitting an all time low of $8 a barrel in '98. Now that oil prices have gone up so much car efficiences are going up as well. And as a user of mass transit, I must say I much prefer the car. In any case, in the coming decade we will see batteries that are competitive with combustion engines in the passenger car market.
In the industrial world this has never been the case with the singular exception of the communist bloc. It was a system that, except for the beaureucrats at the top, ensured exactly what what you're talking about
: equal distribution of resources and employment for everyone. In contrast compare this to the stagflation of the 70's in the non-communist countries. Energy usage did not increase because the economies were not growing, on the other hand unemployment was high. I suppose that you could mop that up with government make work programs, but these lead to very high deficits and inevitably a sovereign debt crisis unless it backs off.
The problem is they don't have access to more resources because they didnt develop their economies until recently. If we can't grow anymore, as per your original premise, that leaves our current resource level as the upper limit, and without more resources that means no economic growth. No economic growth + growing populations = Lower living standards.
Well I wasn't sure, although I wasn't referring to you specifically. If you look at Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and other organizations like this the pattern of pro-renewablism and anti-nuclearism is definitately there. And actually, I used to be one of them until I started doing my own research. If you look at the Yucca Mountain contraversy, it's really part of the broader effort by these groups to delgeitimize nuclear power.
Energy comes in more than one package, and fortunately fissionables are not only plentiful, they don't use that much fuel compared with the power we get from them. 1 ton of fissioned uranium has the energy equivelence of more than 1 million tons of coal. In fact, it's even greater than that because 90% of it isnt actually fissioned, but rather converted into plutonium which can be extracted and reused via waste reprocessing. And really, we haven't even started to tap this. Energy is bountiful, its only really limited by political choices.
Sure, at some point it will have to stop, but not for quite a while. And even so, this is predicated on the assumption that all of our economic growth will forever be confined on this one planet. We have 7 other planets, several dwarf planets, dozens of moons, and hundreds of metal rich asteroids. The surveying of 433 Eros in 1999, which estimated there's more gold there than has ever been mined in the history of the world, offers a small glimpse into this wealth. The recent survey's of our own moon for example show it to be rich in titanium, so why turn away from all of this?
Except that it doesn't reduce energy costs, it actually raises them because solar is much more expensive than anything else. The cost is hidden in the US however by that nice federal tax credit people get for putting them up. In many places though people are stuck with feed in tariffs. There's also other cases of direct government handouts, though these are much higher in Europe than the US. No other form of energy generation is as heavily subsidized as solar, wind, tidal, and wave. While one of these does have some niche applications, the rest are completely worthless. What we have here a case of goverments picking winners and losers based on nothing more than political fiat.
I'll also point out that even though electricity prices in Germany are already 3 times higher than the US, it's going to go up quite dramatically.
Entirely because they are trying to go totally renewable.
Where I'm at we get 3/4 of our electricity through hydro, which is cheap and reliable. But people keep throwing money at these expensive PV panels anyway, why? Because the environmentalists dont like the dams, want them totally removed and replaced with PV and wind. As such their propaganda machines are in overdrive to promote them, and having state legislatures pass "green requirements" forcing utilities to buy power from pv and wind. This reeks of crony capitalism.
Except that efficiency increase is hugely uneconomical, and is going to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. In radio interviews the people who proposed this project were talking about their proposed rate structure: Rent would be 50% more, power and water rates would be 0. But that's the equivilent of me paying $400 more a month in rent to save $150 in power and water. Does that make economic sense to you? Without huge sums of taxpayer money, this wont happen.
If it recieved the same level of subsidies everything else does, I would agree. But that's not the case. And actually these subsidies are going to go away in the coming years, not because the technology is competitive enough (it's not and never will be), but rather because across the western world there will be austerity which forces governments to choose what their priorities are. We can see this to some degree already in some parts of Europe, but it's only a matter of time before it happens elsewhere.
Wind and solar have been saying this since the '70's.......and now they are more heavily subsidized than ever. Here's how federal involvement should be done: Dismantle utility quotas, R&D grants should be spread equally and capped at a total of a few billion for all power sources, loan gaurentees should be provided to all new large scale power projects, direct subsidies should be spread equally and capped for all power sources, and regulatory approval regarding nuclear should be streamlined to be made more efficient while still retaining their effectiveness to ensure safe reactor operations, the regulatory approval process should begin for small scale modular reactor systems (hyperion as one example, currently the NRC is refusing to even consider such things). This will ensure an even playing field when it comes to adding new electricity supply.
Markets have a way of doing this with supply and demand, but even so if we government to step in and get off of fossil fuels for electricity generation, here's what I would do: Develop hydro and geothermal to the greatest extent practical, while these are cheap and reliable they are nonetheless geographically limited. So as for the rest, replace existing nuclear reactors, all coal and all natural gas power stations with new generation 3+ (and eventually generation 4) nuclear reactors and deployment of small modular reactors would be encouraged (once they are approved of course). If done over a 40 year time period, this would ensure we all have access to affordable and reliable electricity for the rest of the century.