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The Long Emergency : What do you think?

  1. Aug 21, 2006 #1

    Chi Meson

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    "The Long Emergency": What do you think?

    Has anyone read The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler? Or is anyone familiar with the dour predictions of this guy?

    The gist of the situation: population up up up. Oil reserves down down down. Future: very little oil. Therefore calamity since everything we do today depends on large amounts of cheap fuel.

    This on its own is not new, and the basic premise is straightforward fact. The arguable part is how quickly the catastrophe will come about. Kunstler predicts that we are a decade or two away from global socioeconomical collapse.

    Personally, I think that he dismisses nuclear energy (as a stopgap) a little too quickly. But even then, if we use nuclear to it's fulfillment that puts things off no more than another 100 years.

    Nyway, what are the opinions out there of the "post oil" world, and of Kunstler himself? (He may be a crank, but let's not dismiss him entirely; at least let's not dismiss the premise: we are either at the peak or past the peak of oil production just as demand is escalating at a rate higher than ever.)
     
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  3. Aug 21, 2006 #2
  4. Aug 21, 2006 #3

    Chi Meson

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    That too is a good source of energy, but it will be much more expensive than our current petrolium-based oil supply. I think we will certainly go that route, and the environmental destruction it will require will be disgusting.

    I'd prefer nuclear power for 70% of electric needs. Save petrolium for transport. Prices will probably double again in two to five years. We'll be saying things like "remember when gas was $3.00 a gallon and we thought it was 'expensive'?"
     
  5. Aug 21, 2006 #4
    I haven't read the book, sounds depressingly realistic?

    Nuclear power is a good stop gap but that's it, Uranium is not an inexhaustable material, I've heard estimates that put the length of time we could rely on Uranium to make up the shortfall of coal/oil/gas is about 50 years rather than 100.

    The only real solution is an inexhaustable power supply; wind/solar/hydroelectric are too expensive, and it would be impossible in most countries to use them alone, so that leaves future technologies such as fusion(if it can be made to work) As the only really plausible alternative in the long term, if not then we're in trouble, something has to give and it may ot be pleasant for there to be countries struggling to find energy resources. This sort of thing causes wars, or should that be, did still does and will cause wars.

    Necessity being the mother of invention may mean we stumble on something big, but I wouldn't bank on it.
     
  6. Aug 21, 2006 #5
    Pebble bed reactors. China's planning to build 30 of those by 2020. They're also planning to use the excess heat to produce hydrogen.
     
  7. Aug 21, 2006 #6
    Gee whiz. I remember the days when the US was the world leader in new and innovative solutions.
     
  8. Aug 21, 2006 #7

    russ_watters

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    Probably just a wording issue, but while the premises may be straightforward facts, the conclusion that there will be a catastrophe is still a drawn conclusion and one I don't share.

    Basically, I think doom-and-gloom predictions like this fail to take into account the combined power of economics and technological advancement.

    Also, it is quite possible the world popultion will stabilize in the next 50 years or so.
     
  9. Aug 21, 2006 #8

    russ_watters

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    It is tough getting good numbers for that, but I'm skeptical of many of the lower-end numbers because they often reflect environmentalist biases and as such don't include things like reprocessing.
     
  10. Aug 21, 2006 #9

    Chi Meson

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    Apparently you don't need to read the book because what you said is his position in a nutshell.

    I have hope that fusion will "save" us eventually since it is more of a matter of the technology than that of theory (it does work, it's just too damn hot!). And like Russ, I think fission has a longer lifespan than 50 years as our major resource (a naval nuclear engineer I know very well assures me that the gov't has much more stockpile than it says it does).

    Anyone familiar with "thermal depolymerization"?
     
  11. Aug 21, 2006 #10
    I think market forces will protect oil supplies. The more scarce it becomes, the higher the price will go and the more economic sense it will make to shell out the high ticket price for a hybrid. In addition, leisure driving will drop to nil, car pooling will become required and public transporation will see a renaissance.

    Has the author mentioned plug in electric cars? These should be a viable option in the next 5 - 10 years.

    Off topic per se, but related:

    I think a freshwater shortage would be a much more likely catalyst for global catastrophe. People can live without oil (capitalism in its modern form cannot, however) but they cannot live without water.
     
  12. Aug 21, 2006 #11

    Chi Meson

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    Yes, I was precise in my word choice. And I don't share his opinion either. He seems to be concluding based on "wish-fulfillment power." He clearly hates modern culture (or lack of culture) and he despises suburban architecture and sprawl. (I admit agreement on that issue). His conclusions are drawn from a lot of detailed data which is up front and verifiable, yet his logical process is apparently more emotional than mathematical. I think he underestimates human ingenuity and perserverence.
    Oh, it will stabilize, there is no doubt. The only way it will stabilize is to have the astronomical birth rate be matched by the death rate. Yowzah.
     
  13. Aug 21, 2006 #12
    I think your logic on this particular point is flawed. You assume that the birth rate will remain astronomical in the future - however I don't think this will be the case.

    As nations become more and more affluent, they tend to have fewer children. E.G. China and India will be producing fewer and fewer children and the "natural" death rate will soon balance out their populations.

    In addition, as resources become more scarce it will make less and less sense to have a small tribe of a family (ie 8 or 9 kids).

    I'm not expert on the issue by any means, but i'd be willing to bet the population will peak out relatively soon and plateau.
     
  14. Aug 21, 2006 #13

    Chi Meson

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  15. Aug 21, 2006 #14
    Dont forget thorium that is more abundant than uranium, India is working on thorium reactors.
    If uranium deposits starts to run low it might(atleast I have seen some claims suggesting that) become economical to extract uranium from seawater and I dont think we would ever deplete the uranium in seawater:confused: .

    I think the figures placing the remaining uranium deposit as depleted in 50 years is based on the uranium that is economical to mine with todays prices. Might be wrong there though.
     
  16. Aug 21, 2006 #15

    Chi Meson

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    The natural birth rate is proportional to the current population. This is the case in all populations until an outside factor rearranges the equation. This is a well-studied issue.

    I hope so too. Is there any precedent to such social behavior modification? China has had a law that prohibits more than one child per family. This has not worked at controlling its own overpoulation problem. Will India do this voluntarily do you think? Germany and France seem to be controlling thier own populations without coersion, so I am not without hope.
    Again I agree that it will only because it will not be possible for the Earth to feed more than 20 billion (and that's a high estimate).

    IT IS the case that the poorer societies tend to have larger numbers of children per family. Most nations are not becoming more affluent. Your logic is logical, but societies do not operate so logically on their own.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2006
  17. Aug 21, 2006 #16
    You don't have to be innovative. Why hasn't the American automotive industry decided on a fuel strategy? The Europeans have realised the efficiency of the diesel engine which can run on vegetable oils, the Japanese are betting on hybrid and electric motors. US manufacturers are still making big petrol engines. If that's the way the American flagship industry behaves, I wonder how the US will react to an energy crisis. You can look at not so distant precedents: The Arab Oil Embargo, to memory of which sparked the 1979 oil crisis:
     
  18. Aug 21, 2006 #17
    I think one thing we can all agree upon is that oil is here to stay. This is to say, oil won't be replaced as a fuel until it is all gone. It drives our economy, as well as the economies of the other industrialized nations. There is simply too much money in petrol to abandon it.

    The solution, in the near term, to mitigating the effects of an arab oil embargo is to tap our own resources, ala ANWR and other sites. Here in the USA the left won't allow such a move, instead they prefer to demagogue on high gas prices at the pump. I agree that more pollution is not needed, but that is not the topic of discussion - merely how to deal with dwindling resources.

    Or, another possible solution, is to radically change our way of life. I'll be the first to admit the American way of life is unsustainable. The very way our cities are designed exacerbates the pollution (ie people having to commute an hour to work each way).

    As far as our automotive industry goes, I wouldn't worry about that too much. The american car companies are reeling, and their dominance of the market is at an end. They will be forced to adapt by market forces - or face extinction.
     
  19. Aug 21, 2006 #18

    Chi Meson

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    I can't agree with your first assertion. Oil is definitely NOT here to stay. And as the supply dwindles, the escalating price will cause a tapering away from its use. I think oil will fade rather than snap off. The ultra rich will be the last to continue to burn gas according to their whim long after the rest of us are forced into austerity.

    Drilling ANWR is gonna happen whether the Greens like it or not (I'm a light shade of green myself) but it will only last for a few years.
     
  20. Aug 21, 2006 #19
    That's one of the advantages of diesel fuel - unlike gasoline you can distil it from petroleum as well as synthesize it from biomass of many common types. The transition from fossil fuels to biofuels is almost transparent to the consumer. The Germans know their investment in Diesel technology will benefit them in the post-fossil-fuel age.

    This is not about pollution. In fact, until recently diesel engines produced more pollution per Joule than gasoline engines. The US still uses high-sulfur diesel fuel, abandoned for a while by most western countries. Thanks to stringent European emission standards we're seeing modern diesel engines that have improved their exhaust and noise pollution levels.

    I don't think the changes will be so terrible. Less cars on the road? Better public transport? More efficient engines? I don't understand why the American automotive industry has such cold feet.

    Extinction meaning the loss of an industry that was once the backbone of American finance. Had I been an American, I would worry.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2006
  21. Aug 21, 2006 #20
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