Energy – Four Future Levels

Posted: 21st January 2011 by Khannea Suntzu in Uncategorized
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Let me paint you a highly simplified picture of energy politics in (especially the second half of) the future of humanity in the 21st century;

1 – Abundant Growth
This is the future where we have so much energy we can do amazing things, and have unprecedented economic growth. Yes, I am saying “access to more energy == economic growth”. Right now we use the equivalency of 17 terawatt of energy wordwide, of which quite a few in biofuel (people still burn an awful lot of organic matter and wood to cook their food) and the bulk in oil. The US consumes 25% of this energy with under 5 of the population. This cannot be changed, as the US spends 700 billion annually on its military – nobody can argue effectively with the US for the near future, but it should be clear this strategy is immoral and unsustainable. If we’d have a global energy consumption in electrical means, assuming minimal pollution and climate disruption, and give everyone n the world (7 billion right now) the same material abundance and energy consumption as the average USA citizen (and it is debatable if that makes a human actually “happy” or “healthy, but sure, OK) we’d need about between 75 and a 100 terawatt of energy at current population levels and probably well over 125 teraWatt by 2050. Now let’s assume that scenario one assumes a good deal more than that i.e. enough energy to easily evolve towards a Kardashev-2 civilization and start to quickly and safely emigrate people from earth into the solar system under extremely garish, paradisial conditions.

The only way we can make it to scenario (1) is if we develop easily marketable and safe fusion reactors and/or are quick developing scalable SPS or “space power systems.

2 – Familiar Growth
Scenario band 2 assumes we develop enough new energy sources, cultivate enough energy efficiency and savings, consolidate enough energy sources, develop what we can from familiar sources (without collapsing climate, biodiversity, geopolitical stability, economy, population ceilings, sustainability, agricultural systems, etc.) so we grow at a familiar rate of between 1 and 5% annually. It is the kind of highly compelling optimistic nonsense you get from the likes if Hans Rosling but which is constantly mocked by the peak oil crowd. Let’s suffice I don’t believe with current technologies we can’t sustain even this level of world economies and growth without suffering at least several collapse states quite soon.

I don’t think any existing scenario makes scenario 2 sustainable as far as 2100.

3 – Cautious conservative “steady state” growth
This is what Green Peace and the ecological movement would have us all consent to, and I believe constitutes the biggest inhuman and irresponsible advocation of genocide in human history. I believe “steady state” scenarios are not feasible, by and large because several countries will not consent to the sacrifices we need to make to do this. Mind you, I fully endorse moving to greater sustainability – because I’d like to live the last decades of my life somewhat comfortably (and please let it be somewhat nice for the few decades and the people I know afterwards) but frankly very few humans give a damn about what kind of hell we’d have afterwards. If anyone would in fact care we wouldn’t all be doing what we are doing. I would say that steady state won’t work in the long run – not in a world with nukes and tyrants. Eventually someone will want more and will try and take it playing unfair.

I do not think we can actually do scenario range 3, and I’d state that advocating this (especially if you live in the first world) is acutely immortal to a few billion really poor people living in the third world. By advocating scenario band 3 you’d condemn the people in the first world to clearly less relative wealth than they have now (which in itself might be morally defensible) but also you’d advocate keeping wayyy too many poor people poor on unacceptable levels. If we advocate that we deserve every misery those people give us in payback.

4 – Die Off Decline
Die off is when we all fuck it up, and we find ourselves being unable to feed people, the wars start, climate collapses, industries and economies collapse, more people start dying, biodiversity and water tables collapse, global infrastructures and energy systems collapse, everyone starts thinking in ‘Cheynian” end-game scenarios and the whole world starts bleeding people at the rate of tens of millions per year, irreversibly, till we end up (somewhere early 22nd century) with a global order not dissimilar to what is now the norm in Afghanistan. Sort of like “salute of the jugger” but worse, with no cars left or industries and skulls and violence everywhere. And very little chance every to get our act back together as an industrial society ever again. Hell on earth.

Technology
With better technology we need less energy for abundance and societal affluence (and at some levels of advanced technology we’d even function so efficiently we can skill a few levels) but for some degrees of worldwide affluence (or fundamental increments of advancement) we would need very big amounts of energy.

The blessings of Oil
Right now the world consumes about 17 teraWatt of energy (when converted to electrical equivalency). However we do so using mostly oil! If we’d all switch to electrical we would not be able to benefit from the massively efficient transportational and energy dense qualiities oil said oil and we’d in effect need a lot more energy sources to make up for any shortfall. Hence, a world without oil would need probably into the far twenty terawatt to compensate for the benevolent qualities of oil. Consequently countries who have very widely scattered infrastructures, widely dispersed suburbs, largely industrialized agricultural systems, overspecialized service economies, a “spoiled” cultural sens of entitlements, overextended military apparatuses or no public transportation nets to speak off would do really really bad in a world where oil would rapidly become irrecoverable, uncompetitive or plain unavailable. Yes I am hinting at the US here.

I advocate we aim for scenario (1). I’d advocate we execute or lock up anyone who knowingly settles for scenario (3) or worse.

References
Terawatt

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