Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kids These Days, an Underfable

       Kids These Days

          Once upon a time Death and a Maiden parted due to irreconcilable differences. According to Death, the youth of the day were impudent, irresponsible, irreverent and ungrateful. The Maiden retorted that Death was overbearing, unreasonable, conformist and tyrannical. Death denounced the foolish fashions of the young, their noisy music, their lunatic lusts, their atrocious manners and their absurd ideas. The Maiden countered by calling Death old-fashioned, tone-deaf, joyless, inhibited and unimaginative. After long, loud argument, Death stormed out, vowing never to return until she came to her senses.
          Heartbroken by this rejection, she rebounded by choosing a suitor, wedding him and bearing him a family. The Maiden, now a Mother, never again thought of Death, except for every day.
          But when her children grew up and left home, and when her husband died, the Mother, now a Crone, slowly grew to a new view. One day she realized that the youth of the day were indeed impudent, irresponsible, irreverent and ungrateful. It was in fact true that their fashions were foolish, their music was noise, their lusts were lunatic, their manners were atrocious and their ideas were absurd; just as Death had told her long ago. At last she saw things from Death’s point of view.
          The moment the Crone realized this, there was a knock at the back door. She went back and opened the door.
          And Death said, “All is forgiven.”

          Moral: Never hold a permanent grudge.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Corporate Treason, a Modest Proposal

       Corporate Treason, a Modest Proposal
          plus comments

The climate’s changing, almost certainly due to CO2 emissions. 97% of the world’s climate scientists agree that we’ll have to leave most of the carbon fuels in the ground to avoid dangerous global warming; but of course the fossil fuel corporations don’t want to do that, and they are rich and powerful and (like all corporations) sociopathic.
But it occurs to me that if those corporations are sociopathic enough to betray all of civilization for short-term gain, then they are also sociopathic enough to betray each other for long-term gain. I therefore offer this Modest Proposal: that some one of those corporations do the following:

1. Sell all of their still-productive wells and mines to their competitors;
2. Invest heavily in renewable energy;
3. Switch sides in the climate-change debate. Specifically, bribe the legislatures to mandate leaving most of the coal, gas and oil in the ground.

In short, sell off their wasting assets to their rivals, then pay the State to forbid them from using those assets! What a sweet scam!

1. I think ‘renewable energy’ should really be called ‘owned power’. If you own a geothermal well, or a solar farm, or a wind farm, then you have a license to print money; whereas any power source requiring fuel is at the mercy of outsiders. Really, fueled power should be called ‘rented’ power. Owned power is a source of endless power in both the physical and political senses.
2. Wind and solar are on the rise, but they’re intermittent, and so require either grid coordination (and hence are not really owned power) or storage batteries (an underdeveloped tech, needing R&D and investment). However, for the purpose of corporate treason, I think deep geothermal is poetically appropriate, for it uses the same deep-drilling tech they now are developing to chase after vanishing oil.
3. I see that the Rockefeller foundation is divesting from fossil fuels, and switching sides on the AGW debate. That is, they are following my corporate-treason advice! No-one should ever accuse the Rockefellers of lack of adaptability.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On Climate-Proofing Civilization

          On Climate-Proofing Civilization

The climate’s changing rapidly lately, almost certainly due to CO2 emissions, but nothing will be done because the fossil fuels corporations are rich and powerful and (like all corporations) sociopathic. The process will probably go to completion, come hell or high water. (Likely both!)
So the way forward is adaptation. How to climate-proof civilization? We’ll have to rebuild it anyhow, once the seas rise and flood out the coastal cities. So billions will pack and move uphill, but to what?
I propose that we move as much as possible indoors, where we have climate control. In economic terms, this is ‘import substitution’ for the city. Import substitution is pricy but a long-term winning strategy.
Thus vertical farming, hydroponics and aquaponics. This saves on pesticides, herbicides, transportation, and it’s water-efficient too.
Water will be a problem. Too much here, too little there. But there’s desalinization, and there’s pulling water from the air. Neither has been done much; rivers and rain are cheaper; but if those become unreliable or unpredictable, then we’ll just have to pay up. Forced technical evolution.
As long as I’m fantasizing about closed systems, let me put in a good word for the plasma torch. Feed your city’s waste stream into it and zap everything down to atoms. So long dioxin and viruses. Out of it comes ‘fuel gas’ = CO + H2, a feedstock for fuel, fertilizer and plastic. Put the fertilizer into the hydroponics, and that’s a closed loop.
The plasma torch also emits ‘slag’, which is a mix of all the other elements. Nowadays they put this into a clay-lined landfill, but I say we send the plasma through a mass-spectrometer, and get out pure elements, ready for industrial use. How’s that for recycling?
While we’re at it let’s separate out the radioisotopes, for radiological cleanliness and industrial use. For instance, put a pinch of C14 into a glass sphere doped with phosphors, and you’ve got a light that’ll shine for millennia.
All of this is energy-intensive, and we’re running out of fossil fuels, which is forcing climate change. Solar and wind are fine, and getting cheaper, but I cannot imagine technologies more vulnerable to climate change. Also they’re intermittent, and they have a big footprint. The intermittency can be cured by efficient energy storage, but this tech needs invention and investment. The land footprint might create land-use conflicts. Turf wars; how retro.
Old-style nukes have repeatedly disgraced themselves; but I hear good things about LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). But even nukes are fuel-based, which is not what I have in mind. So I was wondering about deep geothermal. Small footprint, continuous, zero-emission if done right. Can this be done affordably at gigawatt scale? Note that the drilling technology it needs is now being pioneered by the chase after ever-deeper oil.
Put it all together: deep geothermal power, plasma torch recycling, vertical hydroponic farms, water pulled from the air. Put it all under an air-conditioned geodesic dome and voila; a city you can plant anywhere. Climate change? Droughts, hurricanes, high seas, desertification, lethal hot-and-humid heat-shock weather? Who cares? It’s the Anthropocene, baby, get with the program.
Do note that most of these technologies will also be useful in space. Or put it this way; future Earth might become an alien planet. You can’t go home again.
Perhaps you, dear readers, know cheaper ways to climate-proof civilization. And probably I’m missing some necessary techs. And no doubt there will be political effects from all this technological centralization. If it’s heat-shock weather outside the dome, then you don’t want to be kicked out of town.
Not everyone can afford to build a climate-proof city. So how to live low-tech in the Anthropocene?
Comments and suggestions?