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In 2005 it seemed that everything had changed.  And then in 2007 it happened again.  All of a sudden the only thing to expect was the unexpected.  I'm talking of course about the weather, and the changes due to radiation entrapment.  The climate seemed like it was dying.

Out of desperation, many prominent environmentalists converted to the religion of nuclear (fission) power between 2008-2011.  Each year the news about the climate was (and still is) getting worse.  Nuclear seemed to be the only way out.  After the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last year, some hedged and others doubled down.  Given that the crisis there is ongoing and possible worsening, maybe this is a good time to rethink those deathbed conversions.

There are two broad reasons why the conversion to nuclear doesn't make sense:

  1. It assumed that nuclear is in fact a safer alternative for current and future energy production.
  2. It assumed that society can't decrease demands.
 I'm going to leave the second point alone for now.

To begin with let's look at what British environmental writer George Monbiot said in 2009:

It's true that my position has changed. As the likely effects of climate change have become clearer, nuclear power, by comparison, has come to seem less threatening.


But I have not, as many people have suggested, gone nuclear. Instead, my position is that I will no longer oppose nuclear power if four conditions are met:

1. Its total emissions - from mine to dump - are taken into account.
2. We know exactly how and where the waste is to be buried.
3. We know how much this will cost and who will pay.
4. There is a legal guarantee that no civil nuclear materials will be diverted for military purposes.

None of them are insuperable.

Mark Lynas, author of the excellent book Six Degrees, I was disappointed to discover, took an even bolder stance in How nuclear power can save the planet:
I would take a stronger position myself: that increased use of nuclear (an outright competitor to coal as a deliverer of baseload power) is essential to combat climate change, but clearly there need to be some significant technical advances in nuclear fission if it is to become acceptable to many in the west.


Such "fourth-generation" nuclear power is still a dream, but potentially a much more realistic one than carbon capture and storage. Deployed entirely in tandem with renewables, fourth-generation nuclear could offer a complete decarbonisation of the world's electricity supply - and on the sort of timetable that Dr Hansen and his fellow climatologists demand.

There are many other prominent environmentalists and scientists who've done the same calculation---we need nuclear or we're doomed.  Here's one accounting of who's changed their mind on nuclear in the last few years.

For better or worse, when I was in high school I did a summer internship in the nuclear industry, working on a blue sky project (that never ended up becoming reality).  I'm not sure that at the time I had strongly held views on the technology, but if nothing else I learned how inordinately complex nuclear power production is; few other human endeavors are of such complexity.

Consider a conventional coal-fired plant.  Take some coal, burn it, boil some water, pipe the steam to run a turbine.  Afterwards, add more coal.

Consider a conventional nuclear BWR.  Take some carefully machined and enriched nuclear fuel, maintain the appropriate level of water moderation, start the reaction, maintain the appropriate level of control, boil some water but not too much water and don't create too many bubbles, pipe the steam to run a turbine.  Afterwards, open up the fuel assembly, move the fuel rods into an on-site spent fuel pool with appropriate water cooling for future transport to a reprocessing or long-term storage facility, with all of these steps done with protective gear.

I'm a fan of technologies that fail well.  You can just walk away from most other power plants and not much will happen.  Stop putting coal into a coal plant, and it will stop.  Nuclear isn't quite so simple.  As we're seeing with Fukushima, the dangerous plant is the one that wasn't even operating at the time of the disaster---reactor number 4---simply due to the amount of waste that was held there.

A natural response by many nuclear proponents is that modern designs have a much greater margin of safety.  No doubt that's the case, though a little known fact is that utility companies regularly go to regulators and ask to do power uprates of their nuclear plants---that is, to run the plants above the original maximum power level, on the theory that the original designers built in a safety margin.  Consider the huge number of uprates that the NRC has approved in the last decade.  I'm reminded of the tradeoff between resilience and efficiency, and when money is involved people opt for short-term efficiency over long-term resilience.

Despite this, nuclear proponents might still be justified in standing their ground: risk is everywhere, and statistically nuclear is much safer than many other things in industrial society.  That is, in ordinary times.  And if there's anything that's clear about the combination of global climate change and peak oil and the many other challenges we face, it's that we're not in ordinary times---they are unprecedented in recorded history, and point to harder times ahead.

Specifically, three things strike me as the major reasons to avoid nuclear:

Limits to growth. In a (permanently?) declining global economy, the resources (mostly financial, though military resources are important for nuclear safety) to keep plants well maintained are going to be scarce. Nicole Foss said it well-–-that after studying nuclear safety in Eastern Europe she concluded that nuclear power is incompatible with hard times.  It's these hard times that invalidate assumptions about the safety procedures and other risk modeling, for example, that can cause unforeseen cascading accidents.

Waste storage. I think it is possible for us to store waste for the short term. It's the longer term that is a bit more doubtful, and regardless of the duration it's an expensive undertaking. The 2010 documentary Into Eternity on Finland's waste storage plans reminded me of a few things: a) Finland is a small country, and yet the scale of the waste site is huge, b) planning for the 100 years it'll take to finish the waste site is hard enough (will there be the money needed to complete it? how is it possible to plan for 100 years when we can't plan beyond the next congressional election?) let alone the hundreds of thousands of years it needs to survive intact, and c) they've been working on this for a decade already, while no other country has even the beginnings of a solution. (The documentary was a bit sad: Finland has assembled a number of expert, sincere people trying to solve a problem that you sense they realize cannot be solved.)

Scale. Nuclear isn't particularly cheap when you compare it to alternatives (though cost estimates vary wildly) and is difficult to scale up quickly.  In my calculations on alternative energy several months back, I found David MacKay's estimate that the peak rate of nuclear power plant construction ever achieved was 30GW of nameplate capacity per year, globally.  At that rate we'd only build 0.6TW in 20 years, a drop in the bucket compared to the ~16TW of primary energy we consume globally today.

The combination of these factors, and the fact that it's not a technology that fails well means that even barring a catastrophic failure, at some point the whole plant has to be decommissioned and many of its parts stored as waste, at great expense.  The nuclear industry itself is old, and most nuclear engineers are nearing retirement, so a lot of institutional knowledge is about to be lost.

It's for these reasons that I prefer solar thermal power (both for heat and for electricity) for baseload generation.  A solar thermal tower with mirrors is about as low-tech as can be.  There's little risk of any sort of disaster---the entire system can be passive if it needs to be---and all the parts can be built using ubiquitous materials and simple technology.  With heat storage---again, simple technology---solar thermal can provide stable baseload power in a way that most major renewables (other than hydroelectric) can't.

Finally, stepping back for a moment, there's the question of whether it was wise to advocate for a technology from a position of weakness---environmentalists felt they had been backed into a corner, and had to pick something---anything---to get us and the climate out alive.  That's not a frame of mind that leads to good decision making.  Post-Fukushima, nuclear is off the table in many countries but the pattern that led to that choice is repeating with natural gas, and may keep repeating until we step back from the premise: that we can't use less energy.

Until next time...

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-) - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

    by barath on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 09:49:04 AM PDT

  •  In addition to your points (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barath, Wheever, Joieau, Jim P, shaggies2009

    Nukes are centralizing and therefore by nature anti democratic.  Solar energy will work best in distributed networks with the consumers of power owning (to some degree) the means of its production.  As we have seen with the rise of the internet, we are better off when a larger percentage of us participate in the things that effect us all.

    Nuclear power is really the worst of both worlds.  It is dangerous and almost completely isolated from genuine responsibility.  Owing to its extreme specialization, most of us lack the capacity to make anything like an informed decision about the safety protocols of the plants.  Like banks that are too big to fail, the nukes fall outside of anybody's ability to have an impact on them.

    The more we eliminate these kinds of monolithic (and irresponsive/irresponsible) structures from our lives, the better our lives will be.

    •  Good points, though there's a tension here (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Urizen, Joieau, Jim P

      You're very right about the anti-democratic nature of such facilities (and technologies).

      I do wonder about this, though:

      Owing to its extreme specialization, most of us lack the capacity to make anything like an informed decision about the safety protocols of the plants.
      There's a careful balance we need here: we need to rely upon scientists and engineers to reason about the things they build, and have means to ensure that what they do is proper and safe.  Our current mechanisms---scientific peer review and government regulation---work most of the time, but the latter has been significantly eroded.  In any large society, there are going to be things that are done that others can't understand; we need systems that ensure that those things can still be reasoned about by others without specialized knowledge. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

      by barath on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 10:15:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  As we've seen with climate change (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        barath, Joieau, Jim P

        peer review and facts don't make much of a difference.  Somebody with letters after their name will always be purchasable to cloud any annoying issues of reality.  So instead of doing very much to address our climate issues we have been wasting precious decades having a "debate" about whether it exists or not.  The only reason we are having a debate is because the concentration of wealth the oil companies are able to muster can afford to buy disproportional slices of our discourse.  Same thing with the nukes (even though we the people basically pay for them with loans and incentives).

        •  I agree (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Urizen, Joieau, G2geek

          I guess I was just wondering about what would happen if we take that reasoning further: we'd have to use no technology that couldn't be understood by the large portion of the population with very little science understanding...

 - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

          by barath on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 10:27:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Definitely a conundrum (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            barath, Joieau

            But I think what makes it scary is that the technology in the case of nukes (oil and natural gas too) belongs to a tiny minority where something like solar technology wouldn't be concentrated in a way that would afford anybody a monopolist's incentive (and financial clout) to hijack the science.

            •  There is a rather large (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              barath, Urizen, Jim P

              problem with the desire to rely upon science, which the whole bruhaha over global warming itself should have been highlighting for us if people had been paying proper attention.

              ...because the honest fact of the matter is that science simply doesn't deal in absolutes. No matter what corner of science you care to champion, there exist scientists out there who disagree completely. Check out a site like ScienceDaily on any new 'discovery' or 'finding' that comes along on any day of the week, look at the sidebar of "related stories" to see a dozen different theories about how the same phenomenon came about or works. Best science can provide is 'consensus' which is always limited in time and space to the lifetimes of whichever scientists happen to rule the academic roost this era.

              When considering a technology so inherently dangerous and poorly thought-out (life cycle) as nukes, then recall the deliberate secrecy that has always shrouded its processes, what comes through is the strong feeling that it's not something we should be boiling water with. The public may like or dislike it for their own emotional reasons (science-groupies who don't know much, versus the flower children who don't like the whole idea).

              We can do better, I believe. Might find that harnessing the abundant kinetic energies of this planet work fine, no water-boiling necessary. And for that boiling, using the abundant heat beneath our feet and the hot fusion reactor just 93 million miles away would be a better idea. Just a thought...

              •  To me it's more of a social problem (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                barath, Joieau

                than a technological one.  Concentrating essential services in the hands a small elite invites abuse.

                I love science and have nothing but respect for people who figure out how things work.  Among my heroes are those who did the work on nukes and the bomb (like Feynman who's one of my very favorite people).

                I guess I just don't think highly complex technology is that safe in the hands of profit driven capitalists.

                •  Well, you're certainly (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  right about that. But if you trace the history (including all the footnotes about what is and isn't still classified), you'd see that they literally "fell in love" with this power. To the point where it blinded them to the obvious shortcomings, which they never bothered to think through.

                  Nobody really wants to be the agent of Armageddon, but let's face it - the power was originally developed for the purpose of killing the most humans possible. There's a reason they call 'em Weapons of Mass Destruction. There is more gnarly, deadly crap inside the fence at ANY nuclear plant on the planet than you'd be treated to from the biggest nuclear WMDs. And there it sits in non-hardened buildings (some 5 stories above the ground) in glorified swimming pools. More and more every year. They burp constantly, release constantly, and now we all know they melt down and blow up too. Corium is some weird shit, we have no idea where Daiichi's several big flows will end up (it ain't over yet).

                  I'd much rather have some solar panels on the roof and maybe a wind turbine on the ridge. I can live with those, so can my children and grandchildren and descendants out to the proverbial seven generations. Nukes, meanwhile and despite hundreds of billions of dollars in national wealth wasted on them over 50 years, don't even have a place to bury their crap.

                  Sort of makes the 'right' choices obvious, don't you think?

                  •  to anybody except a lunatic (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    One issue with fundamentalists of biz is their blind faith that markets will solve any problem so they tend to ignore problems like disposal of waste etc.  The other (xtian) fundamentalists don't think we're gonna be here long enough (that rapture thing) for long term issues to matter.  Put together these two groups have been dominating our politics since the eighties.

                    •  Meh. Those fundy (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Urizen, G2geek

                      Armageddon-worshippers are entirely and completely non-qualified to make any decisions with impact about how we as a species (or even just a nation) plan for the future. Anyone who denies evolution, global warming, and eschews education entirely doesn't need to have a considerable input into the future-oriented debate.

                      •  James Watt (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        Reagan's Secretary of the Interior was precisely one of these.  In answer to a question about nuclear waste, he said something along the lines of "who knows if we'll even be here?"

                        •  Check this out... (0+ / 0-)

                          Daiini may be as bad as Daiichi.

                          Three at Daiichi. Two (at least) at Daiini. Several in Tokai and (what's the I-facility?). Not going looking this late in the day. 11 plants, all their pools, plus commons and the down unit pools. This is immediately threatening to every life form on the planet, much less just us.

                          Wow. Who'da thunk we'd nuke ourselves so badly, then have Japan deliver the fatal blow? ...fitting, in a poetic sort of way if there were a future when humans would care to read...

                  •  so were explosives. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    Developed for the express purpose of killing as many people as possible.  

                    So does that mean we should eschew all uses of explosives?  

                    How'bout railroad tunnels through mountains?  How'bout anything built with concrete, which uses crushed rock quarried with explosives?  

                    Attributing "intention" to technologies is the logical error of anthropomorphizing.

                    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                    by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:22:27 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  The Chinese invented gunpowder (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      to make fireworks with.

                      Totally agree with:

                      Attributing "intention" to technologies is the logical error of anthropomorphizing.
                      •  sometimes a culture misses an application. (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        The ancient Greeks or Romans (darn, can't remember which) built little steam-powered thingies that spun around in circles, used them as religious artifacts to demonstrate something about the actions of the gods, and failed utterly to recognize that steam could have any practical use whatsoever.  

                        So probably we can all end up agreeing that speculating about the motives behind the original development of technologies, doesn't help us take the steps needed to get the right technology mix and cultural mix to deal with sustainability crises in this century.  

                        Really it comes down to a few simple things that have become overlain with excessive policy complications:  reduce population, reduce consumption, convert to climate-clean energy, convert to a steady-state economy.  Along the way, relentlessly defeat those who attempt to block the necessary progress on each of those fronts.  

                        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                        by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:13:55 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                    •  "Intent" is of course (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      G2geek, Urizen

                      the province of the people who wield the power. In the case of nukes, it was originally governments engaged in all-out war. And who fell so "in love" with the power that they kept it going as a merely 'cold' war for 40 more years. In which enough nuclear weapons were amassed on all sides to kill every man, woman and child on earth 400 times over. They called it "MAD" because it's as insane as human power structures can get. Then they monetized it and farmed it out to greedy corporations, with lax oversight and real proliferation issues (which have borne explosive fruit).

                      We do see quite a bit of cognitive confusion from the authoritarians about nuclear energy production. On the one hand we are supposed to cheerfully give up our rights and liberties on the off-chance that some dark person in a turban will someday get his hands on a pound or two of nasty nuclear material and detonate a not too impressive "dirty" bomb. On the other, we're supposed to think it's hunky dory that the entire hemisphere is grossly contaminated with three melted and blown up reactors, 11 more that were also damaged in the 3/11/11 quake and tsunami and contributed to the fallout, and at LEAST 7 spent fuel pools still waiting for their chance to burn and melt. More nasty contaminates than in all the nuclear weapons ever detonated on this planet. Hundreds of tons' worth of deadly-forever crap they can't do anything about - if you can see it, you're dead.

                      When authoritarians fall in love with a power this immense - and in this case the secrecy and deceptions that hold it exclusive - bad things tend to happen. Bad nuclear things that will remain deadly for thousands of years. I am of the firm opinion that if in an emergency they can't turn the damned thing off, they've got no business turning it on. We can do better.

                      •  You have an excellent piece of... (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Urizen, Joieau

                        ... highly-effective rhetoric in the line "...if in an emergency they can't turn the damned thing off, they've got no business turning it on."  That's the kind of messaging the left needs to do more of: simple, straightforward, compelling.  

                        The intent of people who wield power is simply to maximize their personal net energy balance vis-a-vis the ambient.  This they do by getting other people to "work for them," a remarkably accurate expression in that all living organisms are energy-converters and "conversion of energy from one form to another" is the definition of "work" in physics.

                        So in other words, humans as energy-converters seek to harness the output of other humans as energy-converters, on their own behalf.  This is mediated through money as the "energy storage medium," though money is also a form of "information," and information has at best a slippery relationship with the laws of thermodynamics.  Money is the only form of stored energy that can be caused to increase by an act of human will, purely as a function of passage through time, in contradiction to the natural entropy of all other forms of concentrated energy over time.  

                        From which one can conclude that a high inflation rate is in keeping with the thermodynamics of entropy, and also benefits all us worker-bees at the expense of the plutocrats.  No wonder they do everything in their power to hold inflation down.    

                        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                        by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:49:48 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                •  Fire department? Hospital? (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  "Concentrating essential services in the hands a small elite invites abuse."

                  That arguement applies to anything beyond unskilled labor.

                  Be careful what you wish for.  

                  "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                  by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:19:14 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I think the way we run healthcare (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    makes my point.

                    Fire Departments don't operate on a for profit basis and have far less potential for exploitation, dontcha think?

                    It may be silly of me, but I think publicly (as in taxpayer) owned monopolies of essential services make a lot sense.

                    •  Yes, I agree. (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      Publicly-owned regulated monopolies, for example single payer, and in some cases private ones such as the Bell Telephone System.  

                      What I dread is the potential for privatization of law enforcement in some parts of the US.  

                      But the point is, highly skilled workers of whatever kind, including doctors and lawyers and so on, are always "elites" compared to everyone else.  The point of representative democracy is to limit the risk of any of those elites gaining disproportionate control over things other than the matters within their expertise, and limiting even that.  

                      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

                      by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:03:40 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

            •  how'bout the printing press? (0+ / 0-)

              And copyright fascism?  Simple tech in theory, and monopolists have seized it and held it hostage for ransom.

              The arguement of "undemocratic technology" fails on so many grounds.  Do you understand how your computer works, well enough even to repair it yourself?  How'bout your automobile?  Refrigerator?  See?  

              Go out and ask ten people on the street to explain to you how the flush tank on their toilet works, and draw you a diagram of the mechanism.  I think you'll be shocked at the results.  

              "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

              by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:15:30 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  we're going to find out. (0+ / 0-)

            Judging from Meadows' graph, that's where we're headed in about another 50 years: the precipitous decline of technologies that can't be understood by people without science training.  

            (To the tune of "Home on the Range")

            Oh the future is grand, hauling water by hand
            eating food that you hunt in the woods
            Life is spartan and stark, as you freeze in the dark
            and make money on contraband goods.

            Home, home in a cave
            While the city folk go to their grave
            But a camp with a fire, beats a camp with barbed wire
            and it's better than being a slave!

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:12:52 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Have to include the commercial interests (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        barath, Joieau

        in all this. They've a finger in the pie every step of the way, from scientific calculations, through engineering specs, though regulation.

        For instance, Fukushima site was some tens of feet higher than it now stands, but the economics of delivering water uptake and discharging over the expected life of the plants made it cheaper in the long run to dig out that earth. Similarly, the probability speculations about what scale local earth-events can possibly happen are limited to geologically short moments when compared to the historical record.  Less money in building costs. Again, Fukushima reality fell outside of that "scientific estimate" (really just a bet), and a once-a-millennia event happened. If that had been planned for, instead of 300 or 500 year window, the cost would have been much higher to build the plant.

        I had someone tell me that France's plants are safe from earthquakes because they haven't had a major one in 300 years. I don't know what they planned for over there, 300 years, 600 years, but I'm sure they didn't look at 2,000 years.

        Then of course there's the corruption businessmen go for, well documented (I think even proven in court) in Japan at other plants a decade ago. Cutting corners on quality of materials, and the like.

        So the entire complex in building comes down to "Science / Engineering / Regulators / Commercial Interests" all of which have likely points of failure in their models and assumptions, most especially the latter.

        One miscalculation, one expression of contempt by Nature for our assumptions about what it will do (and our earth/sun sciences are at the beginning of their infancy, really), you lose half-a-trillion dollars, minimum, not counting all other costs.

        An aside: at Fukushima, where they are talking about 40 years to get it all under control (optimistically, I'd think) people are also realizing that you have a set pool of nuclear professionals to work and monitor the site, and this pool gets used up as exposure limits are hit. So where are the workers for 20 years from now, 30, 40 years, going to come from?

        The Internet is just the tail of the Corporate Media dog.

        by Jim P on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 11:34:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  hi Barath:-) actually that arguement doesn't work (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Imputing psychosocial values to technology is the logical error of anthropomorphizing.  

        Clinical psych calls objects of this type "complex equivalents."  Common examples include "the flag" and "marijuana," where the physical object becomes a symbol for an enormous load of attributed meaning that varies widely among individuals.  

        Since it's so inherently subjective, anthropomorphizing generates endless wrangling without conclusion, like arguing about angels dancing on pinheads.  That doesn't get us anywhere: it's a digression that can be put to great use by climate deniers and growthers.  

        When arguing technology it's best to stick to empirical facts that are not open to subjective interpretation.  Deniers will continue to deny facts but that tactic is more easily overcome.  

        By analogy, you wouldn't prosecute someone for "being a terrorist" because that can become a matter of interpretation.  Instead you'd prosecute them for "possession of explosives" because there is no interpretation possible: is the material an explosive?, and did the person have possession of it?  If so, the jury must convict.  Slam-dunk.  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:08:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree it's a wishy-washy point (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          It's hard to make a firm point on the notion of anti-democratic technology, because it does have to do with human behavior rather than the technology itself.  I guess I'm influenced by Mander's writing about TV---that there is something about the way that medium is set up that makes it tend towards anti-democratic use.  Similarly, you could imagine that while technology doesn't have a specific leaning, the way people are likely to use it might have some specific bias.

 - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

          by barath on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:45:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  the medium; and the nature of humans. (0+ / 0-)

            In the earliest days of television, AT&T proposed that it be treated like a common carrier: every locale would have X amount of broadcasting capacity on Y number of channels, and federal regulation would set the hourly rates for broadcasting on those channels.  This was called the "step into my telephone booth" model of TV (anyone can "put a dime in the slot" and broadcast to their community).  

            Under that model, where the carrier (AT&T) was entirely separated from the content (programming), TV would not have become a centralized medium of propaganda.  But there was too much money to be made following the "radio" model of privately-owned stations operating under FCC licenses, and the rest as they say is history.


            Ultimately we are dealing with the characteristics of human behavior, which is to say, biology and neurophysiology plus the influence of culture.  

            Humans are dissipative structures (energy converters that utilize ambient entropy to drive localized syntropy, per Prigogene, Order from Chaos and peer-reviewed papers).  Humans also seek to maximize their net energy gain from the ambient.  These two factors together drive most forms of technological progress.  But they also drive interpersonal exploitation from slavery to wage labor, and the exploitation of natural resources, and are key factors in overconsumption behavior.  

            Genetic selfishness, utilized by established churches as yet another entropy gradient to be harvested (in this case via control of sexuality), drives overpopulation.  This is highly visible in the propaganda of groups that urge higher birth rates to prevent "our people" from being "swamped" by "their people," something we see even in some European nations right now in the form of "baby bonuses" and so on.  

            Ultimately we are dealing with an evolutionary crisis that will be amplified by the coming evolutionary bottleneck.  The question is, what perishes and what persists?

            If what persists is a plutocratic neo-slave state with theocratic control of the culture, then humanity or what it becomes, will fail the cosmic darwin-test: they will spiral downward and back to the caves, fail to spread to other planets and star systems, and go extinct when some astronomical event destroys the Earth.

            If what persists is a more "enlightened" humanity operating on a sustainable footing, then there is a high probability that continued progress in science & technology will eventually result in spread to other planets and star systems: humanity and its distant descendants will pass the cosmic darwin-test and persist until the heat-death of the universe.  

            Ultimately that's what's at stake, and our lifetime is one of the turning points along that road.  

            "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

            by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 06:17:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  It will take 4000 ish nukes ? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    barath, Joieau, Jim P

    To build that many isn't realistic .
    To fund , build , staff , maintain etc etc etc .
    How will 3rd world countries afford nukes ?
    If we were to go for nukes in the 1st world
    and tell the 3rd world they must ,
    we would have electricity and they would not .

    "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

    by indycam on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 10:31:12 AM PDT

    •  Scale is definitely a problem (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joieau, Jim P

      There just isn't the time or money to build them at a scale required, and the institutional knowledge is disappearing fast.  Add to it the other reasons I listed, and it's basically not a good option in any way. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

      by barath on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 10:33:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  One of the biggest nuke guys on this site (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        admits nukes are not a possible answer to the problems we face today . He blames anti nukes for the nukes not built worldwide in the past decades . He says he was one of those anti nuke people he blames for the lack of the nukes he wanted built in the past when he was an anti nuke . iykwim

        "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

        by indycam on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 10:50:20 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hmmm. If we had built the 4000 nukes (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          indycam, Joieau

          ten times what we have in place now, would we have had then 10 TMIs, 10 Chernobyls, 10 Fukushimas, 10 times the waste? And where would that have us? If you see him again, tell him he did the right thing back then.

          The Internet is just the tail of the Corporate Media dog.

          by Jim P on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 11:52:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  How about I just link to your comment ? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jim P, Joieau

            And I am not so sure about your math .
            10 times as many nukes does not = 10 times as many accidents and waste .
            They would be all over the world , run by all sorts of people .
            The rate might be as low as 10 times , but I would guess it would be at the very very least 11 times as many , iykwim .

            "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

            by indycam on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 12:02:59 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I think it's the same guy thrilled that (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Joieau, indycam

              China plans to build lots of nukes. Don't know if he ever followed up on the searches for "China shoddy building" or "china corrupt construction" I recommended to him.

              The Internet is just the tail of the Corporate Media dog.

              by Jim P on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 12:07:06 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  The basic problem is (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ebohlman, G2geek

    do we maintain technological society?  Earth has too many people.  It will take a long time for the population to decline to a sustainable level by reducing the birth rate, even in the best case of a transformation of all of world society, and the effective granting of full civil and reproductive rights for all women.  One alternative is for the population to decline by raising the death rate.  But of course everyone here on DKos will be absolutely against massive increases in famine, disease, and war.  Can we avoid that if we can no longer support a technological civilization?  I don't think so, and the graph at the end of the dairy is a graph of the decline of technological civilization creating a decline of population.

    The key to technological society is energy.  We must be able to produce large amounts of energy without drowning the earth in pollution and climate change.  There are very large savings to be had by increases in efficiency, but we still need a lot of energy.

    All sustainable energy solutions have advantages and disadvantages.  Right now they all cost more in bulk than fossil fuel solutions, though that is because the fossil fuel industry is not paying for the negative externalities they cause.  Solar and wind need to have large amounts of bulk electric power storage capabilities that do not exist yet before they can take a very large percentage of the total electric grid.  The biggest need for nuclear is to deal with the waste.  Most people do not realize there are reprocessing technologies that get rid of most of the radioactive waste, though they are expensive.  But bulk storage of power for solar and wind are also expensive, as are any carbon sequestration techniques for fossil fuels.

    The bottom line is that it is way too soon to rule out nuclear power or any other carbon neutral energy source.  It is too soon to know what combination of solutions we should use.  We have to get it from somewhere.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 12:50:01 PM PDT

    •  I disagree, because of the premise (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      We have to get it from somewhere.
      It's this premise I disagree about: we could easily live at 1/3 of the per capita energy consumption in the U.S. without dramatically decreasing our well being.  The ways of decreasing energy demand are known, and they're easier and cheaper than building nuclear plants.

      The problem is that too many people including environmentalists have accepted the premise that the American way of life (which in this context equals wasteful energy use) is non-negotiable.

      My co-blogger Adam put it like this:

      There’s an aphorism in philosophical circles that goes “One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.”  The idea is that two people can agree on a conditional statement `If p then q‘, but use it to make different inferences.  Someone who endorses p will conclude that q (that’s modus ponens).  Someone who denies q will deny p (that’s modus tollens).  This double aspect of the conditional shows up in the fact that, in classical logic, ‘p -> q‘ is equivalent to ‘~q -> ~p‘.  Converting from one to the other is called contraposition.

      We’ve noticed that much of the sustainability/green/environmental community likes to reason in only one direction:

          (1) If we’re going to maintain the current economy (p), then we’ll need alternative fuels that meet current energy needs (q).

      But why not contrapose?

          (2) If we can’t get alternative fuels to meet current energy needs (~q), then we won’t be able to maintain the current economy (~p).

      If you emphasize (1), the lesson is: let’s get to work on making alternative fuels meet current (extravagant) energy needs.  But if you emphasize (2), the lesson is: let’s start thinking about what a different economy would look like.  We think it’s vital to start thinking about both directions, and not neglect the contrapositive. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

      by barath on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 01:19:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Even if we assume that we could meet the 1/3 usage (0+ / 0-)

        target, that does not solve the problem.  It might be possible, but that still means the US needs very large scale energy production.  If we get rid of fossil fuel powered vehicles, then we have to substitute for that energy, either with a new demand on electricity generation for transportation, or by using biofuels, which must compete with food production.

        But the real problem is that the rest of the world wants something approaching the US standard of living.  Who are we to say they can't have it?  Even if that means just 1/3 the energy usage per capita of the current US, there are so many more people that we will still face resource exhaustion and climate change if fossil fuels are used.  An entire world using energy per capita at 1/3 the current US rate would still use 6 or 7 times the total current US energy usage.  The problem of resource exhaustion and climate change is a world wide problem, but aspirations to raise standard of living is world wide too.

        Greatly reducing energy usage is extremely important, because the costs of energy will go up once we are not just scooping it out of the ground.  But we still have to produce a lot of energy.

        The only ultimate long term answer to resource exhaustion is for the world population to be reduced.  We can only hope that the reduction comes about by a voluntary reduction in world wide birth rate, rather than an involuntary increase in the death rate.

        "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

        by Thutmose V on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 02:35:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  about transportation: "give a hoot, telecommute!" (0+ / 0-)

          An enormous amount of transportation and energy usage in buildings (heating & cooling) is devoted to moving people back and forth so they can sit at a desk and use a computer and a telephone.

          The insanity of that is right up there with digging holes and filling them in again five days a week.  

          Speaking from expertise: I designed one of the technologies used for telecommuting.  

          There is no good reason whatsoever (though plenty of bad reasons such as bosses who want to "see" their employees, even though that's possible via telecommuting also) that all information-handling jobs ("using a computer and telephone") can't be put on a telecommute basis.  The savings of energy and raw materials will be absolutely enormous.


          As for "everyone else wants what we have," the answer is, they can't have it, nor can we any longer.  "Want" is equivalent to "wish for," and "wishes" are meaningless in the face of natural law including the finitude of Euclidean solids such as planets.

          Population reduction will come, the only question is how much suffering occurs along the way, and how that suffering is distributed.  

          "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

          by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:47:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  well done. (0+ / 0-)

        Nice exercise in rational grounds for "thinking outside the box."   I'd like to meet Adam one of these days.

        Realistically we have to do "all of the above."  Reduce population, reduce consumption, convert to climate-clean energy sources, and convert to a growth-free economy (now that the "free growth" economy has come to an end).  

        These things are going to happen on their own as the inevitable outcome of overshoot, so the core underlying question is, how much suffering are we willing to tolerate between here and there?  And the question for politics and economics is, how shall that suffering be distributed?

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:42:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  decline of technology produces dieoff. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Thutmose V

      To advocate a decline in technology is to advocate an increase in starvation, endemic disease, and resource wars.   One may as well just advocate nuclear war and get it over with.

      Realistically the "best" (most humane) way forward is through the massive expansion of contraception & family planning, combined with education of women and equality for women worldwide.  That gets you the most reliable decline of population with the lowest level of coercive measures and dieoff.

      And realistically that ain't gonna' happen, as the wrangling over access to birth control demonstrates.  

      In ecology it's an axiom that population increases up to the limits of food supply, and also that removing any given limit only allows population to increase up to the next limit.  

      If humans make use of their brain capacity to start making intelligent choices to reduce population and consumption levels (the other evil twin of overshoot), we can avoid a catastrophic dieoff.  

      But it does not appear this is going to happen any time soon, and so we blunder ever closer to the edge of the abyss, where a sustainable population level of about 3.5 billion will be achieved by a dieoff about 300 times the magnitude of the nazi Holocaust, during the course of our (and our childrens') lifetimes.  

      "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:33:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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