Oil Drum is one of the most important post carbon blogs. By focusing on peak oil, Oil Drum shot circuits the so called climate change debate. A new debate has broken out in oil drum about the deindustrialization of post carbon society. The notion is that faced with an increasing scarcity of oil, and skyrocketing prices for oil, large scale, machine dependent agriculture will collapse. Hords of hungry people will flood the land desperate for food, and moving onto the abandoned corperate farms, will set up peasant farming communities, which will use organic, labor intensive agricultural techniques to farm the land. The model for this new society is Cuba, well maybe Cuba without Castro.
Stuart Staniford has undertaken a critique of this "relocalization" model on Oil Drum.
A post by Sharon Astyk today in Oil Drum defends the relocalization perspective in "Is Relocalization Doomed?: A Response to Staniford’s 'Fallacy of Reversibility'".
My own perspective that the belief that the end of the carbon fuel era will mean a collapse in industrial civilization. The whole issues has a been there, done that feel for me. When I was a contract employee at ORNL in 1970-71, the whole issue of future scarcities was on the table. There was a simple ORNL solution to the problem of scarcity, that colors my thinking to this day. That solution was substitution. I am be reasonably sure that Alvin Weinberg did not invent the idea, but he sure did pick up the ball and run with it in Age of substitutability: or what do we do when the mercury runs out.
So how does substitution apply in agriculture? Simple, electricity can be substituted for oil. Agricultural machinery can be run with electricity as well as oil. Tractors, combines and other mobile machines can use battery or ultra-capacitors to store electricity. Stationary equipment can be hooked directly to the grid. Is there anything on a farm, currently any farm equiptment that cannot operate with electricity? Of course not, the question is silly.
Food can be shipped to market by electrified rail. Until the second half of the 20th century, railroads were the preferred method of shipping food. There was a spur line in every farming community. Rail hauling is still far more energy efficient than trucking, and even without electrification, a shift back to peak oil powered trains makes economic sense.
Where will post carbon electricity come from?
The answer is simple, from sustainable breeding power reactor. Clearly even if we can mine Uranium from the sea, the present nuclear power system is not indefinitely sustainable. In addition the current nuclear power system, relying as it does on light water reactor technology, is extremely wasteful. Reactor modified fuel is treated as waste rather than a resource. This leaves us with the so called problem of nuclear waste. What is really wasted in the current system is opportunities. Those opportunities are represented by the potential for more nuclear power tied up in the U238, U235 and Pu239 present in the so called "nuclear waste" and the alchemical transformation of elements which is occurring in nuclear byproducts. Maby of these byproducts are "uniquely useful, intrinsically valuable, and strategically important materials." Thus far from being the liability which the present nuclear power system treats reactor modified fuel, it is a tremendous asset. The failure to acknowledge reactor modified fuel as an asset, is perhaps the most serious public liabilities of the nuclear industry.
Why not renewables?
The big craze at the moment is renewable energy. Oak Ridge scientist looked at renewable energy in the 1970's. My father (C.J. Barton, Sr.) noted in 1974 that the problems of solar power included "the environmental effects of covering 5000 square miles of land [with solar energy collectors] and a few other problems such as the amounts of energy-intensive metals required to collect the solar energy." This is still the case. What is most amazing is the psudo environmental organizations like Greenpeace ignore the environmental impact of renewables while focusing on the far smaller impact of nuclear power.
My father's criticism of the materials input into solar generation is if anything more cogent today that in 1974. The price of steel, copper, concrete, and other materials required by renewables has dramatically increased since the beginning of the new millenium. This materials inflation is being fueled primarily by demand from China, but increasingly India is also entering the demand picture. As demand for construction materials to build renewable power generating facilities ramps up, a further inflation of materials prices will occur.
Nuclear power enjoys a considerable advantage over renewable in terms of materials cost. The materials input for renewables can be up too 10 times as much as for nuclear power per Mega Watt. Further more new nuclear technology can lower the materials input into new atomic power plants substantially. Light Water Reactors use water under high pressure. This design requires high level of materials input, and maintaining its safety requires even more. But reactor designs exist that does not operate under high water pressure. These include the Pebble Bed Reactor, and the Molten Salt Reactor. Neither design requires water as a moderator, as a coolant, or as part if its power generation. Both can be cooled by air.
Of the two new reactor designs, the Molten Salt Reactor has many advantages. Its requires less materials input than Light Water Reactors , while materials Like U238 or Th233, can be simply be left in reactors until nuclear alchemy turns them into fissionable atoms. At that point they can be burned in the chain reacton. Through radiation alchemy chain reaction byproducts are transformed into valuable and useful materials. These valuable byproducts can be chemically removed from from the molten fuel of the reactor, while it continues operation. Thus the Molten Salt Reactor is a nuclear cornicopia that can generate electricity, more reactor fuel, and valuable and often rare metals and other minerals, rather than nuclear waste.
Do we need to turn back to the soil in order to save humanity from a post peak oil collapse of civivalization. Certainly not! What an absurd idea.! Energy substitution will preserve our civilization, our way of life.
The end of the carbon fuel era is hardly the end of the age of portable energy. Energy is already carried to farms in the form of electricity. Farm machinery that now runs on carbon based fuels can be operated with electricity. Machines like tractors and combines can use electrical storage in batteries and ultra-capacitors unstead of liquid fuels. Energy is energy. Food can be transported to urban markets via electrified rail. These are simple substitutions which either involve using alternative existing technologies, or minor improvements in existing technologies. The rise of food prices now is not due to a brake down of farming technology. Rather it is caused, in no small measure, by the use of food for transportation energy. Bio-fuels use food that should be used for human consumption. It is just plain wrong to take food out of the mouths of the poor un Mexico City, in order to put ethanol into the tanks of American SUVs.
Electrical energy can come from renewable sources or from nuclear power plants. All of these technologies are sustainable on a long term basis.
If we plan wisely for the future of energy, we will not need to worry about future food shortages as Sharon Astyk does. Food production problems can be fixed with technology better than with massive human labor. The problem is not found in our material civilization, in our science, or in our technology, but in a lack of confidence in science and technology. If that problem is not fixed, we may end up paying a massive human cost.
The most unfortunate aspect of the so called relocalization movement is its expectation of an unneeded and highly undesirable decline in the the quality of human life in more advanced societies. Not only are the relocalizers willing to sacrifice the advantages of our current way of life without further examination of the possiblility of energy substitution, but the also seem totally oblivious to the truly terrible human consequences of doing so. Ours is an aging society. Our medical advances, and the comfort of our way of life have allowed many of us who would have already have died in a peasant society to survive into an older age. Many older people do not have the physical capacity to survive as peasant farmers. Without our medicine, and without the comforts of modern heating and air conditioning, and with the demand ofor heavy physical labor, many older people will die quickly.
Relocalization is thus is a wholly unnecessary a formula for massive death. One 20th century leader decided to use relocalization as a way to solve the problems of his country. His name was Pol Pot. Nearly two million Cambodians died because of Pol Pot's folly.
Some neat videos
|Nuclear Advocacy Webring
Ring Owner: Nuclear is Our Future Site: Nuclear is Our Future
|Get Your Free Web Ring
links The Weinberg Foundation
- The Weinberg Foundation
- Deregulate the Atom
- LFTRS to Power the Planet
- Sustainable Energy Today
- ANS Nuclear Cafe
- Thorium Power
- The Nuclear Alternative
- Yes Vermont Yankee
- Nuclear Townhall
- NNadir's underground blog
- Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy
- Save The Climate (Sauvons Le Climat0
- The Energy Tribune
- Nuclear Fissionary
- Nuclear Archer
- This week in batteries (TWIB)
- Gerald E. Marsh & George S. Stanford on Nuclear Policy
- The Capacity Factor
- Canadian Energy Crisis
- Institute for Energy Research
- Energy from Thorium Documents
- Energy from Thorium Discussion Forum
- Next Big Future
- Knowledge Problems
- Brave New Climate
- Thorium electronuclear
- AREVA Blog
- The Energy Collective
- Climate Change Politics
- Reactor Physics Group Publications
- Alexander DeVolpi on nuclear-weapons nonproliferation
- New Papyrus Magazine
- Pronuclear Democrats
- American Energy Independence
- Energy Density
- SUSTAINABLE ENERGY - WITHOUT THE HOT AIR
- The Atomic Show
- Atomic Watch
- Pebble Bed Reactors
- The Thorium fuel cycle
- Simon Nisan on Nuclear Desalination
- Dr. Ralph Moir
- National Wind Watch
- Wind Energy Resource Atlas
- solar calculator
- THE NUCLEAR ENERGY OPTION by Bernard L. Cohen
- Oil Drum
- Solar Buzz
- Clean Brake (Tyler Hamilton)
- Fuel Cycle Week
- Depleted Cranium: Dr. Buzzo's Bad Science Blog
- Blogging About the Unthinkable
- Uranium Information
- Frank Munger
- The Information Bridge
- Alvin Weinberg Papers
- Left-Atomics (David Walters)
- Real CLimate
- 1 nuclear place
- World Nuclear News
- David Walters
- NIE Nuclear Notes
- Idaho Samizdat
- Atomic Insights blog
- Energy from Thorium
- A Musing Environment