Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Social Engineering and Technological Fixes in the Era of Confusion

Republicans don't believe in AGW, but favor fixing it with nuclear power. Greens like Joe Romm and Greenpeace believe in AGW, but are willing to sacrifice the struggle against it, if it winning the fight against global warming means using any form of nuclear power. Greens profess to believe that nuclear power is too dangerous because it is allegedly dangerous. Greens argue that a combination of efficiency, and solar and wind generated electricity works so well that large amounts of CO2 emitting fossil fuels can and should be burned for energy in preference to use of virtually CO2 free nuclear power.

The key to understanding these paradoxes lies in the role of social engineering in the formation of these positions. Republicans clearly feel uncomfortable with the sort of social engineering they associate with AGW, and in my view confuse scientific views on the role of CO2 emissions on current and future climate change. This view confuses the politics of AGW related social engineering with the politics of science. But the facts are incontrovertible. It is textbook science that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Burning fossil fuels increases atmospheric concentrations of CO2, and the increase in atmospheric levels of CO2 bring with it the incontrovertible risk of AGW. More sophisticated right wing critics claim that some atmospheric mechanism or mechanisms bring prevent the increase in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from increasing global temperature, but this theory is rejected by most climate scientists for scientific, not ideological reasons.

The Republican theory is that scientists favor the AGW view because they secretly favor a social engineering approach to AGW mitigation. But scientists who acknowledge the reality like NASA Climate Scientist James Hanson, and Australian Climate Scientist Berry Brooks favor approaches to AGW mitigation that utilized advanced nuclear power technology as a technological fix to AGW.

My view is that is the Republicans themselves, who have allowed ideological concerns to creep into their response to what can only be considered good science. Republican opposition to concerns about AGW can only be described as paranoid, and can only serve to discredit the Republican Party as the seriousness of the climate change problem becomes increasingly evident during the next few years. Republicans by their paranoid response to scientific concerns about AGW actually strengthens the hand of "green" ideologues that wish to use the reality of AGW as a pretext for social engineering of an extremely illiberal sort.

The "Green" program of opposition to nuclear power, reliance on "renewable" energy generation schemes and energy efficiency. It is my contention that these solutions are not likely to mitigate AGW, that they could succeed by reliance of large-scale programs of social engineering. Further more the consequences of the reliance on renewables and social engineering will be a significant loss of personal freedom coupled with increased and widespread poverty. Neither of these consequences is consistent with Liberal values, and indeed many Internet supporters of the nuclear technological fix approach are self-consciously Political Liberals, or father to the political left. Bloggers who support nuclear power and who are self consciously Liberal include Rod Adams, Kirk Sorensen, Jason Correla of Pro Nuclear Democrats, The Sovietologies (Edward Giest), Marcel F. Williams, and of course Charles Barton of Nuclear Green. Pronuclear bloggers who associate themselves with Marxist views include David Walters (see also David's Daily Kos blog), and N. Nadir. Indeed none of the prominent pro nuclear bloggers associate themselves with the political right.

The Liberal view does not condems the creation of wealth in capitalistic societies, but it insists that workers can and should be given fair wages that are consistent with a comfortable life style. Thus Liberals support the creation of wealth in human society, because wealth justly distributed brings about vast social benefits. Possession of at least moderate personal wealth increases human freedom to make choices, and improves individual quality of life. Liberals support social policies that lead to the elimination of poverty, not its increase. Liberals passionately believe in human rights, including the human right to make reproductive choices. Thus Liberals liberals oppose both interference with the right of women to choose to terminate pregnancies, and with the imposition of policies, which restrict the human right to reproduce.

For Liberals, population control is a natural result of increasing wealth and its fair distribution. There is abundant evidence that reproductive rates drop in societies as distributed wealth increases. Thus Liberals believe that population growth will be naturally controlled by economic development, fair labor laws, personal access to the medical tools needed to carry out human reproductive choices, and free access to information on reproduction control. For liberals population control through voluntary means increases per capata wealth, and thus is consistent with an improved quality.

Greens support the elimination of human reproductive freedom. Green guru and Amory Lovins mentor David Brower write,

"Childbearing should be a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license. All potential parents should be required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing."

In contrast to the humane and humanistic attitude of Liberals, "Greens" appear to be hostile to people and their well being. Greens do not like people, oppose many human rights, including the right to personal wealth, and oppose the enhancement of human powers through access to low cost energy. Green guru Amory Lovins stated,

“Complex technology of any sort is an assault on human dignity. It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy, because of what we might do with it.”

The late Paul Ehrlich agreed with Lovins,

Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.

Thus for Lovins and Ehrlich opposition to nuclear power has nothing to do with the alleged dangers of nuclear power, but with the perceived danger of putting low cost electricity into the hands of people. Nothing could be more illiberal, and Loins is in fact an implacable enemy of liberal values. Liberal values support nuclear power because it has the potential to provide us with clean, cheap, abundant energy, something that is highly desirable from the Liberal point of view.

What is not desirable from a Liberal viewpoint is for the control of major social decisions to be turned over to a small elite inner circle. Especially when that inner circle appears to believe,

“The Earth has cancer and the cancer is Man.”


"all these dangers are caused by human intervention and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy, then, is humanity itself.”

These views are stated in Club of Roma reports. I would not go so far as to attribute them to the Club of Rome or to individual members who have not expressed them.

In contrast, Alvin Weinberg offered a view that a high-energy material civilization was possible, through breeder nuclear technology and substitutions for materials that were in short supply. If anything the picture of resource availability is better than Weinberg offered. For example, the co-recovery of seemingly scarce minerals with thorium mining is possible even at average crustal concentrations seems possible. The break-even point would be the point at which recovered thorium and uranium pays the energy bill and no more. That point would be substantially below the average crustial thorium concentration, and that point would never be reached.

Thus energy for the recovery of mineral resources will always be available from "burning the rocks." And with a burning the rocks approach, there will always be enough phosphate and other minerals available to sustain advanced civilization, without out the Malthusian consequences for the human population of the Earth.

Technological fixes without social engineering work provided the cost of the technological fix is low enough to offer economic advantages that will pay for the fix. Pay back is the name of the game for successful technological fixes. The LFTR fix will be out energy "silver bullet" provided that its cost is low enough to rapidly pay for the substitution of thorium fuel cycle generated electricity for fossil fuels generated energy. There is good reason to believe that LFTR generated electricity can be produced at a price that is only 1/4th that of the cost for electricity produced by current nuclear technology. I invite other analyses to test this statement.


Richard Batty said...

I don't like the use of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" although I use these terms too much my self. Many of the people that you quote as being liberal would be considered very conservative in a Canadian point of view. Canada has a Conservative Party that was once named the "Liberal Conservative Party". Canada also has a Liberal Party that is very conservative in many ways.

While you can call many Republican supporters as conservative, the terms are not interchangeable. At the same time. Many strong socialists call themselves Democrats, but I would call them more than just liberal.

Republicans may not believe in AGW today, but ultimately all political parties follow the voters. When the Republican party set their policy on AGW, the general public really didn't care about global warming. This has changed and the Republican policy will change over time.

Meanwhile the people that are damning nuclear are the same people who call themselves liberals and Democrats. I do not call them Liberals. The only party that officially support nuclear is the Republicans.

The big benefit of the American political system, is that it is designed to have the highest degree of democracy. A liberal Democrat has the choice to support or condemn Nuclear. A conservative Republican has the same choice.

Anonymous said...

For billions of years life has been regulated by four natural feedback control mechanisms.

Starvation, Disease, Exposure and Predation

Nobody wants to starve to death, freeze to death or be eaten by a grizzly bear. Primitive humans used their magnificent brains to develop technology to suppress these feedback control mechanisms, e.g. weapons, medicine, the control of fire, clothing, and farming.

As a result the population has been exploding in what engineers call “open loop mode” ever since.

Exponential growth cannot go on forever, feedback mechanisms will arise, and they will fit in one of two categories, natural or unnatural.

To avoid the reimposition of the natural mechanisms our goal should be to develop a set of unnatural control mechanisms that are ethical and humane. I believe this could best be done in an environment of democracy and capitalism, opinions may vary.

While modern civilization leads to lower fertility rates, the people best qualified to support an advanced civilization are the ones having the fewest children. Unfortunately this subject is more radioactive than fresh spent reactor fuel.

Would you support giving each high school student a driver’s license, a car and a gas card, with the following instructions?

“Go teach yourself how to drive, but if you wreck too many cars we may take away your license and car away.” That is how we treat parenting today.

Ask a politician if he supports parental rights and he will say, “I am a strong supporter of parental rights.” A few minutes later ask him if he supports the rights of children and he will say, “I am a strong supporter of children rights.”

Of course these are two opposing views, you must choose one.

I come down strongly on the side of the children. I believe that allowing an unqualified person raise a child is child abuse. Children deserve at least as much respect as we give a common car.

My recommendation is a “Bill of Rights for Children” in which each child is guaranteed;

1 At least one qualified parent.

2 A top notch education.

Children should be taught that raising a child is a privilege that must be earned by getting a good education and becoming an honest productive adult member of society.

Most of the things that we call problems are really symptoms of a single problem, the fact that many children on this planet are not being well raised. Energy issues are one of these symptoms. Fix the root cause and the symptoms, including energy issues, will be resolved by a world of thoughtful well educated people.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have a handle on the root problem. Both parties are guiding this country down different but somewhat parallel roads to ruin that will ultimately lead to the reimposition of the natural feedback control mechanisms. We have seen this throughout history with the collapse of many once prosperous civilizations.

Bill Hannahan

Soylent said...

"The Liberal view does not condems the creation of wealth in capitalistic societies, but it insists that workers can and should be given fair wages that are consistent with a comfortable life style."

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it presumes that wages are determined by the generosity of the employer.

In reality wages are driven up towards the marginal utility of adding another employee in a bidding process.

The effect of a minimum wage and making it very difficult to hire and fire people is not to increase the wages of employes but to create a bar which you must jump over if you wish to be employed. This hurts primarly young people with no prior experience and unskilled people, preventing them from getting their foot on the first rung of the wage ladder and gaining experience with which to pull themselves upward.

If all unions did was to strike or threaten to strike they would be a beneficial force in wage level discovery. The harmful effect of unions is their use of violence, either directly(beating up scabs) or indirectly(using the legal system to make it illegal to hire scabs). The short-term effect of this is to drive up wages of the unionised industry at the expense of all other industries which accept their inputs and at the expense of lower skilled labour which would gladly replace the unionized workers at a lower wage. The long-term effect is to make the unionized industry uncompetitive and force the industry to outsource or die.

The only sustainable way to increase wages is by increasing productivity. The main way productivity is increased is by defering consumption, investing in capital equipment and R&D.

There are several reasons this isn't happening and isn't going to happen in the western world, the main reason is regulation. Most regulations are not enacted to shield workers or consumers from harm; they constitute a backdoor method of cartellization and protectionism. Regulation is often enacted to create large fixed costs which strangle small companies in the crib before they grow big enough to threaten the large established companies; allowing large companies to grow uncompetitive without harm. Another kind of regulation uses phony issues(such as GMO corn) to restrict imports to stiffle foreign competition.

The reason it is so incredibly difficult to build another oil refinery in the US is not to protect the environment but a back-door way to protect the existing oil refineries from competition.

I should add that the US republicans profess an affinity for the free market and small government, but whenever they get into power they grow the size of government(particularly the military parts), collude with favoured industries to limit competition and generally do very little to roll back protectionism.

The North Coast said...

The technical fix will only work in combination with conservation.

Conservation can be achieved better by free market forces,which respect an individual's right to make whatever adjustments he or she deems necessary to cope with rising fuel prices and increasingly tight supplies of food, water, and energy.

Social engineering has never produced the desired results and always generates a backlash. Respecting individual rights to make the personal choices and adjustments necessary to adapt to a changing landscape will do more.

In a free market context, an individual might adapt to rising prices for energy and necessary goods by declining to procreate, choosing to live in smaller quarters closer to work and retail, and exercising frugality in day to day life.

However, when poor choices are subsidized and mandated by law, whether it's an individual's decision to have 5 kids on a lower-middle class income or laws against reproductive choice force her to have these kids; or a government's choice to subsidize low EROEI forms of power generation in preference to more concentrated and efficient forms of generation, while subsidizing suburban sprawl and the automobile industry; then the result is poor choices made in a context that precludes more adaptive choices.

In other words, social engineering to achieve population control and conservation is not necessary where people have choice and the RESPONSIBILITY for choices made. We would not now be overpopulated if for thousands of years past until the very recent past, almost every government on earth had not privileged procreation while prohibiting most forms of contraception, and if they were not now driving sprawl creation and wasteful consumption of resources by government policies and steep subsidies.

David Walters said...

Let me take issue here with Soylent, since I'm dubbed the resident Marxist by Charles :).

Soylent presents a fairly simplified view of Wage Labour and Capital (the name of a pamphlet, as it happens, by, by F. Engels from 1847, a year before they wrote the more famous Communist Manifesto).

What I take issue is with the economic disadvantage industries with organized work forces have vs that with unorganized ones. Soylent's problem is that he seeks a race 'downward'...unionized workers are paid to 'much'; the only solution is to increase productivity.

But what Solyent doesn't realize is that productivity, *especially of the US working class* is not only one of the highest in the world, it's climbed since the end of WWII and never stopped. But not higher than profits or the standard of living of the capitalists. The reason wages go up or down is in fact dependent on the 'prevailing wage' syndrome under capitalism where the more workers in a *particular* industry are unionized, most wages go up, union or non-union, because of the prevailing unionization. When unions are weak, industries are simply compelled to *lower* wages so as to increase their rate of profit. This is what we see on a world wide level since the days of the GATT and now the WTO, NAFTA, etc, that is the ability for capital to export capital and import the finished product.

The typical conservative answer (and I've heard this from Obama as well) is that 'we have to compete in a global market'. But that market is a wholly artificial creation by investment bankers and manufacturers ALL of whom would just suppose that any "artificial" wage inflation be suspended and let the 'market' prevail in human's standard of living, that is, wages.

Most civilized people don't agree, least of the all the working class who would other wise be *driven* into destitution with non-union working conditions...in the 'quest for greater competition' with the slave conditions of China in some conditions and places like Haiti and Vietnam.

IF all workers are organized everywhere, then this issue of wages becomes a non-competitive issue. Let's pray the labor movement everywhere can reverse the slide into barbarism it appears we are heading toward.

David Herr said...

Charles, you don't have to believe every element of the AGW hypothesis, and all the scary predictions people like Al Gore and James Hansen make, to support decarbonizing the energy system. I support nuclear power in general, and development of the MSR/LFTR in particular, so that the process of declining carbon intensity of GDP (i.e., progressively less carbon used to generate a dollar of GDP) can continue with a smart bump as these new reactor technologies are deployed.

The proponents of the AGW hypothesis have engaged in too much data fudging and model tweaking to be relied on as the reason for developing nuclear power. Better to keep it simple: burning wood, biofuels, coal, oil, and even natural gas create pollution which directly harms human beings and the environment, and to the extent that we can deploy nuclear power first for generating clean and abundant electricity, and then for generating synthetic fuels from water and the CO2 in the atmosphere, we will all be better off.

I have a sneaking suspicion, given that climate has changed before without humanity's input, that going nuclear won't make a difference one way or the other as far as global temperatures go. But maybe we can have fewer landscapes ruined by coal mining and burning, and fewer hospital admissions and deaths from asthma, black lung disease, and other illnesses caused (or at least exacerbated) by pollution from burning carbon-based energy sources.

And while most of the pro-nuclear bloggers may be Democrats, most of the elected officials and candidates serious about developing and expanding nuclear power are Republicans. Under the current Congress, I would count on very little, if any, additional nuclear power development.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Perhaps slightly off topic...

Cavendish Science asserts "The U233 isotope that is produced in step [3] is fissionable, but has fewer neutrons than its heavier cousin, Uranium-235, and its fission releases only 2 neutrons, not 3... If this sequence [1 through 4] is to replicate itself, it would require one neutron to generate the next U233 nucleus [1–3] and another would be required to induce the U233 nucleus to fission [4]. A chain reaction, then, could occur only with 100% utilization of the 2 neutrons emitted in [4]. 100% utilization means none can be allowed to get away, an ideal that can not occur in practice."

If true, this would make thorium economy reactors impossible. But, e.g., a thorium energy blog post asserts "When a U233 atom encounters a low energy neutron, chances are 9 out of 10 that it will fission. Since U233 produces an average of 2.4 neutrons every time it fissions, this means that each neutron that strikes U233 produces a average of 2.16 new neutrons. If you carefully control those neutrons, one neutron will continue the chain reaction. That leaves an average of 1.16 neutrons to generate new fuel. Unfortunately the fuel generation process cannot work with 100% efficiency... It is possible to bring about 1.08 neutrons into the thorium change process for every U233 atom that splits. This means that reactors that use a thorium fuel cycle, are not going to produce a large excess of U233, but if carefully designed, they can produce enough U233 that burnt U233 can be easily replaced. Thus a well designed thorium-cycle reactor will generate its own fuel indefinitely using thermal neutrons."

All of that makes it a lot more realistic. So, just where did the first assertion come from, from assuming that reactors would work under different conditions, from only counting prompt neutrons and ignoring delay neutrons, or what?

Charles Barton said...

P.M.Lawrence I usually refer to WASH-1047 for information on the Thorium-232 fuel cycle. I believe that you will find that the neutron production per neutron capture for u-233 is a about 2.24 in the thermal spectra. For U-235 the production rate is only 1.77. Thus there is no problem with U-233, but there would be with U-235.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Charles Barton, I understand that. What I wanted to know was, what led Cavendish Science - in other respects quite knowledgeable - to come up with those other figures? It's that that led them to dismiss thorium breeders in favour of an energy amplifier approach, and it seems to be quite pervasive. So I was wondering if they had transferred figures from some specific reactor designs or operating regimes or something, conditions that might not support self sustaining thorium breeding, then maybe wrongly extrapolated them as general constraints. The thing is, if we knew where they were coming from, just what underlying thing they had got wrong, we could correct them. As it is, there could only be a "yes it is", "no it isn't" kind of shouting match.

So, where does this widespread misunderstanding - that thorium breeding isn't self sustainable - come from, and just how?

Charles Barton said...

P.M.Lawrence it appears that Cavendish Science has simply made a mistake. I do not know how this happened, but in fact U-233 is the only fissionable isotope that produces enough neutrons to breed in all three spectrums. Because U-233 can breed in the thermal spectrum the thorium breeding cycle is considered very desirable.

Richard said...

Conservative = King of the Hill.

Liberal = The Simpsons.

Soylent said...

"Soylent's problem is that he seeks a race 'downward'...unionized workers are paid to 'much'; the only solution is to increase productivity."

That is the only solution.

You have to keep running just to stay in the same place. In a free market, companies have to become more productive and press prices ever downwards if they wish to remain in business.

Workers have to increase their productivity ever upwards just to stay in the same place(with higher education, better tools and equipment) because the profit margin on each good sold is continually approaching zero.

If China can make and sell a DVD player for $20 with mostly low-paid, low-skill labour it makes very little sense as a western company with high-paid, highly skilled labour to persue that market. What you have to do is continually invent new products that few companies can make that command much higher profit margins. You make the machines that make the DVD players, you invent blue-ray players or offer faster, noiseless or smaller form factor DVD players.

If you try to artificially inflate wages by physically assaulting scabs, either directly or via the police, it might work temporarily. But in the longer term you create rust-belts, capital flight and unemployment.

If you try to fix this with bail-outs, stealth protectionism and stealth cartellization via regulation you stiffle the continual innovation that creates the high margin goods which support high wages and create the likes of GM and Chrysler.

"But what Solyent doesn't realize is that productivity, *especially of the US working class* is not only one of the highest in the world, it's climbed since the end of WWII and never stopped."

It has to climb just to stay in the same place if you just keep making the same widgets ever more cheaply.

"But not higher than profits or the standard of living of the capitalists."

Of course not. If you create companies dependent on government support you create a class of people who are able to accrue political favours; they're the only thing that keeps the company afloat and fetch astronomical wages as a result.

"The reason wages go up or down is in fact dependent on the 'prevailing wage' syndrome under capitalism where the more workers in a *particular* industry are unionized, most wages go up, union or non-union, because of the prevailing unionization."

Unionization causes wages to go up by creating unemployment. Either through bankruptcy or outsourcing or through hiring only the highest skilled workers that manage to meet the artificially inflated wage created by the union.

"When unions are weak, industries are simply compelled to *lower* wages so as to increase their rate of profit."

When you strangle the start-up companies by imposing artificial fixed costs you have no one to come in and bust the government created cartels; no one to innovate and bid up wages.

This system of alternating fascist and socialist policies appears to be crumbling. The more the government interfers the more it screws up the economy and the more it has to interfer and shift blame to the free market. Eventually the government is going to end up owning the entire economy and then there will be no one else left to blame.

Louis said...

You try to cover too much territory with too many assumptions. Not all Liberals or Conservatives believe in the same things. We are thinking individuals after all, not automatons.

The problem with AGW is that the scientists do not agree. AGW ties together three questionable suppositions. Is the Earth growing warmer? Is mankind responsible for that change? And would it be catastrophic if the Earth warmed? Each of these questions needs to be examined separately.

Is the Earth growing warmer? It appeared so in the past thirty years, but satellite data, since 1998, showed little or no change until the last two winters, which have been unusually cold. It is possible, because the Pacific Decadal Oscillation entered its cold phase, that we are in for 30 years of cold weather. But, let's not jump to conclusions.

Is mankind causing the change in Earth's temperature? The latest evidence suggest that CO2 has little warming effect in concentrations above 50 parts per million. And that water has a much higher effect on warming than CO2.

Moreover. the Earth has gone through these cycles before, when humans could not have effected the warming.


The Earth has gone through many variations since the last Ice age ended 22 thousand years ago. It appears that it was variations in Earth's orbit and the Sun's heating which produced these variations. The frequency of sunspots, also, has some effect.


The final assumption is that it would be catastrophic for the Earth to be allowed to increase its temperature.

Would increasing the Earth's temperature by 2.5 degree Celsius be a catastrophe? The evidence says no, although this would cause the oceans to rise three feet over the next hundred years. The loss in lands to the Oceans would be compensated for by lands in upper latitudes becoming fertile.

The Holocene optimum occurred between 8 and 9 thousand years ago. It was the wettest and most beneficial period since the Ice age. The increased temperature of 2.5 degrees allowed more moisture to be in the atmosphere which then dropped out as rain. The Sahara desert was a grassland and the Congo rain forest was much wetter than now.

Why would we not want such a climate? Why shouldn't we want the Earth to be warmer than now?


Even so, we need nuclear power. Not because we need to be green, or to prevent a catastrophe.

Half the Earth's population lives on under $2 a day. The only way to improve their standard of living is to provide electricity.

Most of the current deaths in sub Saharan Africa could be prevented by clean water, proper sewage disposal and a heat source which doesn't produce smoke which destroys people's lungs. HIV causes fewer deaths than the above.

If you added in roads to allow people to get their produce to market, then they could eat a more nutritious diet which would double their life expectancy.

Environmentalism and AGW activists would consign these poor people to a miserable, short life with no future. As a Christian Conservative, I am opposed to that.

Charles Barton said...

Louis, I stopped debating with AGW skeptics in 2007. Even if you are a skeptic, there are other reasonable grounds for accepting global Measures intended to mitigate AGW. We are running out of oil, burning coal is associated with significant human health problems, and with tremendous and expensive to solve waste problems. The long run cost of electricity generated with LFTR technology will be significantly lower than the long run cost of electricity generated with coal or natural gas.

control valves said...

That was a great read.


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