Friday, August 6, 2010

A Comment to Stephen Gloor on an Energy Collective post

Stephen Gloor is an Australian with whom I have had many arguments on Brave New Climate and the Energy Collective. Gloor is a fervent opponent of Nuclear Power, but beyond that an adherent of the Club of Rome cult. I call it a cult because its adherents claim to have special knowledge about the future history of humanity, knowledge that they believe should be acted on without further checking. Adherents of the Club of Rome theory are convinced of their own infalibility. They simply cannot understand why anyone would believe that they are capable of making mistakes, yet they are.

Gloor responded to one of my comments with the statement,

Solutions to AGW will not emerge until all parties realise they are living on a finite planet. Nuclear will not save us nor will renewables or any single simple energy supply based solution as much as you would like it to be.

Glower went on to sing the praises of the Club of Rome view that the eath could only support a small human population, and then only in utter misery. I posted the following comment in response to Gloor:

Stephen, I have been aware for some time that you are an adherent of the Club of Rome Cult. I call it a cult because adherents of the CoR Theory have not as of yet offered serious tests of its validity. The CoR theory is at best speculative. Secondly, the CoR theory uses a flawed mathematical model of growth. Economic growth need not be exponential, and need not require greater and greater materials in order to sustain it. We see that in the American economy growth is increasingly occurring in information and media technologies. I had the privilege of seeing a super computer in 1970. It also consumed tens of thousands of watts of electricity. It was a huge monster that occupied a very large heavily air conditioned hall. The computer that now sits on my desk now has far more computing power, than the 1970 monstrosity, yet only a tiny fraction of the materials used in the 1970 computer, and operating on less than 100 watts of electricity. Thus far from collapsing, the economy can produce products that will do far more with far fewer resources. The Club of Rome Study did not foresee this.

Thirdly, the Club of Rome study assumed that all resources would operate on a supply curve similar to that of oil. Yet no proof of this has been offered. And there are good arguments to the contrary. The supply curve for thorium as an energy source would be dramatically different. These is so much thorium, its energy potential is so great, and the effects of thorium mining and energy use on global resources would be so great, that a movement toward thorium energy sources and toward a thorium based economy would open a virtual cornucopia of resources for future human use for a period of time that would exceed a billion years.

Fourthly, basic materials are not in short supply, and are abundant enough to sustain a high development infrastructure for all people. The supply of minerals such as iron, aluminum, carbon, sodium, chloride, etc is for all purposes inexhaustible, especially given the potential energy resources of uranium and thorium. It would be possible to create many mineral resources as a byproduct of the nuclear breeding process, while other mineral resources could be recovered along with uranium and thorium in mining operations. Finally, waste heat from nuclear power can be used to desalinate sea water, and minerals present in the resulting brine extracted. Thus by switching to Generation IV nuclear power, the avaliability of dozens of mineral resources would be assured for hundreds of millions of years.

Fifthly, the Club of Rome assumptions ignore a fact that is well known to demographers. That is the effect of economic development on population growth. Demographers have pointed to powerful evidence that economic growth leads to a decline in the reproduction rate. In some economically advanced countries, notably Japan and several European countries, reproduction levels have dropped below the ZPG rate. Thus a fundamental assumption by the CoR theory, that there is no relationship between economic growth and human reproduction has clearly been falsified when tested empirically.

Stephen, science operates by empirical tests, not by a fanaticism which ignores contradictory evidence. You can read the canon of the Club of Rome cult all you want, but what you get is propaganda, not serious scientific tests of a theory.

I actually agree with you to a certain extent about efficiency, but only in the long run. In the long run efficiency will be one of the engines of economic growth, but not a tool to decrease the energy demands of high energy a global society. Rather, efficiency will lower energy costs. Jevons' Paradox tells us that when efficiency lowers energy costs, energy demand will rise. So be it. We have plsnty of nuclear energy resources, and even in a high energy demand society, they will last us for a long time.


Finrod said...

Gloor will never change his mind on any of the fundamental points of his belief system. The best you can hope for is that others witnessing the debate will be swayed more by you than by him.

Charles Barton said...

I know that Stephen is a true believer, who will never be swayed by rational argument. The point here is to not change his mind, but set out reasonable arguments that he is wrong.

Robert Hargraves said...


There's a review of Limits to Growth in American Scientist. It's on target, more or less.

Anonymous said...


Your statement is concise and convincing. It also provides a good response to the line put out by the Rocky Mountian Institute. I would like to see a discussion of the costs of recycling and extraction of potassium from sources other than dried up lake beds. The charge is made that modern agriculture is unsustainable because potassium deposits will run out in a half century. My recollection is that potassium is present at 0.1% in the earth's surface.

John Tjostem

DocForesight said...

An interesting (and I think, telling) point on population numbers is that, while Club of Rome adherents recommend a certain small global population total, they are never first in line to 'volunteer' to exit. Evidence of the courage of their convictions?

Excellent post, Charles!

J. Paige said...

While individual resources are amenable to work-arounds like re-engineering or substitution, the ecosystem is not. Excess population will demand planting North America fencepost to fencepost. Agriculture, not cities, is the real killer of ecosystems. It appropriates primary production to humans, with little of it leaked to the original biota. Europe looks different than the US because it has no wilderness, hasn't for 500 years. It has a greatly simplified suite of living things. The land is almost entirely in service to people, environment be damned.

The second issue is, why should be grow a lot more? Is being all crowded together an improvement in quality of life? Just because we could support billions of people on North America doesn't make it a good idea.

CB, you have great ideas on LFTR, and I support it. It reduces the env. impact of power production and makes it cheap. Cheap power is essential to prosperity. I don't think supporting LFTR for these reasons puts me in the unlimited growth camp...shouldn't put you there, either.

Yogi said...

There's a review of Limits to Growth in American Scientist. It's on target, more or less.

The article itself is behind a pay wall, but this sentence from the abstract is a big red flag regarding its credibility:

Although new sources of energy have been found, they are much more expensive to extract, a declining return on investment that Hall and Day think could lead to large societal problems in the near future.

Hall has posted material on the Oil Drum claming nuclear has an EROEI as low as 5, no doubt because he has drunk the Storm-Smith Club of Rome Kool-Aid himself.

There is another review of Limits to Growth available online:

The overall population growth rate is following the “Standard Run”, but the specific details are not.

Birth rate is falling in line with the “Comprehensive Technology” scenario, while death rate has fallen faster than any scenario but is now stabilizing, suggesting global population will stabilize around mid century, in line with U.N. forecasts.

Pollution is similar to the standard run, but only because atmospheric CO2 levels are used as a proxy for all pollution. Replacing fossil fuels with 4th generation nuclear reactors like the LFTR should solve that problem and leave plenty of surplus energy for exploiting low grade mineral resources.


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