Without action we lose our energy future

Want to change the future history of energy?

Political pressures are dictating what your grandchildren will study about the decline of American technology.  But we can still change the text in their books.

Current options for future energy supply …

Maybe  low intensity energy sources  like wind, solar, and tidal that cannot meet the stupendous power demand of our growing world society. This option makes us turn down usage so that power demand can match supply.  (Or maybe use China’s techniques and reduce babies allowed to be born?).  This usage turndown with concomitant population reduction is the background idea of many “localization” advocates.  And, if we lose our energy future, this the inevitable path global society will follow.  We lose all our technical abilities, become a 13th century agrarian society with warlords and aristocrats.  The LastTechAge blog was started in an effort to avoid this fate, though we do strongly support the efforts to make “localization” be a meaningful alternative to feudalism.

Or  environmental exploitation.  Use sources that destroy the land’s capability to support population (think strip mining and fracing).  Unregulated mining and refining have toxic tailing ponds.  This is a poor idea.

Or  fission reactors.   2 issues with this – the U.S.’s Gen III improvements make intrinsically dangerous “advanced” designs only a bit safer;   non-reuse of spent fuel means the uranium supply is limited to a handful of decades.  Thorium is plentiful, but using it requires a prototype development program far more generous than fusion researchers experienced.

Or  biofuel substitutes for oil.   Ethanol, for example takes more energy to produce than it actually supplies. We here in Michigan are voting on a constitutional mandate for the stuff (2012 Nov 06).  This appeals to the very rich, but it also connects with people who are actually committed to environmental defense.  (Maybe an unholy pairing of goals?)

Or rely on pricy new extraction techniques.   Get lots more oil and natural gas, but at increasing prices as increasingly more difficult measures are used.  With rising  price tags, new techniques become feasible. Product generated with higher expenses will reach consumers, but fewer fewer will afford the price. In the 1930s, the ratio of energy out / energy in ratio was 100:1 for gasoline; today it is about 10:1.  This is the vicious spiral predicted by the peak oil faction: Ever-rising oil prices cause an ever-shrinking user base. This base must collapse to the richest faction in our society; ultras who accept an energy  ratio < 1

MFE + Ineq funding

Fig 1:  Foreground: inflation adjusted US support for fusion research (M$). Background. Share of total U.S. earned income of the top earning 10%

Following the current path, future exploitation using these options will  boost even stronger increases in our (American) current high level of social inequality.  Romney’s 47% will be shut out of trucks and cars, later on, home lighting and heating.  If we continue on as we are, our progeny will study the history of our times and memorize the timelines  of how we threw away their hope.

Image from post Income Inequality and Fusion Energy Research, and shows that the sudden turn-on of the “income pump” is correlated with the sudden rapid drop in funding for fusion energy research.  One does not cause the other, they are both the result of a political agenda that was first implemented in 1981.  The agenda is responsible for the erosion of American technical capability over the past 3 decades.

click for a list our discussions of technology policy

Fusion does offer a viable alternative.  But, considering the crash in American support, it is not surprising that fusion still offers only its promise.   Fusion in 20 years.  If the trends of the last 3 decades continue, fusion power might be achieved by the countries operating vigorous fusion research programs – Europeans, Japanese, Chinese – but not by Americans.

How to reverse this?   The 2013 budget level is still being argued in congress.
Your support will help.


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2012 Nov 01
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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