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  • Oil Tanker Saves Environmentalists

    Posted by Shannon Love on May 6th, 2009 (All posts by )

    From my spouse who observes that we should, “File this under things you can’t make up,” a BBC story:

    An expedition team which set sail from Plymouth on a 5,000-mile carbon emission-free trip to Greenland have been rescued by an oil tanker.

    I’m presuming that the ship in the story is the one described on this website. I don’t think that they got in trouble primarily due to their unpowered “carbon-free” ship. I think they got in trouble primarily because they took a small sailing yacht into arctic waters. They might have gotten into trouble even if they used 21st Century technology to drive their ship. On the other hand, having even a small engine on board that did not depend on a tranquil environment in order to function most likely would have kept them from capsizing.

    This little humorous incident highlights a serious problem with wind and solar power that I have written about before. Wind and solar systems harvest low-density ambient energy. This requires that their transducers, the mechanisms that convert the ambient energy into electricity, must be very large, lightweight and exposed to all the forces of nature. This exposure in turn makes the systems very susceptible to damage from environmental extremes. 

    To highlight this fact, Let’s compare two ships on the technological extremes: a pure sailing ship such as a clipper ship and a nuclear submarine.

    The clipper ship is an environmentalist wet dream. It’s built of “sustainable” wood and driven by the wind acting on thousands of square yards of sail. The nuclear submarine by contrast is an environmentalist nightmare. It’s built of “unattainable” metals and driven by a nuclear reactor. 

    How do environmental extremes affect each type of ship? 

    As with contemporary wind and solar power schemes, the clipper ship harvests energy with large areas of lightweight sail. In extremes of wind, those sails shred and become useless. The clipper ship can be becalmed by doldrums and ripped apart by hurricanes. When faced with extreme winds the clipper ship can only take down its sails and struggle to keep its bow into the waves. If this happens near the shore, the ship will be driven helplessly onto the shore and broken apart. Even under good conditions the clipper ship can only move when and where the wind permits.

    The nuclear reactor on the sub by contrast is a dense energy source that, except for cooling, can be isolated from extremes of nature. A nuclear reactor works in all types of weather. It even works in the vacuum of space. The reactor provides not only motive power for the sub but also the energy to completely generate the environment in terms of heat, light and air. Nuclear submarines travel where they want, when they want, limited only by undersea geography. They travel as easily through hurricanes and under ice floes as they do through doldrums or pleasant breezes. 

    Needless to say, the energy-rich life of the sailors aboard a nuclear submarine is far more pleasant and less dangerous than life aboard a wind-powered clipper ship ever was. 

    In the end, our current debate about our energy sources boils down to a debate between the opposed concepts of a civilization built upon the limitations of clipper ships versus a civilization built upon the limitations of nuclear submarines. We can have energy-poor lives of grueling effort, ever at risk from the forces of nature, or we can have energy-rich lives where we interact with nature in the manner of our choosing.

    There won’t be any alien oil tankers flying by to haul our collective asses out the freezing water if we choose wrong. 

     

    8 Responses to “Oil Tanker Saves Environmentalists”

    1. John Says:

      Hilarious!

      Right now I’m reading Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies, and this story neatly expresses her distinction between those who embrace and those who fear technological change.

    2. david foster Says:

      Here’s a great video showing life aboard a sailing ship–Hamburg to Chile, via Cape Horn–in 1929.

    3. Kevin T. Keith Says:

      You make a good point about the technological vulnerability of low-density power sources, but otherwise your comparison is a bit off.

      It’s true that sailing ships can be overwhelmed by wind, but so can powered ships. Well-handled sailing vessels can withstand storms of cataclysmic intensity – they commonly did so during the age of sail. And sailing ships do not “take down their sails and struggle” in extreme weather; it is a very rare storm that would keep a large sailing ship from carrying any canvas whatsoever, and even then there are methods for keeping the ship weatherly and safe. Any storm so great as to be absolutely unsurvivable by a large sailing ship would be fatal to powered ships as well. A sailing vessel can be badly damaged in a storm, and if it is it may sink – but that is not an inevitable consequence of storms, and the same is true of non-powered vessels.

      As for nuclear submarines, as you note they require cooling, but you casually dismiss this as a minor problem. It is not. That is one reason almost no nuclear reactors have been used in space (some space vehicles use “nuclear thermal generators”, which is a different technology).

      More importantly, you both mischaracterize the tradeoffs entailed by renewable energy sources, and the reasons for their development. You dwell on the limitations of wind power, but nowhere note the costs of nuclear energy – not merely the dangers of reactors and reactor fuel themselves, but the immense damage to the environment and human health of uranium mining and ore processing and their unreclaimable wastes. Then there is the terrifying danger of diversion of fissionable materials – a problem that is already occurring, and will certainly be widespread if this technology becomes widely used. The equally disastrous costs of fossil fuels are already being felt. Living the luxurious, energy-rich life requires accepting massive, and possibly world-threatening, environmental, economic, and health-related costs, often distributed disproportionately among those who do not share in the benefits. But even taking into account a realistic assessment of the damage we have done by spending energy recklessly, and the cost of continuing to do so, no one suggests that the best alternative is “energy-poor lives of grueling effort”.

      It is likely we can maintain healthy and comfortable lifestyles, secure from the extremes of the natural environment but also minimizing unrepairable damage to that environment, with a reasonable mix of energy sources and applications. We cannot do so by expending energy prodigiously and without regard for consequences, so “interacting with nature in the manner of our choosing” is a non-option to begin with. We have no choice about reducing our dependence on non-renewable energy, because we have all but destroyed the entire planetary stock of fossil fuels and are rapidly clear-cutting the forests. We have passed “peak oil” in most parts of the world and can only sustain an oil-based economy of any kind, for at most another few generations, by going to ever-more-drastic extremes to extract the remaining reserves – and that by the estimates of the proponents of unrestrained oil consumption, and that even if global warming is somehow managed by other means. In reality, the situation is much more dire than that, and we are running out of time to deal with it in a planned manner.

      We do need to change our use of energy, and stop doing the stupid things that waste so much of the energy we obtain at such great costs and cannot renew. Doing that means also that we must change our lifestyles – living wastefully, recklessly, and without regard for the physical context in which we live is simply not a practical option, and can’t possibly be posited as a good, let alone sustainable, plan. But returning to 19th-century technology is not the best way to do so, nor is it the goal of anyone who advocates doing so. Using our current technology – with its limitations – to live more sensibly, efficiently, and lightly will give us lives worth living at a cost that can be paid.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      Kevin T. Keith,

      Man, you hit every leftist environmental trope in one comment. That’s pretty impressive.

      Well-handled sailing vessels can withstand storms of cataclysmic intensity – they commonly did so during the age of sail.

      They also rather routinely sank or broke up on the shore. Regardless of the amazing skill of pre-engine sailors, the ugly truth was when faced with gale or hurricane force winds, the ship went in the direction the wind and waves carried it. Ships did strike sail in hurricane force winds because 120mph would shred any canvas. Instead sailing ships would deploy a sea anchor which would pull the stern of the ship in the direction of the waves thus keeping the bow oriented into the on coming waves. This allowed even small ships to survive in very bad weather. However, if the sea anchor broke of the ship was to close to land when it encountered the storm it was doomed.

      but nowhere note the costs of nuclear energy – not merely the dangers of reactors and reactor fuel themselves,… but the immense damage to the environment and human health of uranium mining and ore processing and their unreclaimable wastes.

      Even today, most groundings result from ships loosing power and being driven by the wind and currents into the shore and shoals. For sailing ships this was a daily concern.

      More importantly, sailing ships could only travel where the wind would take them. For example, a ship could not enter a bay or harbor against the wind unless the bay was wide enough for the ship to tack in side to side. If it wasn’t the ship tacked back and forth outside the bay for days or even weeks waiting for the wind to change. Not even the best clipper ship was immune to doldrums.

      People switched over to steamships for reason. In their first 30 years ocean going steamships where five to ten times as expensive as sailing ship and they carried less cargo. Yet, people eagerly used them because the steamship could keep to a schedule much better than a sailing ship even if a sailing ship had a much faster peak speed.

      As for nuclear submarines, as you note they require cooling, but you casually dismiss this as a minor problem

      It is a trivial problem for a vessel completely immersed in water. It’s more of a problem for large commercial plants that rely on river water for cooling. Even so, nuclear plants are more reliable than hydroelectric and coal plants both of which also depend on water. Nuclear plants near the ocean do not suffer these problems.

      That is one reason almost no nuclear reactors have been used in space (some space vehicles use “nuclear thermal generators”, which is a different technology).

      Nuclear reactors using steam generation are not used in space because they are to heavy and complex not because they can’t be cooled. Cooling anything is a non-trivial problem but large nukes don’t present much more of a problem than dumping the heat from solar panels. Telling, the majority of satellites and probes use thermoelectric nuclear generators because even in space solar power is to low density, to unreliable and to big for most uses.

      You dwell on the limitations of wind power, but nowhere note the costs of nuclear energy…

      Which is far, far less than cost of not having reliable power. How many people have died in the U.S. since 1945 from a loss of power versus zero deaths from nuclear power.

      … but the immense damage to the environment and human health of uranium mining and ore processing …

      Which is about the same environmental damage caused by mining aluminum and other components of solar and wind power. Once you factor in the huge amounts of land that solar and windpower will take for all facets of their operations and the day-to-day negative impact of solar and wind based power dwarfs that nuclear power.

      … and their unreclaimable wastes.

      Which after 75 years has caused zero problems in the free world. But your probably right, we can’t be certain that 75 years of zero harm means we understand how to handle radioactive waste. Lets get 200 years under our belt before we make a decision.

      Then there is the terrifying danger of diversion of fissionable materials – a problem that is already occurring, and will certainly be widespread if this technology becomes widely used.

      That horse has already bolted the door. Nuclear weapons have proliferated in perfect synch with industrial development. The only way to keep a country from acquiring nuclear weapons is to keep the so technological stunted that they can’t make them. Besides, when you put up the supposed gigacidal harm supposedly caused by global warming, you could loose dozens of major cities to nuclear attacks and come out hundreds of millions of lives ahead.

      Living the luxurious, energy-rich life requires accepting massive, and possibly world-threatening, environmental, economic, and health-related costs,…

      And you live in cave? I’m perfectly willing to trade almost any consequence so I can have all the technological benefits that keep me from having to watch 1 in every four of my children die of some pissant disease. Neither to aspire that my descendants live live of physical drudgery and ignorance generation after generation in a stagnate, oppressive, “sustainable” low-tech world. The human species had 8,000 years of that and most of the people who still have to live like that hate it, so I’m going to have to say no.

      …often distributed disproportionately among those who do not share in the benefits.

      Almost always because someone who thinks like you physically prevents them from doing so. People are materially poor in the world because socialism and cultural mores that have the effects of socialism prevent them from developing the economies and institutions that ultimately provide those material benefits. Starving those people of energy and dooming them to lives of ignorance and toil just to feed some narcissistic romantic vision of an idylic pre-industrial life is simple flat out evil.

      Fortunately, most people in the developing world show every sign of ignoring people like you. If you really try to push them into lives of poverty, they will kill you. I won’t blame them, because well, you’re evil.

      It is likely we can maintain healthy and comfortable lifestyles, secure from the extremes of the natural environment but also minimizing unrepairable damage to that environment, with a reasonable mix of energy sources and application

      And if we can’t? What happens if people like you lead us to a dead end where we don’t have enough energy and resources to survive? Do we just lay down and die or do we decide that we can actually survive with a little less nature? Fortunately, that is never going to happen. People in China and India aren’t stupid enough to fall for you romantic visions. They know first hand what a low-energy life is like and they want no part of it. The only question is whether people like you will cripple the west while other places blow right past us.

      We cannot do so by expending energy prodigiously and without regard for consequences, so “interacting with nature in the manner of our choosing” is a non-option to begin with.

      We’ve been doing that for the past 500 years and its worked out pretty well. Science, democracy, end of slavery, egalitarianism, tolerance, actually giving a damn to what happens to people on the other side of the planet, which of these things do not justify us controlling our environment? That is not even to mention the incredible physical benefits like disease control.

      Mother nature is a bitch that wants to kill you. Even organism seeks to control its environment to maximum extent that it can. Humans are, and should be, no different. Heck, even your silly romantic vision would be impossible if you actually had to survive in raw nature. Besides, people with more advanced technology have less environmental impact that people with less technology. 100,000 people who get power from a nuke do less damage than 1,000 who chop down rainforest to make charcoal.

      We have passed “peak oil” in most parts of the world and can only sustain an oil-based economy of any kind, for at most another few generations, …

      Which is why we don’t need people like you arbitrarily taking nuclear power off the table. In the apolitical progression of technology, oil will not last more than 20 years has a major fuel source. It’s to low density just as coal is to low density to run cars and wood is to low density to run trains.

      In reality, the situation is much more dire than that, and we are running out of time to deal with it in a planned manner.

      Which is why we need to aggressively begin developing and building nuclear power now because by the time the crisis gets here it will be to late.

      …we must change our lifestyles – living wastefully, recklessly,…

      I think the word you were looking for there is “sinfully”. Like all religious people, you believe we’ve concentrated to much on material things instead of concentrating on more spiritual matters. You join a long line of castigators who demand we turn our backs on materialism.

      Well, I’m not in your church and you can have the materialism that keep me and mine alive when you pry it from my cold dead hands. (Although, given you susceptibility to technological delusion, I suspect it will be the other way around.)

      …can’t possibly be posited as a good, let alone sustainable, plan…

      You do realize that the idea that we can’t sustain the model of technological progress we’ve used for the past 500 years is just an academic theory with no realistic underpinnings. You’re simply making an updated Malthusian argument. For some reason, despite centuries of refutation, you believe that we will exhaust our resources even though it is technology that creates resources in the first place.

      The path we have been on for the last few centuries is perfectly sustainable because the technology it creates generates more and more resources.

      If we had abundant nuclear power we could live in compact archcologies and turn the rest of the planet into vast nature parks. We could create massive floating habitats and abandon the land entirely, Eventually, we could move the entire population of earth into space.

      We can’t do any of that with windmills.

      Using our current technology – with its limitations – to live more sensibly, efficiently, and lightly will give us lives worth living at a cost that can be paid.

      And you get to decide what counts as “sensibly?” In the end, it’s all about controlling people isn’t? It’s about exaggerating minor contemporary problems to to create a dread of a future hypothetical apocalypse so that will justify controlling every facet of people’s lives. You want to force people live as you, personally deem correct and you’re just using the environment as an excuse.

      It’s not noble, it’s evil. You personally are no more evil than the average communist was back in the 1930’s but you share the flaws of hubris that drove them to support the megacidal communist dictators. They believed that they understood the evolution of human society to such a degree that they were justified in using any means to hurry society along to its inevitable communist state. You to are so convinced our your ability to predict the future that you will deny people live saving energy today to prevent the future disaster you imagine.

      Fortunately, you kind of addled romanticism never succeeds. Really the only question is how much damage you can do in the developed world before you fail.

      Nukes are going to be built by the hundreds of thousands over the next century. The only question is whether places like America build them ourselves or whether we buy them from the Chinese after we’ve wrecked our economy.

    5. renminbi Says:

      Nice fisking.

    6. Kevin T. Keith Says:

      Shannon:

      Is being that crazy some sort of hobby? It’s surely not any kind of practical response to anything.

      Leaving aside the negligible details of your rant, let me just comment broadly:

      (1) As to errors of comprehension, note that I did not say anywhere that nuclear technology was unjustifiable – only that it carries severe costs that were completely ignored in the original post. Likewise with other non-renewable and toxic energy technologies. Note also that I specifically abjured a non-technological economy; I simply point out that there must be, as an inescapable physical fact, practical limits on what kinds of technologies we employ, and how, and to what degree (and for that reason, doing anything “in the manner we choose” without regard to those limits is an impossibility, while acknowledging those limits makes you . . . an environmentalist!). Neither did I invoke any form of religious justification for using technology without regard to its consequences – that’s usually the province of people who advocate the opposite.

      (2) As to errors of interpretation, what would possibly have led you to imagine that those who favor sustainable technologies, environmental remediation, healthier working conditions, and more-equitable access to resources are against curing diseases, improving nutrition and living conditions, or creating an economy that is not almost entirely driven by negative externalities that would bankrupt anyone who was held honestly accountable for their own costs? And what about the simple fact that resources are not infinite and that we are unavoidably running up against basic physical limits on what we can do and how long we can go on doing it suggests to you anything about “controlling people”? (Nobody has to force you to stop using oil or destroying the environment – you’ve done that yourselves, by the mechanism of sheer exhaustion. The only question is whether you will use the remaining fraction of available resources to so completely destroy the world the rest of us have to live in that, by the time you’ve finally run out of things to ruin, there won’t be anything left.)

      (3) As to errors of fact, note that Malthus has in fact been proven correct, repeatedly – resources are not infinitely expandable, and the pace of population and technology growth has long since overrun resources obtainable by sustainable means. In the case of water and non-renewable energy we are now approaching complete exhaustion of many categories of resource obtainable by any means at all. Technology has not expanded resources; it has only made it possible to use available resources more rapidly – the people who think Malthus was wrong are the people who think they can’t be broke because they still have checks left in their checkbook. (You are now going to mention the Green Revolution. Skip a step and just read up on pesticide pollution instead.) Regarding economic underdevelopment, ignoring completely the entire history of colonialism, economic expansionism, resource drain from underdeveloped countries, slavery, theocracy and monarchy, social-Darwinist economics, and all the laissez-faire rest to pin poverty on . . . sustainable development is an act of self-delusion that dwarfs merely ignoring negative externalities like nuclear war and global warming.

      There is a simple fact that cuts across all these issues, and that was the theme of my first comment: there are tradeoffs to every decision, system, or plan, and it is both good policy and a physically inescapable necessity to take those tradeoffs into account to devise plans and policies that do not inevitably result in their own destruction. That necessity becomes especially pressing, and impossible to ignore, as we approach the end of limitless growth, abundant resources, and an inexhaustible natural well for disposing of our wastes. The original post advocated using energy almost without limit to treat nature “in the manner we choose”, with no hint that that degree of recklessness might come with costs or consequences. You continue by citing hoary pipe dreams of anti-Malthusian limitlessness. The general attitude of ignoring costs and consequences both behaviorally and in planning for the future – as if we can simply elect to behave “in the manner we choose”, with no concern for fundamental limitations on our options – runs through all these examples, and the broader points defended here. It’s not just a bad idea to behave that way – it’s physically impossible to do so over even the medium term. And coming to grips with that reality now, and finding a way to transition to a sustainable stance – regarding energy, the environment, land and water usage, waste and toxics reclamation, and all the related necessities – is the only, if it is even possible, to prevent the disaster that has to result from pretending that the consequences of our decisions can be ignored. You don’t have to like it. You just don’t get a choice whether or not it is true.

    7. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “note that Malthus has in fact been proven correct, repeatedly”

      Who is crazy?

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      Kevin T. Keith,

      As to errors of comprehension, note that I did not say anywhere that nuclear technology was unjustifiable – only that it carries severe costs that were completely ignored in the original post.

      So, you were making a strawman argument by claiming that I was claiming that nuclear power was the first technology in history not to have any negative externalities? Besides, didn’t you neglect to mention any of the severe cost of weather-dependent power? You didn’t mention its low density, it’s unreliability and its massive ecological footprint?

      If you reread my reply you will see that I used the example of sailing vs steamships to demonstrate why the minor cost of nuclear power far outweighed the supposed benefits of weather-dependent power. 75 years of the safe operation of nuclear power in the free west demonstrate that we can manage the technology so arguments that the negatives of nuclear power justify foregoing its use in favor of weather-dependent power simply don’t hold water.

      To be useful, power a power source has to be dense and reliable. Weather-dependent power is neither. We abandoned sailing ships for steamships for exactly the same reasons. Just as with weather-dependent power, the “fuel” for sailing ships was free. A sailing ship even has practically unlimited range. It can sail until it wears out or the crew dies of starvation. Steamships by contrast required expensive fuel as well as an entire land based infrastructure to keep them supplied with that fuel. Steamships had strictly limited ranges. The early ships carried only a fraction of the cargo of sailing ships because half the ship’s hold was devoted to coal bunkers. Yet, coal powered steamships supplanted sail purely because it provided dense, reliable power.

      The exact same dynamic plays out in nuclear power verses weather-dependent power. It doesn’t matter how warm and fuzzy the technology is if it can’t do the job.

      As to errors of interpretation, what would possibly have led you to imagine that those who favor sustainable technologies, environmental remediation, healthier working conditions, and more-equitable access to resources are against curing diseases, improving nutrition and living conditions, or creating an economy that is not almost entirely driven by negative externalities that would bankrupt anyone who was held honestly accountable for their own costs?

      Well, I don’t think you wake up every morning and say, “time to murder some poor people.” I just say that to try and shock you out of your self-righteous complacency. I think your simply so egocentric and arrogant that you feel perfectly comfortable forcing every other human being on the planet to live the kind of life you deem fit.

      I think you have the exact same psychology as communist did prior to the revelation of Stalin’s crimes. If you read the writings of western communist in 1930’s you see the mindset of people convinced that they personally possessed an ideology that explain the totality of human existence. They believed that they understood the inevitable evolution of all human societies to same communist stable end state. They believed this special knowledge justified almost any act carried out in reaching this inevitable communist state.

      The communist ignored warnings that human nature made it dangerous to concentrated political power in a small political elite. They ignored warnings that centrally managing the complexity of an industrial economy was an impossible class. They actively denied that their ideas had lead to Soviet Union in which Stalin was murdering millions of people even while comfortable communist in the west extolled his virtues.

      These communist weren’t cruel, evil people. It’s just that they weren’t special like they thought. They weren’t a special group of super-intelligent altruist but just people as self-centered and narcissistic as everyone else. They embraced communism because it offered them a vision of a world in which articulate intellectuals were the highest status class in society. Their egos chafed in a world in which people who ran factories or otherwise managed the production of industrial society had the money, power and status instead of people who just read, wrote and spoke persuasively.

      I’m NOT saying that people like you are communist it’s just that you have the same psychological drives that drove people to communism. Every era has its own manifestation of this psychological phenomenon. Prior to the industrial age, this psychology led people embrace radical religious ideas. However, just like the communist you will sacrifice hundreds of millions of people on the other side of the world because of a lack of awareness of personal egocentric desires.

      “Sustainable” development will kill millions or billions because it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Giving billions of people high standards of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, communication, transportation etc means ordering their physical environment to a much greater degree than they have now. That ordering takes energy, lots of it. The 2nd law of thermodynamics mandates that more ordering takes more energy. We use far more energy than our forbearers not because we are “wasteful” but because we order our environment more. That ordering is why we live better lives than poor people who are poor because they cannot order their environment to the degree we can.

      “Sustainable” development means crippled, static “development”. It means intentionally denying the planets poor the energy they need to order their environment. Oh, you imagine you will improve people’s lives to something better than they have now but you also imagine that they will have more energy poor lives than the one they live now but you also envision trapping them at energy level far below what we in the develop world have because your theories say that our level of energy use is unsustainable. (This too recapitulates the psychology of the communist. Even though industrial society had rapidly improved the material and social lives of everyone, the communist argued that such capitalist driven progress was unsustainable and that capitalism would eventually collapse. All they way up to the 1970’s they argued that any day now the progress of capitalist societies would suddenly end so might as well get rid of it now.)

      In the name of saving them you will permanently trap them in a state in which they have inferior ordering of their environment. Fortunately, I think they will tell you to go $#@! yourself. You will only succeed in economically crippling the west.

      As to errors of fact, note that Malthus has in fact been proven correct, repeatedly…

      Really? Okay, quickly name one “resource” that our forebears had in the time of Malthus that we currently lack? Wait, I have one, Auk feathers. Name something important. In fact, name one task, one ordering of our environment, that people in Malthus’ time could do but which we can’t.

      Not since Copernicus and Kepler stuck it Ptolomey has anyone been proven as wrong as Malthus. Malthus was wrong, in fact the entire concept of “natural resources” is wrong. Malthus’ argument hinged on the idea that agricultural productivity was fixed per unit of land and that since the earth had a finite surface area, humanity would eventually out populate its food supply. (This was a stupid argument even in Malthus’ day because England had already double it’s per acre agricultural output in previous century.)

      “Resources” don’t exist. Instead we use technology and energy to order our environment. That ordering produces “resources”, it doesn’t consume them. For example, the development of the coal burning steam engine allowed us to order the coal deep in the ground to the surface by ordering the location of water of rocks in mines. Likewise, advances in the technology of steel production and chemistry allowed us to order the oil into ground into fuel and chemical feedstocks. Prior to that oil in the ground was not only useless but a contaminant of clean water. Every single instance of the things you call “resources” are actually created by our use of energy and technology to order the environment.

      This means that “resources” are infinite as long as you have energy and technological progress. We make use of a wide away of natural substance today that even a century ago were nothing but useless dirt.

      Your belief in the easily refutable theories of Malthus is the single fatal flaw in you logic. Flawed axioms lead to flawed logical deductions. Garbage in, garbarge out. Your are correct that if “natural resources” were a fixed and limited supply and that we couldn’t do without them then everything you say would be correct. We would have to adopt a static energy poor civilization and just hang around waiting for the sun to burn out.

      But Malthus was just as wrong as Marx and your just as wrong as the western members of the Joseph Stalin fan club.

      Regarding economic underdevelopment, ignoring completely the entire history of colonialism, economic expansionism, resource drain from underdeveloped countries, slavery, theocracy and monarchy, social-Darwinist economics, and all the laissez-faire rest to pin poverty on . . . sustainable development is an act of self-delusion that dwarfs merely ignoring negative externalities like nuclear war and global warming.

      Hmmm, maybe I was hasty in saying your weren’t a communist. You do argue for the exact same model of planatary economics that the communist used. Everything is the fault of capitalist and the solution is socialism.

      Here again you are simply dead wrong. If you weren’t so blinded by ideology you could just pick up a history book and see your error. You assume that the wealth of the developed world is the default state of humanity and we have to explain why others are poor. It’s the other way around. The default state of humanity if material poverty, scientific ignorance and inegalitarian societies.

      People outside the developed world were materially poor before any europeans ever showed up. Had their been no scientific revolution in the West and no age of imperialism, the rest of the world would still be living in the same material poverty. The West escaped the conditions of millennia because for complex reasons we evolved a cultural pattern unique in human history.

      Other parts of the world are materially poor and oppressed because they have not adopted this cultural pattern. It takes specific cultural traits to manage the technology that provide our material wealth. You have to believe in individualism and merit reward. You have to have rule of law. You have to have divided powers in government. Without that software to control the technological hardware, you can’t get the advantages of technology anymore than you can from a computer without an operating system.

      The worst thing the west as done to the rest of the world was to impose socialist governments and economies on the developing world. Instead of urging them to recapitulate their own version our own cultural evolution we told them to go try this untested theory that a lot of our intellectuals had. It didn’t work. Just look at how slowly India progressed in the forty years after decolonization when they were highly socialist versus how far they progress in just the last 20 years when they liberalized. Ditto for China or anywhere else you care to name.

      Our consumption in no way makes other people poor because as I noted above, it is our technology that creates what we consume. If we did not provide the technological hardware and cultural software to extract oil the people of, say, Nigeria wouldn’t be any better off than they are now. If we disappeared tomorrow everyone else in the world wouldn’t find themselves suddenly awash in the “resources” we currently consume. They would suffer horribly as they lost all the technological benefits that we provide them.

      There is a simple fact that cuts across all these issues, and that was the theme of my first comment: there are tradeoffs to every decision, system, or plan, and it is both good policy and a physically inescapable necessity to take those tradeoffs into account to devise plans and policies that do not inevitably result in their own destruction.

      Well, Duh! Again you’re erecting a strawman. I never argued otherwise. In fact, I explicitly argued the exact opposite that the tradeoffs between weather-dependent energy and other energy sources, especially nuclear, meant that we had to use non-weather dependent energy sources.

      That necessity becomes especially pressing, and impossible to ignore, as we approach the end of limitless growth, abundant resources, and an inexhaustible natural well for disposing of our wastes.

      As noted above, this model of resources and technology is as correct as geocentric astronomy. Waste is simply materials that we don’t choose to order. Oil refining once produced a thick useless sludge that was almost impossible to safely dispose of. So the oil industry hired a bunch an chemist and invented plastics. The same pattern repeats itself over and over in history. With enough energy we can recycle or render safe any type of “Waste”. The great crisis that you foresee will not materialize unless you politically cripple our technology and energy use. Yes, if you freeze technology at any one static level, then the patterns of matter it manipulates and the waste it creates will eventually overwhelm us. If you let us use more energy and continue to develop technology, then there is no reason for our progress to ever stop.

      The original post advocated using energy almost without limit to treat nature “in the manner we choose”, with no hint that that degree of recklessness might come with costs or consequences.

      Another strawman. I said that in order to survive and prosper we must order nature to our benefit. We clear fields of their natural ecosystem to grow food. We chop down trees to build house to protect us from the cold and so on. This is what humans do. This is our “natural” evolved mode of survival.

      Again, your strawman is in the pattern of communist argument. The communist argued that any person’s refusal to become a communist automatically indicated that the person had no concern for poverty or social inequity. That was obviously untrue and it is equally untrue that I even implied that I ignore cost or consequences. I simply ignore your imaginary cost and consequences.

      It’s not just a bad idea to behave that way – it’s physically impossible to do so over even the medium term.

      Well, it appears it is possible to do so for at least 10,000 years because that is what humanity has always been doing. Even if you restrict your time span to just the last 500 years you see nothing but a history of the creation of more and more ordering (more resources) at a decreasing per capita impact on the environment.

      All you have for your point of view is hypothetical arguments. You can’t actually point to real world example of the phenomena that you say we are inevitably headed for. I on the other hand can point to thousands of examples of actual real world counter examples.

      You don’t have to like it. You just don’t get a choice whether or not it is true.

      I couldn’t have put it better myself. Like a communist you wallow in self-indulgent theory instead of just poking your head out the door and looking at the real world. Like a communist, you think your imagined future is more real and true than centuries of practical experience born of experimentation.