Monday, December 05, 2005

Waiting for Godot (Peak Oil)??

Time again to raise the issue of Peak Oil: an honest psychological self-evaluation shows that I most certainly take pleasure in a certain degree of pessimism. That said, when confronted with the s.p.e.ct.r.e of Peak Oil, I'm MUCH more afraid of one of the possible solutions to peak oil: fusion. There is a very real (though my grossly underinformed guess is that it is very small) chance that once of the variety of fusion energy programs actually bears fruit. The European/Japanese bid currently underway in the south of France may even bear fruit while it's still possible to implement a global fusion-powered hydrogen economy. While this kind of Star-Trek utopia is attractive to many, I'm concerned about how centralized and "ownable" fusion technology will be. Is there any reason to believe that the fusion-energy-world system will be any less hierarchal, intensifying and uneven than the current Petro-energy-world system? Is it a coincidence that a recent article in Joint Forces Quarterly (by John M. Amidon, LtCol, USAF) was titled "America's Strategic Imperative: A "Manhattan Project" for Energy"??? A country that controls Fusion power in a post-peak-petroleum world will wield far more power than the US did with it's exclusive atomic armory after WWII.

So I will admit that I am more than a little eager to see the peak of oil come and go. Because when it does, if nothing else, it will prevent the development of a fusion, a modern "Pharo Maker" as i've written about before in "Energy, Society & Hierarchy."

Coincidentally, take a look at the cover graphic on Amidon's JFQ article. Despite what the caption syas, the cover graphic is one of the offshore Gas & Oil terminals in the al-Faw complex. It was one of the least-publicized operations of the Iraq War, but the very first land operation was a seizure of two of these platforms, as well as three other key oil infrastructure installations in al-Faw by a Seal Team 3 and the Royal Marines' 40th Commando Brigade. My role in it was relatively small: I planned the electronic warfare component, consisting of jamming support from EC-130H Compass Call and E/A-6B Prowlers to ensure that the SEAL assault on the offshore platforms would not tip off the Iraqi land forces in Al Faw of the coming invasion, even though they hit the platforms about 2o minutes before the Royal Marines hit the beach. What did strike me as interesting about the operation was how aggressively it was marketed as an effort to prevent an environmental disaster, because by capturing the oil infrastructure before the Iraqis could sabotage it would, of course, avert a major oil spill in the Gulf. So, naturally, given the Bush administration's strong environmental credentials, it was worth the lives of the dozens of US/UK forces killed in the "unexpectedly fierce" resistance in Um Qasr (because we used up our one time shot at a surprise operation in al-Faw) in order to prevent an oil spill. Sure thing boss, whatever you say...

And on a topic that is much more related than it may at first seem, take a look at this article by Jorge Hirsch:

Nuking Iran Without the Dachshund

12 comments:

William said...

What if said hypothetical energy source was mass reproducible on a personal scale? Or, more to the point, what if it was eventually?

Certainly any further technological mastery over the material world would be fought for by the powerful seeking centralized monopolies to maintain their rule. But wouldn't inspiring a passive response to the coming challenges of peak oil ultimately supporting a world where personal freedom is fundamentally and permanently restricted forever? Where we are not even allowed the singular opportunity to war it out with our golems of power structures to win an ultimately individualized control of technological development.

Sal said...

Not to worry. By ITER's own admission, first plasma on the proof of concept 500MW plant will be in late 2016 (See http://www.iter.org/when.htm). Judging by fission's timetable for commercial use, it won't be for another decade that viable units will be coming online and another decade still when they will actually impact world energy demand. That means, at best, fusion will have arrived in mid 2030's. That's deep in post peak territory. Nobody will actually know what the cost of ownership of such facilities will be until several are in operation. It is unlikely that demand will let cheap solar and wind sit idly by in anticipation of the fusion magic.

Hydrogen is a myth by the way. It's not energy dense, is hazardous and suffers from major conversion losses when created and then again when used (because of conversion from mechanical to chemical energy and then again from chemical back to mechanical). A much better alternative for transportation is compressed air. It's safe (except for the pressures which are easy to deal with present technology), inert (cheap) and suffers only small conversion losses as it is stored mechanical energy. The only problem is that it is not very energy dense so vehicles would still need excellent efficiencies. You won't be driving your H2 on compressed air.

Peter said...

Heavy Weight Division Bout

Mike Ruppert vs Jerome "Swiftboat" Corsi on radio
Wednesday at 10 am Pacific time

ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7th 2005 -- MIKE RUPPERT WILL DEBATE JEROME CORSI, Ph.D.

ON THE TOPIC OF "PEAK OIL" vs "ABIOTIC OIL"

The TWO HOUR debate will be moderated by Michael Corbin, host of the KHNC Denver radio show "A CLOSER LOOK."

Denver area listeners tune to AM 1360 at 11a.m. mountain time. -- West Coast listeners click www.4acloserlook.com at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

Who is Jerome Corsi, co-author of "Swift Boat Vets" attack book?

http://mediamatters.org/items/200408060010

Bob Harrison said...

Jeff: Just as there is no technological solution to the collapse, I doubt there is an anti-technological solution to the social problem of creating an egalitarian, non-hierarchal, society composed of individuals that voluntarily respect all of the global commons. Such a society would not have a problem with fusion power. It would help to reduce global warming

I am very impressed with your book. The rhizome structure for connecting affinity groups is very promising. The problem that needs to be resolved is how to insure the protection of what should be commons: land, sea, atmosphere, energy, resources, etc. Since rhizome does not have power, must we depend on trust?

On peak oil, how real is the methane hydrate solution? http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1451542,00.html

Jason Godesky said...

As Jeff explained in the article linked above, "Energy, Society & Hierarchy," the nature of a society's energy source defines the shape of that society. So the society you describe wouldn't have a problem with fission .. because either it wouldn't have any fission, or it would cease to be the society you describe.

Bob Harrison said...

Jason: I understood Jeff’s article. I agree that those who control centralized energy control the society. This can also be true of those who control the land, the food, transportation, or any other global resource that others need to control their own lives. Of course in a sense all of these things can be seen as energy.
My point is that humanity is confined to this one planet and therefore we must solve the tragedy of the commons in order to have a non-hierarchal, global society. This will eventually
be true even after a collapse. Even if all humans are members of tribes, global population and the sustainability of its ecosystems will be the concern of all.
If a means is found to solve this problem for land, food , population, etc. without destroying personal autonomy, then considering fusion energy a common will not be an insurmountable problem.
Of course fusion power in the hands of the current governments or corporations would be a disaster for personal freedom.

Jason Godesky said...

That's the thing. Fusion is, by its very nature, centralized. Any attempt to use it in a "commons" is contrived and artificial. If a rhizome starts using fusion, it won't be a rhizome for very long. A hierarchy will form, descending from those who control the centralized fusion resources.

By the same token, a decentralized source of energy cannot allow hierarchy.

Bob Harrison said...

I am sorry if my posts are confusing. I think we all advocate societies where individuals are autonomous, cooperative instead of competitive, and consider the preservation of life on this earth as of utmost importance. We all understand that it’s easiest for humans to relate in this way in small groups or tribes.
I am trying to point out that although it’s so difficult that it hasn’t been accomplished yet, humans have to recognize that our planet is finite and therefore we must find a bottom up method to relate in a non-hierarchal manner to control those things that effect us all.
Jeff has described a potential means of connecting tribes together in a rhizome. This might be a partial solution, however it lacks power. That might eventually be achieved with memes.
I have only the question, not the answer, however I think the social problem of bottom up coordinated control of matters where individual actions will affect all is necessary on a planetary basis in order to solve the tragedy of the commons. If this were solved for land, water, mineral, and other resource use, adding centralized energy would not be an insurmountable problem. If it’s not solved, then control of those resources will tend to maintain or rebuild hierarchy even with distributed energy sources.

Sal said...

Centralized sources of energy are a problem because they enable hierarchy. Solving problems at the local level will solve problems at the global level. For example, the Chinese didn't adopt drastic population curbing measures because the world had too many people but because China did. The US has a population problem not because there are too many people but because per capita use of resources is too high. It is doing nothing about it because it has access to resources outside of its boundaries through top down control.

Copper mining is either extremely destructive to the environment or expensive (pick one). Locally, the US would have to resolve this issue, but there is cheap copper available in Chile. So while it's importing cheap copper, it is exporting the environmental damage. It is unlikely that Chilean communities would allow this to continue if they were in control of their own milieu.

The commons are prone to tragedy because the system is tuned for competition. Tune it to cooperation and you don't have a tragedy of the commons.

Distribution of energy is your tuning knob.

Sal said...

Methane hydrates have several problems. First, they are very dispersed making them hard to find and extract. Second, they are a substitute for natural gas and not petroleum. You would have to run some sort of Fischer-Tropsch process to convert into liquid form.

The problem of peak oil is predominantly about price and not availability. There will be plenty of oil in the ground when the pumps stop. What you do with oil at $60 a barrel is completely different from what you do with it at $500 a barrel. In order to prolong the energy binge of the modern era, you're not just looking for any alternative energy in abundance, but rather a source of energy that is just as energy dense and cheap as oil. Good luck.

By the way, the Ruppert v. Corsi debate has been cancelled.

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