13 April 2012

Why the Future is Not as Good as it Could Have Been (Part I): On the Shores of Lake Energy Crisis

This post is dedicated to the Archdruid and his merry band:  "Stealing from the present to give to the future."  If you don’t read The Archdruid Report (and you should), none of the following will make much sense.  But by now you must be used to that.

This is the first in a series of posts, the rest of which will almost certainly never be written, on the subject of the energy crisis looming over humanity.

Before I go into the reason the elves work for Santa and not vice versa, let me say a few words to those who believe the coming 'crisis' is some combination of paranoia and marketing.  Look around you.  Just about everything you see – the abundant food, cheap wares manufactured in distant lands, unlimited electricity on tap at the flick of a switch, and so on – is the result of a two hundred year binge of fossil fuel consumption.  I take it I will not be surprising my more astute readers to note the fact that supplies are not likely to be everlasting.  We have used quite a bit already and the cost and difficulty of extracting what remains is bound to increase.  We cannot expand indefinitely on a finite planet.  That, in the parlance of our times, is fo shizzle. 

Nevertheless, and for entirely silly reasons that on close examination make almost no sense, I retain a certain amount of optimism.  We may indeed be up a creek without a paddle, but there's a good place to camp over there, I've got a fishing pole, a banjo, and two bottles of homemade moonjack.  I think we can make it through the night.  

As longtime followers of this blog's project are undoubtedly aware, I do not give much (proverbial) truck to the high-tech so-called solutions breezily offered every day in the mainstream media (and recall, I have not watched television since I put my foot through my Sony Trinitron when J.R. shot himself on Dallas; I mean how symbolic of the predicament into which we have dug ourselves, and at the same time how lame, was that?).  But today, just to play for a second the devil's adversary, let's make an exception and consider a few of these proposed alternatives. 

Piezoelectric energy harvesting, for example, is a topic that has been much on The Mind lately.  The concept is simple: the vibrations from anything in motion are converted to electrical energy.  The possibilities are endless.  What better way to assure that we can maintain our unsustainable energy consumption habits sustainably than by harvesting the excess energy generated from all the energy we waste?  We need to be hooking these devices up to every wild animal on the face of the earth.  In Africa in particular, with its large herds of big strong beasts making their long annual migrations, just think of all that energy, being mindlessly frittered away. 

What if the energy from a bird building its nest could be converted to electricity?  All that racket the cicadas are kicking up on a summer's eve, how are we letting that go to waste when we should be hooking it all up to the grid?  Think of all the energy that weeds expend in pushing up through cracks in the sidewalk.  Did you ever try to push your way up through a piece of concrete?  Go ahead and give it a whirl – I'll give you a few weeks if you want.  It boggles the mind that we are letting these tremendous sources of energy remain untapped.

Then ponder how much energy is wasted every day by the wind blowing through the trees.  That gently relaxing sound is the sound of precious energy dissipating, energy we must capture if we are to survive and be richer than our neighbors.  Imagine that each leaf is a sort of mini generator, hooked to a central power station at the base of the tree, and all of the wind energy was converted to electricity and easily accessible from a standard outlet.  You could then plug your chainsaw directly into the tree, and fell it using energy sustainably harvested from its own leaves.  Would that not just be a gas?

By now many readers will have begun to suspect of course that I’m just pulling your leggings, knowing as we do that the time to accomplish all of this was in 1974, when we as a society collectively decided to bury our head in our hands in the sands of time, that we need not concern ourselves with the needs of future generations or even with the needs of our own children.  Now it's too late, at least if the goal is to maintain some semblance of our current lifestyles.  Thus, if you will, the future that I have outlined in this series of posts is but a sneak peek at the depressing world that awaits as we slide down the other half of the peak of Hubbard's Backside.

If we define sustainable as 'that which can be sustained,' – and I think we almost have to, given what the word means – then it is not entirely without a hint of falsity to fail to disagree (if only to be disingenuous) with the notion that (ready for it…):  Sustainable solutions are out there.  The trick will be holding your breath until they arrive.

I’ll talk more about holding your breath in the next series of posts.  Until then, don’t.

Brief, on-point and/or completely batty comments on this post will be published and responded to as time permits.


  1. Another great post TR! You touch on some ideas I've been thinking about here on my homestead where I have solar panels and an electric garden. Some people say you don't have to insulate your attic, but these people have never studied 14th century magic. The other day a sparrow came to my window and he seemed to be begging me to conserve energy, though it is possible I misinterpreted his chirping. And I think you might want to change the name Green Elfhood, as elves are not generally held in high regard in this part of the world due to their propensity for mischief.

  2. Just thought you might be interested to know that in my local community people have already started hooking dogs to the grid. Relying on mother nature is not the only way out of our predicament.

  3. To Dr Caligula: Interesting thought I just had, I wonder if organic gardening can be integrated with organic photovoltaics to create photovoltaic gardening, and if so would it still be organic?

  4. Just brainstorming here, but there must be a way to air-condition the entire earth. That way we wouldn't have to have a/c in our individual homes, which is quite wasteful. Also, all exercise equipment should be connected to the grid and a generous feed-in tariff should apply. With this one measure we will simultaneously solve both our energy crisis and obesity epidemic. And those armies of unemployed men seething with rage, let them "exercise" their demons in generating electricity to heat the homes of the working poor.

  5. I don't understand how we can have an energy crisis. The world is overflowing with energy, and while most of it is diffuse and difficult to capture, much of it is simply misdirected. When it's too hot out, why is that? It's because there's too much energy. If anything it is a crisis of overabundance. We're just not channeling the energy in the right directions. So come on people, let's put our thinking caps on and get this thing solved already.

  6. Maybe I just ate too much acid or something, but I feel like a 15 foot tall green wizard.

  7. God I love this blog. I look forward every week to digesting your insights and then rambling a bit about anything that comes into my head. In this case, I have to quibble with your use of the term magic, since everyone knows science beats magic, and a belief in fairies is unlikely to be helpful as we plummet down the spiral staircase looming in the back corner of Hubbard's Attic. (Verification word: whywouldanyonepossiblycaretoknow)

  8. Caligula, the name was chosen deliberately to challenge establishment thinking for reasons that I alluded to in a post several years ago. In brief, you are snorting the fine line between sophistry and pedantry. You might want to look into things more deeply before opening your fat yap, you know.

    Hester, excellent. You get today's scarlet letter for thinking like an adult(eress).

    Voodoo, you do realize that all gardening is essentially photovoltaic in nature?

    Abramelin, this reminds me of what passes for claptrap these days, the insistence that some new and unproven technology can somehow allow us to sustain current lifestyles. Now repeat after me: There is no browner future ahead. There is no tighter suture ahead. There is no fighting butcher ahead. Or, if you prefer: The future's gonna suck eggs, Jack.

    Wombat, are you being willfully obstreperous? Too much energy will not put corn in your corncob pipe, you know.

    Cruella, good. Stay calm, put on some good music, and ride it out. Don't try to swim or get up on the roof. You are a positive force in a universe that loves you.

    Amalaric, look, for the forty-seventh and final [expletive deleted] time, I define magic as a change in conscientiousness in accordance with willfulness. If I have to repeat this again there will be hell to pay. Carve it on your [expletive deleted] foreheads, morons!

    Apologies to my readers for that outburst. Been holding that back for several years now.

  9. One thing I noticed is that you have not addressed the question of Hungary. They have more than 5 million people there, what are they going to do when forced to scurry down the fire escape attached to the back of Hubbard's Apartment Complex?

  10. As I have mentioned before, I don't write much about Hungary because I don't believe in either Hungary or Bulgaria as nations (and have some doubts about Latvia for that matter). But the fire escape is an excellent metaphor for where we are headed: a rickety and treacherous descent out the back window until the stairs run out and we have to jump the final bit to the hard pavement, breaking our ankles as a society and hobbling off into an uncertain post peak-oil future on the backslope of the underside of Hubbard's underbelly, etc. etc.

  11. As I sit here in the library not writing or researching my article on reasons for nonliteracy in certain bee populations, it occurs to me that Heinlein was right the sun is a harsh mistress. We all ought to put on our greasy undershirts and show her who wears the pants around here. Maybe she'll put out more.

  12. Iambic, that sounds suspiciously like she-liocentrism -- and also like your comment was meant for the next post down. In any event, looking forward to reading your article on the non-spelling bees.


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