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Power Technology

Limits On Growth of Energy Use and Economies 482

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-infinite-growth-sounds-fun dept.
snoop.daub writes "Dr. Tom Murphy, professor of astrophysics at UCSD, has a new blog called 'Do The Math,' and the first few posts are doozies. In the first, he shows the impossibility of continued exponential growth in energy use. Even if a new, 'free' energy source is developed, thermodynamic limits on efficiency mean that the heat associated with converting this energy into useful work will increase the temperature of the earth to unbearable levels within 300 years. In the second, he extends the argument to economic growth. The timescales there are faster, only 50-100 years. Fascinating stuff. Time to stop breeding, folks, or to get our butts into space."
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Limits On Growth of Energy Use and Economies

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  • The Oil Drum (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:20PM (#36966854)

    These posts also appeared on The Oil Drum (www.theoildrum.com) a couple weeks ago. If anyone hasn't been there already, it has been the epicenter of all things energy-peakoil related on the intertubes since before the runup in 2008. It has a consistently high signal-to-noise ratio in the comments as well. Exceptional site.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @09:28PM (#36967442)

    MIT was commissioned decades ago to study the 'Limits to Growth' by the Club of Rome. The created a simulation and published a description of their efforts in 1972. Then updated the program and its parameters 30 years later and published again. It's very interesting. The authors made it accessible and understandable. The conclusions are not what you might expect, especially if you are just itching for an argument like so many here seem to be.

    Man has become the dominate actor in the natural global system, and we have choices to make regarding our future. We can seek to understand our cumulative effect or we can bungle in what's left of jungle, fiddle while home burns or just party like it's 1999. If you're interested enough to read a grown up book, here's a chance.

    Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update [amazon.com]

  • Re:Heat Sink (Score:2, Informative)

    by SecurityTheatre (2427858) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @09:55PM (#36967622)

    Press release?

    Our energy production has risen some percentage every year. That is exponential by definition...

  • Re:Heat Sink (Score:4, Informative)

    by dasunt (249686) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @10:42PM (#36967926)

    Seems pretty constant for the last fifty years for per-capita use, at least in the US:

    Here's a chart [daytonos.com].

    I wouldn't be surprised if global energy use shows a rapid increase, but there needs to be some common sense applied to extrapolation. I suspect the number of cars worldwide shows a similar rapid increase, but that doesn't mean that we're going to all be buried under automobiles by the year 2200.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @11:58PM (#36968354)

    No, exponential means that the advances would be getting greater and greater over time. You're confusing the popular expression of "exponential" with the real one.

    Um, no. You're the one who's confusing meanings. A number of elements of computer technology actually show true exponential growth (according to the mathematical definition), and have been for decades [wikipedia.org].

    Now, whether or not our generally inaccurate human perceptions sense that growth accurately, or whether the technology advances in ways that make that growth visible are different questions. But the growth pattern in a number of aspects of computing hardware actually has been exponential.

  • Re:No One (Score:5, Informative)

    by wrook (134116) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @12:19AM (#36968474) Homepage

    I wonder if anybody on Easter Island ever said, "Hey guys. Do you think we might be running out of trees?" But you know, after the fact I'm sure they were all like, "Oh man. Yeah, you were right. Now that we're all dead I can see that putting up idols for the gods was not as effective as managing our forests would have been."

    The funny thing is that Japan was heading in the same direction. By the beginning of the Edo period, the people there were at very high risk due to deforestation. A general ban on logging was put in place and it literally saved Japan from destruction.

    If you bother to look, there is quite a large list of civilisations that have wiped themselves out due to exhausting their resources and degrading their environment. The list of civilisations which understood their predicament and did something in time to save themselves is pathetically small.

    I often wonder what list we'll be on.

  • Re: I love this (Score:5, Informative)

    by magarity (164372) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @12:27AM (#36968512)

    "As it currently exists, if we were to take 100% of the income from every American today, it would not pay off the national debt. "

    False. but hey, I don't really except anyone to understand what the national debt actual is.

    OTOH, that line did spare me from reading the rest of your post, since It is probably as accurate.

    Which part did you think was false about those numbers?
    Federal debt (not to mention state debt) is 14 T [brillig.com]
    Total personal income in 2010 was 12 T [unm.edu]

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