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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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  • He's not taking into account what a really big CoolerMaster can do for that heat problem.
  • No One (Score:2, Insightful)

    by salesgeek (263995)

    No one who has predicted the end of the world has been right, to date.

    • And he's not predicting the end of the world. He's simply saying that our economy depends on the assumption of growth, but growth can't reasonably be expected to continue forever.

      The artificial world that must be envisioned to keep economic growth alive in the face of physical limits strikes me as preposterous and untenable. It would be an existence far removed from demonstrated modes of human economic activity

      No "the world is going to end." Unless we plow right into it and decide that rather than adjust to a steady state economy, we are just going to nuke everyone else so we'll be able to expand our economy again.

      • Re:No One (Score:4, Interesting)

        by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:24PM (#36966896) Journal

        Did he do this one?

        Calculate how long it will be until, at given birth and death rates, the bounding surface of the volume of human flesh on the planet will be expanding outward at a rate equal to the speed of light?

        Hint: The answer is in the low 4 figures.

        • I heard that figure placed at 5000 years, but that was 10 years ago, so maybe just 4990. I have no idea if that was him or not, but I think it's likely his scenario would happen before that happens.
          • by blair1q (305137)

            I forget the exact number, but it's somewhere between 1200 and 1400 years. Pretty shocking.

            His numbers are cute, but we're far more resource-limited than that. Energy is just the one that we're battling because it's controlled by a cartel, giant forces propagandize its economic activity, and we're all scared shitless of having to walk to work, because we know there's no work within walking distance of any part of town we'd be willing to live in.

          • Did that calculation take into account the lag between when the population count increases and when those newly born reach full size?

            IIRC, we passed the 6 billion milestone about 10 years ago, and we will pass the 7 billion milestone pretty soon now. Which means even if some agency imposes zero population growth on us tomorrow, there will still be a billion kids under 10 years old who are growing up and adding several billion kilos each year to the human biomass, for several more years.

            You can only chea

            • Bluntly, Malthus was an idiot who wanted to kill poor people to preserve the wealthy. Anyone thinking that he had a serious point hidden in there, never mind something that could be "cheated", hasn't thought things through.

      • He's simply saying that our economy depends on the assumption of growth, but growth can't reasonably be expected to continue forever.

        I don't believe there's any basis for saying that we depend on the assumption of growth. There is growth, and we may or may not be able to deal with it before it turns into disaster, but not dependent on it at all. If population and energy use stayed static we'd be just fine.

        • Not Groucho, but the one that wrote about what economies without growth need to look like. I would pretty much put the vilification of Marx's work on the doorstep of the dependence on the assumption of growth.

          • I don't know about all that, but we neither are dependent on growth nor must have a communal society.

            I disagree with both of these theorists.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HornWumpus (783565)

      He's not predicting the 'end of the world' he's setting up a strawman (that anybody expects exponential growth forever) then knocking it down like a high school freshman who's just discovered exponents lead to big numbers.

      Why it got on /. is another question. Lame editors feeding a blog pimp.

    • Re:No One (Score:5, Insightful)

      by turing_m (1030530) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:37PM (#36967022)

      The yeast in the bottle of grape juice said the same thing too.

    • by Genda (560240)

      That's the nature of all singularities (or in this case asymptotic curves in the approach to vertical lines), all the rules break down, and things get completely unpredictable. Long before we got close to any of these failures, the social fabric would disintegrate, the global infrastructure would collapse, resources would deplete, plant and animal diversity would evaporate, and life would get exceptionally challenging. If fact we would probably extinct ourselves. Of course life would almost certainly go on

    • Think very hard about what is unique and unrepeatable about this moment in history. Now extrapolate 50 years ahead. All of a sudden, those remarkable, delicate and doomed circumstances that make your life so pleasant right now - DON'T EXIST (food, clean air, water, infrastructure, toys, relative afflluence, relative safety). Just because they have existed during the few years you've been alive doesn't mean that happy circumstance shall continue. All available evidence, and any thorough projection (yes, ther
      • by salesgeek (263995)

        Now extrapolate 50 years ahead. All of a sudden, those remarkable, delicate and doomed circumstances that make your life so pleasant right now - DON'T EXIST (food, clean air, water, infrastructure, toys, relative afflluence, relative safety).

        This thinking is a great plot device for movies, but historically speaking, mankind has survived quite a bit.

        It didn't have to be this way but a lot of very poor choices were made (and continue to be made).

        Those bad decisions do not need to continue to be made, and th

        • by rsilvergun (571051) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @09:48PM (#36967568)
          Uh, mankind has survived, but I think the point is that for all but the top 1% survival has been a brutal and unpleasant ordeal. Things like leaving your children on the side of the road to die (happening right now in Africa, as a matter of fact)...

          I see no evidence that those bad decisions have stopped. People still treat people like shit and let them breed uncontrollably. OTOH, a nice big WWIII with a few hundred million going off to die in the trenches'll solve that. Don't forget, when it comes to trench warfare it doesn't matter how smart you are. We sent Physicists off to die too.
          • by salesgeek (263995)

            but I think the point is that for all but the top 1% survival has been a brutal and unpleasant ordeal.
            This assumes there is a universal definition of what pleasant life is.

            We sent Physicists off to die too.
            LOL. I was a nuclear reactor operator in the US Navy.

          • Contrast to today, when most of the population of developed countries, what around 15% of the global population, live relatively comfortable and healthy lives. Sounds to me like pretty conclusive evidence that things have improved.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            There is a more palatable solution. As societies bring up standards of education and living the birth rate falls off until population growth is flat or even negative. The goal of spreading education and living standards is achievable. Not easy, but possible to do.

            We will then also need to adjust our economies to account for that, as we are doing to some degree in Europe now. Japan is looking at a drop of tens of millions and a large retired population so chances are they will lead the way, but cultural diff

    • 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.

  • Could someone please sit down with key leaders and explain to them in plain English (or the languages of their choice) why virtually all the premises upon which our society is built, fail the test of exponential growth. Even the national debt. 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. Its all a ponzi scheme and the idiots running the ship have simply run aground. Its time to get straight, tell the truth, clean up the mess

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

      by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:24PM (#36966900)
      Denial is a powerful instinct. You can tell them the ship went aground a long time ago, and they still won't believe it.
    • Its time to get straight, tell the truth, clean up the mess, and make the planet fit for human habitation on all levels.

      He didn't give a time for when this would occur, unless I missed something. There's a graph which shows the economy reaching 98% by the end of the century, but he makes it clear that's not a prediction of WHEN it will happen, this was just an example to illustrate the point.

      In other words, no one is saying the end is nigh, because it's probably not. Don't sound the alarm that the economy is about to hit the ceiling. There are more down-to-earth reasons to reduce the debt and stop burning the environ

    • 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.

      So what? I'll let you in on a little secret: the people who actually own all those treasuries do not want it paid back. It's really that simple. [1]

      They hold on to those treasuries because they want to keep the value represented by those treasuries rather than spend it, and they would scream bloody murder if you took the treasuries away from them, because there is no other comparably safe interest-earning asset around.

      What's even better is that if some of those people do decide to spend the value represente

    • Plain English? Have you ever heard any of our leaders speak in plain English? Well, they can't understand it, either.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      I wonder if people would just clue up and stop whining about the national debt?

      That debt is in the form of short, medium, and long-term loans. And it's continuously recycled by people buying new bonds to replace the ones that just expired. The amount we actually owe in interest this year is a small portion of this year's budgetary outlays. About half of the defense budget. Roughly $1000 per American.

      And your portion of it is, if anything, proportional to your portion of the tax revenues. So unless you'

    • by erroneus (253617)

      You're a communist!!!

      (Good for you. I approve of communism... too bad it has never existed in human history... no one seems to be able to get beyond that "necessary step" of a totalitarian leadership that equalizes everyone... well, everyone except the leadership and their good friends.)

      I think more and more people are waking up to the reality of unsustainability but still, there are far more who continue to worship at the altar of wealth, power and greed thinking they can't be happy unless they have it al

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Totenglocke (1291680)

        So you approve of an unfair society where people are given things that they did not earn by having it forcefully taken from someone who did earn it? Call me crazy, but doesn't the dictionary define that sort of behavior as "theft"?

        Also, I find it horribly ironic that you talk about the evil "greedy" people, yet you fail to see the greed in thinking you should get something that you didn't earn.

        • Re: I love this (Score:4, Interesting)

          by ultranova (717540) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @07:14AM (#36970300)

          So you approve of an unfair society where people are given things that they did not earn by having it forcefully taken from someone who did earn it?

          No, I think he approves the extremely fair society where people are given things that they did not earn by having them forcefully taken from someone who didn't earn it either, such as a CEO, banker, high frequency stock trader, etc. Seeing how most of the nation's wealth is currently in the hands of people who didn't earn it, there shouldn't be a shortage of things that can be justly redistributed any time soon.

          Call me crazy, but doesn't the dictionary define that sort of behavior as "theft"?

          No, thievery means taking something you don't own, not something you didn't earn.

          Also, I find it horribly ironic that you talk about the evil "greedy" people, yet you fail to see the greed in thinking you should get something that you didn't earn.

          The alternative to people getting things they didn't earn is the return to feudalism, where the local lord owns the means of production and other people obey him or die. Capitalism concentrates a larger and larger share of the wealth into fewer and fewer hands, so you either have mechanisms to redistribute it or accept that most people will get a life of miserable poverty.

  • Malthus (Score:2, Insightful)

    by turbidostato (878842)

    So this Prof. Tim Murphy just has rediscovered Malthus... and it only took him 200 years. Wow!

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:12PM (#36966788) Journal

    You're telling geeks to stop breeding? Isn't that redundant?

    • by blair1q (305137)

      You have to say it twice. Most of them parse it probabilistically as a typo and think you're telling them to stop breathing, since the actual term is so rarely in their paradigm.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously, heat build-up was part of the reason for the multi-hundred trillion plus population of the Puppeteer's to move their homeworld into a further orbit.

    Then they learned that the whole galaxy was going to be exposed to a massive radiation wave caused by some black hole collapse in the galaxy's core.

    We should plan for that.

    • by dwywit (1109409)

      He also solved the energy supply problem - all we have to do is start with a ringworld, then move on to Dyson's sphere.
       
      If we get cracking, we might have it done a few thousand years.

  • by MikeB0Lton (962403) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:15PM (#36966812)
    If/when we ever get to the point that the human population is too large to be sustainable, it will correct itself. History shows us that famine, war, and plague occur when we run out of resources or populate an area too densely. Some of the strong, smart, and lucky will survive to repopulate.
    • "strong, smart, "
        I wouldn't make the assumption.

      History is filed with angry stupid mobs killing smart people.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        Sounds like the Dark Ages all over again.
      • Smart is not the same as intelligent. Smart people lay low, hold on to some key strategic tool or resource and then exploit it when the time is ripe. Intelligent people try to fix all the problems and end up getting blamed, lynched by the mob in your example.

    • by erroneus (253617)

      History has shown us that the first few mass extinctions on the planet were caused by overgrowth of various life forms which changed the atmosphere to a critical point which resulted in almost all life on earth to die. There was this great documentary on the most toxic element in the universe I saw not too long ago. It really put a lot of things into perspective for me. Sure, I didn't really learn anything new, but the problems most of us have with knowledge is that we tend to not put those pieces of the

  • by trout007 (975317) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:15PM (#36966816)

    The big problem with his assumption is that in 1400 years our knowledge of physics doesn't change. It's like an an aysos in the 1800s saying we won't be able to keep our homes lit because we will have killed off all the whales. I'm not saying I know the answer, just I am smart enough not to claim exponential energy growth using today's technology.

    • by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:33PM (#36966988)

      No, you're simply claiming perpetual technological growth to compensate for physical limits. At some point you hit diminishing returns - even with technology. Compare a Pentium III from 10 years ago to a Quad Core i7 from today. Yeah today's machines are faster and have more memory - but not stunningly so. In fact, there's not so much difference between the machines as a 1977 XT with 128k, a tape drive and a monochrome monitor and a 1987 80386 with megabytes of memory, megabytes of hard disk space, a VGA monitor, sound card, multitasking, etc. Now leap forwards to 1997 and your Pentium II... better but only incrementally so.

      You could argue that this scenario is specific to computers but it's not. This is why you don't have your flying car. This is why life expectancy has shot up from 50-odd years to the seventies and is hovering there. This is why cancer patients live longer free of the symptoms of their disease, but the overall mortality of their disease hasn't changed much. There are hard limits to technology, too. It would be foolish to ignore them.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        So in order to explain why exponential growth of technology is not possible, you gave an example of a technology that has seen fairly consistent exponential growth for the last sixty years? I don't get it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shihar (153932)

        In fact, there's not so much difference between the machines as a 1977 XT with 128k, a tape drive and a monochrome monitor and a 1987 80386 with megabytes of memory, megabytes of hard disk space, a VGA monitor, sound card, multitasking, etc. Now leap forwards to 1997 and your Pentium II... better but only incrementally so.

        Yikes! Did you REALLY just use that as an example? Right now I have sitting in front of me my phone. It can curb stomp a Pentium II in raw computing power. It uses a couple of orders of magnitude less power, has a couple of orders of magnitude more storage capacity, it has the capacity to send and/or receive on a half a dozen different signals, has a handful of sensors on it that you would need a wheel barrel to hold 15 years ago, it costs 1/4 as much, and and it fits in my fucking pocket . Seriousl

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:45PM (#36967086)

      The difference is that his statement is based on natural laws, rather than assumptions about the source of the energy. Unless the fundamental laws of thermodynamics turn out to be wildly incorrect, his statement will stand.

      Denying this by claiming that technology will always improve is like denying that there's an end to Moore's law. Yes, we've been able to find ways to keep it going so far. But by 2150, some quick math says that transistors would need to be smaller than the Planck length. It requires some serious magical thinking to believe that not only will we reach that target, but that we'll be able to keep making them even smaller than that!

      • by green1 (322787) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @09:15PM (#36967314)

        But who is to say that increasing technology even needs increasing energy consumption?

        Every appliance today uses less electricity than the equivalent one manufactured 20-30 years ago, and some replace more than one device using less power than either one did individually. I use far less energy at home now than I did 15 years ago, and I've got more technology too, my furnace is more than twice as efficient, my insulation is significantly better, my light bulbs use about 1/3 the energy, my fridge uses less, even my stereo uses less power. The electric bill each month confirms that I'm just not using as much as I once did, despite adding 2 computers, wireless network router, network storage device, a DVD player, 2 smart phones, and various other gadgets that never even existed 15 years ago.

        There are just so many different unknowns that making any long term predictions that far out, or that all encompassing is just absurd.

      • by salesgeek (263995)

        It requires some serious magical thinking to believe that not only will we reach that target, but that we'll be able to keep making them even smaller than that!

        This also assumes we keep using transistors. There were limits to what could be done with vacuum tubes prior to the invention of the transistor.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        Who says we will still be using the binary silicon transistor 140 years from now, or even 40 years from now? Who's to say in 15 years when progression of Moore's Law brings us up against uncertainty limits, we won't switch over to some other material, or convert to some other computing paradigm that allows performance to continue its march forward? It's small minded to place any constraints on future technology based on current day knowledge. Similarly, one shouldn't judge future society by today's norms
    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      Exactly. Take food production. A few hundred years ago it took most of humanity most of their time and land to produce bare subsistence level of food. Exact figures from Wikipedia: in 1870, 70-80% of the US population was employed by agriculture. Now, its 2-3 percent (lots of ancillary jobs, or course, lets say its 7% counting tractor production etc.). Source. [wikipedia.org]And we not only feed our people (overfeed in most cases, with a lot of waste) we also export food. I'm not saying such things can happen in every area

  • Simple (Score:5, Funny)

    by LoRdTAW (99712) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:17PM (#36966838)

    Since we have an abundance of energy we can simply turn our air conditioners backwards and cool the earth back down.

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      In the rare occurance where you are not being sarcastic---- Please allow me to slap you silly.

      Second law of thermodynamics: In a closed system entropy can only increase, and not dissipate.

      In a nut-shell--- The energy you expend to control the heat, will produce more heat than you process, making the problem even worse.

      The only useful solution would be to find a way to radiate the heat into space more efficiently than the earth currently does on its own. This would be difficult to do without something exotic

      • by rubycodez (864176)
        there are solutions to all the issues you raise. Radiate heat in more than one direction, and thrust will cancel out. Mine and refine in space, not adding to earth's heat budget. Genetically engineer humans to possess naturally what we require technology for now; means of heating and cooling, computation, communication, even transportation, all built into our bodies. Or as alternative to that just grow our equipment, transport and shelter biologically, energy needs drop. We already know prosperous peo
    • by fnj (64210)

      Well, that might make our living rooms a little toasty, but since we will have made the earth nice and cool we can move outside.

  • Malthus (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We're all DOOOOoomed. Doommed.

    I'm really tired of all this "being a human being is evil" nonsense.

    So many out there would tell you to live your life under a rock, never have kids, never enjoy anything, because OMG THE EARTH IS DOOMED BECAUSE OF YOU.

    I consume because I'm alive. That's what the world is here for. Deal with it.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      You're stealing from the future. If they ever manage time travel, they're coming for you.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      indeed, prosperous peoples have negative population growth. be happy, live happy and let's engineer solutions to problems rather than navel-gazing and whining. Most of the word's problems already have solutions, but for parasites and politicians in their pockets holding us back.
  • The Oil Drum (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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 dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:22PM (#36966876) Homepage Journal

    Look how much has changed in 100 years, in 10 years, even in 1 year.

    Things change quickly. There is no way to predict anything that will happen in 20 years properly when it comes to technology, which is driven by (1) warfare, (2) government research, (3) input costs versus need. I'm against 1 & 2, but in terms of technology chasing either speed or efficiency, we've been more focused on speed than on efficiency because energy is so damned cheap, and it's likely to stay cheap for the time being.

    As long as energy is cheap, our focus will be on doing things faster or better, but not more efficiently, except where there is a financial incentive to.

    If energy costs start to go up in a significant way, research will focus more on efficiency than on speed or quality.

    For years I've wanted a simple, scriptable home automation system. I've played with all of the systems out there, but without smart outlets and smart meters, the systems are useless. Why aren't there smart outlets and smart meters that actually work? There's no need -- energy is cheap and easy to get.

    This is fearmongering, pure and simple.

  • Space increases as r^3 (give or take a little gravitational bending) and the speed of light limits the rate at which the radius of inhabited space can grow. Any process that depends on exponential growth to maintain stability will quickly overwhelm our ability to expand outwards. At best we buy ourselves a couple more millenia - a blip in cosmic timescales.
    • by gatkinso (15975)

      Of course it isn't the answer.

      We can't manage this planet. What makes anyone thing that we can manage a new one?

      It is sad that the "space option" types - generally smart people - are not smart enough to see this. Or that they don't see the danger in thinking of our planet as disposable.

  • by MpVpRb (1423381) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:27PM (#36966934)

    You don't need a PHD or a complex study, just common sense.

    Why do so many people in finance continue to insist on growth?

    We should be focusing on steady state sustainability.

    • by turing_m (1030530)

      Why do so many people in finance continue to insist on growth?

      It's how they are paid. A rising tide lifts all boats, and they want the rising tide as it makes their job easier and their remuneration higher.

    • Even in a near-steady state, there are pockets that expand and displace their surroundings at an exponential rate. Within the ecology of the planet, humanity itself is an example of this.

      One possible "steady state" economy may be a continuous froth of bubbles - pockets of exponential growth draining money from the rest of the economy. Seen through the eyes of those riding the bubbles, it would look little different than our exponentially growing economy, you just have a much larger percentage of the popul

    • Money supply and inflation can grow indefinitely, because those are artificial constructs, not real systems (assuming the money isn't "hard currency"). However, economic activity/productivity can not grow indefinitely, there are limited resources (natural resources, labor resources, and consumption levels). When you look only at the monetary situation, you can be mislead into believing it can be sustained, however, when you look at the overall economic environment, it's obvious that it can't be sustained in
    • by salesgeek (263995)

      Why do so many people in finance continue to insist on growth?

      Because growth does not mean what you think it does. Value is not finite. As supply decreases value increases, as demand increases value increases. Yes, there are limits to resources, but the resources have no limit in their value (as you can see from the price of gold).

    • by naasking (94116)

      Because their meaning of 'growth' and your meaning of 'growth' are not the same.

    • by weicco (645927)

      Growth can be also making things more efficiently. Lower production cost, growth for the company.

  • breeding, and I'm ready for space!

  • by gstrickler (920733) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:29PM (#36966950)

    Exponential growth in any real (not imaginary/virtual) system must slow down when it exceeds some percentage of it's total environment. Eventually, it hits a saturation point and must slow down. While the exact percentage that defines saturation varies with the growth rate and environment, typically exponential growth can't continue once it reaches 50% of it's environment. So, on a very basic level, he has simply stated the obvious.

    However, as heat can be converted to other forms of energy, there are ways to dissipate and/or use the surplus heat. Also, higher efficiency methods of converting heat into electricity or other useful forms of energy will delay the saturation point. So, he's correct in theory, and his details are probably not an accurate prediction.

    • The real value of this post is not that exponential growth is unsustainable (a fact that is essentially impossible to refute) but the amount of time the current growth is sustainable (a vague approximation based on questionable figures) its the 300 year number that really needs to be addressed. I question how accurately the past energy production measures all forms of power produced including food sources grown by the sun. Underestimating these values (I believe likely) will overestimate the actual rate o

  • At first I thought that the OP wanted to continue exponential growth by moving people into space. However, there's no place in the solar system that can sustain human life with anywhere near the efficiency of Earth. The resources in terms of energy to move a large portion of the population into space would be enormous, and I don't see how this endeavor could possibly be self-sustaining. It seems that the space option would only aggravate the problem. Then I though that perhaps the OP is suggesting a kind of

  • by stereoroid (234317) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:32PM (#36966982) Homepage Journal

    I'm almost all the way through it. Very sobering stuff [richardheinberg.com], only a few bits I have quibbles with. Or, if you don't have the time, read the synopsis [postcarbon.org].

    The point about the assumption of growth is an important one. The world's financial systems are built on that assumption i.e. anyone who lends money expects to make a profit on the loan, after inflation if applicable. That's true of all loans, from the smallest micro-loan to the trillions in sovereign debt owed by the USA.

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      Heinberg's new book, "The End of Growth" here. [postcarbon.org]

    • The point about the assumption of growth is an important one. The world's financial systems are built on that assumption i.e. anyone who lends money expects to make a profit on the loan.

      Actually, this was the one implication of TFA that I had a problem with. The profitability of an investment is not necessarily tied to growth. It is perfectly possible to use your resources to make tools, use the tools to make resources, and end up with more resources then you started with. Profit! While it is not possible to perpetually plow the profit back into the business and perpetually grow the profit, it is possible to perpetually plow the principal back into the business, and live off the profit.

    • by SQL Error (16383)

      The point about the assumption of growth is an important one. The world's financial systems are built on that assumption i.e. anyone who lends money expects to make a profit on the loan, after inflation if applicable

      The two statements are not connected. It is entirely possible for every loan to be profitable in an economy that is not growing at all.

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday August 02, 2011 @08:40PM (#36967042)
    Soon we'll grow everything we need, we'll feed our equipment and housing rather than fuel it, let stuff grow rather than mine and refine.. Problem solved, population of ten or twelve billion humans living wealthy and prosperous lifetyles, energy needs go through the floor. As to the "Monsanto Type Personalty" problem that might arise with this, we use the time honored French Revolution solution.
  • 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]

  • by foniksonik (573572) on Wednesday August 03, 2011 @12:37AM (#36968576) Homepage Journal

    I'm not saying he's blowing smoke, just hot air. The author is analyzing a real problem we face today in a future tense. It's all buggy whips to me. I'm sure there were 19th century public commentaries on the same subject but in terms of horses, cobblestones, whale fat and arable landmass (always a favorite). Yes, yes he's got charts and graphs showing how our economy can't keep growing and how we'll all die of heat saturation or some such.

    100 years from now hopefully we'll move on from the short lived stock markets, banks and other parasites on the exchange of goods and services. Then all this economy talk will be nothing more than buggy whip mania. None of these so called institutions are necessary anymore, we just don't realize it yet. We have real time communications worldwide! Why do we need centralized clearing house to capitalize projects? There all just middlemen to get interested parties together and are being automated more and more. We should just cut the middle men out and let the infrastructure do the work.

    Likewise with energy. There is mention of solar panels being 85% heat engine because it's only 15% efficient. I though the other 85% was solar radiation bound to heat up the earth anyways. Renewables don't just mean free delivery, it means that the east energy is already a part of the system. Any harnessing if this energy is actually a temporary reduction (eventually it gets returned via entropy but with a slight delay) as water in a river ultimately returns to the oceans. 100-200 years from now we will be putting a lot of energy OFF the planet. Whether it is more satellites, space exploration, asteroid mining or fueling colonies. More buggy whips. When we are draining energy off planet the current concerns with heat engines, global warming, etc will be a distant memory, like the problem of how to keep the streets clean of horse manure is today.

    I think the author is a skilled writer and agree that there is a need to solve these problems today but I find his notions that today's problems will be relevant in the future, to be quaint and somewhat shortsighted and naive. It is not easy to see the future when the present is blocking the view.

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