Monday Jun 24, 2013
- Tuesday Jun 25, 2013 -
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - USA
Data Informed´s Marketing Analytics and Customer Engagement provides marketing, sales, and customer support managers with the information they need to create an effective data-driven customer strategy. more...
Monday May 20, 2013
- Saturday May 25, 2013
- 8:30 AM Eastern -
Stowe, Vermont - USA
Legal Essentials for Utility Executives: May 19 to 25, 2013 and October 6 to 12, 2013 This rigorous, two-week course will provide electric utility executives with the legal foundation to more fully understand the utility regulatory framework, the role of more...
We know you have something to say!
There is an immediate need for articles on
the hot topics in the Power Industry!
EnergyPulse, like no other publication,
also provides a means for our readers to
immediately interact with experts like you.
The neoconservative Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2004 that the predominance of US power in the world after the fall of the Soviet Union was a "staggering development in history, not seen since the fall of Rome." Krauthammer and his fellow neocons famously concluded from this disparity in power that the US needed to adopt an aggressive foreign policy agenda to enhance and continue its dominance in the "New American Century."
This conclusion was the wrong lesson from history and from any reasonable and compassionate view of the desirable future arc of humanity. Rather than consolidate and expand US power in the 21st Century, with a mix of military, economic and cultural coercion -- the neocon strategy -- the US should instead seize what is still our unique unipolar moment and work toward a truly multilateral and multipolar world.
The last two centuries have been dominated by one nation -- the hegemon, which comes from the Greek for "leader." Britain was the first global hegemon, and indeed the "sun never set on the British empire." Britain's dominance was fueled, literally, by coal, which allowed the industrial revolution to work its magic first in Britain. This led to great economic might, which was translated into military might. With a sense of cultural superiority, the "White Man's Burden," the British Empire was ruthless in its domination of areas of the world as far-flung as North America, India, Jamaica, Gibraltar, and Australia. Britain at its peak, however, never comprised more than 10% of the global economy.
The US, fueled by coal and oil, which was first found in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, an expansive and ever-growing territory that spanned a whole continent, and a sense of "American exceptionalism," was the successor to the British empire, reaching 19% of global economic output in 1913, at the verge of World War I, and 35% at the height of World War II. The US is now about 20% of the global economy, its share shrinking as other nations grow rapidly. The US historical wealth of oil, coal and natural gas, allowed it to grow to such a dominant economic and military position that it is truly deserving of being called an empire.
The US, as a global empire, spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. If Britain was the first global hegemon, the US became the first hyper-hegemon. We keep about 800 military bases in 160 nations1 around the world. There is no place immune from our power and, increasingly, no place immune from our surveillance. We are now expanding and enforcing our empire with increasingly inhumane robotic drone attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq Pakistan, and other countries, creating a whole new generation of bitter enemies.
There are chinks in our armor, however. Clearly. The neocon agenda was made real after the 9/11 attacks, with the Bush administration launching ill-fated invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Obama administration expanding the Afghanistan war into Pakistan. These military responses are exactly the wrong lesson to be learned from history and will do nothing in the long run to improve humanity's lot on a limited planet.
The longer-term threat to US dominance is economic. The US is by far the largest economy today, though down to a "mere" 20% of world economic output from its World War II peak. Economic threats loom not far over the horizon, however. China surpassed Germany as the third largest economy in the world in 2007 and will likely surpass Japan as the second largest this year. The US remains, however, almost three times as large as China and Japan in economic terms.
But China is set to surpass the US as the leading economy in 15 to 20 years, based on Goldman Sachs2 projections, and by 2050 the US and India will probably be about half the size of the Chinese economy (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Goldman Sachs projections of global economic growth by 2050.
With economic might comes military might. As Martin Jacques writes in When China Rules the World (2009), China is best described as a "civilization-state" because of its history as a unitary civilization in essentially the same borders for about 2,000 years and a 5,000-year cultural history going back even further. It has exercised its power beyond its borders, as a "tributary state" that collected tribute from surrounding nations without subjecting them to the same type of control that Western colonial powers perfected. Until recent decades, however, China limited its influence to East Asia.
More recently, China has become increasingly aggressive in securing the resources it needs to continue its rapid double-digit growth, using its largely state-controlled companies like the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) to snap up oil resources around the world. China knows full well the role that energy plays in economic growth and national power.
Less discussed as a challenger to US dominance is Russia. Isn't Russia old news, with its influence minimized since the fall of the Soviet Union? Well, yes and no. Russia is projected by Goldman Sachs to be the world's sixth largest economy in both 2025 and 2050. However, beyond "mere" GDP comparisons, Russia's influence will be magnified in coming years because of its huge hydrocarbon resources. Russia is now the world's largest producer of oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia. Russia produced almost 10 million barrels per day of oil in 2009, beating the Saudis by about 800,000 barrels. The US was third, with about 8.5 million barrels per day and Iran a distant fourth.
But Russia's natural wealth goes far beyond oil. Russia is the world's largest natural gas producer, producing more than 20% of the world's demand in 2009. The US was second and Canada a distant third. Long-term, Russia has by far the biggest natural gas reserves of any country. As the world decarbonizes, which means in the electricity sector switching from coal to natural gas and renewables, natural gas production will become an increasingly important component of national power. We've already seen this story unfurled in Europe over the last few years as Russia has used its natural gas supplies to exert control over neighboring countries like Ukraine and Belarus.
Russia is not dominant in coal production -- China is by far the biggest producer of coal. The US is second. But China and the US use all of their own production, and Australia and Indonesia are the largest coal exporters, so the net hydrocarbon export situation is surprisingly not changed much by looking at coal in addition to oil and natural gas.
This energy dynamic can be summed up nicely by comparing net hydrocarbon exports. This measure subtracts from total hydrocarbon production what each country consumes itself. Figure 2, compiled with Energy Information Administration data,3 compares the world's largest economies and the world's major hydrocarbon producers. It is an interesting alternative view of what constitutes national power. It's more difficult to predict what the future holds for this dynamic because as nations like Saudi Arabia and Russia continue to grow they consume more of their own products. The Export Land Model 4attempts to project how quickly major exporting nations cease to export oil due to increased domestic consumption and declining production, demonstrating how quickly net exporters can become net importers, as China did recently with coal and the UK did with oil. However, the long-term trends in heavily-import-dependent nations like the US, Japan, China, etc., are exacerbated because these countries' hydrocarbon wealth has long since peaked and it's all downhill moving forward.
Figure 2. Net hydrocarbon exports of selected countries (million tons of oil equivalent), source: Energy Information Administration.
It looks, then, like China and Russia are the key US competitors in coming decades. The inevitable peak in global oil 5and other hydrocarbon resources will further exacerbate these issues.
Do we want a unipolar world dominated by either Russia or China as the new hegemon? My answer is a resounding "no." These nations are not models for an enlightened human future, to say the least. And nor is the current US empire. These are not, however, the only choices.
The US should, in these remaining years of global dominance that constitute the "unipolar moment," use its influence to create a truly multipolar and multilateral world order. What does this mean?
A multilateral world is one in which no single power, no matter how dominant economically or militarily, can dominate geopolitically or bully others into submission by whatever means used historically. A multilateral world is one in which no hegemon is possible or required. A multilateral world is one in which international organizations like the UN wield real power, designated and determined by its members, but in a far more egalitarian and democratic manner than is currently the case.
The UN Security Council, the key body in the UN system, is comprised of fifteen members and five of these are the "permanent five." The P5, as they are known, are essentially the World War II victors: the US, UK, China, Russia and France. The P5 wield veto power over any decision before the Security Council. No other nations enjoy this privilege. The other ten nations on the Security Council rotate through each year and all decisions must be approved by a majority vote. The US has historically wielded its veto power far more than any other country, demonstrating its influence in this key international forum, as is the case with all other similar forums like the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, World Bank, etc.
Conventional wisdom holds that it is futile to expect the P5 to give up their veto power or to extend this veto power to other nations. Conventional wisdom has, however, been proven wrong time and time again. This is how change happens. And an egalitarian international order won't happen by itself -- it must be dreamed of first, with the hard slog in the middle and the desired outcome at the end.
As Gandhi said about his movement for non-violent overthrow of India's British overlords: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
We will tackle some of the most serious problems we've ever faced in the coming decades, including peak oil, climate change, the rise of China and Russia, and others. If we are to forge a path to progress in international and human affairs at the same that we tackle these momentous problems, we must ensure that a multipolar and multilateral world is our goal -- not a world with continued US domination because, simply put, US domination will not last much longer.
I second Len's comments, an excellent history lesson among other relevant current trends. One thing that becomes very clear in Tam's article, the "most serious problems we've ever faced in the coming decades" are intimately intertwined. Tackling any single one problem has effects and consequences on the best way to tackle any of the others.
I have been commenting on this website for at least a couple of years now, and vividly remember the lashings Tam has routinely endured from other authors here (professor Banks especially for his stand on California's renewable energy policies). Little did anyone realize that Tam seems to have a pretty good handle on ALL of the serious problems America faces, and he recognizes the solutions to them will come at a hefty cost to consumers' wallets and potentially to the environment as there will be no easy cake walks in solving them.
The biggest point in Tam's article is that the US will need help from other countries instead of self-interested blocks put in place that prevents that help. This website forum should theoretically be an ideal place for ideas supporting that help, instead of a shooting match as it often becomes towards articles published.
We should also feel fortunate that Tam writes articles and actually responds to comments on this website, being part of a council that the California government listens to. This website needs many more Tams to actively discuss the problems, given governments everywhere else will have the biggest influence on solving the problems, like it or not.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.23.10
Very well done Tam. I am mostly in agreement with your article. Certainly the US needs to learn the lessons of history. The Roman Empire, The Ottoman Empire and the British Empire eventually collapsed because of their inability to recognize that military and cultural subjugation of populations always fails unless you include those populations in your vision of a better world. The belief that the US way is the only way is not accepted in many parts of the world and it encourages bitter resentment and dislike of a country that has so much to offer the world. That is very unfortunate.
It is very true that access to energy (cheap energy) is a key driver for the development of any large economy and that is as true now as it was 1000 years ago. Only the sources of energy have changed. For the US to sustain itself economically and militarily access to cheap energy is essential. In recent years access to large deposits of shale gas and coal bed methane have changed the energy picture for the US and a resource that was to have been depleted to almost zero in 50 years now has an estimated 200 years or more of supply. So I don't think things are too grim on the energy front.
I do note that your article did not include any role for nuclear power in resolving the energy issues of the US. However whether one is a supporter of it or not nuclear energy is playing an increasingly large role in both China and Russia and helping to develop their heavy industries along the way. China alone has 25 nuclear plants under construction and dozens more planned and has recently secured long term Uranium supplies from Cameco. Conversely the US has been slow to act and has lost most of its capacity to produce large power equipment. Cheap electrical energy is the key to the future of any large modern economy. The Chinese understand that. The US appears to have forgotten it.
As a further commentary, Don Hirschberg has written extensively regarding what he cosiders the real problem facing the world which is not Global warming but population growth. Even at conservative growth rates, providing all those additional people with the basic essentials of life (food and water) is going to be an enormous challenge and I do not believe it can be done using the US economic model.
Population is also what will eventually cause the economic demise of the US unless some of its current policies are abandoned. There are 1.3 billion people in China and about 1 billion in India. The middle classes in both of these nations will each exceed the TOTAL population of the US in 10 to 15 years. That means the purchasing power of those nations will outstrip the US and that will mark the end of US dollar hegemoney. Companies will want to export to China and India - not the US.
Of course I have great affection for the US despite its blundering, thoughtless ways at times and as noted it still has so much to offer the world. Indeed those Indian and Asian middle classes aspire to the very level of affluence that the US showed was possible in a free and democratic society. It would be very sad to see that disappear.
Thank you for a very interesting article. It appears we do agree on many things after all.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.24.10
Very interesting and useful. The oil production figures don't look right to me, but so what. Even Mr Krauthammer might find this article worth looking at. Too bad we cant get him to comment on it.
Bob Amorosi 7.26.10
Your comments here are probably the best I've seen you post on this website - true words of wisdom on your part.
In my humble opinion the world for the most part has already adopted an economic model similar to the US regarding open competition. If China and India are expected to be open for business to foreigners to sell anything into, then the US economy has only one choice left to survive. They must sell more products into China and India competitively, one way or another.
In past the US (and Canada for that matter) has sold mostly just technology that enabled China or India to produce their own products for their own consumption. Continuing this practice is not gong save the US economy. Instead they should consider rebuilding their long lost manufacturing industries, and build new ones for products of the future, and then aggressively sell them US-made products that are best in quality and competitively priced.
A plentiful low-cost domestic energy supply in the US will be critical in order to accomplish this. Nuclear is clearly one of the cards that the US and Canada should be embracing much more than we are.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.27.10
Tam, what kind of problem will the rise of Russia and China pose? Instead of a problem, this is an opportunity. Potentially, Russia is an enormously rich country. For example, they could provide a lot of the food that runaway population growth is going to make necessary. China just wants to consume and buy things. You perhaps remember what Adam Smith said: consuming and buying are the things that keep the television audience out of trouble.
By the way Tam, when the vacations are over, I'm sure that there will be some interesting meetings on nuclear energy here in Sweden. Before this academic year is over, I plan to cut the nuclear opposition off at the knees.
Jerry Watson 7.27.10
I am glad we have you to lead us into the path of righteous enlightenment. You are so smart I am surprised you are not Canadian. I appreciate your guidance in properly interpreting history. Now I will not have to think for myself.
Here is my short interpretation of this article, We need to relinquish the last vestiges of US sovereignty to a world government and accept a third world standard of living. Doing that will have more long term rewards.
Sorry, I do not see it.
Look at those poor people in Luxembourg, there small population has them all living in squalor, I am surprised they are not making a mass migration to China.
Fred Linn 7.27.10
Getting a lasso around the neck of a wild horse is one thing-----getting on and riding the horse without getting thrown and stomped in another thing entirely.
I've found that sugar cubes in your pocket works a lot better than heavier ropes.
Paul Stevens 7.28.10
I have thought for some time that Toffler had it right in the longer term, even if he didn't over a time horizon of two decades. His suggestion was that increasing automation (or manufacturing efficiency of whatever type) would lead to ultimate product customization/cheap production.
If this is true (which I believe it ultimately will be) then cheaper labour in developing countries will be an insignificant factor in maufacturing costs. Access to markets and raw material will become more important in a world in which increased energy costs mean transportation has a relatively greater impact on costs. Distance also equates to greater delivery time for your custom produced shirts, socks, golf clubs, whatever.
Manufacturing will rebound in North America and Europe because of market and raw material access. It will tend to be decentralized world-wide, I think. The determining factor in per capita income will go back to efficiency, creativity, and the ability to match product with demand to ever finer scales of discrimination.
Just my thoughts.
Fred Linn 7.28.10
Bob Amorosi 7.28.10
A third world standard of living is what the US will eventually become anyways, regardless of whether a world government surfaces over the US. The US crippling rising national debt with its compounding interest payments, combined with decades of decimated manufacturing industries lost to foreigners like China and India, will ultimately lead to a third world standard of living whether you accept it or not. Tam recognizes this dire situation, but I wonder if you do.
A very good article was published recently in Businessweek magazine called "Andy Grove Has A Few Thousand Words About American Jobs". He explains precisely how America over time lost their manufacturing industries, creating millions of unemployed with very few high-paying jobs being created to employ them anymore, and what should / could be done to reverse this tragic trend. Andy Grove is the retired CEO of Intel, the famous Silicon Valley company who brought the world personal computer chips.
Bob Amorosi 7.28.10
Correction, the Businessweek article is titled "Andy Grove: How America Can Create Jobs". The title I posted above is a commentary article on it published on www.electronicdesign.com.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.28.10
Paul Stevens touches on a very interesting aspect of the discussion regarding exporting of jobs to third world countries. What companies are doing is to reduce the labour cost component of products. The US model encourages that and therefore US and other western Corporations have tended to make products overseas where labour costs are lower. They do this because they report to their shareholders - not the Unions and not the Government. So what happens to this picture when formerly labour intensive processes are automated with intelligent robots that can perform tasks equally as well as humans. The technology is already here its deployment simply a matter of time. These machines do not need wages, do not need pension plans, do not need washrooms or breaks of any sort and work 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They do not need pre-job briefings safety seminars or training and they never answer back or complain. For a Corporation - the perfect worker.
Then the highest cost (excluding the cost of raw materials themselves) becomes moving raw materials to the plant and moving your goods to the market. Transportation. If that market is still the US building things robotically in the US overcomes the lower labour costs of third world nations because factories are closer to the market. Manufacturing will return to the US but the jobs will not return with it. A new economic model is needed where people are investors in Corporations not workers for Corporations. Such a transition will not be easy as we as a society have become dependent on the job and the salary and I believe very sincerely that automation is about to change all of that. This is where the US has real capability.
Of course to run those robots will need electrical energy so now is the time to ensure the US and Canadian grids are up to the challenge. On the other hand the buildings in which they operate may not need heating and air conditioning to the extent that people require it.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.28.10
Bob, Thanks for your compliments. I try to put some rational thought into what I write - sometimes it does not come across as intended and I have winced myself at some of what I have written.
Jerry, I am not understanding your point about Luxembourg. They are a small country with a small population and a high standard of living. Clearly there is no incentive for anyone there to move to China or India. One of the reasons for their high living standard is that they really do not have much of a military to speak of and rely on the armed forces of other nations (plus their geographical location) for their protection. Very similar in many respects to Switzerland. Banking and Insurance are key "industries" there. So can you explain a bit more clearly what you are getting at. Are you saying that the "service industry" model is the way to go for the USA? If so I don't agree with that.
I think what Tam is saying is that imposing the US economic/military model on the rest of the world may not be the best way to go to ensure the long term future of the US itself. As an ex-pat Brit (now Canadian) all I can say is we tried that for 250 years and it doesn't work. Sure we taught half the world English (and Cricket) and did some good I suppose. But we did it at huge costs for our own population as well as that of the countries we occupied. The British thought they were doing these countries a lot of good only to find that what we thought was good for them they did not agree with.
I recall my father telling me of a new employee that worked for him who came from Fiji to England for a better life. He was SO disappointed when he found out that the streets of England were not paved with gold as his colonial masters had led him to believe.
As I said I have great affection the US but really do wonder where the current policies are taking it. Technologically the US has achieved amazing things but if these do not translate into a happy healthy and affluent population or into a better world for all its people - what exactly s the point? Surely it is in the best interest of the US to ensure the standard of living of the entire world is higher not to increase the disparity between the haves and the have nots of this planet.
Cheap energy from nuclear plants or deep geothermal wells or whatever is the key to ensuring we all live in a world of have's and no one goes without the necessities of life.
And as for the pursuit of happiness - fortunately that does not depend on cheap electricity but entirely on the 6 inches between your ears.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.29.10
Malcolm. when I was teaching mathematical economics, I played with the robots scenario a bit. To make a long story short I got so depressed that I soon gave it up. I also referred to robotization in one of my books, although I don't remember which. In any event, when/if this thing comes along to the extent that it will probably come along some day, the economic problems are going to be tremendous. I just hope that the voters know how to keep people like George Bush and Condoleeza Rice and the rest of that gang out of the White House.
peter legrove 7.29.10
If robotics are the future then limits on population should be introduced. Unemployment is a serious enough problem now what will happen when we have robots doing all the work. Here is an interesting part of an article "India also has one of the youngest populations – half of its 1.1 billion-plus people are less than 25 years old, compared to 42% in Brazil, 36% in China, and less than 30% in the developed nations" by Marc Faber http://www.lewrockwell.com/faber/faber49.1.html We have the least number of people under age 25 and we have unemployment problems. What will happen in India, Brazil and China if their economies came unglued.
Michael Keller 7.29.10
Uni-polar, multilateral world order? Leftists drivel.
The US should continue our own rugged individualism and pursuit of freedom. Our founding ideals are why we are successful; not coal, not oil.
Tam seems to have overlooked the fact that we were attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. If we can kill them remotely with minimal losses to ourselves, all the better. I really do not care whether or not they consider us bitter enemies. When enough of the worthless SOB's are dead, then they will leave us alone. Just like the Japanese and Germans in WWII.
Point of fact: the US is not an empire. It is a very powerful Republic. Our military prowess keeps evil at bay.
Technology will resolve the energy crisis, including the sideshow of "global warming" ... and I do not include "windmills" and other similar ill conceived notions as meaningful parts of the solution.
While the radical, leftist socialist Obama regime has certainly created a lot of damage to the US economy, they will soon be out of office and a mere bad and distant memory.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.29.10
Fred, I think that part of the unemployment in the US right now is not related to China and India doing jobs at low wages. Some of it is certainly but I think a portion is caused by process automation that has taken much of the repetitive human tasks away and replaced them with robotics.By way of example the GM Oshawa car and truck plants used to employ 21000 workers. GM now only employs 9000 across ALL of Canada and they make more than twice the number of cars with roughly a third of the people. They do that with basic robots. Add intelligence to those robots and the range of tasks they can do is vastly increased. I will agree with you that it is somewhat of a depressing scenario since it means that humans will have to find other things to do. Of course society will need to be restructured in a radical way and in many ways that is already happening. So I am quite sure that much of the manufacturing will find its way back to the west but people will need to get their income from other sources not work.
And yes of course it is going to be painful Peter for those economies with large numbers of people with no jobs for them to do.
I made this point in another posting related to the introduction of electric cars. Be prepared for a massive upheaval in employment when these vehicles become the norm. There will be massive layoffs in the auto sector as these cars can easily be robot assembled and they don't need very many parts. They also do not need much servicing. The unemployment these vehicles will produce will make the impact of the great recession on the auto sector look like a side show.
As an exercise I projected a future electric car scenario on my town and found that electric cars would wipe out 30 to 40% of the businesses and all the paid employment that goes with them. All 5 gas stations would close. Electric cars do not need gas. All 4 lube oil change outlets would close. No oil changes required for electric cars. All parts dealerships would close. Most repair shops would close as electric cars have few parts except brakes and steering. In short a catastrophe for the town.
What amazes me is how so few people, including the majority of thinkers on this site, seem to have any comprehension of the true economic disaster electric cars would be to North America. Has anyone done any studies on this Fred.
As far as the use of robotics and intelligent machines - it is just a matter of time. It is Corporations that drive the economic machine and workers - even those in China will become too expensive. Robots are the perfect Corporate worker.Think of a Corporation that has no workers - only robots.
The Corporation does not need:
Human Resources Departments (Robots are not Human) Safety Departments (Robots can be programmed for safety in all they do) Payroll Department (Robots don't get paid) No Pension Plan Payments to make (Robots never retire so they don't need pensions) No sick leave benefits(Robots never get sick)
In other words a Corporation running on robots has massively reduced overheads.
Now of course the intractable problem is if no-one is working - who buys the products the robots can make so cheaply!!! I think that is a question for you Fred.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.29.10
Michael, I won't get into the politics or religion of your post. But the last part of your post intrigues me. You said "Technology will resolve the energy crisis". Firstly I don't really think there is an energy crisis. If there is it is one of our own making because technology already did solve the energy "crisis" .
We CHOOSE to continue to burn trillions of cubic meters of gas and billions of tons of coal when nuclear power plants can replace all of it. It is time people woke up to the fact that there is only one energy source that is large enough to replace the use of fossil fuels. A few nuclear fuel bundles can replace train loads of coal. It would take thousands of windmills to do the same.
Nuclear fuel supply is unlimited. Even if all the Uranium was used (that will not occur for a few hiundred years) fast breeder reactors are already developed (China just commissioned its own recently) that can make more fuel than it uses. Then there is Thorium which is even more plentiful than Uranium.
So technology already has solved the energy "crisis". All that's needed is to deploy it. China understands it well, so does India. The USA is slowly coming to its senses but likely too late.
Ferdinand E. Banks 7.30.10
I'm not so keen on uni-polarism, multilateralism, globalism and the like Michael. Without getting fanatic about it, I think that it's a mistake for politically incorrect reasons that I can't go into here. But this military power thing...that's too sophisticated for me. George Bush starts a war in Iraq on the basis of a lie, and as for the war in Afghanistan, that was won years ago, but dumb Bush and his gang, and now Obama and his dummies keep it going for crazy and stupid reasons. What they told me the last time I went into the army was that we had to fight them over there to keep from fighting them on the Bay Bridge, and now I hear that the security of the Big PX depends on what happens in a poor country on the other side of the world. How can somebody believe that.
Len Gould 7.30.10
Proven again and again, esp. in the 2004 presidential election in the US. Republican voters will believe absolutely anything, without question.
peter legrove 7.30.10
Malcolm what is the oil component in building a nuclear power station. Now the age of cheap oil is over so the age of mega structures should follow. There must be a break even point in the price of oil where it is uneconomical to build huge mega buildings. With the USA coming to its senses a bit too late, by the time they start building those nuclear power stations Obama was going on about the price of oil will be against them.
Malcolm Rawlingson 7.31.10
A good question Peter buit not an easy one to answer. It is most certainly not zero and nuclear plant construction (like all other major projects) uses steel, concrete and many other materials all of which have an oil component. However while I would agree that it is a valid concern and needs to bhe taken into account, exactly the same argument can be made for wind, or solar or any other energy project. There is an oil component to these projects also except that the amount of electrical energy per unit of oil energy in is much greater for a nuclear plant than it is for these intermittent supplies.
The reason (as I have stated many times here is capacity factor). If a wind generator only operates 25% of the time due to wind conditions over which we have no control it still takes the same amount of oil input to build it. With a nuclear plant capacity factors are well into the 80 - 90 % range and can be operated whenever required.
The real number is how much oil input you need per Megwatt hour of output over a given time frame. If you do that comparison I think you will find nuclear will come out substantially better.
But this is a very important question and one that needs to be answered by all energy industries. Many solar enthusiasts lose sight of the fact that manufacturing solar cells is a very energy intensive business and I suspect a large part of that energy is from oil. For systems that have capacity factors (in Ontario) of only 19% (that figure from the OPA website) it is very probably that the total energy output is less than the total energy input making solar panels a net consumer of energy.
It would certainly be a valuable exercise to compare the oil inputs of all energy sources to the megawatts output over a standard time period. I think nuclear will come out as the least oil consumer per megawatt.
John OSullivan 8.1.10
This article has only covered some of the highlights, in my view. It seems logical to start the analysis from an energy-centric view. But in the end, as briefly, suggested here, the real matter with respect to U.S. economic security unfortunately ties to many other factors in a complex way. If only to be more simple, it's easy to show a single dimension of a neo-con idea as being "wrong". However, that point becomes more partisan than accurate and in political and global reality, it too is wrong-headed to a degree. Some sort of egalitarian consortium is a nice ideal, and worthy of the dreaming referenced. However, in the history of mankind it isn't supported by example, and the current example of the U.N. certainly shows how far global politics would have to evolve. If or until such an end is achieved, the U.S. must still strive for a sufficient amount of self-interested influence, call it what you will.
I would argue also that the military complex has to be segregated in one way from the analysis as a significant portion of its purpose has nothing to do with the balance of economic power. I'd like to see an example of how the presence of military bases, for example, influence the economic decisions and progress of a South Korea over a North Korea except in giving the South more freedom from fear of the North to continue their self-determined economic trajectory. By far our military policies are on the whole are more egalitarian or at least libertarian (liberating??) than they are given credit as being. With the exception of the Middle East wars, the aim is simply stability to allow much of the world to go about it's business as it sees fit. A fair argument would be the use of the military for less clear reasons, getting back to the Middle East, perhaps for the forced liberation of an energy resource. But whether you might label it hegemony, interference, or imperial, there is still a "stability" factor in the mix.
My suggestion is that the U.S. needs to increase our focus on policies that improve our existing competitive advantages. We can lead in technology in a number of industries, as we have with microprocessors and aviation, among others. Manufacturing and fossil fuel source supply are important, but can be offset to a degree With respect to energy, there are a number of areas where we could excel and should excel. As much as I'd like to exclude politics from the discussion, it is exactly that which hampers us. Some here talk about nuclear power as a viable option. Only due to politics have we become uncompetitive. We have regulated and politically ostracized the whole industry to the point where most universities who did, no longer offer nuclear engineering degree programs. Currently, it is politically tied to bombs and bomb making, using the fear of terrorism to continue to drive it out of existence. However, with all of this resistance, we still have the capacity to lead in three areas - modularizing design and build for reduced costs along the lines followed by the French, fuel recycling (and generation), and plant and system safety. Without going into detail, even before we regulated ourselves to a cost increase of 10X to build plants, we still were able to build them relatively safely (I refer to Three Mile Island). We are unfortunately somewhat far behind in fusion technology, but it's possible that we could catch up, or so I read.
With renewable systems, a similar focus is needed. We already lead in some ways with regard to thin-film solar, for example. We need to find the right policies that encourage the rapid development of technology instead of subsidizing the installation of current state of the art.
I would also suggest that we not place as much of a priority on domestic manufacturing, as allowing the global market to predicate who manufactures what, and where, is perhaps the most "egalitarian" thing we could do. China will eventually catch up more or less with Japan or the U.S., for example, and another country should be allowed to take their place. We already have a history whereby we invent, design, and build. At some point, certain products and technology are well suited for localized manufacturing. Aviation, perhaps less so. Microchip fabrication, or roll-to-roll thin films, perhaps more so.
Don Hirschberg 8.1.10
Malcolm wrote: "We CHOOSE to continue to burn trillions of cubic meters of gas and billions of tons of coal when nuclear power plants can replace all of it. It is time people woke up to the fact that there is only one energy source that is large enough to replace the use of fossil fuels."
Ah, yes. If only we didn't have to start from the here and now. Note: Less than 30 years ago we only had the capacity to burn half as much coal as we burn today. And we are building more coal burners like crazy. And most of the coal burning plants are far from reaching their economic life and the new ones might need to operate for something like 60 more years. During this span most (all of the US plants) of existing nukes will be retired.
Forty years ago world population was half of that of today. And this doubling occurred in countries without base load generating capacity, neither then nor now.
There is not one carbon capture plant on the planet. Fusion was 50 years off 60 years ago. It is still "at least 50 years" in the future we are told today. There is no large scale efficient way to store electricity making solar of limited utility. There has never, never, in over a hundred years been a great improvement in rechargeable storage batteries. Water tables are dropping all over the world and water supply per capita has fallen dramatically. (Yet we hear every day about biofuels saving us.)
Population is "only" growing at about 1.3% - not to worry we are told. But that's almost 0.1 billion a year. A mere thousand years ago there were about 0.3 billion of us on the planet so in 1000 CE 0.1 billion would have been a 33% increase in one year!.
Who among us cannot understand that our problem is too many people?
peter legrove 8.2.10
Malcolm I agree nuclear is the way to go and the longer we put off building the nuclear power stations the more expensive they will be to build. I think windmills have been put on hold for a while because China is building up it's magnetic train system. The rare earth, neodymium, is a component of strong permanent magnets and I think windmills need strong magnets to make electricity. I could be wrong on that point but China has got the rear earths and now China is not selling. I think that could be one of the reasons Pickens T Boone pulled out of turning Texas into the wind power state. He pulled out about the time China started putting quotas on rear earths. Nuclear is the way to go and the sooner people realize that the sooner the power stations will come online.
Don I agree with you that population is the biggest problem facing the planet. I've been on the population bandwagon for years now. People just don't seem to realize that every child born this millennium will have a terrible life. They will see the end of cheap oil, the end of cheap food, the end of clean plentiful water and the end of a whole bunch of things related to these. I even think we could see the end of electricity pretty soon. Poor kids Welcome to the future.
Ferdinand E. Banks 8.3.10
Don, I've worked all over the world, and everywhere I've been people understand that the problem is too many people. But still... Stupid Milton Friedman's talk at the Nobel Centennial touched, among other things, on how the working of the price system would solve the population problem, but the real scientists didn't believe that. And the truth is that there may not be a solution. The other night on CNN they interviewed John Kerry. I don't know much about the man except that I assumed that a very intelligent contender who was also a decorated military man would be elected president in 2004. As it happened, the American people chose George W. and given the opportunity they will choose somebody worse. The same is true in Sweden, and who was dumber than Gordon Brown? What was the name of that song...'They all laughed'... Well they all laughed at Reverend Malthus, but they wont be laughing much longer.,
Len Gould 8.3.10
Don: As Fred states, there is no need to continue pushing the idea that overpopulaion is a problem, getting worse. Pretty much everyone but the pope and the last US president gets that. The issue which DOES need attention is "What, exactly, do you propose should be done about it and how much of a worldwide consensus have you managed to form on that?"
Ferdinand E. Banks 8.3.10
I have a fairly large collection of economics books, and just for the hell of it I looked in eight or ten for something about population. Nothing. I remember writing a book about thirty years ago, and probably in the first chapter I said that the population 'thing' was going to be bad news for just about all of us. Nobody really gave a damn about that, and one of the reasons might have been that one very well known Australian economist claimed there there was room on the earth for 40 billion people, and some nutcase at Oxford or Cambridge also didn't go for Malthusian dynamics, and perhaps Julian and friends reached some decision makers with their claim that 'the more people the more brains to solve our problems'.
Don Hirschberg 8.3.10
Len wrote above: "Don: As Fred states, there is no need to continue pushing the idea that overpopulaion is a problem, getting worse. Pretty much everyone ... gets that." I am willing to hazard a guess that the people Professor Banks has talked to about population in these many countries are often academics and other economists and officials and does not support your paraphrasing. If he wants to join you in telling me to shut up about population I'm sure he can do it without your help.
Everyone does not get it. There is a strong taboo about even talking about population. The US media is afraid to touch the subject. One example: For many years there was an organization called Zero Population Growth. A couple years ago they changed their name to Population Connection because with the old name no matter how much they tried they could not get any coverage, no mention, in newspapers or electronic media. The name change has helped a little. If population is mentioned politicians stampede for the nearest door. I don't know any large religion that will consider it.
I don't know a better way to kill a taboo than to ignore it. I am not going to shut up about our greatest problem.
Jim Beyer 8.3.10
A problem as equally big as population is an economic system based on continuous growth.
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.3.10
Well, I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with both Len and Don on this population issue.
I am convinced that population growth is the single biggest problem. It dwarfs everything else and one cannot discuss energy supplies without including it. We are adding an estimated 77 million people per year and that number is accelerating. Simply supplying that number of people with the basic essentials is a daunting task and we cannot even provide that to a very large portion of the world now. So surely it is THE inescapable problem.
But I also agree with Len. Unless you have a solution perhaps there is no point in restating the problem. I am certainly convinced that it is the greatest problem we face. To give Don his due his position (if I got it right) is that there IS no solution.
On that point , and after a good deal of thought, I would have to disagree. There is always a solution. The solution will either be imposed on us by nature or we will solve the problem (or at least try to) as rational human beings. Mother Nature is quite ruthless in these matters and will solve the problem by starvation and disease as it does for all other species on earth. Too many for the available food supply and the weakest go to the wall. That is the way she works. A simple but powerful regulator of populations and ruthless and uncaring in the extreme.
I think we would prefer a more humane solution - especially if those being starved or dying of disease are our loved ones - or ourselves. It is a well proven fact that as countries develop the birth rate slows and in some cases (Japan) has actually gone negative. So that I see as part of the solution - bring the third world up to Western standards and a falling birth rate will follow. That is required to be done as a matter of urgency or mother nature will fix it for us.
Clearly enormous amounts of energy are required as well as the deployment of all our available technology and the elimination of waste in our society. While I certainly agree with Don that it is a really tall order, collectively, I think that it can be done. perhaps we do need to bring a nuclear plant on line every day of the week or cover every roof top in solar panels. Are those things REALLY that hard to do. In China they will be bringing a nuclear plant on line one every five days if all their plans come to fruition. So I don't think one or two a day is that is far fetched.
The problem is not going away so we better start thinking of a solution before we find that nature solves it for us.
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.3.10
Peter, Thanks for your support. It has been crystal clear to me for well over 40 years that nuclear energy is the only large scale method of supporting all the population of the world. Solar and wind and ocean power may be contributors but very small in comparison to the scale of the energy problem. While I am sure Len and others would likely disagree these "alternatives" have many practical drawbacks which in my view are insurmountable at reasonable costs.
Nuclear generated electricity is the only large scale power source with sufficient available fuel supplies that even has a hope of meeting world energy demand - now or in the future. It is time to set the irrational fear mongering of Ms. Fonda aside and get on with the job of building them so we do not leave our future generations to an every decreasing standard of life.
Not only does nuclear energy provide electricity, it can also be used to desalinate water from the sea - thus solving the coming world drinking water shortage. It can also be used to split hydrogen and oxygen and therefore can be used to synthesize hydrocarbons for uses where there is little practical alternative (aircraft for example).
You touched on a very good point - that alternate energy technologies use some rare and exotic materials which may provide practical limits to growth. To some extent this is also true of nuclear but less so I think. Zirconium, Hafnium and other special nuclear materials may be in short supply but for the most part nuclear power plants are made of steel and concrete.
As I have noted earlier, fuel is not a problem for nuclear. We already possess the technology for that should all the world supply of Uranium run out (very unlikely).
So like it or not, support it or not nuclear power is the only solution for a world with a population this size.
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.3.10
Just a word on fusion technology. I agree with Don and others that commercial utilization is a long way off. There are some significant technological problems to solve. But all that belies the fact that huge progress HAS been made towards realizing fusion as a viable energy source. When I was studying nuclear engineering (a long long time ago) it was just a dream to be able to make fusion reactions. At that time the Joint European Toros (JET) at Culham was being planned. That marvelous machine and the scientists that operated it has achieved sustained fusion reactions and proven that fusion IS possible. The ITER International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor being built at Cadarache in France will take us further and produce positive net energy while at the same time refining the technologies for large scale plants.
So yes it may be 50 years away but what a prize at the end of it. Unlimited energy with near zero by products. Enough to supply all the worlds population for a very very long time.
Well worth the wait in my opinion.
Len Gould 8.9.10
I find nothing to disagree with above. Don, my point is that it is NOT enough simply to point out the problem. The reason most mainstream will ignore you when you do so is they cannot afford to become linked to most solutions so-far proposed. If you wish to get noticed, you need to put your proposed solution in the forefront. And if that is not the one which Malcolm has detailed, then yes, you will be ignored, and rightly so. So what is your favoured solution, and what are you doing to further it?
Don Giegler 8.9.10
Malcom, as I understand him, does offer a partial solution, "It is a well proven fact that as countries develop the birth rate slows and in some cases (Japan) has actually gone negative. So that I see as part of the solution - bring the third world up to Western standards and a falling birth rate will follow." Given the West's success to date, it's beginning to look like the third world might be bringing the West down to third world standards. What did you say the solution to bringing the horse and having it refuse to drink was?
Don Giegler 8.9.10
"...bringing the horse to water...", that is.
Malcolm Rawlingson 8.9.10
Yes I think you are right Don (Giegler).
But it all depends on how one measures the standard of living doesn't it? The western world will suffer a reduction in its standard of living (at least for some).
However there has and continues to be such a huge disparity between what the West has and and what the rest of the world has that I don't regard that as necessarily a bad thing.
Our over consumption of food is creating an obesity epidemic in North America while others in the world go hungry. Perhaps if food were to substantially increase in price it might be better for the health of the western population and reduce our health care costs.
Perhaps the average family in North America will need to survive on just one gas guzzling SUV instead of one each for Mom and Dad and the kids.
Perhaps instead of a MacMansion and a MacCottage the average North American could survive with just one four bedroom house - or is that too much to ask.
Maybe one LCD TV in every room will give way to just one in a central location.
While I have no doubt that in their effort to improve the lot of their collective 2.4 billion people India and China will be making all commodities more expensive for the West, the effect will be to curb some of the profligate consumption and waste that occurs here and that is not bad at all.
As a basic example - go to any restaurant in North America and observe the food wastage that occurs. Children that eat a few fries and throw the rest out. Or the half drunk "bucket" of soft drink or the hamburger with just a bite eaten. As someone who knows what it is like to go without (and be hungry) I wince every time I see it. I can never get used to it. I have even overheard some kids think it "cool" or "fashionable" to throw food away. I am not even sure whether price will change this behaviour since I also see it in upscale restaurants. Maybe if a hamburger was $20 it might change but I doubt it.
So I think it would be great if increased demand for food from people who are hungry causes North America over eaters and wasters to value what they have more. I see that only good can come of that.
There is a great equalization going on which I think on the whole will be very good for the west.