Opening – Why We Should Know Energy.
Power Hungry by Robert Bryce, explains that we are ‘addicted to affluence’ rather than, as the chattering class is quick to tell us, ‘addicted to oil’. He writes that affluence is directly related to energy use and the citizens of the free world are unnecessarily made to feel guilty about using energy, and regrettably, becoming ever more apologetic for using energy. Today there are many people who, while living an affluent lifestyle, desire massive cuts in the nation’s energy budget.
That begs the question, are these people aware of the effect cutting their use of energy will have? For that matter, are you aware of the effect cutting available energy will have on your life? And are you aware, that we all share the guilt of allowing the price of energy to escalate, by remaining silent? I’ll be attempting to answer those questions.
Paramount to any discussion is a sharing of common meanings for concepts. A common meaning is fundamental for understanding the ideas that another person holds. This essay, while not the definitive, final word on energy transformations, will try to show how an affluent society is driven by access to affordable energy and I’ll describe the machines that do so. I’ll try avoiding numbers for there is more than enough data in “Power Hungry” and many other fine books on energy. I’m aiming to hold the attention of people who consider themselves scientifically and technologically limited by sticking to what I think are somewhat self-evident and understandable ideas as much as possible.
Like a discussion on economics, those things we understand poorly make our eyes glaze over and, when ineptly presented, freeze the brain. Yet just as our economic well-being means the difference between life and death, our energy supply governs our economy and hence, means even more to human well-being. There is little that has a more drastic effect on human life.
I believe an affluent society is threatened when the majority of people fail to understand what makes us affluent. Each of us needs to appreciate where our power comes from in order to dispute the misguided zealots who would have us return to using meagre amounts of energy. Millions of people will die, possibly we ourselves will, but if not, surely some of those whom we love if we drastically reduce our energy use. If, as the activists claim, we need to eliminate ‘fossil fuels for the world to survive, I fear more than 90% of the world population will die. I’m hoping I can help you see what I see, that retaining a stable, inexpensive energy supply is the most important challenge facing our society today, yet it need not be so. Implementing the goals set by those who advocate solar and wind as viable energy source substitutes for fossil fuels is equivalent to returning to a Hunter/gatherer lifestyle by renouncing agriculture, a theme I’ll elaborate in my conclusion.
Much of what I write is from memory, remembered from reading Richard Feynman, Petr Beckmann, Howard Hayden and many others. And a special mention must include Vaclav Smil, one of the most prolific energy writers in print. Broadly speaking, this essay is about power, the story of heat engines, society’s energy-harvesting, primary machines and how work is performed.
And I won’t ask you to change the oil when we’re done, but I do hope you gain an understanding of the role carbon-based fuels play in enriching your world. I also hope you’ll fully realize how much of a personal role you have in determining the price we pay for our energy.
This is a story about doing brain surgery on oneself and how through our votes, we drain our own wallets. By voting ignorant people into public office and granting them control over our lives, we compromise our ability to live well.
Exploring Energy First
Firstly, energy is everywhere, in everything. Scientists see energy as electron activity at the atomic level and as Dr Feynman states, we know something about what it does but little of why it does what it does. Still, just knowing what energy does has allowed us to harness energy.
Nature holds energy in many stable forms. Fuels are a stable form of chemical energy. Lightning is visible electrical energy. Different electrical charges build between the earth and clouds – lightning being the spark that neutralizes those built-up forces. The earth’s gravitational force put the energy into waterfalls. The sun’s inferno drives photosynthesis, the process all green plants use to build cells. These are all examples of naturally occurring energy systems, but it’s man’s part in the energy story we need to understand and that story is largely one of transforming energy from one form to another.
Our early ancestors learned to burn things, transforming chemical energy into heat for both cooking and surviving cold winters. But understanding the fundamental laws of thermodynamics is the bit of insight that finally moved our society beyond the muscle power of man and animal.
The fundamental laws of thermodynamics tell us that energy cannot be destroyed, only modified, a process science calls the conservation of energy. We now know that heat always flows from hot to cold, higher to a lower state of molecular activity, until equilibrium is reached, with the difference in temperature limiting the amount of energy we can capture. In contrast to science, at public discussions, energy conservation is taken to mean turning off the lights, riding a bicycle, keeping the fridge door closed, and essentially, not using energy at all. The mixed meanings are proof – our communication problems remain a weak link in our energy supply. That is why it’s necessary to define our terms when discussing energy.
Heat is a characteristic of energy. If you feel heat it’s because energy has been released. If heat is what we desire then oil, coal, wood and the sun, all will serve our needs. It’s when we move to the industrial scale that the different properties of our various energy sources take on new meaning. And we need names for a few things. The concept, of work is fundamental to industry and is one energy unit we need to understand. Work is measured in watts or horsepower and tells us how far a load can be moved in a given amount of time.
It is the ‘work’ we get out of an energy source that we define as usable power. As none of our conversion processes are 100% efficient we will always lose some of the potential energy. The actual percentage of the total heat generated that does work, gives us the efficiency of our conversion process, with the rest of the heat being classified as wasted heat. we use engines to convert fuel to work. Each of our different kinds of engines has a place where they work better, giving us the greatest payback, the greatest amount of work from the heat generated. And human life is all about getting a better return, of doing more work with less energy, and efficiency.
Here we need a so-called, ‘look in the mirror’ moment and think a little about humanness. We are goal-directed individuals. We act in order to achieve a defined result. We cultivate land, seed it and harvest the crops in order to eat. We cut trees and saw lumber for shelter. We release trapped energy because we want to warm that shelter. That warming is but a step, albeit a monumental step, away from loading a rocket with liquid oxygen and hydrogen because we have the desire to walk on the moon.
When the purpose or goal is kept clearly in mind we’re able to judge the wisdom of using a particular form of energy and which means of conversion will best allow us to reach that goal. Just as that Atlas rocket isn’t appropriate for heating our homes, burning wood won’t get us to the moon.
Machines that make Machines
A tool is a machine that more easily allows us to perform a task. A shovel works well for digging a small ditch but if we desire a long, deep ditch, we need to get many willing people with shovels or one person with an excavator. When we feed the excavator’s engine a few gallons of fuel it does the work of many people. We are releasing the fuel’s energy to help us dig the ditch.
And it’s the controlled release of energy that powers our factories, the source of all the goods that make this world easier to live on. It’s because of industrial production we need large amounts of power.
Just as a shovel is a machine for digging a hole, a factory is a machine for producing goods. A factory is really just a complex machine, built by assembling a multitude of smaller machines in order to produce everything from Bic lighters, computer chips, steel plates, automobiles, medicines and the very food we eat – every device we need or enjoy in this affluent society comes to us through a factory.
Consider that each factory is a highly-developed, specific-purpose machine. Just as that shovel makes a poor tool for painting your house, it is not cost-effective to use an automobile factory to make lumber or computer chips. A bolt can’t do the task done by a bearing.
Can you remember some early schooling and the lessons on simple machines, levers, inclined planes, pulleys and axles, those building blocks for all machines? The threads on a bolt are simply an inclined plane going around a circle. The first screw thread was made by an ancient Greek with an Archimedes screw being first used to pump water. But it took the industrial revolution to bring about universal screw threads, with any one bolt of a particular size fitting all corresponding nuts of that size. We usually take for granted, the fact that the monumental achievements that support human affluence only began some 3 hundred years ago.
The universally interchangeable parts are an immense contributor to our social affluence.
A small aside, roller bearings allow us to do so very many things but without the lubricating oil that makes friction virtually disappear, we’d be left with some scrap metal. While we aren’t taking energy directly out of lubricating fluid, oil and grease make our machines run further with less power, saving us energy. Yet even with almost no friction an immense amount of power is needed to turn the wheels of industry and commerce.
The single thing that can destroy our affluence is the loss of energy for powering our factories. Few industrial processes are forgiving enough to run on intermittent or variable power. Nor can our factories survive drastic fluctuations in their power costs. There would be no cars, iPods, televisions or more importantly, no scalpels or medicine without our factory system.
Most of us will shift into park if our electrical power is temporarily cut by a storm. We’ll bundle up with a book if we can manage to find a bright enough candle. Some cold cuts and a bun will be our substitute for dinner. Sure, we’ll laugh and joke a bit, go to bed early without a shower, hoping tomorrow things will be back to normal. But what if that power is gone for a week? A month? Forever? But we’d still not be living the life of someone in sub-Saharan Africa.
Losing the power for our factories would do that. No groceries on shelves or cars on roads. No heat for our homes. And no more anxiety pangs trying to decide what clothes to buy. There would be none.
Someone not familiar with the power requirements of a factory, true of many people living today, will have difficulty visualizing a 36,000 horsepower electric motor. Yet two of those monsters are needed just to grind the wood chips into pulp, the raw material for making newsprint. And while it takes 100’s of thousands of horsepower to run a paper mill, they appear energy frugal compared to the energy needs of steel mills and car factories.
A modern electrical generating station will produce 1000 megawatts of power and that steel mill easily gobbles up a third of its output. And here I urge you to think of the fridges, the sinks, the cars, the bridges and of course the scalpels needed for lifesaving operations, which all begin their existence in a steel mill. Though I’m fearful of losing your attention, we can’t leave the topic until I mention the second thing only factories can do – continuous, high-speed, accurate repetition.
It is a point so seldom considered but each of those electronic devices, that we and our friends carry duplicates of, would cost fortunes if they were built by hand and not mass-produced in some factory. In truth, many would not be available even to the very wealthy. It is not even possible to make computer chips and a multitude of other things by hand. Only the mechanization of work and mechanical repeatability grant us today’s goods, something made possible by a multitude of historical inventive steps. And of course, there is no comparing today’s factories with the early sweat-mill models that started it all a couple of hundred years ago, except that they wouldn’t run without energy either.
And, a reminder, our problems with energy supply is of our own making. While the factory system grants us a phenomenal bounty, it also extracts a great price. The division of labour that simplifies and enriches our lives robs us of the knowledge our forefathers used for survival. It has become too easy to be intellectually wrong yet still have the means to support our lives. There are many people planning how others should live, who never try to earn a living by the standard they advocate, the only true way to prove their plan for the rest of us would actually work. Mainly I’m talking about the people who demand that the world be run on ‘green’ power systems. But more on that later.
That brings us back to the affluent argument; we need to know what is the best way, the most effective way, the way that takes the least amount of time and energy to do the things we want to do. Only by applying greater power to ‘moving our loads’ do we make our lives easier. What really is the root of our affluence? The machines that can reliably deliver those megawatts of power needed to turn the wheels of our world.
You can skip to the ‘Engines summarized’ section if you know all you desire about energy-transforming machines. The following brief history lesson, which I consider fascinating, is but context to support my argument as to what has proven to be the best machines for the work we expect to do.
Discovering Prime Movers
I recall my eighth-grade science teacher boiling water in an open gallon tin, turning off the heat source, screwing the cap on that tin and saying, “Now pay attention class.” I did pay attention and to this day, can see that tin can crumple as the steam inside it condensed back into water. Steam occupies far more space than water and, when cooling, created a vacuum in that tin. Atmospheric pressure crumpled that can.
Thomas Newcomen also knew that steam takes up a lot more volume than water. He had the idea to fill a cylinder with steam, spray in a little water, condense the steam, and being wise enough to put a piston in one end of that cylinder allowing the changing volume of the condensing steam, gave life to a reciprocating engine. Three hundred years ago, through a system of levers and chains, he connected his simple piston steam engine to a pump, making the first practical power device for removing water from England’s early coal mines. For fifty years, an unimaginable long time considering the speed of change in today’s inventive age, those inefficient engines dominated and laboured on. Mr Newcomen’s biographer, L T C Rolt states, “ in the whole history of technology it would be difficult to find a greater single advance than this and certainly not one more pregnant with significance for all of humanity.” Every engine we use today owes something to his atmospheric engine. Truly, I can’t think of a greater life-altering invention.
His first engines produced about 5 ½ horsepower, comparable to a typical lawnmower, yet requiring an entire building to house its massive 20 tons. It turned less than 0.1% of the fuel’s heat into usable work. Thomas Newcomen’s engine had a boiler and a cylinder with a piston but he inefficiently sprayed cold water into the cylinder to condense the steam. By creating a vacuum in the cylinder, the piston was forced back by atmospheric pressure. The inefficiency comes from cooling and reheating everything for every cycle.
James Watt, having a better understanding of latent heat, put a steam condenser outside the cylinder thereby dramatically improving engine efficiency. Watt’s first engines did the same work with an astounding 80-fold improvement of efficiency to Thomas Newcomen’s engines. James Watt and his partner Matthew Boulton went on to add connecting rods, a reliable governor, and eventually a crankshaft with a flywheel, truly setting the industrial world into rotary motion, bringing working efficiency up to about 4% of the fuel’s heat content.
Water, when converted to steam, increases in volume to occupy some 1700 times more volume, and the steam process still rules industrial power generation. Containing water’s expanding property in a boiler and releasing the pressure in an engine allows work to be accomplished. Watt’s engine did this so well that he invented the concept of ‘horsepower’ to compare his engine’s work output to the work done with a horse. He famously measured the horse’s work output, multiplied it by 1.5 and said for each horsepower rating of his engines they would raise a 330-pound load 100 feet in height in one minute. His monumental contribution in the energy conversion field is commemorated by the fact that today the watt is our official measure of power, converting 746 watts into each horsepower.
But the infantile material science of Mr Watt’s day could only give him low-quality containers to work with and his steam engine operated at only a couple of pounds above atmospheric pressure. Still, he is the genius who started using an expanding gas, steam, and contained the expansion inside the engine, a pressure vessel with a movable end, a piston, burning fuel to make that steam. It allowed us to focus the energy and do usable work, doing more with less physical effort on our part.
But he argued strongly against increasing the pressures used. Like my science teacher who knew better than to demonstrate the dangerous power of expanding steam, I wonder if Mr Watt had tried to tame expanding steam and seen his containers blow up. Of course, despite his warnings one adventurous man defiantly did just that, tapping into the tremendous energy potential of high-pressure steam.
Richard Trevithick strengthened his boilers and built engines that used high-pressure steam, allowing steam to condense directly into the atmosphere. All previous engines had needed the vacuum created by condensing steam to draw in a fresh charge of steam used for the ‘push’ inside those early engines. The use of higher-pressure steam reduced the weight or total mass of power-producing systems by a huge factor, finally opening up the path to mobile power. His first mobile ‘tractors’, showed the way to railroading, finally made possible when material science taught Henry Bessemer how to make steel and his quality rails were able to support the great loads of locomotives. The rail transportation industry was born with the steam process now converting some 20% of a fuel’s heat content into useful work.
While steam provides the power, the fuel energy must first be released externally, a system classified as external combustion. Some type of fuel is burned to heat water in a boiler, the water flashes into steam that is piped into the engine and give up its power inside the engine. The engines provide us with motion and it is that motion that we redirect to do useful work. Paying for fuel makes us think of how to get the most work out of the energy source that we use.
It was at this time the laws of thermodynamics were discovered and documented by the young, brilliant Sadi Carnot. He showed mankind that science can explain how heat engines work. As the laws of thermodynamics prove, there is a heat loss at every stage in the conversion of energy, and with each step needed to go from a heat source to the final action of useful work, the efficiency of the process suffers. Other geniuses considered how to build engines that expanded fuel gases directly inside themselves.
Oil Enters the Picture
While any number of individuals kept improving the steam cycle, Nikolaus Otto had a fascination with gasoline and successfully build a working engine that burned gasoline inside its cylinder, displayed in the 1867 Paris exhibition. By getting rid of the boiler and the condensing cycle entirely, he dramatically lowered the total weight of the power plant, leading to the invention of engines light enough to power automobiles. It is in tribute to his genius that the operating method of the four-stroke gas engine, the backbone of automobile transportation, is named the Otto cycle.
And while Nikolaus Otto sparked a mixture of gasoline and air inside a cylinder, Rudolf Diesel was dreaming up ways to throw away the spark plug. He used a high compression ratio to heat the air temperature high enough to burn fuel injected into that highly compressed air. It is his diesel engine process that today supplies the power for the heavy transportation industry.
That allows us to meet the genius who invented the machine that powers our modern society, Charles Parsons, inventor of the steam turbine. He brilliantly conceived of throwing out the pistons, attaching fins directly to a shaft and letting expanding gasses produce rotary power directly. This is the machine that puts the ‘shock’ in our electrical outlets in our homes and powers our factories. Our revolution (sic) is now complete, that is our history of prime movers with the internal combustion piston engine ruling ground and water transportation and turbines dominating the industrial-scale power scene.
While somewhat outside of my main theme, a few words on jets and rockets is informative and I think, fascinating. Jets originate from the idea of burning fuel directly to push the turbine blades and letting the expanding gasses discharge behind the ‘engine’ to provide additional ‘thrust’. Rockets, in turn, tap into the gigantic mind of Sir Isaac Newton, proving that for every force, there is a corresponding equal opposite force, thrust, finally doing away with even the rotor of the turbine, modifying and keeping only the energy container.
The main point, the simple, common factor behind all engines that generate usable power, is safely containing the forces of the expanding gas. That ‘container’, either a piston engine or a turbine, controls the energy being released from the fuel, now harnessed to provide power for our work. The principle that allows our engines to operate is really very simple – the complexity is in the method of getting there. To make all the components the right strength, shape and size is a lifelong study, a study enjoyed by the people who bring us these fabulous machines, something they’ll continue to do if we continue to appreciate it and leave them free to think and act.
Summing up, gasoline is king in the small engine field, ranging from fractional horsepower engines for model aeroplanes, to small engines for weed-eater, lawnmowers and motorcycles, with large gasoline engines powering small boats, cars and light trucks. While the maturity of technology is a significant factor, easy starting and stopping, high power-to-weight ratio and acceptable danger level of refuelling give this high energy density fuel its advantage. In the power range from fractional to approximately 500 horsepower, we have yet to find a better power plant than the internal-combustion gasoline engine.
Diesel fuel does the work in our heavy transportation industry. Transport trucking, mobile equipment, long haul rail locomotives and on water, large pleasure craft, towboats, ferries and freighters all rely on diesel fuel to push their pistons up and down. Horsepower output in the ranges from 100 to 100,000 is common.
Turbines fueled by kerosene power air travel. Large turbines, both steam and natural gas driven, supply power for our grid electricity, truly our industrial power sources, with horsepower often exceeding 500,000 drawn from each unit. They are typically encased in rigid insulation and run for three or more years before they are even opened for inspections.
Probably more than 95% of our electricity is generated by turbines of some sort with both expanding steam, indirectly heated in a power boiler or fuel gas burned directly inside, giving up latent heat inside the turbine. A significant fraction of the electricity produced worldwide also is water-driven turbines, in hydro dams. In that sense, we all need to be aware that the reason something happens when we flip a light switch is that a turbine is spinning a generator at the far end of a wire connected to our homes.
Again, the common theme with all heat engines is the expansion of a gas, in a container, forced to deliver that energy in a way that humans can put to use. By controlling the flow of energy to give us the power for work, our ancestors created a new world for mankind, only fully appreciable if we firmly lodge in our minds the conditions of life when Thomas Newcomen was yet a boy. I urge you to check the history of his time, of the 18th century, when average life expectancy was less than forty years of age.
Now, instead of early death from starvation, we’ve turned energy into a very willing slave. North Americans are each, masters of more than thirty willing horsepower.
Only when we violate the rules of nature does energy rebel and lash back at us. When we try to put too much energy into a container and the energy breaks free we have destruction. Energy says, “once you set me free there is no turning back, you’ve got all of me.” Scientifically controlling energy is the most important thing we do.
The Green Heaven or… Hell?
It is not by accident that the primary source of our energy is hydrocarbons derived from crude oil, natural gas and coal. Oil derivatives power our transportation industry because of high energy densities. The stationary power plants, unlike transportation machines, are able to use less expensive and lower energy density natural gas and coal because they are able to store those more bulky products.
We are being warned those methods of powering our society are both dirty and unsustainable, and that the only solution is to change to ‘green’ technology for delivering our power. The ‘green’ activists want society to go back to lower energy density fuels, robbing our societies of efficiency and spelling disaster for our transportation industry. Will that be a benefit to humans? Are they promising more than can realistically be delivered? Both wind and solar energy generation are touted as the answer to carbon pollution. For confirmation of the deceit contained in that promise, note that even the factories that produce wind turbines and solar panels are not powered by the green energy duo.
We are told that wind energy is free without any mention that 50 times the concrete, steel and wiring is required to tap that unreliable source. That modern coal or nuclear power plants are built with less material is a fact worth memorizing. As well, the remoteness and the fact that a wind turbine’s working components are more than 200 metres above ground means that a greater number of people and equipment are needed for maintenance and the work is far more dangerous when compared to a large, central power plant.
To date, the amount of power generated by solar and wind stations remains insignificant despite massive government subsidies. They generate less than 1% of our energy mix, primarily because of their low energy density and the limited reliability of supply factors. It gets dark at night, the wind blows sporadically, etc. and vast networks of cables are needed to feed the little bits of power from those dispersed generators into the electrical grid. Green energy will not power our industrial society.
I’m not opposed to tapping into green energy sources, where they make sense. I am fighting to end the war on reliable energy sources. The green movement will end our, energy on demand and return our society to a world where energy is only available when the sun shines or the wind blow, a return to hunting and gathering for energy.
The myth supporting the green movement is that human development harms the earth. Well, I’ll concede that humans have altered the world but it is mostly been for our betterment. If you’ve followed this essay’s theme, it should be obvious that I’m no fan of leaving things as they are found in nature. As to the harm done by carbon dioxide, the paleontological record show the most prolific period of life development on the earth took place during the Carboniferous Period when carbon dioxide made up some ten times as much in the atmosphere.
Dr Patrick Moore sums up the carbon dioxide fear situation nicely in his book, “Fake Invisible Catastrophes and Threats of Doom“
We are told the earth’s fate hangs on a thread and we are destroying the earth’s ability to support life. We are told that we must change our energy-squandering ways and the only road ahead is green. We are told even human life will improve if we just stop using carbon-based fuels. And we’re told, we are running out of accessible fuel so the sooner we change, the gentler the inevitable energy crash will be.
None of the above is true but requires objective thought to challenge. I urge you to consider what you are being asked to give up in order to live your life to green standards. And don’t rely on fearmongers to evaluate the health of the earth. Use your own eyes to where life is worse.
Most people equate the term ‘green’ with ‘good’ because green promises to reduce our environmental impact. Almost universally, development is regarded to be harmful. Looking again at Sub-Sahara Africa, we can easily see that industrial development adds years to the lives of those who have access to an industrialized society. Development is not harmful to mankind, so who or what is the green lobby fighting for?
And one more thing to try to clarify. Many concerned people accept the idea that human activity is destructive to the earth, and that increases in the air content of carbon dioxide will destabilize our earth. They consider it impossible that so very many people in authority could be misleading them, that if it were a lie these lies would be found out and exposed. consider thought, most people who believe there is grave danger from climate change take that concern from other people, not from direct observation of the real world. Few do the science themselves but are simply accepting that so many people couldn’t possibly be lying when in fact when in fact, only a small number are really involved in building the message, the message that misleads.
That is the subject of a book Steve Milloy has written. Interesting, it’s correctly titled “Green Hell”. He does a fine job of documenting the anti-human life base of the green movement. But back to the subject under discussion, power.
As implied earlier, the progression of the heat engine, from the earlier atmospheric to today’s multi-stage turbo-generators, was made possible by astounding advances in material science. Such is the nature of inventions, a look at new machines often suggests other possibilities to the bright individual looking for a solution for an entirely different problem. Today, heat engines, originally built to solve the problem of flooding coal mines, dominate our lives and are found in all sorts of wonderful machines. Every reduction of weight for our power-generating engines has made fresh applications possible, the rocket is the only engine we’ve yet invented that converts energy fast enough, in a light enough container, to break free of the gravitational forces of our earth.
Further, weight, while not a significant factor in stationary power, is the limiting factor in all mobile power. Railways could not happen until steam engine efficiency surpassed James Watt’s pressure limitations. Automobiles were made possible by the Otto cycle but until more energy could be pulled from a lighter engine, the Wright brothers were grounded. It is power-to-weight ratios that drive mobile power, with motorcycle gasoline engines now producing more than one horsepower for every pound of the engine, jet engines approaching 6 horsepower for each pound of engine weight and rockets, the engines capable of leaving the earth, generating a massive 90 odd horsepower for each pound of engine. That our society has achieved this in a short 300 years is truly a testimonial to human genius in action.
My one sentence that describes what human beings have done …. Embedded human effort, physical and intellectual, in first finding and collecting available molecules, manipulating them and building ever more sophisticated containers to hold those energy forces found in nature, finally releasing them under full control, and is the path that has built our modern way of life.
Finally, we can do a personal exercise, firstly differentiating between engines and motors. An engine converts primary energy into work but a motor more narrowly is a power device, relying on upstream energy conversion, electric, hydraulic or air. The exercise; I count 10 gas engines when I look at what I own, and since I’m a tool ‘junkie’ more electric motors than a simple mental effort can accurately list but well in excess of 50 motors ease my life. All of these electric motors become useless if their umbilical cord, the electrical grid, or its power source, the central turbine, no longer delivers electricity.
This entire essay is my attempt to urge you to never trivialize the benefits we so often take for granted – our modern, power-driven society. As well, all of us must keep in mind that the road to riches and well-being is accurate knowledge, and scientific thinking applied to the real world. This is where I see the greatest danger facing us – we have lost our commitment to science. Yet today the green lobby seeks to rob us of our power-creating ability, falsely claiming to be adhering to scientific thinking.
Fear of Plant Food and Fighting Brain Worms
Richard Mitchell, in the Underground Grammarian, talks about the ‘worm in the brain’- when rational thinking has been erased from nominally bright individuals – when an utterly non-sensible idea becomes accepted as true. I’m talking about Anthropogenic (human-caused) Global Warming, the irrational fear that our use of carbon-based fuels is harming the earth by adding a temperature-destabilizing carbon dioxide load to our atmosphere. If this fraud is not overturned, the unscientific demonization of carbon dioxide will bring an end to our affluence.
To refresh, CO2 is about 410 parts per million (ppm) or 0.04% of our atmosphere. This is the total volume of ‘food’ available for all the plant life on our earth. It’s no wonder plants are firmly rooted, as there’s far too little fuel available for them to be mobile. Again, the Carboniferous Period brought forth more life when the carbon content of our atmosphere was 10 times what we have now. And what of the fuel we burn?
All the fuel humans burn only produces 0.4% of the total atmospheric load of CO2, some 4 ppm. 4 cents worth out of 10,000 dollars. This, according to the green activists, is catastrophic and destabilizes the earth’s climate. A few years ago, they said the world was going to overheat but that it is now cooling, we’re sold ‘instability’ instead. They say it could be hot, maybe cold, wet, maybe dry, stormy or becalmed – who knows, but it will definitely be bad.
“Climate Change” has turned the AGW theory into religion as science is lost when a theory can’t be falsified and no evidence can prove it wrong.
The suggested solution is to have a benevolent, powerful government rule the evil, ignorant, energy-consuming citizens with a strangling, carbon-controlling hand, something that thrills many politicians. They can see great opportunities for extending control over a far greater portion of the lives of common citizens. Unless we develop awareness and resentment at the continual loss of freedom of choice, we will lack the intellectual tools necessary to save our lives.
Consider this: When spreading concern for the future, is it appropriate to do so by scaring eight-year-old children? Would refusal to debate your message and try to inform adults in an open forum not be a violation of scientific thought? Should the refusal to show any evidence for environmental concern not immediately discredit the argument? Would the knowledge that someone only presented some facts and ignored others, not brand that person a charlatan? All of these things have taken place, yet the popular press grants credibility to the activist that seek to bring a halt to the use of carbon-based fuels. The media has not been a friend of reason.
There are many rational scientists who don’t agree with the emotionally laced doomsday scenarios. Names can be provided for any interested parties. Meanwhile, I challenge the greens over a point – if one considers CO2 increases to be the problem, why is there such a bitter fight against the one power source that emits no CO2, nuclear power? An individual sincerely concerned about atmospheric CO2 would welcome power from a CO2-free power source.
Today shrill opinions express alarm at our use of energy, both the amount and the methods. Yet where industrialization has changed our lives, our lives are longer, healthier, and far richer. Sub-Saharan Africa is a constant reminder of how bleak a world is without industry. They don’t have our access to energy, the energy that permeates and enriches our lives.
That brain worm that eats common sense is continually being jammed into our ears. We need to stop it from reaching our brains for then it will be too late. We all need knowledge and that brings up the real danger in a democratic system. All too often we are asked to make decisions on things we know nothing about. Sometimes about things we don’t even know that we know nothing about.
Are you comfortable polling everyone in order to determine the best way to do brain surgery? If you value your life I’m guessing you’ll find that idea terrifying. Death will result from making foolish decisions about our power generation. In the end, it will be the realization that we don’t have the knowledge needed to contribute wisdom in all decision-making that provides us with the most safety. We need to see what rejecting a free market has brought us.
Can you now see that there is a deadly hazard looming above our heads when we vote to empower those who lack both knowledge of our energy system and have an activistic goal to modify that system, that we are doing the equivalent of asking fools to do brain surgery? It is not their fault they are foolish, but rather our fault for handing them control over our lives.
Ideas from the couch are often half-baked, and so can miss large pieces of reality. Second-guessing from the sidelines is easy and, I could well be doing some of that too but I consider it wrong to tell others how to spend their money. In turn, activists ask the government to enforce their ideas without paying any personal price for being wrong.
To have one’s ideas implemented requires that one leave the couch and put out some productive effort or pay someone else to put out the necessary effort. Taxing your fellow citizen to carry out your untried ideas is simply robbery and not appropriate in a rational society. As well, it leads only to incorrect investments. The process of converting energy is well known and those with ‘no skin in the game’ need to stop telling the people who do know, that they know better. The inherent beauty of the free market is that when individuals are forced to invest their own money, those who hold foolish ideas are easily separated from those with wise ideas. Foolish investments need to leave the investors broke, not the taxpayer. If you think you know better – prove it with your own money, not mine.
The popular ‘renewables’ are unique. Wind and solar have smitten many followers with their, “no-cost power” message, the claim that once built there is no cost for the energy they generate. There are plenty of accessible sources describing intermittency, land and material cost of building, useful life expectancy and end-of-use disposal that an interested and objective person can find to make up their own mind on those characteristics.
I have a further thought that I seldom see stated…. they bring us out of an industrial society. Electricity is an energy transfer system rather than a prime energy system. Machinery has to be continuously loading electrons into a wire in order for us to tap that source when we want power. In other words, the generating stations need to anticipate the desires of the users.
Our ancestors launched the agricultural revolution because they found they could eat regular meals by growing their food rather than chasing it. dispatchable food is what we got. Our electrical system is similar. When we want power we need a supply of coal, oil gas or neutrons in order to power our machines at will. waiting for the wind or sun for energy is a return to hunting and gathering for energy.
There is no shortage of affordable, accessible energy and the earth is not about to become uninhabitable because we use that energy. There is no need to impoverish ourselves to keep the world livable. That guilty feeling about energy availability can rob us of the power our affluence requires. If we do become poor, we should know that it’s because we’ve allowed misinformation to chain us – to stop our productive actions with a fraudulent belief. The worm will have eaten our common sense and we’ll have no one to blame but our own naive selves. We do control our own future.
And what about the future? Releasing Chemical energy is about breaking and making new molecular bonds. We are currently far from fully exploiting all chemical energy forms available to us. The ocean floor contains double the energy reserves man has yet used, locked up in methane hydrates, another source of hydrocarbon fuel. An abundant energy future still awaits future generations of humans.
It is, however, on the atomic scale that staggering amounts of energy come into play. A ton of uranium yields more heat than an entire unit train of coal. Dr Einstein’s brilliant E=mc2 gives us an inkling as to how much energy is available and awaits a rational society. The forces holding our atoms together are millions of times stronger than the chemical forces we harness for energy today.
If we relied on a free market system, we’d base our support for any particular form of energy on only price and reliability. If we did so, there would be no need for this essay. You would not need a warning about the impending disaster brought about by funding wonky energy policies; there wouldn’t be any.
Give Thomas Sowell a chance to make my argument; “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
Give freedom to rational, creative minds and truly, the universe will open for us. The supply of energy is limitless. The green activist’s phrase ‘power smart’ urges us to ‘turn out the lights’. Instead, we need to build efficient power sources.
Become energy-wise and join the fight. Save a life … your own.