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Could Consuming More Energy Help Humans Save Nature?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Even before I arrived at the annual “Dialogue” of the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland, California, think tank that challenges mainstream environmental positions, I was arguing about it.

"Ecopragmatists" contend that higher energy consumption may help us "decouple" from, or reduce our impact on, the environment. Photo: Breakthrough Institute.

When I explained some of the institute’s positions to two green friends, they were aghast that I would hobnob with a group that favors nuclear power, natural gas, genetically-modified food—and, more generally, the notion that environmentalism is or should be compatible with rapid economic growth.

My friends agree with ethicist Clive Hamilton that the Institute’s “ecopragmatist” policies (other common descriptors are ecomodernist, neogreen and techno-utopian) “will lead us to disaster.” Hamilton argues in Scientific American that Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, founders of the Breakthrough Institute, “do not deny global warming; instead they skate over the top of it, insisting that whatever limits and tipping points the Earth system might throw up, human technology and ingenuity will transcend them.”

Like environmental journalists Andrew Revkin and Keith Kloor, who are friends, I admire the work of Shellenberger and Nordhaus. We share (I think) several basic assumptions, which for me are emotional as well as intellectual. First, optimism about the future is reasonable, given how much progress humans have already achieved in the realms of medicine, human rights, prosperity and even the environment. Second, optimism, even wishful thinking, are more conducive to achieving further progress than alarmism and despair. Third, we can solve our problems by being more open-minded and creative–and scrutinizing all our assumptions.

Take, for example, the provocative agenda of the 2014 Dialogue, which was held in Sausalito, California, June 22-24, and was titled “High-energy Planet.” (See also the institute’s recent report “Our High-Energy Planet.”) Here is how the Dialogue brochure introduces the agenda:

For the past 40 years, rising energy production and consumption have been widely viewed as inherently destructive of nature. A steady stream of government, United Nations, and environmental proposals have identified lowered energy consumption as the highest goal of climate and environmental policy. But during that same period, global per capita energy consumption has risen by 30 percent. And over the next century, global energy consumption is anticipated to double, triple, or more. The reality of our high-energy planet demands that we rethink environmental protection. The question for Breakthrough Dialogue 2014 is, ‘How might a high-energy planet save nature?’

Universal energy is a fundamental requisite of development. The transformation of natural energy assets into usable energy services allows not just for household lighting and electricity, but also modern infrastructures and societies. Affordable energy is used to power tractors, create fertilizers, and power irrigation pumps, all of which improve agricultural yields and raise income. Cheap and reliable grid electricity allows factory owners to increase output and hire more workers. Electricity allows hospitals to refrigerate lifesaving vaccines and power medical equipment. It liberates children and women from manual labor and provides light, heat, and ventilation for the schools that educate the workforce.

A world with cheaper and cleaner energy could be a world where humans tread more lightly, leaving more space for other species while reducing pollution. Cheap, clean energy could power advanced water treatment plants that remove phosphorus from livestock effluents, returning clean water to rivers and recycling phosphorous as a fertilizer. Desalination could spare aquifers, rivers, and lakes, while rehabilitating freshwater ecosystems. Materials recycling and incineration could make landfills a thing of the past. And vertical agriculture could spare more land for nonhumans.

There is no guarantee that a high-energy planet will be a better place for nature. While land used for agriculture has grown only modestly, frontier agriculture continues to devastate old-growth rainforests in Indonesia and Brazil. Coal continues to be the fastest-growing fuel, and the carbon intensity of the global economy has been increasing in recent years. And while consumption of some key resource inputs such as wood and non-agricultural water appear to have peaked, demand for others is still growing rapidly.

Ultimately, what will determine whether our high-energy planet is better or worse for nature will be the ways in which our technologies, our economies, our values, and our politics evolve. What are the ways that we might shape the trajectory of the current transition and what are the ways that we won’t? What does an ecomodernist politics look like that is simultaneously realistic and aspirational about the future of the planet?

Agricultural innovations have boosted the productivity of farmland over the last 50 years, sparing enormous swathes of land, according to a 2012 analysis by Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and co-authors. Other energy-consuming innovations could help further reduce humanity's impact on nature, according to Ausubel. This image was downloaded from http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/scientists-see-promise-for-people-and-nature-in-peak-farmland/.

Breakthrough speakers did not all find the concept of a sustainable, high-energy planet plausible. Far from it. The vision of a prosperous, green, “high-energy planet” was supported by some speakers, notably environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University, who received the 2014 “Breakthrough Paradigm Award.”

Ausubel emphasized that energy-consuming advances such as tractors and synthetic fertilizers already enable humans to produce food far more efficiently, using less land and water. Ausubel asserted that our technologies are allowing us to “decouple” from nature–that is, to meet our needs with much less impact on the environment. Environmental researcher Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado argued, moreover, that large increases in energy consumption are required to eradicate the poverty that still afflicts a large proportion of humanity.

But key tenets of the high-energy proposal were criticized by other speakers. Energy analyst Arnulf Grubler of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis questioned whether nuclear energy will ever be as economically viable as proponents hope. Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity feared that by the time humans achieve their green, high-energy utopia, much of the planet’s biodiversity will have already been wiped out.

I saw these disagreements as productive. The conference fulfilled its goal of “achieving disagreement,” defined as “overcoming misunderstandings to get at genuine disagreements.”

I have one suggestion for the Breakthrough Institute: I hope it considers how militarism can exacerbate our environmental problems, and, conversely, how reducing militarism can benefit environmentalism and other social causes. Perhaps a topic for a future Dialogue?

DISCLOSURE: The Breakthrough Institute paid my expenses for attending the 2014 Dialogue. If you think I can be bought, you should know that I have been nasty to groups far more generous to me—for example, the Templeton Foundation.

FURTHER READING (AND VIEWING):

See the following posts on this blog:

Killing Environmentalism to Save It: Two Greens Call for ‘Postenvironmentalism’“;

Why Bill McKibben’s global-warming fear-mongering isn’t helpful“;

James Hansen Speaks Out, Gets Busted, and Now Sues to Stop Global Warming“;

Does Sandy mean we should have fewer nukes, or more?“;

If Natural Gas Is Less Noxious Than Coal, Don’t We Have to Frack?“;

Why you should embrace optimism“.

See also my 2008 chat with Shellenberger on Bloggingheads.tv.

About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. M Tucker 7:32 pm 07/7/2014

    It would be lovely if you could have an interview with Jonathan Foley regarding land use and the impact agriculture has on anthropogenic climate change.

    Here is a little bit from a post titled “What really annoys scientists about the state of the climate change debate?”

    Professor Michael Raupach, director of the Climate Change Institute, Australian National University, Canberra says:

    The greatest cause for sorrow is the widespread inability of the public discussion to recognize the whole picture.

    Much of the political discourse reduces the complexities of climate change to political football (“axe the tax”); much media reporting sees only the hook to today’s passing story; many interest groups want to use climate change to proselytize for their particular get-out-of-jail free card (nuclear power, carbon farming).

    All of this misses or trivializes the real, systemic significance of climate change: that humankind is encountering the finitude of our planet, confronting the need to share and protect our endowment from nature, and realizing that much will have to change to make this possible.

    Professor Steven Sherwood, director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, Sydney says:

    Second is the fact that carbon dioxide emissions are effectively irreversible and will stay in the climate system for hundreds of generations is seldom noted. If we decide later that this was a huge mistake there is no going back (practically speaking).

    On the political side, I wish the media would note the obvious parallels of the carbon debate with past ones over restricting pollutants (mercury, lead, asbestos, CFCs), where claims that restrictions would be economically catastrophic never came true.

    from
    https://www.skepticalscience.com/what-annoys-climate-scientists.html

    Link to this
  2. 2. rshoff2 8:52 pm 07/7/2014

    Yikes! What a bind. We could of course bring an abrupt halt to carbon emissions. Stop using energy. Wow, how much carbon would billion of rotting human bodies release? In other words, we cannot cease using energy without a human disaster.

    But yet, we cannot continue to use energy without a human disaster.

    One alternative may be to abruptly switch to quickly built plants that produce nuclear driven steam energy. Wow, that might buy humanity time, but at what cost to the biosphere? Escalation of nuclear plants will increase accidental nuclear releases. It is a fact of math.

    Do humans really own the earth? Do we sentence the earth to a radioactive death in order to stave off our own?

    We did a bad thing. We are yeast in a petrie dish. And we are shitting ourselves out of existence. But that is past tense. It already happened. Humanity is in a free fall right now, the trigger has been pulled. There is no way forward with the exception of a miracle. Miracles do not exist.

    Do the math. It’s done.

    I haven’t shut off my computer or refrigerator, hot water tank, or heat pump yet…. Have you?

    Link to this
  3. 3. Dr. Strangelove 9:58 pm 07/7/2014

    This whole idea of humans saving nature is silly. Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Man has been around for 100 thousand years. Nature does not need saving. It does not need man. It’s the other way around. Humans need saving from natural and man-made disasters.

    The idea of consuming too much energy is also silly. Solar energy is always available until the sun dies out in 7 billion years. It’s not too much unless we consume all the sun’s energy. It’s just a matter economics. Some energy sources are cheaper than others. And we want more energy but unwilling or unable to pay the price.

    Link to this
  4. 4. jrkipling 11:34 pm 07/7/2014

    Mr. Horgan,

    Your green friends lack objectivity.

    Dr. Strangelove,

    Earth is predicted to run out of sufficient CO2 for photosynthesis in about 600 million years. So it doesn’t matter how long the sun lasts after that.

    rshoff2, rshoff2, rshoff2,

    Don’t worry! Be Happy! The price is exactly the same.

    The good news is that there continue to be objective people thinking about the situation.

    Link to this
  5. 5. singing flea 12:17 am 07/8/2014

    You gotta love this ‘can’t live with’em, can’t live without’em” philosophy. Yea? Well if wishes were horses beggars would ride.
    Sorry folks but there ain’t gonna be a free ride. Wishful thinking will get you a date on Santa’s knees and cheap trinket, but it ain’t gonna buy a Mercedes Benz. The future has in store for us all exactly what we deserve. If we toe the line and get a handle on this energy toy we may see a bright future, but if we thumb our nose at any suggestions that will help, all we will get is a lot of angry kids and a destroyed eco-system.
    The fact is we are already seeing another mass extinction happening before our weary eyes and it looks like folks would rather have their opulent lifestyle today and pay the grim reaper tomorrow.
    Yeehaw, I’m gonna get me a RV half the size as the State of Texas and put a coal burner in the exhaust port just cause I can.

    Link to this
  6. 6. RobFromLoveland 12:54 am 07/8/2014

    Unfortunate that this blog was issued under the Scientific American heading. It is entirely devoid of any science, and in fact tends to ridicule a scientific approach in favor of some optimistic, feel-good wishful thinking.
    We are already beginning to see some of the extreme effects of runaway carbon dioxide production, and as yet there is not only no concentrated effort to deal with the problems, but a failure of most political ‘leaders’ to even acknowledge a problem. We may soon reach a tipping point if one hasn’t already been passed, and the human race as well as much of life on the planet can expect severe consequences.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Dr. Strangelove 3:10 am 07/8/2014

    jrkipling

    Earth gets hit by giant asteroid every 10 to 20 million years. There won’t be any human in 600 million years. It will be replaced by intelligent machines long before that. Machines that don’t need CO2 and plants, cannot be killed by giant asteroids but still use solar energy.

    Link to this
  8. 8. vmaldia 6:49 am 07/8/2014

    \\One alternative may be to abruptly switch to quickly built plants that produce nuclear driven steam energy. Wow, that might buy humanity time, but at what cost to the biosphere? Escalation of nuclear plants will increase accidental nuclear releases. It is a fact of math.\\

    but you neglect to consider that new reactor designs like thorium are much safer than old designs and they produce lest waste

    Link to this
  9. 9. rshoff2 11:27 am 07/8/2014

    jrkipling – I wish we could vote on these comments! I’d definitely give yours a thumbs up. Not that common sense, logic, or science sways to popularity.

    So, do you mean that we are not being ‘objective’?! ;-) Of course we’re not. Too-much, time on our hands.

    Unfortunately, because I do wish there were a way out for humanity, all results being equal does not lend comfort.

    vmaldia – you’re right that I’m being hysterical about the dangers of our past nuclear plant design without considering current and future ingenuity. However, it seems to me that we’ve been addicted to fuel sources that generate carbon dioxide since the discovery of fire and switching to fuel sources that generate radioactive waste only steps up the waste product problems by a million-billion fold. Speaking Apples to Apples, I think the earth would be better off with a shitload of C02 and no humans as opposed to hoards of ionizing radiation-producing waste. Keep in mind, if humanity gets addicted to nuclear power (nuclear boilers really), they could persist for the next millennium as our primary source of power. All the while accumulating waste and succumbing to accidental release. Then what? We are a clever, perhaps ingenious, yet lazy species. Once we scratch our itch, we cease to move forward.

    Link to this
  10. 10. rshoff2 11:35 am 07/8/2014

    jrkipling – Your reference that the earth is predicted to run out of C02 in 600 million years is interesting. What is that about? What happens to C02? Do we lose the Oxygen? The Carbon? The Atmosphere?

    Link to this
  11. 11. jrkipling 11:55 am 07/8/2014

    rshoff2,

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_of_the_Earth

    Third paragraph down.

    Link to this
  12. 12. jctyler 12:14 pm 07/8/2014

    It’s all in this sentence:

    “a group that favors nuclear power, natural gas, genetically-modified food—and, more generally, the notion that environmentalism is or should be compatible with rapid economic growth.”

    Why nuclear power at all? The US wastes nearly half its energy. And nuclear is the most expensive energy there is by far.

    Natural gas? Yes, definitely. It’s been wasted/burned off for decades in the US. Why nuclear power if there is so much natural gas, if it was used properly, the US could get away with only saving half its energy waste.

    Genetically modified food? In a country that throws about 40% of its food and has an obese population so omnipresent, if you’re only fat you already pass for near-slim these days, why the US need genetically tampered food is beyond me.

    Rapid economic growth? What do these people think, that economic growth is eternal and limitless? There is no rapid economic growth anymore in the US. What the Dow reflects is pure greed, but not a stable economy.

    I always read your articles with interest and pleasure. This one is another goodie, telling us how it is from inside a group most of us will never be allowed to enter, a group which in essence is a PR unit representing big money which doesn’t care one way or the other about the environment, the climate and the citizens it’s living off.

    Link to this
  13. 13. rshoff2 12:18 pm 07/8/2014

    I see the mechanism of “weathering of silicate minerals”, but I don’t understand the results. We all know that C02 is a molecule of 1 Carbon atom and 2 Oxygen atoms. So something must happen to the Carbon, the Oxygen, and/or the bond between them. What is the effect of ‘weathering of silicate’?

    Link to this
  14. 14. jeenious 1:02 pm 07/8/2014

    Point One: Once there were two old winos talking about the benefits of their favorite beverage. One said, “Look at us. You and I each have consumed a gallon of wine a day for most of our lives. We are both in our seventies, and are still alive, while lots of men we’ve known have died.”

    “That’s right,” the other replied. “Just imagine how much longer yet you and I might live, if we each increased our wine drinking to two gallons per day.”

    “Oh, no. You’ve got it backward,” said the first. “Wine is shortening our lives. Imagine how much longer you and I would have to live if we had not harmed ourselves with wine.”

    Each smiled, thinking to himself, “No point in arguing about it. My old drinking buddy just doesn’t get it.”

    Point Two: A high school teacher — impressed with a term paper written by a sophomore boy, arguing the wonders of scientific and technological progress — had the clever boy read his paper to the class.

    The bright boy read his assertions, proudly. “Again and again, “he read,” humanity has prevailed not only over the problems thrown at it by normal and natural catastrophes, by climate changes, by diseases of man and animals and food plants…, yet each and every time science and technology have come up with solutions. Despite some setbacks, populations have recovered and have increased to greater numbers than before. Not only do they provide solutions to problems dating back to antiquity; they provide to problems brought about by progress, itself. And, to make matters even better, our scientists and engineers make life easier and more comfortable for those of us who avail ourselves of their wisdom.”

    On the back row sat a boy who frequently disagreed with the teacher and with things in textbooks, held up his hand. The teacher sighed, shook her head, and called on him.

    “What will life be like when nobody has to lift a finger to do anything, and the population is so large there is standing room only?”

    Point Three: Imagine all human progress as having been, since the first industrial revolution, pushed forward and upward to where proud humanity is today.

    Wonderful isn’t it!

    So far.

    External energy is fed into a roller coast on the rise.
    Once gravity is left to its own, however, no external energy is applied to pushing.

    Would any engineer in his right mind argue that, since it was the application of external energy that enabled the roller car to be pushed to this pinnacle of the ride, what is needed to solve any problems on the down side is to push harder?

    The whole picture, indeed.

    What whole picture?

    Link to this
  15. 15. jrkipling 1:41 pm 07/8/2014

    I think the weathering prevents carbonate rock formations from being subducted into magma and converted back to CO2.

    Link to this
  16. 16. rshoff2 1:49 pm 07/8/2014

    Point 1: Drink better wine. No, really though. Which path will lead to a better future? Reversing the course of humanity and give up our technologies or pressing forward and working through them? Neither is really possible nor practical.

    Point 2: So far, we’ve pushed our failures of progress under the carpet since the time of antiquity, but we have finally run out of carpet! Of course moving humanity successfully forward is probably not only impossible, but to what end?

    Point 3: Push with WHAT?! All we do is inefficiently convert and store energy, mainly by combustion. Although it is true that we have come up with a few different methodologies. Energy is plentiful around us yet we fail to harness it. We steal from Peter to pay Paul, and we sacrifice. The plentiful energy around us is currently employed -theoretically efficiently employed- and we must steal to acquire it.

    At some point we must care more about the Universe around us than ourselves. The only practical course is for humanity is to accept and face natural extinction we must accept and face our own death. But what positive gift are we going to leave the Universe? Does our mere existence contribute to the universe? Perhaps we are but a joke to bring the gods humor.

    Will the gods mourn? Can they?

    They cannot.

    Link to this
  17. 17. rshoff2 1:52 pm 07/8/2014

    Thanks for your patience jrkipling! It gives me a perspective on what to look up that I might understand.

    Link to this
  18. 18. rshoff2 2:41 pm 07/8/2014

    Rob, the Universe is filled with hard cold facts. Many brilliant humans minds are analyzing and cataloging them in hopes that it will lead to …nirvana. As a species, we are most likely compelled to do so and we are clever enough at tool-building.

    But I digress. What value to humanity does observing and understanding those cold hard facts provide without context? These types of conversations are important. What good is science to humanity if it excludes the human condition? How do we understand and embrace the human condition without dialogue, some of which are in the form of philosophical conversations? Who better to introduce and facilitate these concepts than one versed in Science and Journalism?

    You’re correct that scientist need support to focus on the task at hand, but that does not preclude science journalism infused with philosophical perspective. So if you want to criticize my obtuse comments, you’d have merit. But what John offers is invaluable.

    Link to this
  19. 19. jrkipling 8:22 pm 07/8/2014

    rshoff2,

    Human beings are not set apart from the universe. We are a tiny, sentient part of the universe looking out at itself. The universe provided conditions which lead to our existence. So it’s not our fault. The universe made us do it.

    Link to this
  20. 20. PeterGleick 8:45 pm 07/8/2014

    Kind of head exploding though I’m sure it was a feel-good conference. No one disputes the need to use energy, and more of it in many parts of the world to improve the lives of billions of people. But BTI simply sweeps under the rug the reality of the devastating implications of our current energy system (including but certainly not limited to now-unavoidable climate change), the high barriers to their hypothetical shift to ‘clean’ energy, and well-understood (but ignored by BTI) flaws of silver bullet, technical solutions. These are the same as the feel-good arguments put forward long ago, and debunked, by Julian Simon, more recently by Lomborg, and others. They are not helpful for the real-world policy debates or real-world solutions that are needed. Just as one example: even if energy were FREE, the proposed solution (above) of desalination would NOT solve the world’s water problems. The real world is just more complex than BTI has ever acknowledged.

    Link to this
  21. 21. rshoff2 8:51 pm 07/8/2014

    jrkipling – I get what you’re saying. We are part of the system, and therefore, bound by it’s rules and limitations. We are powerless to do otherwise and not (cannot be) responsible for the system as a whole. It’s even arrogance to think we have a role.

    But….it seems that we should really want to rise above that somehow. Funny though, being a physicalist (so to speak), I don’t believe it possible to do anything but comply with reality.

    Link to this
  22. 22. Dr. Strangelove 11:34 pm 07/8/2014

    Don’t worry about earth running out of CO2. Carbon-based life is so 20th century. Machine is the future evolution of man. Man will replace his body and brain with machine. That part-man part-machine science fiction is so lame. It’s like trying to put a 4-stroke engine in a horse. Eventually we’ll give up and say, why don’t we get rid of the horse and just build a Bugatti.

    Link to this
  23. 23. jrkipling 12:55 am 07/9/2014

    Dr. Strangelove,

    ‘THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.’

    Link to this
  24. 24. rshoff2 1:35 am 07/9/2014

    Dr Strangelove. While displacement by machine seems inevitable, and possibly practical, I don’t see it as sustainable. We haved evolved in phenomenal ways in our dance with nature. We also have a sense of meaning, a blinding instintual drive to live. Not so with machines.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Dr. Strangelove 2:53 am 07/9/2014

    rshoff2
    Humans are not sustainable with frail bodies and pathetic low intelligence. The smartest chess player Kasparov is no match for Deep Blue, a dumb computer by the Turing standard of artificial intelligence.

    The machines will be hyper-intelligent. Human intelligence will be like cockroach intelligence. They will not waste time on nonsensical search for meanings. That’s for cockroach minds. They will go for the finest things in life like calculating pi to infinite decimal places.

    Link to this
  26. 26. rshoff2 11:32 am 07/9/2014

    CaSiO3 + 2CO2 + 2H2O => CaCO3 + SiO2 + CO2 + 2H2O

    Link to this
  27. 27. rshoff2 11:46 am 07/9/2014

    I found that formula in a brief article at ucla.edu (via a Yahoo search) on the carbon cycle that mentions the silicate process… The breakdown of silicates destroys the C02 because it captures the carbon. If I understand it.

    http://dilu.bol.ucla.edu/home.html

    Link to this
  28. 28. jrkipling 12:06 pm 07/9/2014

    Read the geology section of the link below, and see what you think.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_carbonate

    Your reaction forms calcium carbonate. Subduction decomposes the calcium carbonate formations when it reaches high temperature. The CO2 then returns to atmosphere via volcanic eruptions.

    I wasn’t pushing the point. It was just something interesting that I came across. I haven’t researched it in detail, but it sounds plausible that subduction is the major mechanism for returning CO2 to atm.

    Link to this
  29. 29. rshoff2 1:08 pm 07/9/2014

    jrkipling – Thanks! You’ve completed the cycle. I get it now. Funny, the process of weathering of silicates is the process of forming calcium carbonate.

    I also see references where the previous ice ages, and recovery, resulted from this process. However, I don’t understand why this wouldn’t result in a steady state cycling of Carbon. Subduction seems to be ongoing, perhaps the volcanic activity is more periodic in nature? Also, as long as we have Carbon, Oxygen, and Volcanic activity, I’m not sure how we can run out of CO2.

    I find this interesting. There must be some chemical geologists -geologic chemists? :/ -out there with ideas on how to use this process, or replicate it somehow, to create a carbon sink.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Andrei Kirilyuk 1:10 pm 07/9/2014

    “Could Consuming More Energy Help Humans…”

    They are really nice at those “advanced” institutes. Yeah, it would be good to have ever more energy (what a brave idea!), but in reality you have none on the necessary scale, in a few decades from now (including all the pseudo-green sources and thermonuclear delusion).

    The necessary new energy source could only come from the relevant development in fundamental physics, but as the field is totally controlled by the “mathematical universe” sect, one can forget about any useful discovery.

    Go on, amuse yourself well.

    Link to this
  31. 31. jrkipling 1:23 pm 07/9/2014

    Here is another link.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_far_future

    Scroll down to the 600 M years in the future entries.

    Link to this
  32. 32. rshoff2 4:16 pm 07/9/2014

    That is a very interesting link. Of course it’s completely rational to consider the absolute predictability of the future and every event. If not in absolute outcome, then definitely in absolute probability (is that an oxymoron, or what?!) Unfortunately, I don’t think that we have enough detail about the variables to insert into the formulae to predict the future as clearly as it seems some of us might think. I see why people give up on the details and attribute their present, past, and future to deities or gods.

    The Boltzmann brain concept is fascinating.

    But I do wish that we could develop a carbon sink, one that we could draw upon in the future if we find ourselves at a deficit of CO2. Maybe a Carbon Reservoir of sorts. If nature will not moderate the process on our human timescale, perhaps we could. In my ignorance, it doesn’t seem impossible.

    Link to this
  33. 33. cesarpenafiel 10:34 pm 07/12/2014

    John, I was at the Dialogue as well, and completely agree with your assessment of how fascinating these debates were. Jesse Ausubel’s claims that the United States (implying that this trend will soon be followed by others) is reducing its consumption per capita of natural resources/water/energy is bothersome to me. When I asked about his accounting, his answer was “we probably export as much as we import”, which we clearly don’t. Wouldn’t you agree that if you did account for them, we are on the way up not down?

    Link to this
  34. 34. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 3:38 pm 07/14/2014

    Peter, thanks for the comment. As you may know, I once wrote about your activism, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/02/24/should-global-warming-activists-lie-to-defend-their-cause/. It seems to me that the Breakthroughers acknowledge the world’s complexities–political and economic as well as physical and biological–at least as much as more traditional greens do. There was lots of discussion–and disagreement–about these complexities at the meeting I attended. Maybe you should attend next year’s Dialogue yourself to make sure that your concerns are heard.

    Link to this
  35. 35. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 3:43 pm 07/14/2014

    You put this question to Ausubel during public Q&A, right? I agree it’s an important issue for assessing Ausubel’s stats on resource consumption. I hope he and/or others can address it.

    Link to this

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