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The New Materialist Radical Energy Proposal, Part 2: Interview With Kevin Mequet

I got to chat with Kevin about his big idea, philosophy, how science has been compromised by capitalism in some respects, and what it might take to test his theory, among other things. If anyone has further questions and is interested in discussing what is presented here, I know Kevin loves to answer questions, so please comment.

Me: So this is obviously pretty informal, my goal is just to ask questions that I have that clarify your theory in a way that I can explain it for friends who aren’t into science, although I have to say after going through the chapter a few times it gets clearer with each subsequent read.

KM: Excellent. That is the one thing most important to me. Fire away.

Me: Well just on a personal note of curiosity, how did you get into this work? Someone told me you don’t do this for a living?

KM: No. My training is architecture and I worked on projects around the globe. I’ve always maintained an intense interest in science and math. Einstein is a passion for me.

Me: Pretty incredible. And you have training in religion?

KM: Yes, I have studied at PSR GTU Berkeley with Bishop John Shelby Spong, who goes by Jack.

Me: So how did you get to know Clayton and Jeff and get linked up with the project?

KM: I moved to Conway to provide long-term care for my Mom. She had a medical incident in 2005 that threatened her live. So serendipity brought me back to AR. Clayton had just moved the year before to UCA. He and my Mom bonded over the Kerry campaign 2004.

I was searching for a project to occupy myself with I saw Roscoe Bartlett’s presentation on Hubbert and peak oil in 2006. I talked to Clayton about it and it turned out he was studying it too. Clayton heard a presentation on Spong and the Easter Moment where I used Heidegger in an intriguing way. We hit it off.

Me: was there a moment where you realized that traditional approaches were never going to work? Was there a catalyst of sorts that launched you out the box in order to think in such a novel way?

200px-Difference_and_RepetitionKM: Exactly. That’s what led us to read Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition together.

Me: Could you say a little bit about what philosophy has to offer the “hard” sciences? One thing about the chapter in the book is the linking of a continental philosopher with physics. Analytic philosophy seems to be the handmaiden of “science,” but rarely to you see someone like Deleuze talked about in the same breath as physics.

KM: That is the primary problem. Deleuze’s synthesis is not appreciated generally. Analytics presents a problem. It becomes a circular vortex of confirmation/disconfirmation bias shutting off new innovative thinking. I liken it to my experience at CommArts Boulder. First a good idea must be visualized then the execution must follow. Most people just jump to execution and cut off critical thinking.

Me: So the kind of creativity that comes with Deleuze’s view of philosophy, i.e. the creation of “concepts” that he talks about in “What is Philosophy” might be missing in other disciplines? A more positivistic view does seem to shut off innovation…

KM: Right, it’s self-reinforcing leading one further astray.

Philosophers are reading him analytically and missing him completely. Mathematicians and physicists can’t read his philosophy. With the exception of Manuel DeLanda who is an architect too, not coincidentally, I think.

Me: Could you say more about what they are missing?

KM: What they’re missing is what Dick Feynman said of Einstein. He did his greatest work when he was visualizing the problem first then working the math.

ME: Ok. So now to the theory. The chapter says that 19th century thermodynamics was only concerned with a specialized circumstance of equilibrium thermodynamics that lead to a steady state of heat. Could you clarify for those of us who were in remedial physics what equilibrium thermodynamics are?

KM: Deleuze visualizes the limitations of Platonic/Aristotlean dogma and proposed new ideas. Then those ideas could have an effect of influencing math and physics if they would listen. That’s a big problem. In the laboratory mechanical engineers were interested in making better steam engines. So early physicists were universalizing that work in inappropriate ways that led to the false conclusions of ‘disorder’ and heat death. Earth systems and the universe are diverse processes of energy flow far from equilibrium or steady state or death.

Me: So scientists were lead astray it seems via capitalism, more efficient engines for transportation and commerce and that lead the entire discipline away from seeing earth systems in an appropriate way?

KM: Exactly so, Bo. The key insight is that all systems tend from a gradient to reduce it by the most efficient means. This is what the Principle of Least Action is all about. Spontaneous structure formation to most efficiently degrade gradients. Self-organization and Nature Abhors a Gradient.

Me: Can we get back to Deleuze? What do you mean that he figured this out in 1968? You mean when in D&R he talked about the world as an “egg”?

KM: Sort of. The chapter #5 Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible is not understood or appreciated to the degree it should be. He did all the non-equilibrium thermodynamics above in the chapter but well before the nomenclature and work existed.

Me; So about the two major problems you attempt to solve in this chapter. Essentially, ferromagnetic materials need a magnetic driver to be paramagnetized, or made magnetic, above the curie temperature?

KM: Well, yes, but with caveats of course. There are serious caveats because the fields or material physics, condensed matter physics and quantum state physics, are evolving as we speak.

Ferromagnetism is the property of an element to become conventionally magnetized and retain that magnetism. I just want to be careful here because it sounds like science fiction and could be dismissed as such.

Me: Why is the earth’s core and mantle paramagnetized and ordered, not jumbled and what is the natural process that does this?

KM: This is where the storm in a bottle experiment is helpful. This is my favorite one because it communicates across disciplines and generations. 

Me: And I see how the “nature abhors a gradient” / principle of least action plays here.

KM: The interior of the earth is not static like an experiment in the lab. Just like equilibrium thermodynamics in the lab isn’t what’s happening in the world.

Me: So the mantle/core materials are in motion just dozens of storms in a bottle?

Multiple Storms In a Bottle as temperature/ density gradients� (borrowed from Kevin's powerpoint presentation on the subject)

Multiple Storms In a Bottle as temperature/ density gradients (borrowed from Kevin’s powerpoint presentation on the subject)

KM: Right. Huge siphon structures organizing the magnetic moments.

and entropy is much different at that scale than in a lab. The nuclear element decay chains are heating the materials and paramagnetizing them too. First, during planet formation in the solar nebular phase there’s a transition from heat/collision agglomeration into gravity well formation and accretion.

Me: What causes the transition?

KM: For the inner rocky, or ‘geo,’ planets, the first one to get to the gravity accretion phase sucks up the lion’s-share of heavy elements in the solar nebular disc

Accumulation of materials related to volume of that accumulation.

Our contention is that Earth reached that transition first and gobbled up the majority share of fertile/fissile materials in the so-called terrestrial zone. We talk about this in the book.

During formation most of the heat is generated by collision and gravity well compression. Lots of heat but very little from the nuclear decay chains. That happens later.

Earth was spinning much faster and closer to sun during this phase. When a crust began forming 500 million years later that blanket began insulating the heat inside trapping it. It’s at this time the siphons begin forming, the decay chains start interacting and internal heating transfers from majority compression to minority compression — majority nuclear decay chain interactions.

Today compression/insulation accounts for 48% of heating. Nuclear decay chain interactions 52%, the rotation of Earth keeps the siphons spinning

Me: Ah like the bottle experiment…

KM: Just like the boy rotating the bottles a bit at right angle to the vertical axis of rotation of the syphon, yes!

Me: ok, we have lots of these huge siphons creating about half the heat?

KM: While all this is happening the materials are also paramagnetized by the same interactions — side and VERY important benefit.

Me: paramagnetized by the siphons, not the compression/insulation?

KM: The siphons don’t create the heat. They are resultant from the heat/density gradients.

The siphons self-organize the paramagnetism into a coherent global dipole effect that evolves over time. Vast time.

Me: Ok, so compression/insulation creates all the incredible heat, but incredibly powerful siphons are formed to correct the gradients that such compression causes? And if the siphons are organizing the paramagnetism, what is it again that is responsible for its

Gradient reduction

Gradient reduction

creation in the first place?

KM: Perfect. You now have the exact chicken-&-egg scenario. Hard to distinguish what happened first. Coincident happenings. Interrelated and interdependent

Me: ok. so curie temperature means the core is way too hot for magnetism, but somehow, the material was paramagnetized around the time of these siphons form…

KM: Ferromagnetism, yes.

Me: which are a product of the heat and the abhorrence of gradients created by all of that heat and pressure

KM: Yeah. That’s right. But they have been evolving. Remember the pole reversals?

Me: Indeed

KM: I have an animated pole reversal in the ppx to illustrate. And images of computer modeled siphons too.

It might be possible to engineer my generator to take advantage of the pole reversal as an alternating current format.

Me: Ok but this brings us to radioelectromagnetism which doesn’t behave like  electromagnetism and produces the paramagnetism?

KM: Yes. Exactly right.

Me: Ok, so that would be the second problem, the natural process that electrifies the magnetohydrodynamic materials. Without the siphons the paramagnetism would cancel out — not global magnetic dipole

KM: Yes

Me: So the mistake is thinking all of this in terms of electricity and not the magnetism given off by certain nuclear events?

KM: Yes. Fissile/Fissionable/Fission elements are spontaneously unstable, only U235 and Pu239.Fertile materials are almost but not quite unstable. All other nuclear elements and isotopes. There can be no electricity in the interior of the earth because of the heat. And iron is very poor piezoelectric material. Piezoelectricity is the property of an element to carry an electric current.

Me: Meaning?

KM: Meaning another process is at work that doesn’t behave like electromagnetism. That’s what Feynman & Gell-Mann’s Theory of the Fermi Interaction is all about. Substitute electromagnetism for radioelectromagnetism. Clayton wouldn’t let me get that technical in the book! Every nuclear interaction produces a pack of ‘strange’ magnetism > paramagnetism, by nuclear decay means.

Me: And scientists missed that before because of theories of electromagnetism and not radioelectromagnetism? The connection between nuclear decay and magnetism was overlooked?

KM: Radioelectromagnetism is mine if things go well. I give full credit to Feynman/Gell-Mann! Exactly right. Overlooked. For 55 years.

Me: so these nuclear decays are always happening in the materials of the earth’s mantle and core? Because they’re so hot? Or does it have to do with the gradient

KM: They decay chains are making the heat and density gradient.

Me: Gotcha. So what kind of resources would be necessary to create the kind of model you talk about at the end of the chapter? What are the practical ways forward?

KM: A few labs with robotic manipulation for crafting radio armatures. A couple of year to prototype test the idea. Need to get buy-in from a couple of universities and entrepreneurs, push both directions. Strangely enough, the very thermal nuclear powerplants we’ve been building for more than 60 years, now approaching decommissioning would make excellent candidates for testing and eventually manufacturing these very generators. Don’t forget. When the fertile elements are converted the unit needs to be refurbished to put the new fissile elements into new fertile-converting generators. One can easily see the benefits of pursuing this technology. We can clean up the previous technology’s mess as we introduce an improved way to generate electricity going forward.

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24 responses

  1. Eric E

    Can you explain “physics beyond heat” a little more? As I read Chap. 6, it seems like all it meant was looking beyond *burning things* to produce energy. But we already do that and have done that for years with wind power and hydroelectric power. Do you mean something else than that?

    My other question was brought up on Tad’s blog – how do you plan to get beyond oil when one of the main advantages of oil is its portability? A high EROEI really doesn’t mean much if you can’t use the energy you produce.

    February 17, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    • Eric, as far as I can tell, “physics beyond heat” is physics beyond combustion, not just burning things. It is physics that looks at deriving energy from gradient movement, which is athermal,as opposed to even things like wind energy that still create energy by producing heat/friction (I’m being crude here, I’m not an expert). It is not to say that heat based energy sources like wind and solar and even nuclear are the problem, but that they cannot yield anywhere close to what we need (ch.6).

      As for portability, if something like Kevin’s solution were to be implemented, by understanding is the yield would be so high and so cost efficient building these reactors and moving it around shouldnt be a problem but I can ask him!

      February 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      • Eric E

        In my mind combustion and burning are the same thing. If there is some important distinction between the two relevant to this discussion, I’m not sure what it is. Wind generators do not produce energy through producing heat/friction. It transforms wind from mechanical to electromagnetic to electrical energy. There is heat loss because electrical generators are not 100% efficient but whatever Kevin is proposing is not going to be 100% efficient, either. The difference, as I see it, is that when you burn, say, coal or gasoline, the energy is coming from the chemical reactions that happen while burning (combustion) but this is not what happens with wind or hydroelectric (or even solar, for that matter). Which is to say, wind and solar aren’t “heat based.” Nuclear power plants are heat based because they use the energy released from splitting atoms to heat water up to produce steam to turn turbines.

        If that is all they mean then we already have a “physics without heat” in wind and solar. This isn’t an new paradigm. Really all Crockett, Robbins and Mequet seem to be proposing is a highly speculative form of cheap energy. I guess my question now is how do they square this with the fundamental problem they state in the introduction: “Western capitalism is based upon assumptions of indefinite if not infinite growth… and the capitalist machine is desperately searching for more resources to fuel ever-shorter periods of apparent productivity or profitability.” Isn’t a proposal in their book for high energy yield, low cost energy just a reinforcement of this capitalist problem? Their solution seems to be “let’s figure out how to continue our exponential rate of energy growth,” which seems no different than what an oil company might say.

        And I apologize if this is explained in the book… I’ve been trying to get a hold of it. I’ve been able to read the introduction online and a few snippets of the chapters on energy but not much else.

        February 17, 2013 at 9:16 pm

  2. Hi Eric,

    Bo asked me to take a look. Let me see if I can answer your question. If I don’t, narrow it down for me, will you? Two issue are getting conflated and I wish to pull them apart for a moment. Wind energy is dependent upon two inputs. The available prevailing winds which are subject to diurnal cycles, climatic fronts, meteorological transient events and unpredictable intermittancy. That’s an important one that is problematic for the current state of grid delivery. The second is the hydrocarbon inputs to mine material resources, transport them, refine/prodess them, fabircate components, assembly, transport of the compents to site, delivery/staging, fabricate the assemblies and maintain them onsite. The doesn’t even take into account the specialized infrastructure inputs to get the harvested electricity to markets for consumption — all kinds of hydrocarbon inputs to do this.

    But this isn’t even the most important problem associated with wind, tide, solar thermal and photovoltaics. The real proplem is finding — often in the most remote regions — getting and transporting the so-called rare-earth elements that are manditory to manufacture the devices, particularly the high-density gauss flux ferromagnets. The truly wasteful thing is that copious amounts of feritle thorium nuclear isotopes coexist with these so-called rare-earths and are badly disposed of causing environmental pollution damage. To get these devices delivered in the guantities to make a difference the thorium pollution and hydrocarbon combustion is problematic. Do you see this?

    You are completely right. Burning and combustion are the same thing. The book is not written to be technically precise from a scientific or engineering standpoint. Some poetic license needs to be allowed for here. Thinking ‘beyond heat’ does not mean there’s no such thing as heat, nor that it is unimportant. You are correct and we do not mean this at all. All we’re suggesting is taking the primary focus off a heat-emphasis for a moment to look at other gradient processes to see what might be hidden behind the obvious hear orientation. A more chaotic complexity view in way. Realizing of course that there are important difficulties to address with that too. Does this help?

    The generator idea addresses 4 important concerns. First, once deployed and diffused in our global economies it will eventually replace hydrocarbon combutstion for doing usable economic work. Second, it would be fully scalable and independently discrete. Third, it would convert the 559/560ths of fertile nuclear isotopes — of which 3/4s is thorium being wastefully and dangerously thrown away — into useful fissile isotopes. Fourth, and the most imporant benefit, is we would have the expanded electrical energy capability to clean up and reuse existing thermal nuclear waste, and excess CO2 out of our atmosphere.

    We appreciate your reading carefully and not blindly accepting ambiguous language. Does this help?

    February 17, 2013 at 10:13 pm

  3. Eric E

    Thanks for replying Kevin. I am pretty intimately aware of all the issues related to electric generators that you mention (I’m an engineer and I design electric motors for a living). My question, however, was not “Why not wind power (or solar or tidal or whatever) instead of your generator idea?” I’m in full agreement that scaling up our use of solar and wind and other renewables is not feasible for many of the reasons you listed above and more. Rather, what I’m questioning is 2 things.

    1) Wind and solar and other renewables of this type, while flawed in the ways you say, are already “without heat” in that they don’t directly rely on combustion to produce energy. So my question is this a “new energy paradigm” if we already produce energy without heat.

    2) Why shouldn’t I view your proposal for yet another cheap source of energy as a reinforcement of the capitalist fantasy of indefinite growth? This is the main issue in my view. If the the fundamental problem of Western capitalism, as laid out in the introduction to the book, is that it assumes indefinite/infinite growth under finite resources, then why does the book propose what looks to be a concept that could continue our energy growth even farther?

    February 18, 2013 at 1:20 am

  4. HI Eric,

    I think I see your point now. As to question 1, you’re right; wind, tide and solar photovoltaic are not heat-dependent. It’s just extraordinarily poor in preformance, while renewable, which is laudable, they’re intermittant which renders them unreliable for base- and/or peakload. My main concern is that they are hydrocarbon-based because they require them to be manufactured, transported and maintained.

    As to your second question. I think you’re right on point. This is the issue. You cannot have economic activity without high EROEI, low unit cost energy. This is the basis of the financialization crisis that the globe hasn’t recovered from. Humankind started this rollercoaster around 600 years ago — in the west. I have just learned that China and East Asia were another matter entriely where hydrocarbon use is concerned, going back more than a thousand years and much further, possibly. The problem is that the potential crash is catastrophic. Extinction level catastrophic. The 2nd Law is implacible. There’s no free lunch. The unprecedented innovation and technology explosion we enjoy must be paid for. As I see it that is increased EROEI performance. I have a personal view that’s purely speculative. We have always lived under the circunstances of energy scarcity that combines so deleteriously with capitalism. I think Jevon’s Paradox and Pielke’s Law are aslo implacible. Abstinance and privation will not work. I think producing more energy than we can use will move us to new forms of economies beyond capitalism. So when we say physics beyond heat we concurrently mean economics beyond capitalism. My contention is that David Goodstein is right when he says, ‘Fusion has been just 25 years away for most of my life; I suspect it will always be 25 years away.’ I believe one reason is that we will never get to fusion from liquid hydrocarbons. We only get to fusion when we successfully solve the well-suited fission problem. Therefore I once again agree with Goodstein, ‘Fusion is humankind’s longterm hope.’

    The other issue we cannot avoid is that we’ve gone beyond the point of no return on anthropogenic global chaotic climate change. Unless we unleash massive amounts of electricity energy we cannot cleanup the mess we’ve been making for nearly 300 years. Al Gore is right. We must stop using our atmosphere as a sewer — and we must clean up the mess we’ve made too. I wrote more but I deleted it. It’s too horriying to post here. Let’s just say the future on the path we’re on right now is not desirable. We must make a change. My chosen method is to do what humankind has been doing for the last 600 years. Transition to the next better-performing EROEI energy technique.

    February 18, 2013 at 3:46 am

    • Eric E

      It’s not really true that they *require* hydrocarbons to be manufactured, transported and maintained. Insofar as most of our energy comes from hydrocarbons right now you are of course right but there’s really no reason you couldn’t build a wind generator factory that runs off renewables and use a fleet of electric powered vehicles to transport them and maintain them. Even your proposed generators will be built on the backs of hydrocarbons, so this isn’t really the issue in my opinion. The question is whether wind/solar/etc. would be scalable to meet all our energy wants and I think we both agree it isn’t. But, again, this isn’t really my concern. My concern is with the claim that your “without heat” is some new paradigm when it clearly isn’t.

      Regarding transitioning to a higher EROEI technique, doesn’t Jevon’s paradox tell us that if that happens our consumption will increase that much more? Isn’t this the fundamental crisis of Western capitalism that is identified in the introduction of the book (finite resources yet indefinite consumption)? There is a contradiction here and your reply doesn’t really answer this.

      February 18, 2013 at 6:44 am

      • Ah, but it does address your point. The point of Jevons’ paradox is to consume more. Correct. We will consume more. What we’re trying to do globally right now is consume more without paying for it. That’s what is implacable about the 2nd Law. My point is that we must accept that we must pay for it. We will pay for it one way or the other. I’m suggesting we pay for it by increasing EROEI capability. The other way is paying for it with an anthropogenic runaway supergreenhouse event that extinguishes most of the life on the planet. Nature always balances her books. Math works. This is Deleuze’s point in ‘D&R’. The virual is mathematics and science. The actual is human intelligence put in action by instrumentality and execution. The virual is just a real as the actual. Both/and, distunguishable, yet indivisible; preferencing or extinguishing neither. New studies show the photon is wave and particle at once, at the same time. The virual/actual is the same. This is basis of the New Materialism.

        February 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm

  5. Eric E

    No, it doesn’t address my point. The contradiction is still there. Your solution to the problem of indefinite growth (despite finite resources) is to say “Hey, don’t worry, we’ll just use our finite resources more efficiently (we’ll get more for less) and *then* we can carry on with our indefinite growth.” You aren’t “paying for it,” you are delaying paying for it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s great that your proposal is greenhouse gas free, but that doesn’t really address the fundamental problem that is mentioned in the intro.

    February 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    • Dear Eric,

      I’m afraid I don’t agree with you, but it serves little useful purpose to argue. We are talking passed one another. I see it one way. You see it another. I pray the two are not incommenserable. I am interested in getting successfuly to fusion. That’s why I quoted Goodstein. You are right. I am putting off the inevitable — but with the purpose of delayed gratification in getting to an important outcome. That being to get our human societies successfully to fusion and averting the reality of a runaway anthropogenic supergreenhouse event in the process is my goal. Not perpetuating the immorality of the sins of capitalism. But to do that we must use capitalism to get there. I’m just accepting the reality of the situation. You can carge sitautionalism and contengiency. I plead guilty of the charge. We will just have to see what happens. One path leads to fusion and a viable future for humankind on spaceship Earth. The other leads to certain close of the Anthropocene Epoch. The Earth is just fine. It has processed 6 prior mass extinction events. The open question is will humankind survive its adolescence? I pray so. This is how I see it. I am entitled to my view just as you are to yours.

      February 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm

      • Eric E

        Well that was a disappointing response (did you really just write ” I am entitled to my view just as you are to yours”?). Anyway, I wasn’t really looking for you to agree with me, I was looking for a response to an apparent contradiction that I noticed.

        February 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm

  6. Well, all I can say is that it is not an Aristotelan contradticton. In fact, it isn’t even a Hellenistically derivative logical contradiction. It’s a Deleuzian difference and repetition. I have tried to express my thinking on this. You do not agree with my thinking. Where can we go from here other than accept the impasse as I’ve stated it? I do genuinely thank you for expressing interest in our work.

    February 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

  7. Eric E

    I don’t understand the need for you to make this into a matter of agreement/disagreement. Whether I agree or disagree with you is beside the point … I’m just looking for a response to my question. (And I’m under no illusion that you need to answer my question but you framing this as some unbridgeable impasse is unhelpful.)

    February 18, 2013 at 8:04 pm

  8. Dear Eric,

    I don’t wish to be argumentative. What is the point in that? Bo, Clayton Crockett and Jeff Robbins are important collaborators whom I respect greatly and I do not wish to make comments on an open forum that would reflect negatively upon them or me. I’ve tried to express myself within the limits of my responsiblity in contributing to Crocket & Robbins’ book. This doesn’t appear to suit you. All I can ask is that you meditate upon my responses and see if you might gain insight into my thinking. I’m pretty clear about yours. I laud you for your ethical stance. We do not have to agree — but we do need to be respectful of one another.

    February 19, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    • Eric E

      I don’t wish to be argumentative either and perhaps the question I am asking is better suited to Crockett or Robbins (I don’t know the extent to which you contributed to the book’s main arguments). And I don’t look negatively on any of you because of this exchange. But looking over our back-and-forth I realized I wasn’t as clear as I could have been so I’d like to make explicit the issue I see. I apologize in advance for the length.

      I mentioned above about production vs. consumption. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that your device performs better than expected. It vastly outperforms the 30,000:1 EROEI. So much so that for all practical purposes the EROEI is infinite. Additionally, let’s say that not only is the EROEI infinite but this new method of energy production gives off zero heat. So we have a clean, cheap, unlimited supply of energy that not only requires no input energy to produce energy but it is also 100% efficient because it gives off no waste energy in the form of heat (or light or sound or any other form of “waste” energy). This is free energy and its obviously impossible, but I use it here only to highlight that the problem is energy consumption, not production.

      As of 2009, world energy consumption was approx. 4.8 BTU/year which ends up being 1.6 x 10^13 W. For the sake of argument, let’s say that our energy consumption will grow at 2.329% indefinitely. Current growth is slightly higher than that at ~2.9%, I believe, but using 2.329% makes the math easy – every 100 years results in 10x growth. So, in the year 2109 we will consume 1.6 x 10^14 W and in 2209 we will consume 1.6 x 10^15 W and so on. Our production can keep up with this because we have an infinite EROEI and 100% efficient energy source.

      The main issue we encounter when we assume indefinite/infinite energy growth is heat. Consuming energy creates heat. Lighting our houses, heat/cooling our homes, driving our vehicles, and sawing wood all create heat. Now, not all the work we do creates heat but most of it does. We obviously have energy stored in batteries and we have potential energy stored in the building materials on the 100th floor of skyscrapers. That’s all stored energy that isn’t heat and may or may not be converted to heat in the future. And some very small amount of energy may escape the earth into space (e.g., if somebody shined a laser toward the sky). I don’t know what percentage of energy consumed is transformed to heat but it has to be very high (>90%) because we just don’t have a large amount of energy storage.

      As we transform more energy to heat, we will inevitably raise the temperature of the Earth. The question is how long can we sustain this growth? We can’t sustain it indefinitely, that is for sure. As an upper bound, let’s assume we are consuming as much energy as the sun produces. Given that the surface area of the earth is less than the the surface area of the sun, that means the Earth would be hotter than the sun if it produced just as much heat. At 2.329% growth, how long would it take us to consume that much energy? Assuming 90% of what we consume turns to heat, then we’d reach it at just over 1500 years. As I said, if this were even possible it would mean that the surface of the earth would be hotter than the surface of the sun (6000 degrees!). But this is just an upper bound to give us a rough idea of time. Realistically, if you do the math, the Earth can really only tolerate a few hundred years of growth in energy consumption (definitely less than 500) before the planet is hotter than global warming would ever make it. And this is assuming a 100% efficient energy source! Please check the math/physics yourself if you don’t trust it. I’m certainly not the first person to notice this and I’ve checked and rechecked this myself. And feel free to play with the assumptions I make concerning growth and heat transformation. If anything I was being conservative with my assumptions, but even if I wasn’t the main point to take away is that indefinite growth of energy consumption is a problem, even if we improve our energy production immensely.

      So, given this, can you see why I see a contradiction? Can you see why – when I see a theology book on the one hand identify a real problem (indefinite/infinite growth in the face of scarce resources) and on the other hand present a proposal that enables this problem to continue – that I see a contradiction? Not a logical contradiction but a contradiction in goals. Saying X is a problem but then proposing a way to continue doing X. The authors seem to think that making the *source* of energy plentiful will fix the problems they identify but they fail to see that we run into a scarcity problem with what to do with the waste (heat) we produce when we consume so much. It is scarcity of space, not of material resources. What is finite is our own planet, not just oil or coal or natural gas.

      February 20, 2013 at 3:53 am

  9. I see your point, Eric. The logical problem I have is with your incorrect conflation that 30,000:1 EROEI is infinite. It is very large. It isn’t infinite. Not even close. What proceeds from this error is problematic. I can confidently state that Clayton Crockett, Jeff Robbins and I did not say nor would we promote that adoption of my radical proposal would solve all our proplems. I am adamant this would not be the case. We are suggesting that in our current situation this is a necessary next step upon the road humankind has embarked. This move will produce new problems to be solved in the future. I defer to Einstein on this. ‘The thinking that got us to where we are will be insufficient to solve all the problems resulting from having gotten there.’ New more impactful thinking would be required moving forward. This is the never-ending vocation of human being. I see no other way to be.

    February 20, 2013 at 5:13 am

    • Eric E

      You saw the part where I said “for the sake of argument” I’ll assume it vastly outperforms your 30,000:1 estimate and where I said this is free energy that is obviously impossible, right? That’s not an “error” it’s a hypothetical. And I never said that you guys thought your proposal would solve all our problems! How did you get that from anything I wrote?

      I’m wondering what others think of this conversation …

      February 20, 2013 at 5:43 am

  10. I saw ‘for the sake of arguemmt.’ I’m telling you that’s a poor logical move. That’s why I believe you are being argumentative. Eric, I welcome your criticisms. I don’t mean I grudgingly tolerate them. I mean I am genuinely honored and privileged that you are pushing back. It helps me immeasurably — and Bo, Crockett and Robbins. If I’m wrong I promise you I will change my view. I want to know if I’m wrong. I just so happen to think I’m not in this case. That’s all I’m saying. Thank you for inviting other voices. I have to say we might be a little intimidating to many people. We’re using math! We may be arguing but I also promise you I respect you and your ethical commitments.

    Also, you are very right to state if we continue combustion as a primary method of doing useful work, scaling that up will exceed the bearing capacity of the Earth. Go back to the beginning of this discussion please. This is the reason an athermal technique is manditory going foward in our view. I suspect we said this imprecisely iin the book and you’re calling us on it. Good call. This is why I asked you to make allowances for the limitations of the book. It is not meant to be technically accurate in all respects. It’s a taste of a wrok in progress. You’re getting a taste of the idea. Not the idea fully formed yet.

    You said you thought wind and solar photovoltaic were non-heat approaches that were vaild instead of pursuing my radical proposal that would perpetuate the capitalistic impulse. You are right. I accept your observation. But when considering EROEI, the intermittancy problems of wind and solar photovolaic and the pollution problems I cited I said I thought this wouldn’t be the case. We have two differing views on this. I think my points are valid. You think your points are valid. Please, let’s allow everyone reading this the space for them to come to their own conclusions.

    February 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm

  11. I forgot to mention you also said hydroelectic generation too. Forgive the overeight.

    February 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm

  12. Eric E

    I’m not sure how I can articulate my point any clearer so I think I will have to stop after this post. I will just point out that you still are misreading what I’ve said. My argument about the earth heating up had nothing to do with combustion. That’s why I assumed a 100% efficient, infinite EROEI energy source. And that’s fine if you think that’s a poor logical move but the least you could do is give one small inkling of a hint as to *why* you think that. I’d like to say you’re being argumentative here but an argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. All you’re doing is taking a contrary position. And, I think you’ll see, if you read my argument carefully, that the reason I made that assumption was to establish an upper bound and that if you actually take into account the inefficiencies and lower EROEI of our actual energy sources that our planet will heat up that much faster.

    I’m also not sure why you think we have 2 differing views on solar, wind and other renewables when I CLEARLY said above “I’m in full agreement that scaling up our use of solar and wind and other renewables is not feasible for many of the reasons you listed above and more.”

    You can have the last word, if you wish.

    February 20, 2013 at 1:40 pm

  13. Eric, your suspicion is related to that of Mark Lewis Taylor, who expressed a similar concern at Union last week. And you’re right insofar as there is an incredible tension (I wouldn’t quite call it a contraditions) between the problem as we express it and the solution in terms of Kevin’s idea. They don’t fit together seamlessly, but that’s the point. If you read it as a linear, progressive and developmental solution, which involves a huge leap from the hypothetical to the actual, then yes, there is this contradiction. But we’re not trying to say that this is THE Answer, but rather to provide an example that would open up a different kind of conversation and possibility. I think Kevin is right that if it would work it would bring about its own problems as well as its own solutions, but the commitment to materialism and to humanity demands a kind of experimentalism that is incarnated in this idea.

    February 20, 2013 at 8:28 pm

  14. My point is that I don’t think there’s any other way to make it make sense than to present it in developmental terms, even though that reinforces the irony or the tension. But the reality would have to be different from the virtual idea, such that it’s premature to foreclose something like this at this point, while acknowledging that we would still have serious and endemic problems of resource scarcity, over-population, inequitable distribution, etc.

    February 20, 2013 at 8:30 pm

  15. Pingback: Religion, Politics & the Earth all over the Theo-Blogs!

  16. Pingback: The Logic of the New Materialsim and the Courts » Theoprudence

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