January 10, 2012

New Scientist Attempts to Serve up Revised Limits to Growth

New Scientists has an article about revisiting the prophecies of Boom and Doom from the book Limits to Growth

Limits to Growth used the MIT World3 computer model to predict that boom would be followed by bust: a sharp decline in industrial output, food production and population. In other words, the collapse of global civilisation.

World3 was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The team took what was known about the global population, industry and resources from 1900 to 1972 and used it to develop a set of equations describing how these parameters affected each other. Based on various adjustable assumptions, such as the amount of non-renewable resources, the model projected what would happen over the next century.

Ugo Bardi has a book The Limits to Growth Revisited.

Nextbigfuture has refuted Ugo Bardi's claim that uranium cannot be extracted from Seawater for net energy gain.

Ugo looks at the Strait of Gibraltar which carries an ocean current of about 1 Sverdrup.

Japan has proposed various scaling up plans for uranium from seawater They look at the Black Current (42 Sverdrup, 42 times stronger than the current Ugo looked at) in the ocean off of Japan and how much materials it is moving.

Ugo considers a process where membranes for uranium extraction are carried at sea, submerged for a while, raised, brought back to land for processing, and then the cycle is repeated.

Japan is looking at offshore processing, which would save the fuel costs of bringing the absorbent from the ocean to a land based facility.

Japan has lab scale work for extraction of uranium from seawater that is about twice the current cost of traditionally mined uranium using cotton dipped in juice with a lot of tannins.

Ugo also bases his calculations on once through reactors. Switching to advanced breeder reactors or extensive reprocessing can increase the efficiency of uranium usage by 60 times.

Bottom Line - Ugo is over 100 times too pessimistic in the near term and over 10,000 times too pessimistic in the longer term on uranium from seawater.

The Limits to Growth Revisited claims are :

1. Limits to Growth did not predict that the collapse would happen at 2000 or before.
2. Limits to Growth included technological fix scenarios

They did not and do not have a full set of the technological fixes that are happening today.

They do not consider how large the buffers are against collapse. World War 2 level rationing can be used to reduce energy and food requirements by over 90%.

Nextbigfuture has gone over various steps that can be taken to avert collapse in an article in 2009. Sorry Collapsitarians, Doomers and Dystopians a Full Collapse Will Not Happen.

One thing of note is that most people usually think that Hitler and Stalin were bad guys for killing or causing the death of about 100 million people. Most of the civilization die off scenarios are that level of death each and every year for 70 years. 1000 times the number of deaths in the holocaust. Why is there the belief that significant mitigation efforts would not be made ?

Why it Won't Happen

1. Efficiency, conservation and an energy plans can be enhanced beyond current levels with minimal strain. There has been partially voluntary reductions in energy demand during the credit crisis. 10% reductions with minimal effort and 20% reductions with more austerity.

2. Rationing of food, fuel and clothes was successfully maintained in many countries during World War 2. Any resource decline or environmental situation can have governments use rationing to buy time for a transition.

The UK had stricter rationing than the USA during and after the war.

Thus it shows that oil and food supplies can be greatly reduced while maintaining a war-level mobilization.

90% reductions can be handled in this way and possibly more.

3. Some simple and rapid transitions are possible. Ban or confiscate large gas guzzling vehicles and only allow light weight all electric or super-efficient vehicles other than freight trucks and heavy delivery trucks. In less than one year a mobilized effort with shifts in the weight of vehicles permitted and loosened safety and bureaucratic regulations to speed the changes.

4. Rapid switchover for the electricity generation infrastructure. A war-time level mobilized switchover for electricity generation could be achieved quickly. Lift regulatory restrictions on nuclear power. Weld together containment domes to get around production limitations on large forgings. Use the staff of coal plants for the new nuclear plants. The staff of early nuclear plants did come from the coal plants. Nuclear staffing levels were 200 or less originally.

5. In regards to global warming and environmental concerns:
* a rapid switchover to totally clean power would stop the air pollution of coal and most oil and would greatly reduce any additional CO2
* geoengineering can be used to reduce global temperatures if necessary
* if the beliefs of climate change being from man-made sources are right then we are already geoengineering by accident as a side effect of our industry. It will be cheaper and easier to geoengineer to cancel those accidental side effects with intentional reversal efforts

6. A real space age can be started right away with technology that we already have.

Spacex is working on reusable rockets that would lower the cost for getting into space by 100 times.

7. If there was a global war over resources. There would be clear winners. In all out war there would be clear losers. The US would not lose.

8. There is plenty of technology now and a lot more that will be available soon to innovate away doomer scenarios.

* biofuels and synthetic fuels are already at about 10% of total fuel levels. If there was a need to replace all oil tomorrow a combination of world war 2 level rationing and biofuels and synthetics would be sufficient (Germany invented to coal to liquid fuel technology back in World War 2.)
* There are significant levels of hydroelectric, wind, and nuclear power
* If any of the challenges can be staved off for ten years or so there will be significant transitions to new technology (electric and hybrid vehicles) and the availability of more new technology

9. Financial doom scenarios
* Mandated resets of debt forgiveness, re-issuing script etc... can be used to reboot a country or a financial system
* People and systems for production would still exist even if there was 1000 trillion in debt

10. All out nuclear war would kill less than 50% of the population. Current nuclear arsenals are reduced by ten times from the peak.

There are valid extinction risks and scenarios with several listed and discussed at the Lifeboat Foundation.

Generally the extinction effects have to be so rapid that their is no time to mitigate or adapt. Space based phenomena like massive asteroid or a nearby gamma ray burster are the kind of situation that we currently could not handle. This is why there is need to stop pissing around with penny ante crap and get serious about moving civilization to full Kardashev level II. At that level there is no known threat other than all out super-war that would be a risk to such a civilization. Even things like the sun going nova could be detected and handled as such a civilization would have its own highly efficient nuclear fusion and other power sources.

Some General comments

The uranium extraction part is just one that I have happened to have rebutted in more detail. I have also said that are several points where Limits to Growth is off by a factor of 10 or more. Food and resources and population can go cause ten times over use and WW2 level rationing prevents wide spread deaths and collapse.

Food production has plenty of cushion in the developed world. Cow meat uses ten times the level of grain per pound. Shifting to fish or soy would be 5 to 10 times more efficient.

I have addressed environmental air and water pollution fixes frequently in other articles.

The availability of resources in the ocean and on the ocean floor and on land is underestimated by hundreds to thousands of times.

The resources that are available in the solar system increases resources by a billion times and energy by a trillion times.

In the near, mid term and long term even the Revised Limits to Growth is pathetically flawed with many orders of magnitude errors.

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