The other day, a knowledgeable mechanical engineer I know stated this concern about the colossal challenge and, in his opinion, impossibility of switching to renewable energy machines in time to avoid a collapse from an ‘energy required to manufacture’ and global industrial capacity limitation in our civilization’s infrastructure.
“I admire your enthusiasm, and I agree with many of the points you make. Yes ICE (Internal Combustion Machines) waste high EROEI (energy return on energy invested) consistently, yes fossil fuels and conventional engineering has a warped distorted perspective because of the ICE, and yes we have an oil oligarchy protecting its turf.
However say we hypothetically made all the oil companies disappear tomorrow and where able to suspend the laws of time and implement our favorite renewables of choice and then where tasked with making certain all of societies critical needs were met we’d have a tall order. The devil is in the details and quantities.
Its the magnitudes, it’s 21 million barrels per day we are dependent on. Its created massive structural centralization that can only be sustained by incredible energetic inputs. Not enough wind, and not enough rare earth material for PVs to scale and replace. We have to structurally rearrange society to solve the problem. Distributed solar powered villages, not big cities and surely not suburbia. I fear we’ll sink very useful resources and capital towards these energy sources (as we arguably have with wind) when the real answer is structural change.”
The fact is that there are several multiples of the energy we now consume available just from wind power. This data came from a recent study by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Scientists.
He thinks we CAN’T do it even if we had enough wind because of the colossal challenge and, in his opinion, impossibility of switching to renewable energy machines in time to avoid a collapse due to the ‘energy required for global industrial capacity’ in our civilization’s infrastructure.
His solution is to survive the coming collapse with small distributed energy systems and a radically scaled down carbon footprint. Sadly, that option will not be available to a large percentage of humanity.
Hoping for a more positive future scenario, I analyzed his concerns to see if they are valid and we have no other option but to face a collapse and a die off with the surviving population living at much lower energy use levels.
I’m happy to report that, although the mechanical engineer has just cause to be concerned, we can, in reality, transition to 100% Renewable Energy without overtaxing our civilization’s resources.
This a slim hope but a real one based on history and the word’s present manufacturing might. Read on.
I give you the logistics aiding marvel of WWII, the Liberty Ship. It was THE JIT (just in time), SIT (sometimes in time) and sometimes NIT (never in time because it was torpedoed) cargo delivery system that helped us win the war.
This was a mass produced ship. These ships are a testament to the ability to build an enormous quantity of machines on a global scale that the U.S. was capable of over half a century ago.
“The Liberty ship model used two oil boilers and was propelled by a single-screw steam engine, which gave the liberty ship a cruise speed of 11 to 11.5 knots. The ships were 441.5 feet long, with a 57 foot beam and a 28 foot draft.”
“The ships were designed to minimize labor and material costs; this was done in part by replacing many rivets with welds. This was a new technique, so workers were inexperienced and engineers had little data to go on. Additionally, much of the shipyards’ labor force had been replaced with women as men joined the armed forces.”
“Because of this, early ships took quite a long time to build – the Patrick Henry taking 244 days –
but the average building time eventually came down to just 42 days.”
“A total of 2,710 Liberty ships were built, with an expected lifespan of just five years. A little more than 2,400 made it through the war, and 835 of these entered the US cargo fleet. Many others entered Greek and Italian fleets. Many of these ships were destroyed by leftover mines, which had been forgotten or inadequately cleared. Two ships survive today, both operating as museum ships. They are still seaworthy, and one (the Jeremiah O’Brien) sailed from San Francisco to England in 1994.”
These ships had a design flaw. The grade of steel used to build them suffered from embrittlement. Cracks would propagate and in 3 cases caused the ships to split in half and sink. It was discovered and remediated.
“Ships operating in the North Atlantic were often exposed to temperatures below a critical temperature, which changed the failure mechanism from ductile to brittle. Because the hulls were welded together, the cracks could propagate across very large distances; this would not have been possible in riveted ships.”
“A crack stress concentrator contributed to many of the failures. Many of the cracks were nucleated at an edge where a weld was positioned next to a hatch; the edge of the crack and the weld itself both acted as crack concentrators. Also contributing to failures was heavy overloading of the ships, which increased the stress on the hull. Engineers applied several reinforcements to the ship hulls to arrest crack propagation and initiation problems.”
This massive industrial achievement was effected by a combination of government policy, unlimited financing, maximum efficiency of construction with zero profit motive involved, sound engineering principles and, most importantly, by a workforce of women and minorities that were quickly trained to do the work and had no previous experience in ship building. And yet it was a spectacular success.
So remember that the next time you hear the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty Doubt) scaremongering propaganda claiming we just “can’t transition to 100% renewable energy” because of so many insurmountable obstacles”. My friend has fallen for the mendacious propaganda defending the fossil fuel poisonous status quo as something we need instead of something we desperately need to shirk for the survival of civilization.
That gigantic and monumental effort, that began in 1941 to build Liberty ships, had a precedent in the renewable energy technology massive national effort during the 1930s to build dams. Over 1500 dams were built in about a decade with a generating capacity of over 30% of the U.S. electrical grid. Building those dams electrified the nation and helped pull the country out of the Great Depression thanks to cheap renewable energy and sound government policy for renewable energy financing.
Considering that we, now in 2013, are at about 15% penetration of RE in our grid (about 15% LESS than in 1940!), can anybody claim with a straight face that there hasn’t been a concerted effort by fossil fuel (and nuclear power) special interest influences in our government to hamper the development of renewable energy? It seems the “national security” of fossil fuel and nuclear power profits is what many politicians and fossil fuelers are REALLY talking about when they wave the flag and ask Americans to defend “energy resources” in the foreign lands with our blood and our taxes.
You should look with a jaundiced eye at any published screed from the any main stream media outlet defending the fossil fuel status quo while pretending to favor renewable energy but lamenting it “just can’t be done” for ______ years (fill in 37 to 50 years – the current exhaustion of fossil fuel petroleum resources according to the fossil fuel industry studies). Isn’t that marvelously convenient?
I can write many hard, uncomfortable truths about how our energy policy has hampered renewable energy development over and over for the last 70 years (at least) but let me just give you this glaring example of how we have been manipulated for the profits of fossil fuel corporations.
Jump on the way back machine and go back to that war you thought worked out just great for the USA, the first Iraq war back in 1991. Read what this peer reviewed book (for those who disagree with the data, that means the facts are not disputable) quote by Dilworth has to say about how we-the-people have been callously used.
Dilworth (2010-03-12). Too Smart for our Own Good (pp. 399-400). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
“As suggested earlier, war, for example, which represents a cost for society, is a source of profit to capitalists. In this way we can partly understand e.g. the American military expenditures in the Persian Gulf area. Already before the first Gulf War, i.e. in 1985, the United States spent $47 billion projecting power into the region. If seen as being spent to obtain Gulf oil, It AMOUNTED TO $468 PER BARREL, or 18 TIMES the $27 or so that at that time was paid for the oil itself.
In fact, if Americans had spent as much to make buildings heat-tight as they spent in ONE YEAR at the end of the 1980s on the military forces meant to protect the Middle Eastern oil fields, THEY COULD HAVE ELIMINATED THE NEED TO IMPORT OIL from the Middle East.
So why have they not done so? Because, while the $468 per barrel may be seen as being a cost the American taxpayers had to bear, and a negative social effect those living in the Gulf area had to bear, it meant only profits for American capitalists. “
Note: I added the bold caps emphasis on the barrel of oil price, money spent in one year and the need to import oil from the Middle East.
And, of course, for some strange reason, you never read hard truths like the above in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times or The Washington Post, to name just three of the corporate mouthpieces in the main stream media. Certainly, if presented with the data , they don’t refute it because they can’t. However, pushing a certain message that defends the poisonous status quo can be done quite effectively by “errors” of omission or “misinterpretations of the available intelligence” (see Judith Miller of the NYT on Iraq “weapons of mass destruction”) without resorting to outright mendacity. They know their propaganda and they defend the fossil fuel and nuclear power status quo while claiming to be objective.
Fact check everything you read in the main stream media. Learn the stock portfolios of the owners of the media outlets and then you will be able to discern truth from mendacity. We all need to do this if we want a human future and a viable biosphere.
Let us now fast forward to our present day energy picture with the huge successful dam building project of the 1930s and the successful Liberty ship massive construction effort of the 1940s in mind.
Today, several countries have, as do we, a much greater industrial capacity. It is inaccurate to claim that we cannot produce sufficient renewable energy devices in a decade or so to replace the internal combustion engine everywhere in our civilization (or at least run those engines on ethanol biofuels until they are fully replaced).
The industrial capacity is there and is easily provable by asking some simple questions about the fossil fuel powered ICE status quo:
How long do ICE powered machines last?
How much energy does it require to mine the raw materials and manufacture the millions of engines wearing out and being replaced day in and day out?
What happens if ALL THAT INDUSTRIAL CAPACITY is, instead, dedicated to manufacturing Renewable Energy machines?
Since there is a ten to twenty year turnover rate NOW in our present civilization involving manufacture and replacement of the ICEs we use, why can’t we retool and convert the entire ICE fossil fuel dependent civilization to a Renewable Energy Machine dependent civilization?
1) The industrial capacity is certainly there to do it EASILY in two decades and maybe just ten years with a concerted push.
2) Since Renewable Energy machines use LESS metal and do not require high temperature resistant alloys, a cash for clunkers worldwide program could obtain more than enough metal raw material without ANY ADDITIONAL MINING (except for rare earth minerals – a drop in the bucket – compared to all the mining presently done for metals to build the ICE) by just recycling the ICE parts into Renewable Energy machines.
3) Just as in WWII, but on a worldwide scale, the recession/depression would end as millions of people would be put to work on the colossal transition to Renewable Energy.
HOWEVER, despite our ABILITY to TRANSITION TO 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY, we “CAN’T DO IT” because the fossil fuel industry has tremendous influence on the worldwide political power structure from the USA to the Middle East to Russia to China.
In other words, it was NEVER
1. An energy problem,
2. A “laws of thermodynamics” problem,
3. A mining waste and pollution problem,
4. A lack of wind or sun problem,
5. An environmental problem,
6. An industrial capacity problem or
7. A technology problem.
EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE ABOVE excuses for claiming Renewable Energy cannot replace Fossil Fuels are STRAWMEN presented to the public for the express purpose of convincing us of the half truth that without fossil fuels, civilization will collapse.
It was ALWAYS a POLITICAL PROBLEM of the fossil fuel industry not wanting to relinquish their stranglehold on the world’s geopolitical make up.
It drives them insane to think that Arizona and New Mexico can provide more power than all the oil in the Middle East. Their leverage over lawmakers and laws to avoid environmental liability is directly proportional to their market share of global energy supplies.
They are threatened by Renewable Energy and have mobilized to hamper its growth as much as possible through various propaganda techniques using all the above strawmen.
It is TRUE that civilization will collapse and a huge die off will occur without fossil fuels IF, and ONLY IF, Renewable Energy does not replace fossil fuels. It is blatantly obvious that we need energy to run our civilization.
It is ALSO TRUE that if we continue to burn fossil fuels in ICEs, Homo sapiens will become extinct. This is not hyperbole. We ALREADY have baked in conditions, that take about three decades to fully develop, that have placed us in a climate that existed over 3 million years ago.
We DID NOT thrive in those conditions or multiply. This is a fact. We didn’t really start to populate the planet until about 10,000 years ago.
The climate 3 million years ago was, basically, mostly lethal to Homo Sapiens. To say that we have technology and can handle it is a massive dodge of our responsibility for causing this climate crisis
(and ANOTHER strawman from the Exxon CEO “We will adapt to that” ).
Fossil fuel corporations DO NOT want to be held liable for the damage they have caused, so, even as they allow Renewable Energy to have a niche in the global energy picture, they will use that VERY NICHE (see rare earth mining and energy to build PV and wind turbines) to blame Renewables for environmental damage.
In summary, the example of the Liberty ships is proof we CAN TRANSITION TO 100% RENEWABLE ENERGY in, at most, a couple of decades if we decide to do it but it appears we WON’T do it because of the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on political power, financing and laws along with the powerful propaganda machine they control.
What then, can we expect from the somewhat dismal prospects for Homo sapiens?
1) Terrible weather and melted polar ice caps with an increase in average wind velocity in turn causing more beach erosion from gradually rising sea level and wave action. The oceans will become more difficult to traverse because of high wave action and more turbulent seas. The acidification will increase the dead zones and reduce aquatic life diversity. But you’ve heard all this before so I won’t dwell on the biosphere problems that promise to do us in.
2) As Renewable Energy devices continue to make inroads in fossil fuel profits, expect an engineered partial civilizational collapse in a large city to underline the “you are all going to die without fossil fuels” propaganda pushed to avoid liability for the increasingly “in your face” climate extremes. The defenders of the fossil fuel poisonous status quo are quite clever in their conscience free and calloused duplicity. Never underestimate the extremes they will go to in defense of predatory greed.
3) Less democracy and less freedom of expression from some governments and more democracy and freedom of expression from other governments in direct proportion to the percent penetration of Renewable energy machines in powering their countries (more RE, more freedom) and an inverse proportion to the power of their “real politik” Fossil Fuel lobbies in countries. (more fossil fuel power, less freedom).
There is a scientist blogger out there that has given up on humanity. His name is Guy McPherson.
I have not given up on humanity but I agree with Guy when he says that NATURE BATS LAST. Nature has millions of “bats”. Homo sapiens has a putrid fascist parasite bleeding it to death and poisoning it at the same time. The parasite cannot survive without us so it is allowing us to get a tiny IV to keep us alive a little longer (allowing a small percentage of renewable energy infrastructure in the overall energy picture).
It won’t work.
But the parasite has a plan. The renewable energy life saving intravenous injection, ITSELF, will be labeled a “parasite” (the villain and guilty party) when Homo sapiens finally figures out he is going to DIE if he doesn’t fix this “bleeding and poison” problem. Then the real parasite (the fossil fuel industry) will try to morph into a partially symbiotic organism and expect Homo sapiens to muddle through somehow…
I think that the parasite doesn’t truly appreciate the severity of Mother Nature’s “bat”.
THREE FUTURE SCENARIOS:
1. If the parasite (as a metaphor for a fossil fuel powered civilization) does not DIE TOTALLY, I don’t think any of us will make it.
2. If the parasite takes MORE than 20 years to die, some of us will make it but most of us won’t.
3. If, in 2017, when the north pole has the first ice free summer (as I estimate), all the governments of the Earth join in a crash program to deep six the use of fossil fuels within a ten year period, most of us will make it.
A word to those “pedantic”, “prudent in their own eyes” defenders of the status quo who may become somewhat apoplectic about this article’s hard hitting and truthful messages BECAUSE they have “survived” (i.e. compromised their principles for profits), up until now, by not “rocking the fossil fuel boat” and thoroughly resent anyone daring to question those skin colored “clothes” the emperor has “on”. Yes, I’m talking to you “real politik” type sellouts living so happily in our fossil fuel fascist dystopia.
IT simply DOES NOT MATTER what the “real world”, “real politik” geopolitical power structure mankind has now is.
IT DOES NOT MATTER how powerful the fossil fuel industry is in human affairs.
Fossil fuels have to go or Mother Nature will kill us, PERIOD.
NOTE: I will provide links to scholarly studies, indisputable historical facts and data in the form of links to anyone that requests them. I only ask that you READ the information I provide you if you question the statements I make above and then comment on what you have read.
I will not tolerate mendacious propaganda or spam. I will respond to respectful inquiries. Any attempt to ridicule or refute the above information will be responded to with historical facts, quotes and statistics.
“Whether one views the modern world as insane or not may even be a criterion of one’s own sanity.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr:
“In the next decade there will be an epic battle for survival for humanity against the forces of ignorance and greed. It’s going to be Armageddon, represented by the oil industry on one side, versus the renewable industry on the other. And people are going to have to choose sides – including politically. They will have to choose sides because oil and coal, they will not be able to survive – they are not going to be able to burn their proven reserves. If they do, then we are all dead. And they are quite willing to burn it. We’re all going to be part of that battle. We are going to watch governments being buffeted by the whims of money and greed on one side, and idealism and hope on the other.”
Pass it on. You never know when somebody on the wrong side of the Darwinian fence will read it and join the effort to save humanity.