Atomic Show # 255 - Powerful fuels can enable human freedom and prosperity 1

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  1. Thomas Hobbes wrote in the 17th Century, “The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

    The emergence of the Internet and social media has the potential to render “how solitary one wishes to be”, a choice. The Age of Enlightenment embrace of the scientific method lead to harnessing the energy density of chemicals by cracking and refining the Carbon-Hydrogen bond. That energy provided for advances in food production and medicine that have extended life expectancy mitigating life’s “shortness” in much of the world.

    Unfortunately, despite the progress made in ameliorating the solitary and short aspects of Hobbes’ world, mankind’s current emotional quotient demonstrates a penchant suggesting that nasty and brutish could be with us for some time.

    So, let’s imagine that we as a species determine to address the remaining aspect of Hobbes’ aphorism, being “Poor”.

    Those in the world who are no longer considered poor, and certainly those that are often characterized as a nation, society or culture as being “Rich” became so by emerging from energy poverty through the use of fossil fuels. Equability would mandate that this emergence be extended to those who remain “poor” in a timely manner. Certainly while continuing to harness the energy contained in the Carbon-Hydrogen Bond would improve their condition in many ways, there are just as certainly significant drawbacks to this path.

    Since the periodic table of elements constitutes our natural world. Harnessing the next great advance in accessing the energy possessed by the natural world means accessing the periodic table in the most effective manner.

    While acknowledging historically the contributions that fossil fuels have made in advancing the human condition, releasing the most potent force possessed by the period table, an energy that is more than a million times greater than can be obtained through the use of the tables chemical properties, entails the emancipation of the strong nuclear force through fission.

    1. @Bryan Chesebrough

      Supplementing and eventually supplanting power from the carbon-hydrogen bond isn’t the same as completely replacing or displacing the power from that bond.

      It will remain useful for humanity for the long foreseeable future, but it no longer should dominate our “nasty and brutish” nature. In fact, I’m optimistic enough to believe that we have the potential to be a lot less nasty and brutish if we reduce our dependence on carbon-hydrogen chemical energy to the point where it merely serves humanity instead of much of humanity being employed to serve the interests of those who think they “own” power because they currently control hydrocarbon resources and distribution.

      1. @ Rod Adams

        Your comments are indeed correct. I did not mean to suggest that Nuclear Energy should be the only source of our Energy Freedom, only that Nuclear Energy must emerge as a far greater contributor than it is presently.

        The “Conversation” regarding Energy that is supposedly occurring is rarely a conversation. Energy Tribalism has become so ensconced in the collective psyche of so many that the opportunity for true dialogue has been replaced by a continual restating of firmly held beliefs rarely supported by contemporary scientific knowledge.

        The “Save the Whales” effort by Greenpeace and others resulting in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling should be lauded. However, it is rarely recognized or stated that the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in the 1850s and its subsequent refining into kerosene and other light machine oils led to the collapse of the original “Whaling Industry”. Had that not occurred it is likely that whale populations would not have been around to save in the 1970s & 80s.

        Indeed, an article published just last month by Patrick Moore, The Positive Impact of Human CO2 Emissions on the Survival of Life on Earth, suggests there are potentially serious adverse climate and environmental risks associated with too little CO2 emissions by mankind in the Holocene, were we to endeavor to eliminate all man made CO2.

      2. @Rod Adams says July 11, 2016 at 12:48 PM
        “In fact, I’m optimistic enough to believe that we have the potential to be a lot less nasty and brutish if we reduce our dependence on carbon-hydrogen chemical energy to the point where it merely serves humanity instead of much of humanity being employed to serve the interests of those who think they “own” power because they currently control hydrocarbon resources and distribution.”

        Good luck with this. Although written in 2011, there is still a lot of truth in this:

        Although there has been some policy attitude shift in the US over solar since this was written, it is more because of the realization that solar indirectly increases the use of power from the carbon-hydrogen bond. But excluding nuclear from that equation is required. Which was the successful intent of the CPP.

  2. It is my view that it is OK to acknowledge the historical benefits of fossil fuels but not OK to ignore the serious state that we have reach from over indulgence in its use. This is the place to discuss treating energy sources needing to be on an equal playing field, specifically in the areas of subsidy and regulation.

  3. Coal-fired steam engines were instrumental in the downfall of slavery. So far we must praise coal ; but from the beginning its detriments were as obvious as its benefits.

    Nowhere do we find an unmixed blessing, and so there is always a “point of diminishing returns”. I feel reasonably confident that, when it comes to combustible fuels, we passed that point (as a global civilization) quite a while back. The latest date I would suggest would be about 1973. If the growth of world energy use since then — approximately a doubling — had been met primarily by fission, we would be having very different conversations both environmentally & geopolitically now. As it is, the fission share has grown, but still is decidedly minor, while most of the growth overall has been in coal & gas, with the share of oil receding.

    1. @publius

      I would identify the same inflection point of 1973. My history reading tells me there are some interesting stories to tell about the many ways in which the people wedded to selling coal, oil and natural gas or to supporting the sale of those combustible materials worked hard to “take the bloom off of the nuclear rose”, in the words of F. William Engdahl, author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order.

      The primary seed that began the effort to diss nuclear energy was planted in the public domain by the National Academy of Sciences Genetics Committee report published on June 12, 1956 and reported in the June 13, 1956 issue of the New York Times and the July 1956 issue of Science.

      The antinuclear movement was created following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, which was the second time that OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) attempted to use “the oil weapon” to influence world response to a Middle East conflict. It didn’t work then because there was available excess capacity in Texas and Iran and because many of the embargo participants did not actually reduce their production.

      Major players in the world petroleum game, however, recognized the warning signs and the opportunity associated with the growing world use of petroleum. Consumption was growing fast enough to consume available low cost production within a short period, and there were already new discoveries in Alaska and the North Sea that could be developed to provide room for more growth. Those reservoirs were costly to develop and required major capital investments to provide the infrastructure to deliver the product to market. There was no financeable business case for developing those known resources at the 1969 world price of $2 per barrel; they needed something closer to $10-$12 per barrel.

      At that price, nuclear and coal would be extremely competitive sources of heat for many of the markets that were burning lower value petroleum by-products like residual oil that were a byproduct of the high value kerosene, gasoline and diesel fuel that powered machines that could not use nuclear or coal. Losing all of those markets for by-products would seriously hamper profitability. The petroleum industry marketers and long range planners (some of whom were in influential government positions like the National Security Advisor/Secretary of State) knew they could not engineer a dramatic price increase without also doing something to reduce the capability of competitors to take advantage of higher priced oil to capture key customers.

      There is a lot more to tell.

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