Whipping up shallow thought

This caught my attention

Like most of Hoenig’s tweets it attracted a fantastic array of people, the minority of whom have something productive to offer, on which a further conversation might be built. I encourage a quick browse of the replies to see if you can figure out who.

Tweets like this are commonplace amongst those who revel in shallow thought to protect thier comfortable world view; we are/I am/this is awesome, climate change is a hoax, there is nothing better than what we do now, liberals are idiots and dont know a good thing, or any number of combined idiotic memes.

First, Hoenig makes a classic mistake; there is no “fossil fuel technology” … there is only technology. Making a distinction is asinine. If a peice of technology contains steel, aluminum or plastic, or anything mined from the earth, its a “fossil fuel technology”

We have not yet reached a point in industrialized civilization were we can perform mining and refining of metals and polymers *without* the aid of hydrocarbon inputs. To produce steel at the volume we do today (not with charcol) tons of coke are required, ergo, everything that uses steel is a fossil fuel technology.

Likewise it is self evident that wind and solar are fossil derived technology, how this escapes people is saddening.

The deeper thought

Many of the people replying to Hoenig perhaps dont have the resources or motivation to look deeper into energy comparisons than thinking “I like fossil fuel”. Hey, so do I, its really useful stuff, but you know what I did after I had that thought at 12 or 13 ? I did my homework. Why is it useful stuff ? Where does it come from ? Why are alternatives so hard to come by and don’t allow the same forms of activity ?

(nb people ironically barking about solar powered helecopters have not seen some of the drones of late, or even small private electric aircraft, expensive as they are.)

Lets concentrate on liquid fuels, since we use them in our transportation very heavily. The key is energy density, no I’m not going to google that for you. Simply put you can pack the same amount of energy into ~1,600lbs of lead and acid as contained in 1.5 gallons of gasoline which weighs about ~15lbs.

Thats why hydrocarbon fuels kick ass.

The tradeoffs

So we’ve got energy dense fuels vs batteries, solar and wind, again lets stick with transportation, its something everyone gets.

Comparing oil to solar and wind is a monumental task, compounded by the fact each catagory of energy or power uses oil, as outlined above, everything we use in our technology today has fossil fuel imputs. It takes oil/coal/gas to get oil and various refined products, it takes oil/coal/gas to get wind and solar and its infrastructure.

The energy and power densities of solar/wind and batteries struggle to compete with hydrocarbon fuels, for transportation batteries may improve, there are many different technologies which might contribute to solar powered helicopters in the future, but dont hold your breath and yes, there are likely to be sizeable fossil inputs. See how rediculous it is to separate “technology” and “fossil fuels’ ?

Thats one trade off; to do the same things as we do today with wind and solar they need to get more efficient and we need much better energy storage. Whats the other trade off ? Well, while we enjoy the magnificent benefits of energy dense fuels we’re blinded to their major drawbacks.

One of those is climate change, or as can probably be better understood; its a huge fucking fire. We burn a lot of hydrocarbons, which part of that concatenation do you think gets released and is a problem ? When was the last time the earth experienced over 400ppm of co2 ? were we around ? No, I’m not going to google that for you, what do you think this is ? grade school ? Do the fucking work.

The other is the infrastructure progress trap which we are balls deep in at this stage. Yes, relying on roads, helicopters and aircraft have brought us to a great place (first component of the tradeoff excluded) but its time to realize that all good things come to an end and we move on to other good things.

Oil discoveries are declining in scale, marginal prices are rising and tensions in and around many OPEC countries keep idling ever more inconveninent chunks of production capacity. The game is nearing its last act, resource conflict and economic contraction is the soup de jour for the forseeable future.

Here’s another term to google EROEI (energy return on energy invested) compare all the things that feed our electricity grid and also oil. Ok, I will google that one for you.


Ranting about shale oil and drill here drill now ? yeah, look down the list, see a problem ?

Instead of whooping mindlessly about the dominance of oil and fawning over helicopters, lets take a few moments to think about what comes next and perhaps what the helicopters of the future might run on. Hint, depending on how far you think ahead, its probably not solar.

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