Re: Energy sources in the next 20 years

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Tue Jan 13 2004 - 05:28:15 EST

Al Koop wrote:

>Eating Fossil Fuels by Dale Allen Pfeiffer


>I suspect this article is on the pessimistic side, ( I hope so.) but I
>think it makes some very valid points and presents real concerns as

>I would like to hear what others think of this article.

The article makes many valid points. Just a few quick comments:

Americans are definitely going to have to change their ways. The world will look back on us not too many decades hence and admire us for our accomplishments but castigate us for our profligate wastefulness. Still, if you have the money, why not spend it? It helps the economy. We give thanks to God for his blessings. We just need to recognize that our lifestyles don't seem to be sustainable for the longer term. And waste is still wrong no matter how much money we have.

On the plus side, there are a great many ways we can improve; the amounts of hydrocarbons and food we consume do not have to be as high as they are now for us to still live reasonably well. But the average citizen will have to change his values. Probably the only way we will slow our consumption significantly--unless the government applies constraints--is for prices to rise. Prices almost certainly will rise. Glenn predicted that will happen irreversibly in just a few years. A government such as ours will not apply significant artificial constraints unless people start demanding them(!).

As an avid organic gardener and also as "chairman of the board" of the Orange County (CA) Organic Gardening Club, I've been familiar for several years with comments like those of Pfeiffer's on contemporary agricultural practices. Organic gardening pioneers and leaders have been saying for decades that conventional farming is poisoning the soil, and there is now considerable scientific support for this contention. Organic gardeners seek ways to grow plants that continuously improve the soil rather than damage it. Much has been learned, and much remains to be learned. One hindrance to progress, I think, is that too many supporters of organic methods demand a kind of religious-like purity that shuts out some practical options.

Organic farming requires far fewer non-renewable natural resources than conventional farming, and many of its required resources can come from recycling materials that are now often buried in city dumps. I've seen several claims from organic farmers that their per-acre production levels can approach or even exceed those of conventional farmers. Following good organic practices discourages insect infestations and other diseases, thus reducing the need for controls. But although there are major savings of non-renewable resources, organic farming is much more labor intensive than conventional farming. It now constitutes only a tiny fraction of US farming, and there are certain to be major problems in expanding it significantly. I suspect it will expand when it becomes necessary, when huge agribusinesses are broken back down into small farms, and there's a migration of labor back to farms. Finding adequate supplies of organic fertilizers will be a problem but one that's perhaps not as big as what Pfeiffer envisages, provided efforts to "cultivate the soil rather than the plants" greatly reduce the need for added fertilizers, as they show promise of doing.

On a personal note, I've organically grown abundant vegetable crops of maybe 80 different varieties year-round for about five years in my private garden. They've almost all done very well (I have persistent problems with a few varieties!), and until just a few days ago I've done no spraying for insect infestations. There've always been insect pests, but they've remained under good control by natural predators. This January something apparently happened to the predators, as almost all my alliums (onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, Chinese leeks) have been plagued by a black aphid while all my cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, Chinese broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower) except for Chinese mustard have been plagued by a gray aphid, even when plant groups are 50-100 ft apart. So I've started spraying with an emulsion of soap and vegetable oil. This effectively kills the aphids. For one day. New infestations are back the next day. So far daily sprayings of nearly all susceptible leaf surfaces have done little to deter this plague. I know from experience that a single application of malathion would solve the problem, as its toxicity remains on leaves for a considerable time. But malathion is not permitted for organic gardeners. Such insect plagues (as far as I know) would be fatal to the crops of commercial organic farmers. There'd be no solution for them but to uproot and replant.

In the post-petroleum economy people will have to get used to eating broccoli with a few aphids on it. Most of the time you can't see them, and they don't affect the flavor. But gross infestations are unacceptable; and besides that, the plants stop producing under those conditions. In a reasonable world organic farmers would be permitted to use malathion or something similar when the occasional plague hits. (The natural predators wouldn't suffer much, because for unexplained reasons they've largely vacated the premises anyway.) Either that, or through research people will have to find organic-approved insecticides that deter infestations for more than a day or two at a time. (Could be the commercial farmers already have some, but not to my knowledge.)


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Al Koop
  Sent: Monday, January 12, 2004 9:47 AM
  Subject: Re: Energy sources in the next 20 years

  John W Burgeson wrote:

  Glenn has presented evidence that oil & gas, while important, are not
  going to be sufficient for the world's energy needs in a decade or two.

  Other sources indicate that even if they were, environmental impacts --
  global warming or whatever -- are such that alternative energy sources
  are required anyway.


  Coal (environmental problems)
  Nuclear fission plants (radioactive wastes problems)
  Nuclear fusion plants (uncertain technology + above)
  Wind power (some help but not enough)
  Solar cells (same as above, even at 80% efficiency)
  Tidal power

  The 12/03 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, page 8, has some
  info on this last one. Ten square miles of the Pacific Ocean is enough
  supply all of California's needs on an indefinite basis. 10 gigawatts of
  potential energy around the UK alone. Glenn has reminded us of the
  costs to build such facilities, but in the long run they look as if they
  produce an energy surplus (unlike fuel from corn products). Apparently
  Spain has a facility in operation at this time.

  BAS being a reputable journal, that gives me some hope. Comments?

  Tidal power and wave power

  There are two different types of power here (plus one could consider, in
  addition, ocean thermal currents). Tidal power refers to special shaped
  areas along the coastline where differences between high and low tides
  are significant--the greatest low/high tide gradient being 16m in the
  Bay of Fundy Canada. Heinburg says there are only about 20 such
  potential sites for tidal power in the world. The other power type is
  wave power, where the energy from the waves going up and down can be
  used to generate power It sounds like the later is what this BAS report
  is referring to.

  France has a 240 Megawatt site that has been generating tidal power
  since 1966 and Canada has a 20 MW plant on the Bay of Fundy. These are
  special sites that cannot generate significant amounts of power on a
  worldwide scale. Northwest Russia may have some additional sites that
  could generate power. The disadvantages, besides limited sites, are
  that these plants obviously produce power intermittently and they raise
  environmental havoc on the estuarial ecology of the tidal areas.

  Wave power obviously has lots of potential energy available, but I have
  not found much enthusiasm for such power. Apparently, according to one
  of my environmental science texts, there are not many favorable sites
  for such power--one such site being the western coast of England. (I do
  not exactly know what makes a site favorable, although I imagine it has
  to do with the depth of the ocean and variability of the wave heights.)
  In Japan, Denmark, Belgium, Britain, Norway and India there are a
  variety of systems that do generate some power in this manner, but I
  have not seen the enthusiasm like that implied in this BAS report.
  There is the problem of intermittence again with calm seas as well as
  the 60 foot waves. There is also difficulty in designing systems that
  can withstand the corrosive powers of the salt and the fury of large

  There is a book, Power from the Waves, Oxford University Press, 1995 by
  David Ross that concludes that this is not likely to be a significant
  source of energy in the near future.

  One of the problems with reading reports in the energy area (as in many
  areas today), is that there tends to be a black-white dichotomy. Either
  the world is never going to run out of energy because of all the great
  technology and there will only be minor bumps in the road, or else the
  world is headed straight for anarchy and complete chaos and nothing can
  save us. I try to find a realistic position. From this viewpoint I am
  not convinced that ocean power is going to help much.

  Right now, after reading extensively in the energy depletion area I am
  most concerned about the eventual food supply as it relates to energy.
  It seems that we are getting the great yields from our farms by
  fertilizers that are derived from fossil fuels. For one perspective on
  this read the following:

  Eating Fossil Fuels by Dale Allen Pfeiffer

  I suspect this article is on the pessimistic side, ( I hope so.) but I
  think it makes some very valid points and presents real concerns as

  I would like to hear what others think of this article.

Received on Tue Jan 13 05:24:00 2004

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