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Nuclear Open Thread

Open Thread 22

The Open Thread 21 has passed 500 comments and is getting a little bloated, so time for a new one.

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the cascading menu under the “Home” tab.

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There was quite a bit of discussion in the previous OT on radiation levels and the Fukushima evacuation zone. Relevant to this is the recent announcement that Japan will lift the entry ban on some cities within the prefecture. To quote:

In areas where annual radiation measurements are below 20 millisieverts per year, a government safety guideline, residents will have free access to their homes during the day and will be allowed to return permanently at the earliest opportunity post-decontamination. Where readings are between 20 to 50 millisieverts annually, evacuees will also have unrestricted access during the day although their permanent return will come later. In areas where measurements top 50 millisieverts, residents will not have free access and they will not be allowed to return for a minimum of five years.

A past BNC guest poster, engineer Chris Uhlik, analysed the situation a private email distribution list, and I thought his summary with respect to LNT (linear no-threshold hypothesis of radiation damage to living organisms) was very useful. With Chris’ permission, I reproduce it below:

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The official position of every regulatory agency & scientific body, and even the people who will tell you “we don’t know what’s going on under 50 mSv”, the weight of the evidence favors LNT.

Here’s what I think is going on:

Under 50mSv/year we can’t find any epidemiological data to support LNT. There is simply too much noise and other effects to see sub-0.5% changes in cancer rates in populations where the variations from other effects (smoking, stress, chemical exposures, etc) are in the range of 20–45%.

The rates of different kinds of cancers are affected differently by radiation. Some kinds appear to increase while others decrease. Some kinds of cancer are more treatable than others and thus result in different mortality rates, even if the occurrence rate increases. Simple statements like “cancer death rates show a LNT response to radiation exposure” are way too simplistic to be true, but such statements are easy to base regulations around. When regulators feel a need to support a regulation with some math, they’d rather choose simple math than more-correct, but difficult to understand and explain math.

We can find biological data from cell culture experiments that DNA disruptions are linearly related to exposure. However, most of these experiments are not with healthy, normal, human cell cultures. Bacteria and yeast might have different DNA repair mechanisms than humans. Some human cell culture experiments show hormesis. (example)

In the absence of unambiguous scientific evidence for a simple dose response model, regulators choose a conservative, simple model. They (and the scientists) agree that the model is simple and conservative, i.e. over-estimates the number of deaths. But what gets me riled up is that we ignore the opportunity cost of being excessively conservative. For example, we’ll spend $billions to avoid tens of theoretical deaths counted by the conservative model while not spending similar amounts on things that would much more reliably save thousands of lives. And, at the same time, we take the opposite point of view with global climate change. There, we have good models that show massive disruption, but we take business-as-usual actions because changing would be inconvenient. We are totally inconsistent about what sort of inconvenience is acceptable.

All risk-avoidance regulation should take a years-of-life-lost approach where the best available model (not simplest model) of years of productive life lost are counted against a standard value for a year of productive life. If we did this consistently, we’d spend lots of money developing cures for disease and less money treating disease because treating saves just one person’s life while a cure saves thousands or millions. Likewise, coal air pollution takes thousands (maybe millions) of years of life from asthmatic children while an accident like Fukushima requires extreme assumptions to reach ~1000 years of life lost and where the evacuation has already claimed >500 lives which is at least 5000 years of life lost.

Local optimization results are often extremely sub-optimal relative to global optimization, especially for complex systems. These piecemeal regulations that ignore the greater context can be extremely harmful. The conservative LNT assumption is one such unfortunate local optimization that protects the regulator while harming the populace.

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Footnote: More here from Depleted Cranium blog: Evacuation Policy Versus Radiation Level Measurements In Japan

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

285 replies on “Open Thread 22”

A couple of news items that suggest energy users have locked themselves into dead ends but perhaps they haven’t realised it yet.

This article came out on the BBC website a month ago
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17423877
It is saying that the amount of gas required in the UK energy mix will make it impossible to achieve the target of 80% emissions cuts by 2030. That is despite a heavy wind component which in another article the BBC say is favoured by the public. Most of the rise in power bills is due to gas price increases. It seems seems odd that the public supports an electricity mix that can never be truly low carbon and must keep dramatically rising in price.

In this neck of the woods is a proposal for an Asia-Pacific ETS
http://www.news.com.au/business/breaking-news/combet-flags-regional-ets/story-e6frfkur-1226336621430
To my thinking that must mean we stop exporting coal to China and perhaps India. The central notion of an ETS is a CO2 cap which means if somebody burns more somebody else gets to burn less. It should mean Clive Palmer’s ‘China First’ coal mine never gets built since we’re all using less. Is that seriously likely? I think the rules will be tinkered with to prolong business as usual ie Aussies emit 0.5 Gt of CO2 while China emits 8.2 Gt. I suspect we will make tiny cuts but the Chinese will burn as much coal as ever with more and more of that coal (perhaps even pelleted brown coal) coming from Australia.

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Ultimately we need sustainable communities with technologies that scale appropriately to their size. Nuclear is not a good fit, it implies in its existence a perpetual growth economy in a super mega-state. I think simpler self-sustaining communities are the answer at a much lower population level. I see nukes as a transition level technology until we get off fossil fuel.

The gaping hole in this well intented but naïve and unrealistic ideology is, of course, HOW?

How are we going to convince people to live in a tent, be cold all winter and sit in the dark, not have coffee, not have any tropical juicy fruits, not being mobile, not having access to advanced medical technology, not buying anything from stores, not using the internet, cellphones, smartphones, indeed any electronic gizmo?

All of these require a high degree of sophistication and globalization of communities.

It’s easy for people like David M. to explain their ideologies, using this globalization tool called the Internet, maybe having some coffee, sitting warm and cozy in a house built with, and full of, materials from all over the globe… I could go on, but the point is made.

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Nuclear does NOT imply “in its existence a perpetual growth economy in a super mega state.” It is perfectly compatible with “enough energy” to meet human needs, assuming it is not a human need to need exponentially growing amounts of energy.

No vision of society follows from the properties of nuclear power: foremost among them, energy density.

Even small is beautiful proponents could recommend nuclear power. In fact, they should since SMRs would have a much smaller footprint than “renewables.”

The problem is that while nuclear doesn’t imply such a thing it does make it possible and the people who want us to use less and go back to nature want it for everyone, whether everyone else wants it or not (while those who advocate for increased energy usage are quite willing for those who want it to opt out and use less energy themselves).

The only hope the people who don’t want anyone using a lot of energy have is to get nuclear off the table because otherwise it will be used to power a perpetually growing economy.

I’ve commented a similar theme at http://www.popatomic.org/2011/07/place-for-nuclear-energy-postgreenhouse-world/#comment-289 (though the article that’s replying to and the other comments are worth reading as well).

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Interesting. What I took to be a rather straight forward comment about the coming age of self-sustaining communities gets met with fear and apples and oranges misdirections. Basically I’m inclined to leave the responses as exhibit 1, 2, and 3. To a serious person without a hard ideological agenda they would seem to underline the rationality of what I am saying.

I will offer one thought. Historically who has displaced who, the state or the small independent community? To turn it around and make the state the potential victim is funny and simply underlines the odd desperation and denial one experiences with folks who stand in fear of a simple rendoring of a likely future. That future is steeped in our evolutionary history. So if one applies the Occam filter linked to the highly likely occurrence of major environmental break downs* a modern version of self-sustaining mainly small communites seems likely.some generations in our future. Objecting to the goodies you would be giving up is a pretty weak argument. We’re talking survival.

*My understanding is even BB doesn’t see full fossil fuel replacement under the best of circumstances until 2100.

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[quote]Interesting. What I took to be a rather straight forward comment about the coming age of self-sustaining communities gets met with fear and apples and oranges misdirections.[/quote]No, it got met with reasons why it we shouldn’t let it happen and why we don’t need to do what you want us to.

[quote]That future is steeped in our evolutionary history.[/quote]Evidence? If anything our history is of trying to escape where you want us to go.

[quote]So if one applies the Occam filter linked to the highly likely occurrence of major environmental break downs* a modern version of self-sustaining mainly small communites seems likely.some generations in our future.[/quote]Abandoning high techology (which is what you are proposing) is guranteeing that we will go extinct, say when the next asteroid or comet ends up on a collision course with our planet.

[quote]Objecting to the goodies you would be giving up is a pretty weak argument. We’re talking survival.[/quote]Yet earlier you said that we need a much lower population level so that begs the question, survival for who?

On the issue of people giving up their goodies, if that was a plausible solution to global warming it would’ve already happened (people have been telling us that for long enough), the fact is that the majority of the population would rather whatever problems fossil fuels cause (including global warming) than do without their stuff and if you try to solve global warming in a way which won’t let them have their goodies then you are doomed to fail (and forcing the simple life on everyone is almost certainly going to be worse than global warming).

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What David M fails to realise is that people don’t like this view. They don’t want to live in a tent. Small and self sufficient means inherently low tech. People won’t go that way freely.

This matters because the fallback alternative is fossil fuels. We have plenty of fossil fuel left, and we can find much more still, to ruin the planet.

David M’s position is one of a stern parent, lecturing his child that using energy is bad, high technology is bad, etc. This is not appealing to most people. So we won’t have it David’s way. We’ll have coal, coal, coal. When oil peaks we’ll have more coal, coal, coal. Environmentalists have been like this for decades, and the result is not a smaller self sufficient community. It is ever more globalizing, ever more consuming, and largely based on fossil fuels.

David, don’t you see your ideology is doing more harm than good?

Providing the nuclear alternative offers a means out of this disaster trajectory.

The problem with nuclear is very simple. People are afraid of it and want to avoid it, because people don’t understand it. But we need it.

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I really don’t know where the historical driver for small self-sustaining communities is supposed to come from. The global trend is overwhelmingly towards greater urbanization and very large cities

It doesn’t matter if one likes it or not. It just is, and very likely to remain so for several decades at the very least. If one has any ambitions to constrain the climate problem to anything resembling safe bounds, then that is the context in which it must occur. What happens a hundred years in the future is something for our descendants to sort out. We must deal with our reality in the here and now.

There is also probably a case to be made that large high population density cities put less pressure on land use in a world where natural habitat is disappearing at a frightening rate. I remain unconvinced that dispersing population over many smaller communities would bring environmental benefits. It may make matters worse.

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Before I knew about GenIV reactors I was worried. Very worried. My most optimistic dream was some sort of hippie ‘Powerdown’ a bit like Ted Trainer’s “Simpler Way” but my nightmares were haunted by the very real possibility that we would not make it. That terrorists would figure out that it only took “a few pounds of plastic explosive and a CAMEL” to take out an oil refinery. That, in an age of peak oil, attacking refineries would make sense.

That it might not even take terrorists. That we might just start competing for the world’s oil reserves, and the Carter Doctrine of the 1970’s might catapult us into conflict at the drop of a hat. Or the drop of a tanker.

I convinced myself that we had a good chance if we just pumped money into solar thermal and New Urbanism and cycling programs and local agriculture programs. We could “Powerdown” because people wouldn’t want ANARCHY! It’s just, deep down, I knew we were all too selfish to really go there. Let some other country go first. We need our oil. And so the Carter Doctrine loomed large again. Add in some nasty global warming surprises and the ever tighter oil situation, and while detesting Doomerism, those who actually look FORWARD to some kind of Mad Max collapse, I was very, very convinced of the potential.

The new nukes have given me some hope, but now I think we need to move in the other direction. World standards for nuclear safety and fuel and systems. World bodies that can inspect all regimes. Basically, a Democratic United Nations Parliament or other system of … dare I say those two words, “World Government?”

Think Global, act local.

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“”I remain unconvinced that dispersing population over many smaller communities would bring environmental benefits. It may make matters worse.””
Great point quokka! I was just listening to an awesome talk on “Why Cities Grow and Corporations Die and Life Gets Faster.”

It compares the sub-linear growth of living systems to the super-linear growth of cities. That is, if a city has a certain population it produces a certain amount of goods and services and universities and discoveries. But if you double the population, the production doesn’t just double, it goes up 115%! You get an EXTRA 15% efficiency gains. So a city of a million here and a city of a million there both independently produce a similar amount. But put them together, and they produce an extra 15% just by the efficiencies of a lager city population.

http://fora.tv/2011/07/25/Why_Cities_Grow_Corporations_Die_and_Life_Gets_Faster

So I would rather see the world population as a whole stabilise and decline. But I can see exactly why we live in big cities!

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Cyril R. says,

People are afraid of it and want to avoid it, because people don’t understand it.

and is not talking about flat-panel display technology.

But then, there isn’t an alternative to them that is vastly more lucrative, for the tax man, than they are.

See what you’re looking at, Cyril. How do you know that people are afraid of it? Because when governments want to do something they know is wrong, but which will protect their cathode-ray-tube income, they assert that the fear exists?

Click to access Debunking_Handbook.pdf

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I agree with quokka’s sentiments concerning small is beautiful. My point was simply that nuclear power and decentralization were not necessarily incompatible. Whether decentralization etc. is a good idea is another question. the idea of getting off grid is very unappealing, whether the power is coming from smrs or some other source. Urbanization can promote a more efficient use of space and energy. They go together.

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I’ll give anon credit for the best argument I’ve heard for maintaining the industrial mega-state.

[quote]So if one applies the Occam filter linked to the highly likely occurrence of major environmental break downs* a modern version of self-sustaining mainly small communites seems likely.some generations in our future.[/quote]Abandoning high techology (which is what you are proposing) is guranteeing that we will go extinct, say when the next asteroid or comet ends up on a collision course with our planet.

Now that’s a serious argument. We need high tech to destroy that killer asteroid that’s going to put our lights out 10 million years from now.

My point is pretty simple. We are in the process of destroying life as we know it on the planet and seem to be headed toward a 6th extinction event. For at least 250 years fossil fuel gave us the energy slaves(a Bucky expression) to dominate the landscape. For a variety of reasons that’s coming to an end. We will be moving from the luxury side of things back to the survival side of things. Nuclear, the second worst energy technology, can buy us some time to transition out of the worst energy technology, fossil fuel. But we still have the earth exploitive characteristics of a large scale industrial system.

The solution is to go back to what worked for us for millions of years, self-sustaining communities, updated of course but essentially the same model.

I know you folks are enamored of this recent 250 year window but the window is closing and we know from history what works.

I think civilization is a fragile thing. Changing the environment changes your world and it will drastically. Ask the Mayans who had to step back from their city states to sustainable communities again. Our challenges will be far greater.

And no I’m not trying to impose anything on anybody. Mother Nature dictates the game. I’m just trying to be real about what that game will require of us.

PS. I love camping.

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Eclipse Now:

The new nukes have given me some hope, but now I think we need to move in the other direction. World standards for nuclear safety and fuel and systems. World bodies that can inspect all regimes. Basically, a Democratic United Nations Parliament or other system of … dare I say those two words, “World Government?”

Without politically independent space colonies of some sort I would have to oppose world government (besides, we still have a bunch of dictatorships left) because of the risk of stagnation.

gregory meyerson:

My point was simply that nuclear power and decentralization were not necessarily incompatible.

At a purely technical level they aren’t, but the options opened up and the options the majority would prefer would prevent the kind of world that many of the decentralisation advocates want.

gregory meyerson:

Whether decentralization etc. is a good idea is another question. the idea of getting off grid is very unappealing, whether the power is coming from smrs or some other source.

I actually find the idea of an SMR in the basement of a house to be somewhat appealing (though a grid connection probably makes more sense).

David M:

I’ll give anon credit for the best argument I’ve heard for maintaining the industrial mega-state.

Abandoning high techology (which is what you are proposing) is guranteeing that we will go extinct, say when the next asteroid or comet ends up on a collision course with our planet.

Now that’s a serious argument. We need high tech to destroy that killer asteroid that’s going to put our lights out 10 million years from now.

Of course that’s just one example, there are plenty of other things that could do us in, though not all are necessarily global in scale (and a comet could appear from anywhere with only a few months warning, whether we could deflect one in time if one were heading for us is debatable (not so with asteroids we we’ll have decades of warning)).

Large civilisations also have more resources to spare to deal with any catastrophes that occur so even the local problems are more survivable when you aren’t a bunch of small self-sufficient communities without any surplus.

David M:

My point is pretty simple. We are in the process of destroying life as we know it on the planet and seem to be headed toward a 6th extinction event.

We’re destroying a lot of life but we ourselves will likely pull through pretty well and so will a lot of other life (some of them with our help), nature is more robust than most people give it credit for (of course we are changing the climate at a rate that hasn’t happened naturally without mass extinction, though those events tended to have other things going on and also didn’t have humans around breeding animals in captivity).

David M:

For at least 250 years fossil fuel gave us the energy slaves(a Bucky expression) to dominate the landscape. For a variety of reasons that’s coming to an end.

Fossil fuels allowed us to transcend the limits of renewable energy and build up enough infrastructure to be able to use nuclear fission (and maybe fusion eventually) and we could use fission for quite a bit more time (using breeders you get answers in the millions of years) before we run out even with 10 billion people at a much higher per capita energy usage than today’s first world usage.

The ultimate limit on energy usage for an Earth based civilisation will probably be when we start to produce a significant percentage of the energy we get from the sun as waste heat but by that time we’ll probably have the majority of our species living in space with most heavy industry in orbit with the entire planet Earth a national park.

David M:

We will be moving from the luxury side of things back to the survival side of things.

If that were true then environmentalism will die because concern for the environment for its own sake is a luxury good.

For you see, if the choice is between hunting a species into extinction and starvation people will hunt species into extinction.

David M:

Nuclear, the second worst energy technology, can buy us some time to transition out of the worst energy technology, fossil fuel.

Actually nuclear is the least worst energy technology we have right now and it is in no way a bridge to a renewable energy future*, in fact coal and other fossil fuels were a bridge away from renewables and towards nuclear.

David M:

But we still have the earth exploitive characteristics of a large scale industrial system.

As people become wealthier they start to care about the environment for its own sake (and also because environmental problems start to actually have an effect on them) so the best way to deal with that would actually be to increase the standard of living.

David M:

The solution is to go back to what worked for us for millions of years, self-sustaining communities, updated of course but essentially the same model.

I know you folks are enamored of this recent 250 year window but the window is closing and we know from history what works.

Millions of years with every human being on the edge of starvation, one bad hunt away from death, with short life expectancy, a third of the males killed through violence (and the females raped), etc.

Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, I’d much rather an improvement of what we’ve got now (but if you want to go live like people used to live that’s fine by me).

David M:

Changing the environment changes your world and it will drastically. Ask the Mayans who had to step back from their city states to sustainable communities again. Our challenges will be far greater.

We’re still not sure what did the Mayans in though if it was an intense long lasting drought as has been proposed our civilisation would be able to survive it through the use of irrigation (nuclear desalination could get us the water if no other method were available), hydroponics, more use of water recycling, changing to crops which use need less water, genetic engineering, less meat, more use of aquaculture, etc. If we got really desperate we could even increase the amount of land we use for food production (at the cost of the environment).

The larger size of our civilisation means that we could survive things past civilisations wouldn’t have been able to (and those small self-sufficient communities would not be well placed to survive an extended drought without deaths from starvation).

David M:

And no I’m not trying to impose anything on anybody. Mother Nature dictates the game. I’m just trying to be real about what that game will require of us.

Our technology determines what options are available to us (and our technology is largely about freeing us from the dictates of nature). It’s also worth looking up the definition of energy and its relationship to work.

Oh and there’s no way you’ll get the majority of people to live the way you say they should without forcing them (and if you try you’ll probably have a revolt on your hands).

*Though I do think space solar holds significant promise I don’t think it’d actually cause many nuclear power plants to be shut down even if it ends up taking over new orders since I doubt saving the operating costs of a nuclear plant could be enough to justify building an SPS, I also hold the same view of fusion replacing fission in the electricity generation field (rocketry is another matter and is where fusion would really end up dominating when we can get it to work).

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A friend just asked about Co2 emissions from the Plasma Arc burner, so I contributed the following.

….
I’ve read that *all* the rubbish in the vast, landfill ridden United States would only equate to about 25 nuclear power stations if burned for electricity.

If I had my way we would not burn syngas for electricity but use it to supply the petrochemical industry to make all the glues and varnishes and paints and chemicals and plastics and sunglasses and joggers and disposable nappies and toothbrushes and motor lubricants we needed.

If I had my way 90% of our transport would be electric, not petroleum based. We’d prioritise this complex syngas to the petrochemical industry and maybe only use some of it as liquid fuels. There are other ways to generate liquid fuels for construction and farming and harvesters *IF* we have enough high ERoEI baseload energy to start with.

Remember, a lot of landfill hydrocarbons were carbon neutral to start with. I don’t have any figures to hand, but think about how many American councils don’t have a green-waste bin as we do here in Sydney. So all garden and lawn clippings are hydrocarbons that *first* sucked their Co2 out of the atmosphere, not from fossil sources. Then there’s fibres and fabrics grown off a sheep’s back. Wood in various stages of decomposition, whether chip bark or MDF or furniture grade wood.

But yes, the fraction of all this waste that is plastic was first sucked out of the ground from an oil field. That part *is* fossil Co2. And, if I had my way, we’d use Syngas to *completely* replace fossil oil for the petrochemical industry. Syngas from waste would probably struggle to meet the demand! Petrochemicals are what, about 12% of the ‘other uses’ of oil from refineries? So that’s 12% of today’s 86mbd of oil.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_product

I don’t think much of the council waste would end up being burned as fuel. It would have enough trouble fuelling the demands of the petrochemical industry. Instead of being burned back into the air it would get trapped into the next generation of disposable nappies and synthetic fibres and colourful paints and toothbrushes and new joggers and varnishes and sunglasses.

The Co2 emissions from this are no ‘biggie’.

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@ David M,
I completely agree with your concern for what Industrial Civilisation has done to this planet and the multitude of ways we are paving over, ploughing up, polluting, preying on and overpopulating this planet! But the only *attractive* way out of this, other than nuking ourselves back to the stone age, is to transform Industrial Civilisation into an Industrial Ecosystem.

A nuclear war or similar disaster might cull our population and destroy industrial civilisation — for a while. But we would claw our way back. It might only delay the same crisis by a few generations!

The high-tech genie is out of the bottle. We have to learn how to use it sustainabily this time around, and as far as I can tell that involves sustainable New Urban cities that only use 10% of the land of suburban sprawl, Plasma Arc Burners that transform ordinary household waste into the next generation of petrochemical products and building materials, and ABUNDANT clean nuclear power. Sure nuclear power might see some areas of Australia turned into uranium mines. But that’s a TINY land area compared to coal mining, and VASTLY cleaner and a TINY price to pay to run the whole PLANET on clean electricity.

The Mayans didn’t have the modern scientific method or free press or exponential learning curve we are on now. They didn’t have democracy. They had an elite ruling class and lack of communication between the people and the powers. These are all ingredients in a collapse scenario as drawn up by Dr Jared Diamond in “Collapse”. We have the right mix so that we have a chance of making it. We have a scientific enterprise and information feedback loops the Mayans couldn’t have imagined. We can make it, and probably will. We’ll just have to.

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@ ANON:

I just had to say how much the Sci-Fi kid in me loved the following paragraph! I’m not being patronising, just saying “Awesome!” Love your work.

///The ultimate limit on energy usage for an Earth based civilisation will probably be when we start to produce a significant percentage of the energy we get from the sun as waste heat but by that time we’ll probably have the majority of our species living in space with most heavy industry in orbit with the entire planet Earth a national park.///

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@ ANON
Just a short post on your space civilisation.

I’ve often wondered what it would take to get into space like that. Probably 2 things: Super advanced AI and robotics ( or cybernetics or biomorphic cybernanotech. Whatever ‘robotics’ ends up being called in the future as nano tech and genetic tech start merging into similar systems).

If we could shoot one rocket towards the asteroid field loaded with sufficiently advanced AI + super-robotics, it could start self-replicating (assuming an energy source like uranium in the asteroids). After the self-replicating phase reaches a critical mass of worker drones all building more of themselves and heavy industries, they could start firing gifts back towards the earth. We’d literally have gifts raining down from the skies, aerobraking and parachuting down to safe locations. Maybe some of it will be parked in orbit as space-based solar power. Maybe one particularly huge gift will be a space-elevator. Who knows?

The point is that with higher technology AI + robotics, it only takes one rocket. Then instead of us trying to climb out of the gravity well ourselves, maybe we’ll get a hand reaching down to help.

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“”Eclipse Now — There are already standards for NPPs set by IAEA.””

Are they enforceable?
What do we do about Regimes that decide to turn their uranium feedstock from peaceful purposes to producing bombs?
How can we improve on decision making processes at the world level to *really* understand a nation’s compliance or non-compliance in these matters?
Remember how sure John Howard was before invading Iraq that the UN weapons inspectors were being blown and mirrors? How did that turn out? How much money did the West waste on that war?

What if we’d pumped that $2000 000 000 000 into IFR’s instead?
As I say on my world government page:

“Save trillions through increased security:
Imagine the governments of the world feeling more relaxed about their own security. Imagine the money that would be freed up for more noble purposes if the military could cut their spending in half! All right, maybe half is a bit ambitious at first. What about 5%? According to Professor Ian Lowe of the Australian Conservation Foundation, 5% of the global military budget is enough to meet all the basic needs of every man woman and child on earth. It could provide all the fresh water and nutrition, adequate shelter, education, health care, and family planning to ensure every human being reached their potential. This would not only help the poor and create a safer, more prosperous, healthier planet, but it would also stabilise population growth.”

http://eclipsenow.wordpress.com/reform-world/

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Eclipse Now:

Just a short post on your space civilisation.

I’ve often wondered what it would take to get into space like that. Probably 2 things: Super advanced AI and robotics ( or cybernetics or biomorphic cybernanotech. Whatever ‘robotics’ ends up being called in the future as nano tech and genetic tech start merging into similar systems).

I don’t think we’d need AI for that (though it could help), just a cheaper way to send stuff into orbit and we could have people living permanently in space within a few decades (it would of course take longer for the majority of the population to end up in space).

Eclipse Now:

If we could shoot one rocket towards the asteroid field loaded with sufficiently advanced AI + super-robotics, it could start self-replicating (assuming an energy source like uranium in the asteroids).

In space solar power actually works pretty well and is likely to be the choice basically anywhere that isn’t regularly eclipsed by a large object. Nuclear will probably dominate on planets and moons as well as high Δv rocketry.

Also I’d target near earth asteroids before the main belt.

Eclipse Now:

After the self-replicating phase reaches a critical mass of worker drones all building more of themselves and heavy industries, they could start firing gifts back towards the earth. We’d literally have gifts raining down from the skies, aerobraking and parachuting down to safe locations. Maybe some of it will be parked in orbit as space-based solar power. Maybe one particularly huge gift will be a space-elevator. Who knows?

I suspect that kind of self-replicating AI isn’t something we’ll be getting soon and that we’ll just have to do things with telepresence (though some limited autonomy would help) and a few on site operators.

If we could just figure out how to stop the astronauts from getting cataracts.

Eclipse Now:

[on IAEA standards]Are they enforceable?

Sure, just go to war over it (which in practice means not usually).

Still, to actually get any such standards to become binding on rogue nations you’d pretty much have to go to war with them anyway.

Eclipse Now:

What do we do about Regimes that decide to turn their uranium feedstock from peaceful purposes to producing bombs?

Ask them to stop, impose sanctions, go to war, coverty overthrow their government, just let them.

Those are the options I think of off the top of my head.

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I know people are afraid of it, from my own experience in discussions. Even one of my friends, a mechanical engineer, who often does hot cell equipment replacement jobs, says he always goes quickly in and quickly out, and he doesn’t like the job. Despite the fact he’s got a dosimeter on him all the time and knows full well the dose he receives on the repair jobs is less than eating a banana. He would rather go to steel mills, with disgusting lung cancer causing particulate matter floating all over the place.

And it is my experience that most people generally don’t think about nuclear power to any in depth level. They don’t want to check the facts and figures. Nuclear power is an avoidable demon to them, or an easy scapegoat. They lump nuclear in with coal in vileness. Coal and nuclear bad, solar good. That’s the shallow, incorrect, biased, but prevalent worldview.

When I ask them questions about the problems they raise in attack to nuclear power, it is clear they haven’t a clue how a reactor works, what a fission product is, etc. I’ve made a presenation about this. I’ll try to upgrade it with the tips and tricks in your link.

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David M,

Now that’s a serious argument. We need high tech to destroy that killer asteroid that’s going to put our lights out 10 million years from now.

The fundamental truth is that the Earth’s biosphere is doomed. The only way to stay the execution – at least temporarily – is to expand beyond Earth, and, meanwhile, prevent planet-killing cosmic catastrophes to the extent possible.

These require very high tech, very high energy societies.

I see no reason to fret for the future of the planet otherwise. Life will prevail, no matter what we humans do, until some cosmic catastrophe sterilizes the planet. At worst, we humans can cause the sixth mass extinction event in the planet’s history. I’d like to point out what that implies: that life has survived five extinction events before and blossomed again. There is no reason whatsoever to believe this time would be any different.

Life will go on. Even after a full-scale thermonuclear war, a few million years without humans – a blink in geological timescale – would be enough for the Earth to teem with life again.

But unless a sentient species exists, it seems very likely that life will be doomed to exist only very temporarily. It’s likely that multicellular life has no more than a billion years or so on Earth; that’s a short moment in astronomical timescale. Especially since we have no evidence of life outside Earth, failing to protect and extent life when we have the opportunity would constitute the most monstrous failure of conservation ever. Even if (or perhaps when) extraterrestrial life is found, Earth-derived life will still be valuable addition to the diversity of life.

What’s more, intelligent life seems to be quite rare. Thus, just as we focus our efforts on protecting rare and not abundant elements of the biosphere, we should also consider intelligence especially worthy of protection.

Therefore, I have only this to say: even if transition to a low-energy, return-to-nature society would be possible – which I find hard to believe – it would be coward’s choice. Yes, humanity might then be able to scrape by for some centuries, perhaps millennia, but it would be an evolutionary dead end, ultimately just as doomed as all life on Earth would then be. (And the humanity of such a society, if you catch my drift, might not be what we’d like it to be: historical examples of low-energy societies are not encouraging in this regard.)

What we need is real long-term thinking, not temporary solutions that might be viable for a few centuries or a few million years at best. We need a pathway that enables life to prevail over billions of years. Otherwise, I see no pressing need to worry about the planet’s future: Earthborn life has had a good run, and if it ends tomorrow or in fifteen million years from now, I don’t really see much difference.

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You guys are all having a nice philosophical discussion.

What’s missing, of course, is HOW do you achieve a low energy low tech society. Burn technology like the Nazi’s burned books? Ban the construction industry, ban the mining industry, ban the energy industry, ban electrics industry? Some minority groups might find it appealing, but most wouldn’t agree. Most wouldn’t even notice such stone age primate grumbling, and many that do would probably find it quite amusingly backward fringe culture.

There are simply boundary conditions that you have to work with. For example, there is a trend towards democratization, towards globalization, towards urbanization, towards higher and higher levels of technology, etc. This cannot be stopped because it would require draconian measures that very few – too few – will accept.

Make no mistake. We will not power down willingly. We will burn our furniture before we let that happen. We will certainly liquify and burn coal if in a pinch, and there certainly is enough coal to ruin the planet.

David’s argument sounds to me like, the earth should be flat. It would be better that way. Gee. Now, that was funny. Let’s burn some more coal, my internet server demands it to send this message.

Meanwhile the earth is still round, and we burn more coal. Nothing changes David.

I very much understand David’s viewpoint. I worry about the human impact on ecosystems a lot. I cannot understand how people can be so unrealistic, so naïve. It’s a kind of desperation infused unrealism. If you are desperate, why push for solutions no one will accept? It’s very dangerous, because it won’t be accepted; David is pushing for either continued fossil fuel use, or if that is impossible, mass disasters on a planetary scale blasting people back into the stone age.

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I’d guess I’m about the most pronuclear guy you’ll find who ultimately doesn’t believe in a nuclear solution. Let’s build some IFR’s, your holy grail to save the planet and keep modern civilization intact. At least we can hopefully start displacing coal plants.

However I think this high tech is the wave of the future is being a little overplayed. Neither the highly heralded Jesus or Buddha were high tech folks. Who knows but that folks like the Amish might reflect the future better.

Interesting that the early reports from European explorers in much of the New World before they wrecked it all spoke of happy natives in an Edenish world, not your poor desperate Hobbesian characters that some on this commentarium wish to believe. Reports that came back led to Rousseau characterization of them as “The Noble Savage.” As contrasted with the degradation and corruption of European society. This then turned into the noble peasant led I guess by folks like Tolstoy. My understanding is that peasant worship became so chic at one point among the aristocracy that Marie Antonette used to set aside a time to dress as a milk maid and milk a specially cleaned up cow, I guess to experience the nobility of it all. From there it appears we went to Marx and the noble proletariat.

Sure we have a bias toward the familiar but our dna is tribal and primitive. Our natural drift is to Balkanize if you follow history. Folks are always trying to break away. We join the Moose Club not the Financier’s Club. And the often admired guerrilla revolutionary is known for living simply and doing a lot with very little.

We’re addicted to civilization but with the help of Mother Nature and certain pre-existing propensities we can kick it.

I also think modern civilization is an environmental ponzi scheme. We’re growing but eating up the seed corn of human existence. I understand that now something like 40% of the biosphere is devoted to our civilization. And of course most of the environmental indices are down. It’s the story of the killing of the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Ethically the Mother Ship of all serious moral systems is the Golden Rule, particularly the negative – Don’t do unto others ……
How does that translate out in the modern context? I’d say sustainable communities that don’t intrude on others. What could be more intrusive than the modern industrial mega-state.

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J. M. Korhonen:

But unless a sentient species exists,

You mean sapient?

J. M. Korhonen:

it seems very likely that life will be doomed to exist only very temporarily. It’s likely that multicellular life has no more than a billion years or so on Earth; that’s a short moment in astronomical timescale.

About a billion years if we don’t do anything, maybe some extremeophile bacteria can hang on longer but even so they’d still be doomed eventually.

J. M. Korhonen:

Especially since we have no evidence of life outside Earth, failing to protect and extent life when we have the opportunity would constitute the most monstrous failure of conservation ever. Even if (or perhaps when) extraterrestrial life is found, Earth-derived life will still be valuable addition to the diversity of life.

I personally suspect that there is other life out there just that none of it is intelligent (or if any is intelligent it is not technological).

J. M. Korhonen:

What’s more, intelligent life seems to be quite rare. Thus, just as we focus our efforts on protecting rare and not abundant elements of the biosphere, we should also consider intelligence especially worthy of protection.

Yes, the Fermi paradox does need explaining and at the moment us being alone is pretty much the only explanation which doesn’t fall to requiring uniformity of motive from every civilisation (our civilisation certainly doesn’t have it or even come close to having it and it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting it ever, a good thing if you ask me).

J. M. Korhonen:

Therefore, I have only this to say: even if transition to a low-energy, return-to-nature society would be possible – which I find hard to believe – it would be coward’s choice.

You’d need to commit mass murder to do it.

J. M. Korhonen:

Yes, humanity might then be able to scrape by for some centuries, perhaps millennia, but it would be an evolutionary dead end, ultimately just as doomed as all life on Earth would then be.

Scraping by was what most societies throughout history did.

Of course whether such ha low energy society would actually stay low energy is another matter, all it would take is one group of people with enough of a surplus to spare some people to do things not directly related to survival and the desire for a better life.

J. M. Korhonen:

What we need is real long-term thinking, not temporary solutions that might be viable for a few centuries or a few million years at best.

I would tend to say that a temporary solution which would only last for a century would be viable provided it leaves open the option of a more permanent solution, though returning to a low energy society does fail on this criteria.

J. M. Korhonen:

We need a pathway that enables life to prevail over billions of years. Otherwise, I see no pressing need to worry about the planet’s future: Earthborn life has had a good run, and if it ends tomorrow or in fifteen million years from now, I don’t really see much difference.

Exactly how long the universe could support life is open to question but is probably at least in the trillions of years (it’s also worth noting that the universe is horribly inefficient so the actions of intelligent life could extend that time quite significantly (that we haven’t seen any signs of anyone doing that is one of the main reasons I believe we’re alone)).

Cyril R.

What’s missing, of course, is HOW do you achieve a low energy low tech society.

You can start by creating a global dictatorship and you’d better make it oppressive. There is one society of the 20th century which managed to do it to one country for about 4 years.

Cyril R.

Burn technology like the Nazi’s burned books? Ban the construction industry, ban the mining industry, ban the energy industry, ban electrics industry? Some minority groups might find it appealing, but most wouldn’t agree. Most wouldn’t even notice such stone age primate grumbling, and many that do would probably find it quite amusingly backward fringe culture.

That’s why you’d need lots of guns and more powerful weapons along with the willingness to use them and to use excessive force publicly.

Cyril R.

There are simply boundary conditions that you have to work with. For example, there is a trend towards democratization, towards globalization, towards urbanization, towards higher and higher levels of technology, etc. This cannot be stopped because it would require draconian measures that very few – too few – will accept.

Any such attempt would have to be done through massive amounts of violence.

Cyril R.

I very much understand David’s viewpoint. I worry about the human impact on ecosystems a lot. I cannot understand how people can be so unrealistic, so naïve. It’s a kind of desperation infused unrealism. If you are desperate, why push for solutions no one will accept?

Some of them I suspect just want the low energy future and are merely using global warming as a way to get what they know the public would never accept otherwise (never mind that the public would rather global warming to poverty).

Of course some people more concerned with global warming may have been convinced by those who are pushing for a low energy society that it is needed to solve global warming.

David M:

However I think this high tech is the wave of the future is being a little overplayed.

How else are we going to feed the ≈10 billion people the world is going to have?

David M:

Neither the highly heralded Jesus or Buddha were high tech folks.

Living in a society which didn’t have high technology tends to do that to people, and the Jesus character was not a good example of morality.

David M:

Who knows but that folks like the Amish might reflect the future better.

You don’t, you don’t even understand why the Amish reject *some* technology.

But the Amish are instructive in another way in that they show that it is possible for a group which doesn’t like technology to still live in a high tech society.

David M:

Interesting that the early reports from European explorers in much of the New World before they wrecked it all spoke of happy natives in an Edenish world, not your poor desperate Hobbesian characters that some on this commentarium wish to believe.

Because the European explorers didn’t study them very well, instead they only saw a small amount of their culture, not the wars and other violence which killed ⅓ of the male population.

David M:

Reports that came back led to Rousseau characterization of them as “The Noble Savage.”

The idea of the noble savage has been pretty well discredited, pretty much everywhere that skeletons from primitive societies are found about a third were killed by violence.

David M:

We’re addicted to civilization but with the help of Mother Nature and certain pre-existing propensities we can kick it.

Living short lives one bad growing season away from famine is not a form of freedom, in fact civilisation is partly about becoming free of nature.

David M:

I also think modern civilization is an environmental ponzi scheme. We’re growing but eating up the seed corn of human existence. I understand that now something like 40% of the biosphere is devoted to our civilization. And of course most of the environmental indices are down. It’s the story of the killing of the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Actually in a lot of ways the environment is better than it was, we don’t use leaded petrol for cars anymore (and have been tightening emissions standards for engines).

It’s also worth noting that the amount of land used for agriculture in the developed world has actually been reducing while food production increased at a greater rate than the population.

David M:

Ethically the Mother Ship of all serious moral systems is the Golden Rule, particularly the negative – Don’t do unto others ……

No it isn’t, the golden rule tends to be break down a lot (especially when the other person doesn’t want to treated how you do). Serious moral systems put more emphasis on the Bronze rule though reduction of suffering is something considered to be important.

David M:

How does that translate out in the modern context? I’d say sustainable communities that don’t intrude on others. What could be more intrusive than the modern industrial mega-state.

How intrusive it is to nature is largely irrelevant to whether it is better for the people who live in it, it is how much suffering it reduces or causes that matters and the modern industrial mega-state through increasing life expectancy, providing food security, etc reduces a lot more suffering than it causes (it also doesn’t hurt that such a state has a lower murder rate than primitive societies).

I’d also have to ask what you think your idea low energy society should do to those of us who think that the industrial mega-state should be recreated?

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Anon, above, refers to the Fermi Paradox (“Where are they?”)

A fiction work by David Pellegrino (Flying to Valhalla) offers this explanation (co-developed with Asimov):

In a nutshell, at least some, or one, predatory space-going species would consider all other such to be competitors to be destroyed. Such a species would probably set up factories of near-C missiles around their star, and launch at any potential rival.

Other races, not so aggressive, must consider that someone out there thinks like that. The only rational self-preservation strategy is pre-emptive: do it first. So every technological species is reluctantly obliged to destroy all others as soon as they are detected. Even potential life-bearing planets must be taken out, since the lightspeed lag is so long.

That’s why there’s a Big Silence out there. Knowing the above, the only way to survive, additional to setting up your own automated missile factories, is to be very quiet, and migrate to an unlikely locale around some other star, dig in, and hide.

About the missiles: a .92C shuttle-sized object would blow a hundred mile hole in the atmosphere and crust, and wipe out all advanced life. At that speed, you get to see its gamma wake at about 12X its actual distance from you. If it seems 1 light-month away, it’s actually about 4 days out.

Time enough to bend over and kiss your bippy goodbye.

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PS: the above is my précis, not a quote. And the math is off: s/b “If it seems 1 light-month away, it’s actually less than 3 days out.”

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The berserker approach to Fermi’s paradox suffers from the problem that we should have been wiped out already if it were true.

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Barry’s video suggests one more reason for focusing on local sustainable systems, the need for integrated agriculture as discussed in this link. http://www.nyu.edu/sustainability/pdf/Fossil%20Fuel%20and%20Energy%20Use%202%20FCSummit-HO-20091207.pdf

The biggest culprit of fossil fuel usage in industrial farming is not transporting food or fueling machinery; it’s chemicals. As much as forty percent of energy used in the food system goes towards the production of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

Fertilizers are synthesized from atmospheric nitrogen and natural gas, a process that takes a significant amount of energy. Producing and distributing them requires an average of 5.5 gallons of fossil fuels per acre.

Manure could be a more energy-efficient alternative to synthetic
fertilizers, but because it is heavy this applies only when it can be
used a short distance from where it is produced — and our industrial
system precludes this option.

The problem is over-consolidation: We raise large numbers of livestock in one place and raise the grain they eat in other places. This means that the livestock produce an excess of manure where there’s no cropland for it to be spread on, making it a pollutant rather than a tool. Meanwhile, the fields that grow feed must draw their fertility from synthetic sources.

We end up with concentrations of unusable manure in one place, and concentrations of chemical fertilizers in the other — and a whole lot of
fuel wasted trucking feed and fertilizer around the country. The extent of this waste is underscored by the fact that it’s largely unnecessary.

Small, pasture-based livestock farms take advantage of natural cycles: the animals feed themselves on grass and distribute their manure themselves, fertilizing the pasture as they go. Rather than fossil fuels, they need only rain and sun to make the system work.

A strange but from what I’ve seen persistent type question.
Anon.

what [do] you think your idea[l] low energy society should do to those of us who think that the industrial mega-state should be recreated?

I think you have the wrong question. More appropriately once Mother Nature essentially dictates a local sustainable approach what should the remaining rational inhabitants do when a bunch of reactionary power hungry fanatics try to unreasonably recreate an industrial mega-state and in the process inevitably commit aggression against the locals.

I’d say cooperate and resist. The Anthropocene era simply won’t have the rich surpluses gifted by the Holocene era to sustain empire.

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Document quoted by David M.

Fertilizers are synthesized from atmospheric nitrogen and natural gas, a process that takes a significant amount of energy.

Not that again.

There is no requirement to use natural gas for the hydrogen needed to make ammonia, in fact electrolysis has in the past been used to produce the hydrogen needed for artificial fertiliser on quite a large scale (and at acceptable economics, though not quite as cheap as steam reforming of methane).

Besides, nature doesn’t fix enough nitrogen for us to do things the natural way so unless you want mass starvation you must use the Haber-Bosch process (eventually we’ll probably be able to genetically engineer plants to fix their own nitrogen, but we don’t have such crops right now).

David M.

I think you have the wrong question. More appropriately once Mother Nature essentially dictates a local sustainable approach what should the remaining rational inhabitants do when a bunch of reactionary power hungry fanatics try to unreasonably recreate an industrial mega-state and in the process inevitably commit aggression against the locals.

I’d say cooperate and resist. The Anthropocene era simply won’t have the rich surpluses gifted by the Holocene era to sustain empire.

I’m not quite sure exactly what you propose you’d do and how far you’d go to stop us (and also deter others from trying).

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Just keep diverting into playing the victim and insisting on your us and them world Anon, then you won’t have to face the implications of looming environmental break down.

Your paranoia kind of reminds of the climate change denialists. You try to explain to them what’s happening and they can only see a socialist conspiracy to take away their private property.

People who live in sustainable communities are not the ones who initiate conflicts with the empire builders, as much as you and others would like to imagine otherwise. If Mother Nature ultimately won’t support an automobile culture due to human environmental overshoot that isn’t a conspiracy of nature loving fanatics trying to take away your SUV.

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There is no good technical reason that everyone on earth can’t have a sustainable PHEV. We have plenty of fertile material (U238 and Th232) to provide 10 kW of electricity to 10 billion people for over a million years. Battery technology and overhead electrical deliver technology are already sufficient to use electricity for ~90% of transport. We can synthesize liquid hydrocarbon fuels for the remainder (long trips and air transport). This can be accomplished with zero CO2 impact using atmospheric CO2 capture (municipal solid waste, biomass and adsorbtion).

Only ignorance will put us on a low energy path.

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Ultimately it’s a growth problem and nuclear, which itself requires considerable fossil fuel if you want to consider the entire end to end nuclear cycle, can only really play a temporary mitigating role as long as perpetual growth is in the saddle. Malthus still rules. Here is an edited version of something I wrote last year that addresses that.

There is a theory running around here that innovation will keep the economy growing indefinitely. I mean they have since Malthus predicted the imminent limit of growth by humans, didn’t they? The doom and gloomers have been caught with their pants down over and over right?

I told a version of this story before but I’ll tell it again. A rat couple shows up at a full corn silo that has been abandoned. It’s rat heaven. Generation after generation of rats multiply losing the memory of scarcity limits and come to think this cornucopia is the natural order of things(Kind of seems familiar, doesn’t it?), that is until the corn runs out. Then they are in for a teeth chattering bath in reality. Science turned nature into a full silo to exploit at our pleasure for some few hundred years. Now the silo is starting to run dry(And in our case contaminated) and at least one result is a bunch of people running around looking for scapegoats or ersatz solutions as the scarcity wolf approaches their door.

If you consider the matter it is a bit extraordinary to think that a rule of limits that applies to and has applied to every other species that ever existed doesn’t apply to us. Have we increased the 2% of fresh water that was available to our paleolithic ancestors? No, but we use more and more of it and we are maxing out on that and in the process polluting it. More usable agriculture space? Only by chopping down the forests thereby destroying thousands of species and eliminating a critical carbon sink. In the mean time we are paving and building over agricultural land, losing much of our important topsoil blanket along with the buffer of plant diversity. And of course there are the rising oceans intruding on formerly productive land and over drafted fresh water supplies leading to water wars.

As far as the oceans it looks like we have maxed out on the fish and most of the eating fish are in decline. Kind of hard for the salmon to swim upstream when the rivers are diverted to agriculture and drinking and cleaning water. To add to this happy story the coral are degrading and much of the phytoplankton that stands at the base of our food chain is disappearing.

The Malthusian principle is working just fine, it’s just that we have shunted it over to a whole bunch of other species, generating a condition of accelerated die-off, to provide us with a window of biosphere exploitation that can’t last forever. The earth is finite don’t you know and there is no evidence that we have the ability to manage spaceship earth in a sustaining way in a growth scenario. We wouldn’t be downgrading practically every eco-system if we could.

Beside our proliferation of WMDs we have environmental degradation coming at us from all sides, not the least of these being AGW but all driven by a growth mentality. On top of that we have a whole world full of denialists ready to take us off the cliff. That might be called the psychological side of the coming train wreck.

A final thought, once growth no longer becomes the central economic agenda then the rationale for the modern industrial mega-state with its consumerist obsessions would seem to cease to exist. The more steady state based self-sustaining low tech community with its integrity based environmental feed backs would then naturally step forward and reassert itself. And we know for millions of years various versions of it have worked.

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David writes:
>Ultimately it’s a growth problem and nuclear, which itself requires considerable fossil fuel if you want to consider the entire end to end nuclear cycle, can only really play a temporary mitigating role as long as perpetual growth is in the saddle.

This is nonsense. Modern mining is already largely electrically powered. Nuclear fuel enrichment is electrically powered. Iron refining can use electric arc and induction heating and hydrogen rather than carbon-based reduction. There are no serious technical obstacles to a fossil-carbon-free, end-to-end nuclear power cycle. What little hydrocarbon-fuel is necessary / difficult-to-eliminate can be synthesized from air-captured CO2. And perfect carbon neutrality isn’t necessary either, a 90% reduction should be fine for a while.

Yes of course endless exponential growth obviously eventually reaches limits in any closed system. But the universe is pretty big and it will be a long time before we humans exhaust the energy and material capacities of this planet, this solar system, this galaxy, etc. Saying that growth is fundamentally bad ignores basically everything that is good about your life: food, shelter, transport, communication, health, etc. You aren’t going to convince many people to go backwards. Especially here, where most people actually think.

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Evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonen, in his “Logic of Chance”, estimaters the probability of life forming at least once in the entire visible universe. He very seriously overestimates the number of potentially habitable planets. Nonetheless, his estimate is around 10^(-4500), based primarily on the minimum complexity needed for reproduction.

Summary: Fermi was wrong to even assume that there was ‘anybody’ out there.

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Chris, the last time I read figures comparing various forms of alternative energy and the fossil fuel input per unit of energy output, nuclear energy came out way the heaviest user of fossil fuel when you considered the full end to end cycle. Perhaps that’s changed. I’d be interested in seeing your new figures if you have them or perhaps you are projecting more your version of the future.

The fact that you see the solar system and the galaxy as breaking the log jam of terrestrial limits, which you nevertheless find a long ways away, is sort of space agegee if I do say. You no doubt have talents in a number of areas regarding nuclear matters but as far as the business of environmental limits I’m not inclined to take you very seriously, as smart as you undoubtedly are.

By the way, as I’ve said before, I am for investing in nuclear energy at the present time including developing the IFR as a mitigating technology both for fossil fuel substitution and for nuclear waste recycling. I just am skeptical of nuclear’s long term prospects.

I do hope there are a few nuke folks around who understand the critical importance of turning around population growth and the problems of economic growth in general as opposed to finding an appropriate steady state as modeled by nature, otherwise it’s going to be even harder to take the pronuclear energy movement seriously.

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Saying that an industrial process that uses electricity is a heavy user of fossil fuel ignores the fact that electricity is not fundamentally fossil sourced. If your windmill factory or nuclear reactor factory is powered by electricity, then as the electricity generation sector progresses to non-fossil sources, so does the “usage of fossil fuel” embodied in the windmill or nuclear reactor. In a future when we’ve decarbonized our electricity supply (e.g. by using nuclear), nuclear will no longer embody any significant fossil content. In the USA, the average current electricity supply in 2010 emits 2.271 GT of CO2/year for about 12.71 Quads/year of electricity (from LLNL publications at https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/). Converting to SI units, that’s 0.610 grams of CO2 per kWh of electricity produced. Note that this is down slightly from 0.635 kg/kWh in 2008, probably due to the decreased price of natural gas. Looking at figure https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/carbon/carbon_emissions_2010/LLNL_US_Carbon_2010.png one can easily imagine how replacing coal and gas fired electricity generation with nuclear could bring these numbers way down.

OK, what is reasonable growth, how much energy does it demand, and how much fertile material do we have?

The world currently uses about 16 TW of primary energy. If the average person in the world used 2/3 of what a American uses today (roughly what a European uses today) and the population grew to 10B people, we’d need 70 TW of primary energy. That’s a growth of about 400%. I think we will get there in about 65 years (2.25% global average growth rate). To produce 70 TW you need to fission about 1 kg/second of heavy metal. Incidentally, this is very close to the rate at which Uranium is being washed into the oceans (which I’ve seen estimated at 32,000,000 kg/year). So, with IFR and extraction of uranium from sea water, we’ve got many millions of years of assured supply at this rate. This analysis ignores Thorium which is more plentiful than Uranium, but less soluble in water, so perhaps less accessible.

I’m confident that the Earth can support >20B people in a comfortable, higher standard of living than USA people enjoy today, and with minimal impact on the environment. We have the technology already to make it so. Whether our governance systems are up to the task is another matter.

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David M.

Just keep diverting into playing the victim and insisting on your us and them world Anon,

Why aren’t you answering the question? How far would you go to stop me?

David M.

then you won’t have to face the implications of looming environmental break down.

If we had just ignored the anti-nuclear movement in the ’70s we wouldn’t be having any global warming problems (it would still be in the future).

David M.

Your paranoia kind of reminds of the climate change denialists. You try to explain to them what’s happening and they can only see a socialist conspiracy to take away their private property.

You do realise that the low energy society dream is likely causing global warming denialism?

Read http://www.culturalcognition.net/projects/second-national-risk-culture-study.html which quotes:

Individuals’ expectations about the policy solution to global warming strongly influences their willingness to credit information about climate change. When told the solution to global warming is increased antipollution measures, persons of individualistic and hierarchic worldviews become less willing to credit information suggesting that global warming exists, is caused by humans, and poses significant societal dangers. Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation.

David M.

People who live in sustainable communities are not the ones who initiate conflicts with the empire builders, as much as you and others would like to imagine otherwise.

So even if I have no intention of using any of your land and are willing to move to an area no one is using it is still me who would start the conflict?

David M.

If Mother Nature ultimately won’t support an automobile culture due to human environmental overshoot that isn’t a conspiracy of nature loving fanatics trying to take away your SUV.

I don’t have an SUV (prefer not to be upside down).

But electric cars could probably do well enough and you can also use nuclear power to make carbon neutral synthetic fuels so there isn’t any intrinsic environmental problem with car culture (and more public transport could also help, not to mention being easier to electrify).

David M.

Ultimately it’s a growth problem and nuclear, which itself requires considerable fossil fuel if you want to consider the entire end to end nuclear cycle,Nuclear has close to the lowest life cycle energy usage of any power source (provided you use reputable sources).

Oh and fossil fuels can be removed from the nuclear fuel cycle if you use electric vehicles at the mine, electric trains to get the Uranium to port and nuclear powered ships to transport it, then have your conversion, enrichment and fabrication plants run on nuclear electricity.

David M.

can only really play a temporary mitigating role as long as perpetual growth is in the saddle.

So? It can last us long enough to eventually be replaced by whatever comes after, maybe fusion, maybe space solar, maybe something else (for all I know we’ll have ZPMs by then).

David M.

Malthus still rules.

People like you have been saying that for more than a century and every time they have been wrong, why should I expect that to change any time soon?

David M.

Here is an edited version of something I wrote last year that addresses that.

Except that it doesn’t.

David M.

There is a theory running around here that innovation will keep the economy growing indefinitely.

That part hasn’t been proven but we’re along way from whatever ultimate limit may stop us (the universe is very big).

David M.

I mean they have since Malthus predicted the imminent limit of growth by humans, didn’t they? The doom and gloomers have been caught with their pants down over and over right?

Indeed they have.

David M.

I told a version of this story before but I’ll tell it again. A rat couple shows up at a full corn silo that has been abandoned. It’s rat heaven. Generation after generation of rats multiply losing the memory of scarcity limits and come to think this cornucopia is the natural order of things(Kind of seems familiar, doesn’t it?), that is until the corn runs out. Then they are in for a teeth chattering bath in reality.

Rats aren’t intelligent, they can’t create new technology to increase production of food and also can’t create a new silo.

David M.

Science turned nature into a full silo to exploit at our pleasure for some few hundred years.

Actually science is allowing us to use the silo more efficiently to the point at which we’re actually using less of it to produce more.

David M.

Now the silo is starting to run dry(And in our case contaminated) and at least one result is a bunch of people running around looking for scapegoats or ersatz solutions as the scarcity wolf approaches their door.

Malthusians always pooh-pooh the proposed solutions right before they solve the problem, I don’t see this being any different.

David M.

If you consider the matter it is a bit extraordinary to think that a rule of limits that applies to and has applied to every other species that ever existed doesn’t apply to us.

Considering we’re the only intelligent species I don’t think it that big a stretch, besides, if Malthus had been right we’d have starved long ago.

David M.

Have we increased the 2% of fresh water that was available to our paleolithic ancestors?

Yes, we have built desalination plants which can turn salt water into fresh, we’re also getting into water recycling to allow us to use what fresh water we have more efficiently.

David M.

No, but we use more and more of it and we are maxing out on that and in the process polluting it.

Yet we have the technology to turn salt water into fresh already proven and available so we aren’t going to be having any problem with running out of water (we do live on a planet that is covered by ≈75% water).

David M.

More usable agriculture space? Only by chopping down the forests thereby destroying thousands of species and eliminating a critical carbon sink.

Actually we’ve been reducing the amount of land we devote to growing crops (thereby returning that land to forests) even while we’ve been increasing food production and genetic engineering promises to allow us to get even further gains (no till farming which really requires genetically modified crops to do well also shows great potential).

David M.

In the mean time we are paving and building over agricultural land, losing much of our important topsoil blanket along with the buffer of plant diversity.

Cities are expanding but we still aren’t paving over all that much agricultural land (not to mention that most of the really productive agricultural land is not right next to a large city).

David M.

And of course there are the rising oceans intruding on formerly productive land

The sea level rise global warming is going to cause will be nasty but we have a lot of farm land which won’t be flooded (I suspect most) and with genetic engineering we can more easily adapt crops to grow under the new climate (the earth has historically had more biomass when the climate was warmer so once we’ve adapted to the changes a warmer planet might actually give us higher agricultural productivity in the end).

David M.

and over drafted fresh water supplies leading to water wars.

nuclear desalination can fix that problem.

David M.

As far as the oceans it looks like we have maxed out on the fish and most of the eating fish are in decline.

Then we switch to aquaculture, just as we switched from hunting and gathering to grazing and farming.

David M.

Kind of hard for the salmon to swim upstream when the rivers are diverted to agriculture and drinking and cleaning water.

Nuclear desalination would remove the need for that, I’m of the opinion that we should only be building dams for flood control (but if we do need them for flood control we should get as much use out of them as possible so those dams would supply water and electricity as well as their primary purpose).

Aquaculture would also prevent us from running out of salmon (aquaculture can also provide better tasting fish as well).

David M.

The Malthusian principle is working just fine,

No one has actually demonstrated a real limit to growth which we are even coming close to reaching, that isn’t working just fine.

David M.

it’s just that we have shunted it over to a whole bunch of other species, generating a condition of accelerated die-off, to provide us with a window of biosphere exploitation that can’t last forever.

Then why are many parts of the environment getting better? Why are some endangered species coming back and starting to thrive?

David M.

The earth is finite don’t you know

The universe most likely isn’t and we still aren’t even close to using all the resources of the Earth (by the time we do get there I expect us to have most of our population living in space with the Earth as a planet wide national park).

David M.

and there is no evidence that we have the ability to manage spaceship earth in a sustaining way in a growth scenario. We wouldn’t be downgrading practically every eco-system if we could.

Well we aren’t downgrading practically every eco-system so maybe we can after all (and we are still learning).

David M.

Beside our proliferation of WMDs we have environmental degradation coming at us from all sides, not the least of these being AGW but all driven by a growth mentality.

Without growth (i.e. in the low energy society you want for us) there wouldn’t be environmentalism (and the problem with global warming isn’t growth, but lack of nuclear power).

David M.

On top of that we have a whole world full of denialists ready to take us off the cliff. That might be called the psychological side of the coming train wreck.

Partly because people like you are telling them that they have to give up a life they like, it is in large part the fault of the anti-nuclear movement that we have global warming denialists.

David M.

A final thought, once growth no longer becomes the central economic agenda then the rationale for the modern industrial mega-state with its consumerist obsessions would seem to cease to exist.

That would require either everyone to agree with you (which is not going to happen, at least not unless you give me a frontal lobotomy) or for the use of force against those who disagree with the end of growth.

David M.

The more steady state based self-sustaining low tech community with its integrity based environmental feed backs would then naturally step forward and reassert itself.

Would you prefer this to an industrial mega-state which wouldn’t destroy the environment.

David M.

And we know for millions of years various versions of it have worked.

We also know from millions of years of such societies existing what they are like and personally I’d rather do a lot more damage to the environment than live in such a society and I’m not the only one (in fact if I weren’t in the majority you’d have already got your way).

David B. Benson:

Evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonen, in his “Logic of Chance”, estimaters the probability of life forming at least once in the entire visible universe.

His estimate is almost certainly wrong, just as everyone else’s estimate is almost certainly wrong (you can’t extrapolate from just one data point).

David B. Benson:

He very seriously overestimates the number of potentially habitable planets.

Our estimate for how many habitable planets are out out there isn’t much better than our estimate that one of them will develop life so he may have underestimated it.

David B. Benson:

Nonetheless, his estimate is around 10^(-4500), based primarily on the minimum complexity needed for reproduction.

Then the estimate ignores the possibility of simpler self-replicating chemicals.

David M.

the last time I read figures comparing various forms of alternative energy and the fossil fuel input per unit of energy output, nuclear energy came out way the heaviest user of fossil fuel when you considered the full end to end cycle. Perhaps that’s changed. I’d be interested in seeing your new figures if you have them or perhaps you are projecting more your version of the future.

You were probably looking at a discredited study which was in a sense rigged to show nuclear energy having higher CO₂ emissions.

David M.

By the way, as I’ve said before, I am for investing in nuclear energy at the present time including developing the IFR as a mitigating technology both for fossil fuel substitution and for nuclear waste recycling. I just am skeptical of nuclear’s long term prospects.

So what do you think we’ll be using long term?

David M.

I do hope there are a few nuke folks around who understand the critical importance of turning around population growth

I understand the critical importance of not focusing on population growth for actually stabilising the population (you’re better off putting the resources into raising the standard of living so that people have fewer children, higher standard of living tends to move humans more towards K selection).

David M.

and the problems of economic growth in general as opposed to finding an appropriate steady state as modeled by nature,

I’d be more worried if the economy stopped growing forever, for a steady state is economy is likely impossible, if an economy isn’t growing it’ll shrink which is much worse.

David M.

otherwise it’s going to be even harder to take the pronuclear energy movement seriously.

Those of us in the reality based community don’t find it hard to take the pro nuclear movement seriously.

Chris Uhlik:

I’m confident that the Earth can support >20B people in a comfortable, higher standard of living than USA people enjoy today, and with minimal impact on the environment. We have the technology already to make it so. Whether our governance systems are up to the task is another matter.

So far we seem to have been managing all right, we’d probably muddle through (even if not as well as we could have done).

MODERATOR
This is the very type of exchange which should now be taking place on the new BNF Forum which will have more relaxed commenting rules. However, it will still require that commenters remain civil in their exchanges and avoid inciting acrimony. Your comment (and those of some of your interlocutors)is tracking in that direction.
Please move over, register and continue. I suggest the following board is suitable for your exchange:
http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=sustainability
but you may choose to suggest another board/sub-board which you feel would be more specific to your arguments.

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This Open Thread is getting unwieldy and, as the BNC Forum has boards and folders for several of the topics being discussed here, it would make sense to switch over now. Under the SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES board you will find three sub-boards:
Anthropocene Extinction
Behavioural Mitigation Strategies
Population Limits

Topics on other boards include:
Policy Interventions
Fission Q&A
Nuclear Advocacy
to name a few.

Commenting on this new forum allows you to more easily follow discussion on topics which interest you or suggest a new topic.
Go to http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com and complete a one-off registration for a deeper, richer comments experience where more detailed personal input is possible and encouraged.
Suggest new topic boards/sub-boards for the site here:
SUGGESTIONS ON BNC FORUM STRUCTURE http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=2

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Yes, I agree with the moderator — it is much better to shift these discussions over to the new forum (trust me guys, it really is a much nicer venue for posting!). This will be the last Open Thread on BNC (with the new forum these have become redundant), and I might close this off shortly.

Also on the new forums, don’t forget to register (one off). In particular, I see David Benson continues to post over there as “Guest” – c’mon David, sign up! :)

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Barry Brook — As I explained in a recent e-mail to you, it seems I cannot use my name, embedded blanks, period and all, as a registered user.

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David – I didn’t get any email?

Also note that you could make your username “davidbbenson” or similar, and then, once your account is established, you can edit (modify) your profile and change your “Display Name” (different to username, which is for login) to “David B. Benson”). Easy to do, and that is what I’ve done – my user name is different to my screen name.

See here for more info:
http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=16

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I do appreciate Anon taking the time to offer his often faith based responses. What does trouble me a bit is what appears to me a kind of indifference by nuclear folks to the challenges of population and economic growth. It suggests to me that the nuclear solution has evolved into something magical. Leave it to nuclear and heaven will be ours.

Take if from a not completely unsympathetic outsider, some of what I’m reading is coming off as seriously weird.

PS. I am planning to shift forums. Just maintaining a little continuity for the moment.
MODERATOR
This is what I said to Anon and it also applies to you:
“This is the very type of exchange which should now be taking place on the new BNC Forum http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi which will have more relaxed commenting rules. However, it will still require that commenters remain civil in their exchanges and avoid inciting acrimony. Your comment (and those of some of your interlocutors)is tracking in that direction.”
The stricter BNC Comments Policy has been violated by all in this current exchange but we are allowing a little leeway while the move to the new forum takes place.

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David M,
1. Population growth can only be prevented by adequately meeting everyone’s needs for education, empowerment, employment, and a decent retirement in old age. (That is, when you stop farming you won’t starve to death.) Only good state sponsored education for the poor can educate enough people fast enough to help prevent population growth. The United Nations has concluded that for every 3 years of education a girl receives, she is likely to have 1 less child as an adult.

2. “A final thought, once growth no longer becomes the central economic agenda then the rationale for the modern industrial mega-state with its consumerist obsessions would seem to cease to exist. The more steady state based self-sustaining low tech community with its integrity based environmental feed backs would then naturally step forward and reassert itself. And we know for millions of years various versions of it have worked.”
This sentence has so many presuppositions in its circular logic system that responding to everything adequately would take a few papers. For now I will simply point you to Japan, that hasn’t *really* grown as an economy for over a decade and yet hasn’t collapsed back into anarchy. The American economy has been stagnant for years, and as a result of the GFC uses a quarter less oil! That is, they *stopped* burning 5mbd, which is 5 times the amount of oil Australia use! That’s an awesome statistic, and shows that while they have some pressures, they too have avoided crumbling into complete anarchy.
MODERATOR
EN – head over to the new BNC Forum where David M has switched (as suggested) and has started a new thread on this topic:
http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=17 This Open Thread will be the last and will be closing soon.

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Am I the only one who finds this simple black print on white background much nicer than the white print glare of the new forum?

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Moderator by your leave may I complete the exchange with EN which has a slightly different focus than my new thread and I don’t have to suffer eye strain.

EN, Japan and the US are growth focused industrial mega-states. It’s in their dna. The fact that they may be exhibiting some contraction due to economic,political or environmental circumstances is nothing new historically and has nothing to do with their essential economic focus. Clearly they are not striving to be steady state, environmentally integrated economies. A rising GDP is their measure of good times.
MODERATOR
That’s fine – this is a phase in period and things are flexible but I would encourage all to go over to the BNC Forum,register and have a look. There are nearly 100 posts there already with a variety of subject areas.

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@Moderator… please don’t shut down this Open Thread until the new webpage has been debugged. I think you would have to admit that its occasional switching to white text on a white background means it is not ready for visitors. (That bug could be bypassed by a “plain text” option)
MODERATOR
Don’t worry – we will keep both going for the phase-in period during which we hope to iron out the format and any bugs. Please all be patient.

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You can always use the Page Style option in your web browser to make it black text on white background (under the View menu in firefox and seamonkey).

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Head over to BNC Discussion forum to comment on these new threads

Can eating less meat solve climate change

People have strong opinions about a vegetarian lifestyle but are we all prepared to cut our meat/dairy intake substantially to assist in the fight against climate change and would it actually also benefit our health and have an impact on cancer statistics.

Read more: http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=miti&action=display&thread=38#ixzz1tQDcasTS

Global Water Cycle doubles in intensity

Recent research by the CSIRO indicates an increase in ocean salinity has shown a strong intensification of the global water cycle over the period 1959-2000. In fact it is double the previously predicted rate.

Read more: http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=science&action=display&thread=39#ixzz1tQEZsdFd

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Just to let you know – I think the Discussion Forum is great!
It is a good idea which allows anyone to start a topic that interests them, instead of waiting for a blog post to comment on. BNC is even better! Thankyou.

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