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Friday, June 05, 2020

The Four Pillars of Future Progress—Part III: Energy

The Four Pillars of Future Progress—Part III: Energy
By Tim Krenz
For Hometown Gazette

In this third section of the series, The Four Pillars of Future Progress, we examine the most fundamental element of continuing human development on earth, that of energy. Like all critical issues to the present and future survival of our species, it seems that few can accept a frank discussion of either the reality, nor an open debate about the requirements for sound policy—to guarantee humanity's future when it comes to energy. Without going into theoretical physics, or into detailed technical descriptions, the salient, much more practical points speak for themselves.

Everything gets created out of energy. Everything destroyed gets turned into some other form of energy. No person can create more energy that does not already exist. Energy transfers and takes different forms, but still the fundamental building blocks, simplified as protons, electrons and neutrons, all remain parts of everything. Whether we talk about stars, water, concrete, or the human body, everything just described applies, and nothing, not logic nor fake logic, can defy this basic premise of energy. Unless we accept and work within these rules, we have no future, nor anything to discuss, except about digging billions of graves. Energy uses, not necessarily only clean energy, but all uses of energy by humanity, will decide our future in the universe. It will also determine whether or not humanity's right to natural liberty and dignity will continue to exist.

We learned the basics of human survival in elementary school: food, clothing, and shelter. We also use fire as the fourth basic component, since it gives the motive force of energy for cooking, heating in colder climates, and for modern transportation. Fire transforms energy, from organic compounds like woods or oils, etc. into heat and flame. Food, clothing, and shelter also come from materials produced by the natural processes of converting energy. Food means energy too, for the human body. These examples reiterate the point that everything comes from and returns to energy—protons, electrons, and neutrons. Since everything we have, or want to have or need, comes from some type of energy and process, we had best understand the implications and arrive at some point of a philosophy, science, or even art and policy for utilizing it.

Politically, control of energy means control of civilization. So much political power extends from the end of a gun barrel, as China's communist dictator, Mao Zedong, once famously said. But more than just political power, political control over people comes from the state ownership of sovereign energy resources and the things created out of and by energy. In libertarian philosophies, ownership of property by the individual, including over their own bodies, ensures the personal rights of nature against any evil or mal-intent by a government.

But the ownership of energy and the disposal of all energy resources by the discretion and at the service of the state, guarantees a willing submission of people to a state to ensure the smooth access to energy, and to those products and services made by it. Whether we talk of petroleum products for fertilizers for food, or gas for cars, or the clothing and shelter people need, or home heating and air conditioning for homes—everything needs energy inputs for our ever more modernized civilization to function. This makes the consumer the willing and submissive participant to the state which oversees the allocation of all energy resources This phenomenon of political control over the economy, society and the culture itself builds a self-reinforcing feedback loop, as civilization develops ever-increasing needs for energy. As the allocator and regulator of last and final resort, the state does become ever more absolute in reality, in deed and fact, the more people depend on it for energy to power it.

The universe can provide more energy than humans can ever use to infinity. And, yet, the universe has only a stable and unchanging amount of energy in it. On earth, we use things created by energy, manufactured by nature since the beginning of time. At the root of the problem, using energy—electrical, mechanical, nuclear, and chemical processing—comes by harnessing one form of energy and transforming it into another. Humans have become adept at collecting, converting, transforming, and exploiting energy for its own uses, one of the best signs of the intensive development of human intelligence. However, no such thing as free energy exists. After using energy, the total input must equal the total output. But energy can leave extra parts after its conversion into something else, even waste, as long as the totals equal on both ends of the process.

Harnessing energy presents opportunity costs. In economics, these opportunity costs get fulfilled by way of capital investments, in order to build processes to use the energy provided by the universe. And, building those processes require energy as well, just to get useful energy products. This principle applies in making concrete or getting nuclear power plants to produce electricity, or a petroleum refinery producing gasoline. All energy on earth comes to the earth or from the earth, sooner or later, and it will leave the earth long after any human extinction. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the cycle will go forward, always. And whether we talk of energy or a luncheon, nothing comes free.

When converting energy by nature or via man-made processes, the results come with costs and benefits. Energy conversion brings great power, like electricity, but with side-effects, like pollution, if not done efficiently. The energy equation remains equal on both sides, but one side has electricity plus pollution to equal one factor of resource on the other side. Energy inefficiency creates wastes of both energy and capital, in dollar terms. And we here we face the inescapable dilemma. Civilization needs energy, but that creates problems.

In as much as the Earth only contains so much energy in resources, we must find better ways of not wasting the energy itself, or wasting where society invests its capital dollars. This arrives at a crucial crux, in that the earth can only hold so much waste product from humans before the delicate balances between energy, waste, humanity, and the earth will start to disintegrate. It may do so sooner, or much later, but it will happen either way. And for the earth, it will protect itself. Humanity can do so, too. The earth has no choices in which direction it will restore the balance to itself. Humanity has choices. So far, in all matters of energy and climate, humans have thought and acted stupidly, on both sides of this argument. Better policies might work.

Before looking at policies, we must first admit some reality. Humans will never free itself from energy dependence. How we think of energy, in a more complete form, may change how we use it. Some serious issues face humanity. In the essentials, the more we build a civilization arithmetically more dependent on energy—whether in the basics or the comfort factors of life—the more exponential the problem of costs and benefits in turning energy into products and services. By becoming that much more dependent on energy, individual political freedom and natural rights suffer and shrink to the benefit of a more absolutist state and its core elites. With freedom and rights shrinking, the power of the state and its passive capacity to control people and their conscience grows, and allows the state to allocate more energy to allies who may support a corrupt or harmful agenda. The political power of the state would then grow so monolithically so as to suppress any and all dissent from their control.

To the extent that human experience and imagination do so, we can still now make choices. We must eventually. Some of these involve political choices, economic choices, social choices, and cultural choices, and all involve technology-based issues.

Politically-technologically, any attempt by the state to impose a top-to-bottom change on how we use energy, whether or not aimed at preventing climate catastrophes, will fail on two counts. It would fail first because not everyone will agree to a change, let alone a solution. And, second, it will end in the absolute power of the monolithic state which ends free choice. Why does that fail? Because absolutist states have no reason to change or solve anything to anyone's benefit, other than that which benefits a small ruling class. On the opposite, more correct side philosophically, individual and community initiatives and ownership of solutions bring more diverse innovation, from the free debate and mixing of collaborative innovations and contributions. When discussing energy, this applies to all use of energy resources, for electrical and mechanical power, and conversion of resources into products and services. Supplying new innovations to new demands by consumers benefits energy conservation and efficiency and works as well as it does any other freely made individual and community choice in a common interest and goal.

It would work better than an absolutist state in solving energy supply and demand for one simple reason. Politicians support their friends. Free individuals must in most normal cases support themselves. By working in communities for solutions, more individual initiative has greater and quicker impact. We have only these two ways, politically, of going forward to address the macro-need for energy efficiency with limited resources. States with dictatorial powers have always failed. They failed on energy long ago to work in the public interests. They have already tried. Now, free individuals and communities must think of and work on their own solutions. Everyone owns this problem. Most normal people want someone else to fix it, but not at great cost to them. The state will serve its own narrow interests. Therefore, everyone must participate, globally, to solve increasing energy demand and supply laws.

Economically-technologically, freer markets, without manipulative government favoritism, distributing capital and spreading risk always love profitable innovations. They also raise investment capital and spread the risk better, too, than the state. States serve as the insurer of last resort. It does that best, and does not belong, nor does it need to act, on the front end of energy markets. Freer markets allocate resources and capital for opportunity costs according to efficiency standards of a return on investment made by profitable sales to consumers. In creating supply for the demand of more energy, governments can best apply and supervise rules of fairness, equability, and transparency to the business of capital markets. If governments of the state get too involved in mixing government monies with private financing, it always leads to disastrous results.

Public-private cooperatives actually define conditions of fascism, or socialism, or communism—whatever, and none of these pose good conditions for individual freedom and dignity. The profits of fascism or socialism, etc. only aggrandize the state, at the expense of freedoms and beneficial results. Also, a public-private consortium opens the doors for corruption and inefficiency, or even suppression of innovation to the profit of the inefficient industries. We have that now under the current system of state-business collaboration. It does not work well. Try the freer market approach, with individual and community initiatives, and the result would look different than what failure so far has managed to achieve.

In addition, as long as individual consumer demands increase for more efficient energy usage, for the so-called “greener” options, then the market will supply it. The laws of nature and phsyics determine that. If the demand grows more, the supply of “greener” solutions will also increase, as long as the state does not have the opportunity to favor the corrupt and inefficient suppliers to everyone's disadvantage. The principle works for all products—electricity and gas, especially. If individual choice remains intact, people can freely choose to buy or invest in the kind and type of changes they want.

In the socially-technological aspect, to preserve the balancing of all factors, like investment, opportunity costs, costs and benefits of energy conversion, toward better, and toward more efficient, and healthier energy and power sources and results, a new mentality must enter the public awareness. Primarily, humanity must ask the questions, “Do we really need to have this product or service? Do we really want to spend energy making it and operating it?” For example, does it make sense for the world to suffer the cost of higher energy consumption just to get a thinking kitchen appliance? A smarter, flashier phone? More automobiles, even if electric? Answers can come as yes or no, or not yes but not now. It absolutely must come down to whether something saves energy and increases efficiency, to the why or why not do we need to develop something just because we can, and because we look brilliant doing it. If we apply this litmus test to all modernization—everything we can build, make or do—it might surprise us that we really do not need many of the things pointed by trends now and into the future. While things may fascinate us, and look shiny on top, almost every thing in society has a dirty underside when it comes to energy and looking at the costs and the benefits scales. Imagination offers us many opportunities for increasing energy efficiency, but we must understand that no free energy or free lunch exists. Until humans get out of their own selfishness and the perceived birthright to consume unlimited amounts of energy and energy resources, we might not overcome the challenges ahead. If we still build frivolous material things and do frivolous acts, we need only start planning graves in the future. How many? Unsure. Why? From every danger of war and peaceful times that concern energy in the future.

This discussion leads directly to the cultural-technological issue that will define the future of humanity, and not only about energy. The biggest obstacle to future progress about all energy conversion, clean power and climate change, economic growth and prosperity, and even the evolution of civilization, stems from humans blaming other people for problems without presenting better alternatives. Nor do humans have great willingness to make similar sacrifices for what they demand of others. Even your author can convict himself of these general human tendencies.

The general solutions come along these guidelines. First, NO ONE stands immune from this psycho-cultural syndrome of blaming others. Self-responsibility and self-disciplined ethics arrest this syndrome. Second, any solutions for energy problems must come from the consent of everyone concerned, peacefully, without coercion, in a unity of all to sacrifice something for better results. Third, demanding that only one segment of the population pay for changing how we use energy and produce power, for any reason, must stop. (And stop on every other issue before us). Whether rich or poor, we ALL must own the solution, and everyone must pay a price, even in dollars. That price must come with fairness, equability, and transparency.

We all create the demand, we must all supply the answers, even in dollar amounts. Fourth, and finally, we must stop indulging in the waste of energy of all kinds, even human energy misdirected into frivolous thinking and actions. The problems of energy face us. They will not leave us. We must pay attention to solving it, consciously, conscientiously, deliberately, and energetically. Where we can eek out efficiency in energy conversion and consumption, we must do so, while still maintaining individual dignity and natural rights. If for no other reasons, it reduces the power of the state to rule without restraints, and only for the benefit of the privileged. To conclude this discussion, the clock ticks. More ideas exist. We can think of more, too. Let's hear others. But most of all, as people, we can think and act. For if we unleash the imagination of humanity, the solutions will present themselves. If we take ownership for our ideas and actions, we can prove to history that we deserve the right to call ourselves intelligent beings. We can save our future, and then exceed our expectations.


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