Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Initial Thoughts

Everyone ought to have a blog, I suppose. Someplace where they can write down random thoughts to be inflicted on the rest of the world. This is mine. The thoughts I will bother to write down will tend to be in the area of public policy, with an emphasis on energy policy. Not that that will stop me from writing about other things from time to time. My concerns with energy tend towards the macro rather than the micro, but again, that won't be a hard and fast rule. If I were to sum my concerns up in a sentence, it would probably be “I want my kids and grandkids to have lights; modest but comfortable living space; running water and sewers; adequate food; modern medicine; and computers.”

Using Peak Oil vernacular, I am not a cornucopian. At 6.7 billion people, the planet is almost certainly overcrowded, and possibly horribly so, particularly if you think about that many people living something that approximates the lifestyle I want for my own descendants. Business-as-usual is almost certainly not a workable option. The amounts of energy, and the sources of that energy, that my descendants use will be different than what I use. However, I admit to a certain – some might say considerable – degree of parochialism: the degree of overcrowding and the availability of energy resources varies from region to region, and I am more concerned about my own kids than about the kids of people living on the other side of the world.

On the other hand, I am not a Jay-Hanson doomer either. For one thing, overpopulation is not a uniform phenomenon. China and India together have an estimated 2.52 billion people in 4.97 million square miles; the United States and Canada have 0.34 billion people in 7.65 million square miles (507 people per square mile versus 44, more than an order of magnitude difference). Even within the United States, the distributions are not uniform. The portion of the contiguous 48 states west of the 100th meridian has the lion's share of the country's high-quality renewable energy resources (wind, solar, geothermal, undeveloped hydro) but only about one-third of the population.

Perhaps more importantly, the doomer view does not lend itself to the formulation of public policies that have any chance of being adopted. The message that we need to aim for Kunstler's World Made by Hand so that we don't crash even farther may be true, but it's not one that can be sold. It may not be possible to end up with a regional scaled-back energy-efficient version of modern technology (I won't say lifestyle), but I refuse to adopt that as a starting point for setting policy. To be fair, I will note that the cornucopian view has the opposite problem: if today's lifestyle and energy consumption can continue indefinitely, then there's little need to think about new policies at all.

Some caveats are probably in order. I like numbers. I like formal models. When the discussion involves engineering or economics, I like those to be done on a sound basis. When I make assumptions, I try to know when I am doing so and point them out. However, assumptions are just that and should be examined from time to time in the light of new knowledge. Let's see how it goes.

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