Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Economics vs Thermodynamics

"Economics" keeps telling us that wind or solar power is a bad investment. It just isn't true. The economy uses a form of monopoly money called US dollars that is essentially fictional and allocated preferentially to the oligarchs that control the banking system. They do whatever they feel will increase their own status and power with it. Right now, status and power is not perceived to be attached to wind or solar power hence there is a disinclination to invest in these systems in favor of oil, gas and coal. The basic unit of economics is a fictional control token.

Thermodynamics tells us that there are "external" costs to burning oil, gas, and coal. In essence we are burning coal in a domed city. Long before the fumes choke us out we will spend as much energy dealing with the damage of the coal smoke as we get from burning coal. The time gap where the damage comes after the burning doesn't change the fact that if you keep burning coal in a domed city eventually you will kill everyone inside the dome. The final status of all residents of the dome is equal: dead due to coal burning. The basis of thermodynamics is physics. Unlike economics you don't get to change the physics in a meeting of political insiders.

Reality is moving far closer to the second scenario than the first every day.

The EROI of well sited wind power is at least 20:1. By any standard of thermodynamics that amounts to "free." Windmill A1 yields enough energy to build B1 through T1 and then they all yield enough to build more until you get bored of building windmills or run out of good sites. Of course other factors will come into play but that's the simple version.

The thermodynamics of dozens of conservation programs are even better. Insulation and weatherproofing is far cheaper than hauling firewood. Building with super-insulating materials like straw bale is cheaper still. Likewise heating and cooling with a ground source heat pump is cheaper than burning coal.

A thick walled cob house is cheaper than all that since once built it can easily last 500 years and is easily heated past the comfort level by a cast-iron, wood-fired, cook stove. New wood-gas stoves use a fraction of the fuel that most rural people use for cooking; they're "free" solutions thermodynamically. Wrapping your house in compressed straw panels would probably be "free."

Bicycles are cheaper than almost anything since they require less energy to move a human than walking. Riding a bicycle is the thermodynamic equivalent of floating downstream on a barge your whole life; the return is better than actually doing nothing if you count health benefits.

A personal rapid transit system would be cheaper to build than the current maintenance costs of our asphalt and concrete roads. A 12 inch steel monorail is much cheaper than 25 feet of asphalt by any standard. Electricity cheaper than gas, shared pods far cheaper than cars. That would be effectively "free."

Permaculture activists have proven that food is abundantly available to much of the human race with a bit of knowledge and planning and shockingly little work. Dig a pond and you get fish, geese and ducks from it forever; get some beaver to dam a stream and you get the same result for free. Chestnuts are "free" thermodynamically as is mulberry, blackberry, mustard greens, acorns (and acorn fed pork) apples, walnuts, almonds, pears, quince (quince are just silly prolific) potatos, sunflowers, deer, buffalo, geese, and rabbits. Salmon used to be free before we poisoned, polluted and damned their rivers. Cod were "free" when we limited our fishing to wooden boats with hemp sails and lines.

Birth control is "free" if you have a lemon tree ;`) actually if we all use it well then lots of other things become energetically cheaper since we don't have to compete with other humans for them.

So understanding that we can get electric energy, heating and cooling, food and transportation for "free" thermodynamically we continue to live inside the death dome; because the economists tell us that it's too "expensive."

Come again?

How long will it take us to figure out that the economists are insane? Wind power or solar thermal power is cheaper than coal once you factor in the cost of emissions. Even if you escape the cost of emissions financially, as an investor, you or your descendants will pay by living in the death dome. We cannot burn fossil fuels in a closed system at all anymore and the earth is effectively a closed system.

There's a "free" world out there if we just reach for it. As the chinese are now learning; money cannot buy you a new set of lungs and you can't eat gold if your grain fields are under concrete. Think about it; if your beach house has no beach and the mountain place is a fire trap what good is it?

It's past time we started looking for real solutions. Letting insane people make decisions for us is simply not working.

crossposted from Gristmill in response to A decarbonization story: part one
Why a carbon price beats technology breakthroughs

1 comment:

Jon Rynn said...

Thanks for putting it up, easier to find that way