We Ignore the Physics at Our Peril
I regret that my assessment of our energy situation sounds bleak. I don’t mean to malign renewable energy. We should be building as many solar panels and wind turbines as possible as well as pursuing new technologies. But we must understand the shortcomings of those energy sources.
Obviously, Climate Change is a huge issue that must be forcefully addressed, but even if it were NOT an issue, we should be acting as if it is because the fossil fuels WILL be running out and it is not at all clear how we are going to continue running modern, industrialized civilization without them. Peak Oil is still very much an issue. It has simply been pushed back a few years by the shale oil fracking industry which will prove to be a very short-lived (to say nothing of environmentally disastrous) reprieve. Fracking postponed rationing. It’s easy to believe that as the fossil fuels dwindle, we’ll just transition over to renewables, but if it were really that easy, we’d already be doing it much more than we are and the motivation for Climate Change denial wouldn’t be so great. Indeed, until the COVID pandemic, we were burning more fossil fuels than ever. (James Hansen first explained Climate Change to Congress in 1988.)
All the solar panels and wind turbines on Earth will not produce one thimble full of gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas or coal. Our fossil fuels are a one-time geological inheritance that we are burning up just as fast as we can. Try pushing your car the distance you can drive it on one gallon of gasoline for which we currently pay about three dollars. For three bucks we are able to purchase the energy equivalent of a dozen slaves doing grueling, back-breaking physical labor for a day or two. If gasoline went up to $5 per gallon, many Americans would howl in protest and yet they don’t hesitate to pay $5 for a Starbucks beverage. A grande, low-fat, half-caf, vanilla soy latte may be fun to drink, but it will NOT make a 3000 pound automobile roll for 20 miles. A gallon of gasoline is a truly remarkable thing for which we pay next to nothing. It is so convenient, compact and energy-dense that you can put it in a red plastic can and saunter down the street with it. And yet it can perform a huge amount of work for us.
There are countless things we do using fossil fuels for which wind or solar generated electricity is not as well suited. For example, it is not at all certain that battery technology will ever be energy dense enough for a battery operated aircraft to fly 150 large people and all their luggage across continents and oceans at 600 MPH. Much of the mining, smelting, refining and processing of metals is done using fossil fuels. We’ve all seen images of foundries, forges and steel mills with huge red-hot pieces of metal and sparks flying. Those images represent staggering amounts of fossil fuel energy. Switching all those processes to electricity will not be easy or as cost effective as using fossil fuels. Brilliant as Elon Musk may be, switching the trucking industry to electric trucks charged by wind and solar is a MASSIVE undertaking. It might simply be more sensible for our food to be grown locally rather than traveling 1500 miles in tractor trailer rigs.
It is possible to make liquid and gas bio-fuels, but replacing our current use of fossil fuels with bio-fuels would require so much agricultural land as to be impractical if not impossible (if we expect to keep eating). Furthermore, biofuels grown over a single growing season produce hydrocarbon molecules that aren’t as complex and useful for the plastics, chemical and other industries as fossil fuels created over millions of years of immense heat and pressure in the Earth’s crust.
No doubt new technologies will emerge to help us as we make this transition, but it is wildly, extravagantly optimistic to assume that technology alone will get us through this transition without great difficulties along the way.
A Down-The-Rabbit-Hole Footnote to the Energy Story
Scoff as people may about the subject of UFO’s, the fact remains that many thousands of highly credible witnesses have seen intelligently controlled flying objects that defy conventional explanation. When pilots, police and military officers describe seeing objects that go from zero to thousands of miles per hour instantly and then make acute angle turns without slowing down, there appears to be a whole other type of energy and propulsion technology that is not commonly understood.
It seems that the UFO’s have some sort of anti-gravity technology whereby they can achieve instantaneous acceleration to unimaginable speeds with out harming those on board. Another way of understanding it would be to say that the UFO’s needn’t fly fast, but instead, are able to drag the fabric of space/time around them. In either case, they must have a considerable energy source on board. As it is doubtful that a 30 foot diameter disk shaped vehicle is going to have a huge diesel generator on board, we must consider other energy sources.
It has been theorized that there is a vast, untapped energy source in the quantum vacuum of space. Sometimes called “zero point energy”, if it could be mastered, it would render fossil fuels & nuclear energy obsolete and save us from both Peak Oil and Climate Change.
However, it must also be emphasized that in spite of the benefits of “free energy” it would also be an environmental disaster if humans continue acting as we do. An unlimited source of energy would enable unlimited population growth and plunder of the natural world. The last thing we need is previously impoverished Brazilian peasants living in 5000 square foot trophy houses plopped down in the middle of what used to be the Amazon rainforest.
So, if we are being visited by advanced beings from other star systems or if there is a super secret government program developing these technologies or if both are true, it seems that zero point energy and anti-gravity propulsion are being kept from us until we’re ready for them.