- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Count away.

Posted by: Farinata ( L'inferno ) on December 08, 1999 at 14:06:57:

In Reply to: Of course I trust you, but I'd like to count and cut... posted by Frenchy on December 08, 1999 at 11:04:58:

: :
: : : : In thermodynamic terms; in physical terms, the Earth is very definitely a zero-sum-gain system; and the whole human concept of 'wealth' as applied to cars becomes redundant as soon as the oil runs out.

: : : : What use is a luxury commodity made out of plastic if you can't power it? What use is land if it becomes too polluted to produce food?

: : : Farinata, look around and it's obvious that the Capitalist system is producing those things that peasants from all over the world want.

: : Really? Can it be said to be providing a marked improvement to the lot of the common man worldwide?;

: Nice dodge.

It's not a dodge at all. Have the majority of the world's population suffered a marked improvement as the result of the West's last 80 years of consumption? The best estimates are that half of the world's total stock of non-renewable natural resources have been consumed since the end of World War I; this has led to an unprecedented gap between rich and poor.

What you're undoubtedly thinking is "...but everyone's standard of living has improved"; this is to some extent true; but much of the improvements, like medicine and telecommunications are themselves unsustainable; they require petrochemicals to keep them going. When they run out, as they will do, the entire human race is going to fall back into pre-industrial ways unless there is an alternative fuel available.

It doesn't matter what the West has achieved if we can't sustain it and spread it to the entire world whilst keeping consumption sustainable.

: I would reply that any leader of any country who chose to could turn to democracy coupled with the rule of law and individual freedom and give it a shot.

How often have leaders been willing to give up power for the common good?, whether Stalin or Pinochet, the existence of heirarchy tends to propel the most brutal and ruthless into power; because the heirarchy is based on power; and those who can wield power most effectively are those who have no qualms about brutality.

: : or is it just benefitting the richer tenth of the world's population; who justify their greed with the weak excuse that it will somehow 'trickle down' to the poor people in the end - against all the evidence.

: You call it greed. Yet you benefit from the advances of capitalism yourself. Are you also greedy? If not, what differentiates your comfort from the comfort of others?

I don't drive, I don't eat meat. At a stroke, I've distanced myself from the two most environmentally destructive and inefficient modes of consumption in the Western world.

Quite apart from that, I try to grow my own food, use as little in the way of natural resources as possible and not waste anything.

They aren't "the advances of capitalism" in many cases, either; they are discoveries that have been exploited by capitalism. The UK invented the television; the US made it a global icon.

: : : You have to little faith in man's creative powers. The new plastic of fifty years ago will one day be replaced by a new synthetic material created by a man who refuses to be locked into a zero sum world.

: : From where? Care to state any potential sources?

: I can't begin to guess. But who'd a thunk in 1902 that plastics would have such an impact on human affairs today? Don't you have the wherewhithal to imagine the condition of people who lived only a century ago and imagine the world as it appeared to them?

Look, you're missing the point. We are locked into exactly the same mode of consumption as we were a century ago. Cars are now electronically-controlled behemoths capable of 150 mph; but they're still based on the same fundamental lines as the original machines built in the 1890s. An aircraft is merely a car with wings, at base. They still use the combustion of refined hydrocarbons as their fundamental energy source.

Where the Victorians consumed lamp oil, we consume kerosene; but the consumption is still the same; the irreversible combustion of alkanes to produce carbon oxides and water remains unchanged. The fact that our culture appears much more hi-tech and up-to-date doesn't alter the fact that we are essentially consuming in the same mode as the Victorians.

The Victorians sustained their mode of consumption by exploiting places like India and Africa for easily accessible raw materials; we are sustaining our mode of consumption by exploiting the harder-to-get raw materials; and we're trying to spread this mode of consumption to the rest of the world; promising them Coca-Cola and cars for all; it simply cannot be done, in terms of planetary raw materials.

For any vaguely hi-tech society to be made global would require a major rethink of dominant political theory, not scientific theory; because the changes of the last 100 years have been incremental, not revolutionary; for all our fancy toys, we are still behaving like Victorians.

(And plastics have been in mass use by humanity for about 2000 years, by the way.)

: : Fact remains, fossil and vegetable-based fuels are humanity's sources of energy; and have been since the beginning of history.

: So your saying that man from the beginning of time has used wood to build fires and since the middle of the last century he found a better source; oil.

Consumption of one form of carbon shifted to consumption of a more compressed form of carbon; the consumption of carbon has not changed or lessened.

: Does that necessarily mean that will occur in the future as well? How about nuclear power?

Nuclear power is three times as expensive to produce as fossil fuel sourced power; the components and by-products are hazardous and the safety mechanisms needed to regulate nuclear power require a significant amount of energy in themselves.

As power costs climb, there arise greater profits from neglecting the safety overheads in favour of increased revenue; crew safety training goes downhill and you end up with someone taking out all of the control rods at once to see what happens. I don't need to tell you what happens next. And dangerous radioisotopes can render large areas of previously fertile land uninhabitable for geological timescales.

Solar power requires delicate equipment, good weather and a considerable initial outlay; if we were seriously going to switch from fossil power to solar power, we would need to start now if not sooner; and do so on a scale large enough to cause a severe hit to our current economy. Rather than do this, the oil companies have actually bought up much research in the area and shut it down; since it constitutes competition; the oil industry is largely responsible for the lack of progress in the solar power industry. When the oil starts running low, then they may do something; but it will be too little and too late.

Gee once advanced the idea of space-based solar power; just fine and dandy, except that photodiodes are typically 10% efficient; a square metre of solar cells would produce 138 Watts of power - before it even touched the atmosphere, where much of the energy would be dissipated.

To provide 500 kW you would need 3623 square metres of perfectly functioning solar cells!; unlikely in itself, given the wear and tear space puts on solar cells (which wear out in 8-10 years, tops). And to add to that, the last 40 years of space exploration have left a ring of debris around the Earth - anything larger than a space station runs the risk of being hit at least once a year; solar cells are fragile things, being mostly glass. If an impact hit a solar cell, it would throw the cell array off a solar-facing attitude; which would render the entire panel useless.

Let's say a solar panel weighs about 80 kg.

The escape velocity squared equals the universal gravitational constant times the mass of the Earth divided by the radius of the Earth

R= 6.37 x 10exp6 m
G= 6.67 x 10exp-11 (disregarding the units for the moment)
Mass of Earth = 6 x 10exp24 kg

Escape velocity works out to 7.9 x 10exp3 m/s

To give the 80 kg mass sufficient velocity to leave Earth and reach orbit, you have to give it kinetic energy (as expressed by 1/2 m times v squared).

80 kg weight is (80 x 9.81) Newtons in mass, or 784 N.
v squared is 79000 squared; 6.2 billion metres squared per second squared.

It works out as 2.4 trillion Joules to put that 80 kg solar panel in space and keep it there.

One Watt is one Joule of work done in one second.

The weight of a typical solar panel is 4 kg per square metre; giving an area of 21 square metres; and an output of 2.8 kJ/s.

To recoup the amount of energy expended in getting that panel up there would take 86 million seconds; three years perfect operation.

However, atmospheric attenuation is typically between 90 and 95%; typically more for a geostationary orbit. Only 10% of energy transmitted from space would get down to Earth.

Basically, if you could put that solar panel in space, keep it free of debris, keep it working at maximum efficiency and beam all of the energy down to Earth, you would break even in about 30 years; it would take you 30 years to produce as much energy as you expended getting the panel up there in the first place.

And the maximum normal lifespan for solar panels is 8-10 years.

: What would your ideal solution be?

Tightening our belts; making our consumption more efficient and cutting off those outputs of consumption we don't need. This isn't an ideal soultion by any means; but it's the only one I can envisage happening in the near future.

: : This is ignoring the fact that combustion of carbon-based fuels on a sufficient scale to support an industrial society (even at the present level) will result in global warming sufficient to disrupt large parts of society over the next 200 years; as this research published today finds.

: This is pure conjecture on the part of tree-huggers. Besides, climate changes have been going on since the beginning of time.

It's anything but pure conjecture. I know climate changes have been going on since the beginning of time; I studied a B.Sc. in the subject; but the changes in recorded history have been an overall mean surface temperature change lower than one degree C; the Earth is pretty good at regulating itself when left alone.

However, humanity does have the power to shift the equilibrium; this much is obvious; during the last 30 years alone, we have raised the mean surface temperature by half a degree C; you can measure that in ice cores, tree rings, biomass distribution and similar sources.

By the end of the next century, we could have raised the mean surface temperature by 3 degrees C; with harmful consequences for humanity.

As the research from the Antarctic shows, the present rate of polar melting could lead to a 70 metre rise in sea level over the next 200 years; I personally think that this is the high end of the envelope; but a rise of 10-15 metres is entirely likely; and would result in the flooding of a lot of the world's low-lying land, including Manhattan, London and Amsterdam.

: Science, commandeered by envirowackos, has been discredited. Their stories change from month to month.

No they don't. If you actually had any scientific background, you'd realize that the evidence in favour of human-caused global warming existing is pretty overwhelming; and is getting stronger by the day.

Go read some science journals; New Scientist is a (moderately) respected journal, as is Nature.

: : What is actually needed is moderation of consumption, not just new forms of consumption; and industrial capitalism is lousy at self-regulation.

: Yes, and a dictator like statlin or castro would be much better for everyone.

No it wouldn't. Dictators are bad news, whether they are individuals like Stalin or faceless and unaccountable groups like the WTO.

: : : New oppoortunities will be created, old technologies will wither, but man will survive.

: : Great. Large parts of humanity will wish they hadn't, though; we're talking mass suffering here.

: Luddite.

Am I saying people didn't suffer in the past? Am I saying we should revert to preindustrial society? No and no; I'm merely saying that the present mode of consumption is unsustainable. That's not Luddism.

: : There are human beings that live in a polluted and deeply unequal society divided into the haves and the have-nots. 40,000 under-fives die of poverty-related causes every day; and the last 30 years have seen the gap between rich and poor grow from 30-to-1 to 74-to-1 as more wealth became concentrated in the hands of those who already have enough.

: Again, your assuming a zero-sum scenario. What can you tell us about the society where these terrible things take place? Do they value the individual over the collective? Where are they, specifically?

I'm quoting statistics verbatim from the UN Human Development Reports from 1997 and 1999. When it comes to the power to conduct in-depth research, the UN wins hands down.

Read the report yourself; the part where it describes the breakdown in social cohesion in the Asian Tigers is particularly interesting.

: : Why? Because he brought them to the realization that they didn't have to just do as they were told? Because he put them on the road to self-government?

: : Just what kind of libertarian are you, to say such things?

: I say the very same thing about teachers in public schools who indoctrinate young students about the homosexual lifestyle.

Aha; so it's liberty and equality for all, as long as their agenda is the same as your agenda. And your agenda, being right-wing American Christian is pretty bloody intolerant.

If you found a mugging victim on the side of the road asking for help and funds, would you feel in any way that you should help them?

: The teachers are, from their point of view, 'liberating' those young children, but a certain percentage of the young children who act on the teachers beliefs will die of AIDS before their 30th birthday.

Oho - now we have the "AIDS is a gay plague and God's punishment on fags!" bit of rubbish.

For your information, Frenchy, there are numerous different strains of the disease you know as AIDS; and each strain affects different ethnic groups. The strain of AIDS we have in the West is only spread by heterosexual intercourse in 7% of cases; but the strain dominant in Africa is spread via heterosexual contact in 80% of cases.

Are you going to say that the African strain of AIDS is God's plague on niggers as well?

And, given that all five generally-known strains of AIDS have evolved in the last 40 years, are you going to still be saying the AIDS is God's judgement when your friends and relatives start going down from a new strain of the disease?

AIDS is a virus; it mutates into new forms, just as flu and colds do.

: In both cases there is a person with a superior education taking advantage of persons who cannot defend themselves against propaganda, and may not even recognize it. Self-government is not obtained via one point of view, from one teacher pushing an ideology. There is very good reason today to distrust much of what the elites have to say.

- and you, Frenchy, are parroting what the Chicago School and the American Government have told you to say.

Beams and motes, Frenchy.


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