- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Thermodynamics strikes back...

Posted by: Farinata ( L'inferno ) on August 09, 1999 at 21:22:44:

In Reply to: ... A rather substantial 'mirage', to be so heavily taxed ... posted by Dr. Cruel on August 09, 1999 at 20:19:35:

: : Things change; that is in the nature of things.
: : (or de rerum natura, if you want to quote Lucretius Carus.)

: …And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Swings of a pendulum, as it were.

Actually, they don't. Check the Second Law out. Things do change; there are irreversible reactions; many of them used in our manufacturing industry.

: : : : A bright future, given that the U.N. is predicting wars due to the lack of fresh water within the next 30 years

: (DC: Again, I seem to remember Erlich predicting a collapse of world oil reserves by the mid 80’s. And so on.)

We are using four times as much oil as we are extracting. Apply some basic maths here. Even given new discoveries (which get ever harder as we have to look in more unlikely places), we are not living a sustainable culture.

: : You can have fresh, flouridated water; in the meanwhile, the water supply for the majority of the world is now more contaminated with man-made pollutants like PCBs, steroid hormones (like BGH and oestrogen), dioxins, benzyl chlorides, organophosphates and such. Just because you are more privileged than ever before doesn't mean that the majority has never had it so good.

: People in the world need clean, sanitary water. Communists don’t bring that about. Capitalist ‘exploitation’ does. This is why Singapore has better water than, say, Mexico.

Actually, people don't "need" clean water. It's a useful thing; a good thing, but not a "need"; or people would have died out long ago. How long can clean water be sustained for, before it becomes tainted?

Think in the long term here; clean water requires energy, halogenated compounds and metal machinery; desalination plants require even more. If oil supplies become unsustainable or intermittent, water purification stops. And our immune systems have become so accustomed to clean water that they are far weaker than they used to be; a small amount of dirt and contamination is good for the health of the nation as a whole.

: : Oh, quite apart from all else, fluoridation is of dubious medical benefit; fluorine is highly poisonous; the only reason for putting it into water is to fight tooth decay (yet it causes fluorosis if ingested in amounts even slightly over the norm); something that could be achieved equally well (and better) by a properly balanced diet.
: : (Furthermore, the extraction of soluble fluorides is expensive and uses fossil fuels...)

: DC: Fluoridation beats cholera. Sewage processing beats the ‘natural way’. Industry is good, barbarism is bad.

A rather black-and-white view. Fluoridation doesn't have anything to do with cholera, by the way; it was introduced to combat tooth decay; because the Western diet was high in sugar.

You're thinking of chlorination; different halogen. And chlorination is secondary to careful waste water management; the cholera epidemics in London were cured by proper sewerage, not chlorination.

Be a little more accurate next time ;)

: : Try reading the up-to-date scientific conclusions, then. Or try checking the real world for some empirical evidence.

: DC: Again, I repeat. The same folks that bring us the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ now brought us the ‘Ice Age’ 20-30 years ago. They used the same evidence that their using now.

Actually, if you check that press release and that report, they cover the observations of the year 1998. Are you suggesting 1998's weather data and disaster records existed 30 years ago?

That data is up to date and independently verifiable, no matter how hard you may try to dismiss it.

: : Despite the fact that nuclear energy actually costs more to produce than fossil-fuel-based energy; up to three times as much, in fact.

: : And fossil fuels aren't the only non-renewable resource by a long chalk.

: : :: and the rate of consumption is still increasing

: DC: The market will out. If nuclear power is so expensive, the Russians wouldn’t use it so much - again, this looks like special ‘incidental costs’ are being tacked on to make it look more expensive than it is. With proper safeguards (again, the Swedes and the French are miles ahead of the old Soviets on this one) it’s comparable.

Can you provide figures on this; I was actually citing figures obtained from the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the UK Government records; I'd like to see your figures and their origin.

(Oh, and don't forget to include the cost of waste processing in your total, as one study did...)

: If fossil fuels became rare enough, they’d be economical substitutes in regards to electricity for industry. Furthermore, there are other alternatives (the Brazilians recently took a ‘bath’, when they believed the hype about rapidly disappearing reserves of oil and invested heavily in an ethanol-based car industry. Listening to the Left is usually a bad idea …)

I'm not speaking for the Right or Left here; I'm speaking in strict terms of energy reserves, which is why I generally cite U.N. sources; are you now going to insist the U.N. is Communist?

: : : (DC: …but of course. Your point being?).

: : My point being that resources are finite. The faster we use them, the sooner they run out. This is such an elementary truth that even an economist could understand it.

: DC: And even a Leftist can understand that the Third World cannot be "kept in its place" forever. People in Africa and South America want the same lifestyle that Americans enjoy, the ‘cultural mafia’ notwithstanding.

They *can't*; there are simply not enough in the way of resources to go around. In 40 years, the First World has managed to use up half of the total world stocks of non-renewable resources; what do you think would happen if the Third World put that sort of drain on the planet as well...?

The WTO realize this quite well; which is why they are keeping all trade agreements in favour of the First World at the expense of the Third; the Third needs to be kept poor-but-aspirational to keep the First World luxurious.

: Given world growth rates in production, they seem bent on getting there, and I for one don’t intend to get in their way. Do you?

Growth rates in production of what? Pollution?

: : : ‘Ecological concern’ is vague enough to do the job this generation, as it stands … until the capitalists finally privatize and mechanize the ‘Green’ movement, of course.

: : I'll believe it when I see it. When you prove that capitalism can transcend the laws of physics, I'll believe. Until then, I have to laugh at your attempts to insist that humanity is master of the planet.

: DC: When the ‘laws of physics’ are established by an arm of the state (Lysenko biology, L’Marckian science), capitalism easily transcends them. And, although we have not ‘mastered the planet’, I am not ideologically against the attempt.

The only way in which humanity is master of the planet is that we can wreck it. Not an encouraging goal, Cruel.

(I disown state-dictated science as much as I disown corporate-funded science, by the way...)

: : What was I referring to in my statement? I was referring to the planetary geology and ecosystem of the Earth; something I know far more about than you do.

:(DC: Apparently not. I am being charitable, of course.)

Really? Cite your qualifications, then; I have an honours degree from the University of London in the subject; perhaps you'd like to clarify a few little subjects, like, say, scatter patterns from wave surfaces using a microwave synthetic aperture radar (SAR)- as used in 'sats like ERS-1. Or perhaps we could have a little chat about grey-body signatures of various different types of biomass?

My assertion stands; you have given me no reason to assume your familiarity with these subjects. I'm qualified in them.

:: Call me a planet mechanic if it makes you feel happier; the balance of the scientific evidence suggests that we are destroying our environment at an unprecedented rate. Surprise, surprise, if we make our environment hostile to life, we die. This isn't rocket science (although I can give you lessons in that too, if you'd like...).

: DC: And if we make it more hospitable, by, oh, say, adding man-made structures to it like cities and factories, we live, and live well.

Up to a point; there are inevitable social pressures upon humanity from living in a city; and cities produce a disproportionately large amount of pollution for the head of populace that inhabit. Cities also require a considerable amount of supporting farmland; you don't get cities without agriculture.

: This isn’t rocket science, either (although ‘rocket science’ is certainly a part of it).

Not really; the energy penalty involved in overcoming the gravity well rules that out for the forseeable future.

: This is why clearing a rainforest, to make way for farming and ranching, is not ‘destroying the environment’ (unless, of course, you are a ‘Green’ … or a ‘planet mechanic’, I suppose …)

Actually, it does. It's very, very simple. A rainforest is an ecosystem dependent on trees; the soil is rich because of the continual decay of leaf matter and the like; the actual soil itself is pretty poor. The only thing that replenishes the soil's nutrients (apart from water) are the trees and plants that grow there.

If you cut down the trees, you stop the nutrients replenishing naturally from the trees. If you then use the land for ranching, the nutrients in the grass (which came from decaying tree) go into the cattle; the cattle are shipped elsewhere and the nutrients are lost to that part of the Earth. The soil, meanwhile, has no natural means of replenishing apart from cow dung (which doesn't give back as much energy and nutrients as were taken from the land). This means that ex-rainforest land can become useless within 5 years of harvesting; far too quickly for new trees to grow. The frequent rain washes the soil away downriver, and the land begins to become desert; too nutrient-poor to support life. This process is called "leaching"; look it up in a geography or chemistry textbook.

Fertilisers are at best a partial solution to this; they require energy to produce, energy to transport, and a sigificant proportion of fertiliser applied to the field washes off into the river, where it causes algal blooming, which kills off water life too.

You can't win; you can't break even.
(The Second and Third laws rephrased...)

I hope that's clear enough.

: : As a species, we need to reduce our pollution and resource usage fast, or we are shafted. I don't give a toss about political ideology here; this is the verdict that the experimental data coming from satellites like ERS and NOAA points to; this is what climate change institutes and meteorological centres like the Hadley Centre are saying.

: : I don't see a capitalist system reducing either of these damage rates any time soon; as capitalism has to keep turning a continual fiscal profit; which engenders environmental destruction. That is why I am opposed to capitalism; I was a scientist long before I was a Green; I became Green because of the scientific data I saw.

: DC: Ecology is a ‘market’ too. If what you say is true (and I, for one, am very skeptical) then there will be new markets for ‘atmosphere control’, ‘planet management’ and whatnot.

"Carbon taxes", perhaps?. These are "techno-fixes"; it's analogous to a doctor treating the symptoms rather than trying to cure the patient. We are overconsuming; that is the simple cause. As such, that is what we need to cure.

: For example: in places that are dry, there are capitalists that bring in fresh water for farming;

Which requires a continual input of metal, oil and synthetics; all non-renewable and overconsumed already.

: where there are impassable mountains, there are capitalist road builders

More organic chemicals; again, oil is used extensively.

: and capitalist airlines. And so on.

Airlines consume large amounts of oil and metal and produce large amounts of pollutants, as do all internal combustion engines...mass usage of these is non-sustainable.

: : The market doesn't serve anything but itself; it certainly doesn't care about the environment (except insofar as it affects profits).

DC: Exactly. Read the above.

Yet the people running the markets are even ignoring the warning signs the environment is throwing up in favour of a quick buck now.

It's classic "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" behaviour; not something I approve of.

: : (This has always struck me as puzzling; a bit of long-term planning would tell even the most die-hard capitalist that screwing up the planet in the long term is bad for business and will reduce profits. I guess that most figure that they'll be dead by the time it happens (it could be in the next 50 years) and that a quick buck now is preferable.

: : Maybe that's why boom-and-bust seems to be such a regular occurrence; too much focus on the immediate growth at the expense of the long-term).

: DC: I refuse to ‘screw up’ the planet. That is why I am ‘Anti-Green’. I am, if you will, a ‘Grey Party’ member, i.e. one in favor of industrial development, in the name of improving the environment. Which is, after all, what it normally does.

Complete bollocks. Can you give me a causal chain, some enthalpy accounting, some experimental data to support that? Or are you just making a bald assertion?

Industrial development does *not* "improve" the environment; any localized reclamation and/or cleaning is done at the cost of a higher destruction elsewhere. You can't win; the Second Law strikes back.

: : I don't trust the judgement of the oil industry when it comes to climate change; as they have a heavy commercial interest in saying that it doesn't happen. That's not to say I won't examine their claims, but their claims are usually incorrect. The consensus of opinion in the field of climate change is that global warming is happening.

: DC: I don’t trust the judgment of the Greens when it comes to climate change; as they have a heavy commercial and political interest in saying that it does happen (and in the most apocalyptic terms, as well). That’s not to say that I won’t examine their claims, but their claims are usually incorrect.

: The consensus of opinion in the field of climate change is that global warming, or cooling, is caused by changes in sun-spot activity. Thus, the Ice Age/Greenhouse Effect flip-flop.

Again, that's crap. If you actually read the conclusions of the Copenhagen team that did the research, they concluded that sunspot activity *might be a contributing factor*. They certainly didn't suggest that it was the only factor. And the latest evidence suggests that human-influenced warming is a greater factor.

: : If we're looking for a bunch of incompetents and opportunists, try looking in the World Trade Organisation, not the world of science; to survive in the world of science you have to fight hard for your funding; whereas anyone who can bullshit enough in the business world can become either a consultant or a manager; and work their way up from there...if the business world was anything like as tough to make money in as the scientific world, there would be a lot fewer businessmen.

: DC: (???) When did science and business become separate entities? What was Thomas Edison? If Bill Gates hasn’t furthered computer science, I don’t know who has …

Bill *who*? Are we talking about the arch-pirate of Redmond here; the father of millions of lusers? *furthered* computer science? - quite the reverse...

: : It isn't; it's hard science.

(DC: It isn’t. It’s speculation, and speculation isn’t fact. Science means proof.)

Check the links I've given; can you disprove what I've said?

: : : : A pox on you, you pompous buffoon

: : : (DC: If that ‘pox’ be the free market, I’m all for it. Please keep your snake-oil to yourself, dearie).

: : Heh. You espouse free-market capitalism, as elusive an idea as "true" Marxism or Anarchism (except that it actually exists); and you accuse me, a science graduate, of being a snake-oil merchant? (on the nose)

: : Might I remind you that the phenomenon of snake oil was an early example of free-market entrepreneurs exploiting the use of bad science to an uninformed public in the name of profit. Snake-oil salesmen would have been no more fond of market regulation than you are...

: DC: Modern snake-oil merchants are called ‘herbalists’. They aren’t particularly in favor of the FDA, either. I’d hardly call them ‘industrialists’, however. Such ‘entrepreneurs’, selling a product based on bad science, were forced to cater to the gullible, sharply curtailing their market share. I’m afraid I have to say the same for ‘modern shamanism’ as well. Sadly, no rain-dance for me. No sale.

Herbalism is crap as well, IMO. I go for things I can see, touch and measure. Like environmental destruction and climate change.

Farinata (B.Sc.)

(no time to answer fully; got to rush)

: "Doc" Cruel

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