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James Howard Kunstler on Why Technology Won’t Save Us

Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone
James Howard Kunstler is a novelist and critic who made his name trashing suburbia. The Geography of Nowhere, published in 1994, is a wildly entertaining rant against strip malls, fast food, and America’s “happy motoring utopia.” A decade later, he followed up with The Long Emergency, in which he argued persuasively that the decline of cheap oil will bring an end to civilized life as we know it.

In his latest book, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, Kunstler zeroes in on the central narrative of our time: that we are a highly evolved and technologically sophisticated civilization that will use our ingenuity and engineering expertise to come up with a solution to all the problems we face, from the end of cheap oil to the arrival of extreme climate change. In other words, we’re not going to collapse into the dust bin of history like the Mayans or the Easter Islanders, because we have iPads and antibiotics.

In Kunstler’s view, this is a childish fantasy. “I’m serenely convinced that we are heading into what will amount to a ‘time out’ from technological progress as we know it,” Kunstler, who is 63, told me from his home in upstate New York. “A lot of these intoxications and deliriums and beliefs about technology are going to run into a wall of serious disappointment.” In short, Kunstler believes we are living on borrowed time – our banking and political systems are corrupt, our fossil fuel reserves are dwindling, the seas are rising – but we’re still partying like it’s 1959. “Reality itself is very uncomfortable with fraud and untruths. Sooner or later, accounts really do have to be settled.”

Why Is your book called Too Much Magic?
It’s part of the ongoing story of what’s turning out to be a crisis of civilization. I tried to describe the first part of the crisis in The Long Emergency. Since that time, it has become self-evident that we have a range of very difficult problems facing us, and we are taking refuge in wishful thinking, telling ourselves a story that we can continue to live the way that we’re living now. We desperately want reassurance that we can keep this hyper-complex engine of an advanced American Dream economy going – despite all the signs that are telling us that we probably have to make new and different arrangements for everyday life.

What, specifically, are those problems?
Peak oil and the exhaustion of material resources, climate change, the failure of the banking system, and political turmoil…
(12 July 2012)

Power by the People

Billy Parish, Daily Kos
Recently, we celebrated our National Independence Day. As parts of the country blew past temperature records, power outages left a million homes without electricity, and drought conditions forced cancellations of fireworks shows in cities from Missouri to California, we also marked what we might call Energy Dependence Day. Once again, we were reminded of the mismatch between our most basic ideals and an energy system that harms our planet, while leaving our communities and nation less secure.

Fortunately, things are changing fast. And we–the people–are the ones doing the changing. Millions of Americans, myself included, are part of the growing clean energy economy. We’re investing in, inventing, building, and benefiting from our own neighborhood solar panels, windmills, smart grids, batteries, and electric cars. This change in our physical infrastructure is in turn ushering in a social revolution of incredible potential. Though no one knows exactly how this transformation will unfold, today seemed like a good day to highlight shifts already underway.

To put it simply, power by the people is power to the people.

Let’s start with the economy. For too long, almost all of us have been energy consumers. Now, though, we’re rapidly starting to become energy producers. In California, for instance, the number of solar installations grew from 500 to more than 50,000 between 1999 and 2011. Most of these new solar power producers are saving on–or have eliminated outright–their utility bills. This means more dollars that circulate within communities instead of flowing to utilities and fossil fuel companies…
(25 July 2012)

Nuclear power vs. people power

Ramindar Kaur, the bulletin
India’s ambitions include a tenfold increase in nuclear power so it supplies 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2050. Two 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors at Koodankulam are expected to go online very soon — the first commissioned reactors since Fukushima.

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has successfully mobilized tens of thousands of Indian citizens to join nonviolent protests, while the Indian state has resorted to harassment and threats of violence.

The nuclear establishment is the darling of Indian statehood, with far more people employed by the nuclear industry than the renewable energy sector. Citizen calls for increased transparency, accountability, and proper adherence to procedure have been met with repeated denials, deferrals, and deceit.

India has come into its own, a once-sleeping tiger waking with a seismic roar. In the last two decades, India has emerged as a robust modern military force, a formidable science and technology hub, and a soaring economic success despite the global recession. These developments, however, are accompanied by more and more demand for, and reliance on, nuclear power — and lots of it.

In fact, India’s ambitions PDF include a tenfold increase in nuclear power so it supplies 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs by 2050. Two reactors at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu — built by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. in collaboration with the Russian Atomsroyexport — are expected to go online in coming months. The 1,000-megawatt reactors are the first to be commissioned after the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011. Disconcertingly, India’s new coastal reactors are situated in an environment similar to that of Fukushima — a tsunami and earthquake zone, with the addition of karst formations, geothermal irregularities, and a lack of emergency water supplies.

India’s strides in the nuclear sector have not come without resistance. The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) — formed in 2003 and now led by the scholar S.P. Udayakumar and two Jesuit priests — has successfully mobilized tens of thousands of Indian citizens. And as more and more people realize the dangers a nuclear reactor could bring to the south Indian peninsula, the PMANE cause grows. Activists have stuck diligently to nonviolent protests — inspired by Mohandas Gandhi — and managed to stall construction of the Koodankulam plant for six months; the Indian state, on the other hand, has resorted to harassment and threats of violence…
(9 July 2012)

Breakthrough Material for Carbon Capture Developed

Christine Lepisto, Treehugger
Anyone who read Bill Kibben’s newest writing on Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, cannot help but see the catastrophic potential of existing fossil fuel reserves.

In despair of a political solution that never arrives, one can only put their dwindling hope in technical solutions.

Carbon Conundrum

The problem with removing carbon dioxide from air, even from flue gases where it is more concentrated, is that the small, gaseous molecule is difficult to trap and isolate. Carbon capture currently costs 30% of the energy efficiency of fossil-fuel power plants, mostly used to regenerate the solvents in which the CO2 is absorbed.
For carbon sequestration to play a role in the future of energy (especially absent high carbon-cost taxes or penalties), new technical solutions to optimize this process will be required.

Novel Material for Low Temp Carbon Capture

One such breakthrough just published in the scientific journal Nature, reports on the behavior of a novel tetra-carboxylate indium complex.

The researchers are calling the new material Nott-202a. The breakthrough arises due to a unique interlinked framework of organic and metallic crystal structures, which creates honeycomb-like pores that selectively trap carbon dioxide at low temperatures. Because carbon dioxide fits into the crystal lattice like a hand in a glove, it gets stuck on the “filter” while other gases in the “flue gas” (the mixture of combustion products emitted from fossil fuel burning) can pass through to go up the stack or through additional pollution control devices (to prevent smog, acid rain, or other side effects of power plants)…
(25 July 2012)

Effect of Global Warming on U.S. Energy Consumption

Global Economic Intersection, Elliot Morse

Global warming is causing temperatures to rise. That will mean a greater demand for air conditioning and less for heating. Will the demand for more air conditioning be greater or less than the drop-off in heating demands? And what will the overall effect be on energy use? These are important questions because 32% of US energy consumption goes to the heating, cooling, and lighting of residential and commercial buildings[1].

US Energy Data

The International Energy Agency (IEA) collects data on energy supplies and uses for countries and regions. Table 1 is the 2009 information for the US. The data are standardized as million ton oil equivalents (MTOEs).

The Table is divided into two sections: Supply and Consumption. Under Supply, a negative figure means that energy went to a particular use. For example, 427,255 MTOEs of Coal/Peat went to Electricity Plants. A positive figure under Supply means that energy was added to. For example, Electricity Plants generated 331,867 MTOEs of electricity and CHP Plants generated 12,430 MTOEs of usable Heat.

The Consumption section shows how the energy “products” were used. For example, Industry consumed 68,720 MTOEs of the Electricity produced. And Transport consumed 18% (258,912/1,462,524 MTOEs) of the US total….
(25 July 2012)

The missing link to a $7 billion market

Chris Nelder, Smartplanet
It’s the biggest renewable energy source you’ve never heard of, and it’s just getting started.

It has a guaranteed market, with Western European demand expected to triple by 2020. Its global market has tripled over the past decade.

What is it?

Wood pellets.

That’s right, wood pellets. Compressed sawdust.

The demand is primarily coming from Europe, where carbon-reduction targets are driving power utilities — particularly coal-fired power plants — to mix more wood pellets into their fuel supply. Under current targets, many European countries will need to generate 35 percent or more of their electrical power from renewable sources by 2020. And biomass, particularly wood pellets from the U.S., is critically needed to meet those targets.

But this massive export opportunity for the U.S. is being held up for a lack of infrastructure, policy incentives, and financing.

Burgeoning demand

At Infocast’s Biomass Trade and Transport Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina last week, I got an earful about the huge shortfall developing between supply and demand for this crucial, if unsexy, source of renewable energy.

Sean Ebnet is the director of biomass origination for the UK utility Drax Power, whose 4,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant generates about 7 percent of the UK’s electricity. He said that of the country’s 85 gigawatts (that’s 85,000 megawatts) of power generation capacity, one-third is scheduled to be shut down by 2016, including 24 gigawatts of coal capacity (because it can’t meet emissions standards) and 5 gigawatts of nuclear capacity (because it’s reached the end of its life)…
(25 July 2012)