Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sacrificing the Future to the Past

Readers might have noticed that I've become an unapologetic shill for the nuclear power industry, and have added a number of nuclear advocacy blogs to my blog roll and even posted the Nuclear Advocacy graphic.

My passionate support for nuclear power proceeds from my belief that it is the only way we will be able to provide adequately for the energy needs of our swollen population in the amounts needed to retain the basic benefits of modern technology, let alone real luxury, in the face of terminal fossil fuel depletion, the unacceptable costs and environmental hazards of biomass and ethanol, the need for steep carbon reduction, and the hard limitations on the efficiency and reliability of such "renewable" forms of energy as wind, solar, and geothermal.

One of the best of the nuke blogs, Atomic Insights, recently published a chilling article concerning the ambitious plans of this country's de facto owner, China, to develop the largest fleet of nuclear power plants in the world, in addition to its Promethean dam-building plans and ambitious coal solar power projects, such as the 25-square-mile, 2-gigawatt plant that First Solar is engaged to build there. While not all of these ventures are going to yield the hoped-for returns, China's dedication to exploiting every opportunity to develop its energy production and industrial base while aggressively pursuing control of the world's remaining resources, is indicative of its leadership's determination to remain competitive.

China is also buying futures on as much of the world's future oil production as it can, and more ominously, has drastically restricted "rare earth" elements that are necessary for high tech applications such as lithium ion batteries and numerous other high tech components. China and India are both rapidly developing new nuclear technologies, most importantly those involving smaller reactors with much safer designs that use fuels other than uranium.

In the meantime, the United States under Obama has completely curtailed nuclear development and is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in our corrupt financial system, as well as in attempts to manipulate housing prices upward and in propping up our obselete, failing automobile industry.

In short, China is stimulating its economy by investing its prodigious cash pile into the projects it will need to power its future, while the United States is racking up more unrepayable debt to sustain the unsustainable with the insanely destructive "cash for clunkers" program, $8000 tax credits for first-time home buyers, and insanely easy 3.5% down payment FHA loans, which already have a 14% delinquency rate. In other words, we've invested an untold amount of money in the next wave of defaulting loans and guaranteed another massive, costly bailout effort in a couple more years.

China, India, and other Third World countries are investing the industries and technologies of the future, while we are investing in the dead past.

China and India and other Asian nations are determined to remain as competitive and productive as possible, while we are turning our backs on every opportunity and misallocating our remaining wealth to efforts to resuscitate dying, obsolete, and even pernicious industries (like the housing-inflation and mortgage-fraud machine), and to starting another credit rampage, by extending more loose credit and paying people to buy cars and houses. In the same spirit, we are pouring our road stimulus funds into the very places where the population is sparsest and that generate the least economic activity, and into Bread and Circuses of various sorts.

The United States has lost its lead in almost every field of endeavor that matters. We are now quickly losing our lead in heavy electrical equipment, and lastly, we are beginning to slip in scientific research.

Most of all, we've lost the ability to re-invent ourselves. We're still very heavily invested emotionally in this country's glittering post-WW2 period, and have never grasped that not only was the prosperity of that era founded on an anomalous confluence of circumstances most unlikely to be repeated ever again, but was unsustainable from the outset.

This is the difference between societies that flounder after a few centuries, or even decades, while other cultures endure for thousands of years. Compare cities like NYC and Boston, who embraced high tech as their old smokestack industries withered, to cities like Cincinnati and Detroit, who continued to cling to the old early-20th century industrial model and as it withered away anyway, turned to government bailouts, corruption, and low-wage service industries instead of making the effort to rebuild their battered economies on a different template.

At this point, our book looks written. It looks like we're determined to squander every opportunity to build the industries we will need as we go through the biggest economic shift of the past 150 years, and are destined to become a deteriorated, fourth-world backwater with collapsed cities, ever-increasing crime, violence, filth, brutality, and disorder along with vaulting poverty rates with all the misery we associate with undeveloped countries This doesn't have to happen, but the window of opportunity is closing quickly. Let's hope our current leadership can find the mental clarity and political will to steer us onto a different path than the rut of steep decline we've settled into now.


consultant said...

Yesterday we heard that Disneyland in Florida is going to expand the Fantasy Land section of the park. For real.

You can't make this stuff up.

And in today's New York Times:


The same criminal/financial con men that brought down the world economy are at it again.

Obama is a good man, but he entered the Presidency at a time when our entire government has been bought by mostly corrupt corporations. If I were in Obama's shoes, where would I start?

Well first, I would think I'm going to be a one term President. Second, I'd get a special operations team to give me an additional layer of protection, outside the Secret Service. Third, I would have went after the crooks who brought the govt. and the economy down.

I know, I know. They would be calling me Jimmy Carter, part two.

We have created a culture that is unsustainable. Within that culture we nurture violence and prejudice and greed, and if you look at our history, the only thing that has kept it from blowing up, was having an escape into an immense physical frontier.

We are a frontier country that no longer has a physical frontier. We mostly don't like each other and now we have live with each other. Our annual murder rate and toleration for guns suggests how well that is going.

I'm one of those optimistic pragmatists, but I just don't see the next ten years going very well for us.

My prediction: probably sooner than later, a group of nations are going to come together to put an end to our wild gyrations. They'll do it economically or through war. One or the other. That's what usually happens when one big, bad country starts to act gangster.

It's the way of the world.

consultant said...

Here is the New York Times article I referred to:


The North Coast said...

I'm not so sure now that Obama is a good man, even though I thought he was the best possibility at election time.

What I can tell for sure is that he a very befuddled man in 40 fathoms over his head, who is trying to please too many people and is promulgating far reaching policy decisions whose effects will be with us for a long time after he's out of office.

Additionally, he is doing too many major, costly things that run completely counter to his stated intentions and to the dictates of basic good sense. The financial bailouts in conjunction with the total lack of meaningful reform and the failure to investigate and prosecute the chief perpetrators of this massive global fraud, is a black mark on his administration. Worse, his policies are naked attempts to restart the bad-credit economy, and are going to have us back in exactly the same place as September 2008 in not very long. Even an economically and financially illiterate politician has to be able to see the profound senselessness and destructiveness of his administrations economic policies and programs. No country ever survived this much public debt relative to the GDP, and what makes it worse is that it was accumulated in order to sustain the unsustainable.

This administration promised it would deal with hard, inflexible truths, but I see no sign of that. What I see is increasingly frantic efforts to restart the economy on the same template it was through the last decade, with ever more borrowed, nonexistent money committed to what has notably failed, at the expense of the things we will need, notably our solvency and a reliable financial system, to make it through the difficult decades ahead.

consultant said...

Agree. Agree. Agree.

I forget the name of the writer who once said, "why are such nice people so fucked up?"

I said on my blog that I thought a gun (literally) had been put to Obama's head. I still think so. Such things do happen.

I stand on that point because not much of what he's done makes sense. All the stuff he's been able to do on his own is mostly alright. But when he has to work with Congress and the various alphabet agencies, it's all Three Stooges-Bush Part II.

But you and I and many other people knew this going in. We knew that both political parties had failed the American people. We knew the Republicans had become a marginal, hateful Party that was no longer interested in meaningful governance.

What's surprised us is that Obama seems to be surprised by all of this. We read the memo, but he seems to have missed it, despite the fact that he pointed out much of this during his campaign.

Which leads me back to threats, inertia, deep, deep holes, idiocy and how much can we expect one man to do.

Other tidbits: If Obama were a black guy from the mainland, with no exotic background, a good education, but no ivy-league credentials and no ivy-league lawyer wife, he couldn't have won. White people like exotic. Which is why the white press initially kept beating on the story about whether "black" Americans would support him.

That said, Obama is perceived by most observers as a "black" guy. When you're a black guy in America you have a VERY narrow set of options before you. Slip, and you have a long way to fall. Chances are there will be no one around to catch you. When you do hit the ground, you die, go to jail, or live out your life as a shell of your former self. A destroyed man. That's why white and even many black Americans don't like to talk about race and how that has worked in this crucible called American life.

Obama showed that he gets what it is to be a black man in America. Having said that, many thinking black men are also confused by some of his big decisions.

Let me explain. Just because you're a black guy, and because you're the first, people, including some of your supporters, are expecting you to fail. Odd, but true. Black men already know this. With that in mind, they have a tendency to be mindful of their own counsel, because history has shown they can ill afford to trust the counsel of too many others.

Now this presents all kinds of interpersonal, authoritative and logistical nightmares if you happen to be the first black president.

This might explain the schizoid nature of his first months in office. He made the decisions he made because he has little to work with. Most of the apparatus in place in Washington has become deeply conservative and corrupt, and it is from that pool Obama drew a good portion of his staff. On Capital Hill and elsewhere, this is the culture in which he has to work to get progressive change.

If he know all of this, if 46.5% of the people voted for his opponent's Party, a completely failed political party that included a complete fool (and bad mother) as one of the candidates, why would he then win the election and start talking about bi-partisanship? Say what!!??

It makes no sense. Unless you look at the possibility of threats. Or, that we're too far gone for anyone to turn this ship around.

Last point. Every great President in their time has had to man up.

Obama is going to have to get that extra security and start doing the hard stuff.

Right now we've got a wise King. What we need at this sad stage in our history is a wise, warrior King.

Annie said...

Nuclear power is not the answer. It is just another problem. You are sadly misinformed if you think nuclear power is going to permit you to keep your lifestyle without causing further great harm to the planet.

The North Coast said...

Annie, NOTHING is going to permit us to keep our insanely wasteful American lifestyles.

All I hope for is to be able to keep the lights turned on and stay tolerably warm.

Every other form of power generation harms the planet more. I suggest you do your research into the environmental consequences of solar and wind, which have been grossly understated, and into their cost and lack of reliability.

And do research into nuclear. Nuclear releases less CO2 than almost any other form of power generation. Only a hydro dam releases less, and hydro has killed far more people than nuclear has.

This country has 104 nukes in service, and the history of nuclear power production goes back over 40 years, yet we have had NO civilian deaths as the result of nuclear power generation, a safety record unmatched by coal, hydro, gas, or oil.

Thousands of people have died from the effects of air pollution caused by coal, and many hundreds have died in mine accidents. The pollution is unspeakable. Moreover, "clean" coal will be more expensive than nuclear, and every hike in the cost of electricity places more of our poorer citizens at risk of being deprived of basic amenities necessary for a healthy life.

Hydro is the cleanest mode of power generation, but nobody wants to live downriver from a major hydro dam. Dam failures in the past 100 years in the U.S. alone have killed nearly 1000 people. Every site suitable for dam building has been exploited, and many sites that were unsuitable as well, resulting in catastrophic dam failures.

Natural gas drilling is another dangerous, polluting activity that has a cost in human life and health, and gas is moreover subject to steep depletion in the near futures.

Wind and solar sound great until you consider how diffuse, unreliable, and inefficient they are. Efficiency is about 13% at best, and the site and climate must be favorable. Production is extremely intermittent and unreliable, and a solar PV plant takes up MILES of space. The inefficiency of wind and solar translate to extremely expensive electricity, ranging from .35 to .80 a KwH, which means that the un-affluent would, in a "renewable" regime, simply have to do without. That would mean a steep and disastrous drop in the standard of living of about half our population. Moreover, since wind and solar cannot provide the reliable, steady baseline power it takes to produce the electricity we require for minimal comfort, fossil fuel backups such as coal and gas fired plants will be necessary to make them workable.

Let's just face it, there is no "free lunch" when it comes to energy and power generation. It is expensive, dangerous, and has "side effects" such as toxic waste or pollution that we must deal with.

However, consider the alternative. Consider just how many humans in this nation alone would die early deaths and suffer greatly during their lives were electricity unavailable. What would life be like here if 50% of the population could not afford power on any terms? This is the risk we can't take if there's any way to avoid it.