[extropy-chat] A Grim Vision ...?

Robert Bradbury robert.bradbury at gmail.com
Sat Apr 14 17:16:59 UTC 2007

On 4/10/07, Keith Henson <hkhenson at rogers.com> wrote:
> I suspect that if it were less expensive to make fresh water out of sea
> water for crops than it is to export the oil, grow the crops in other
> locations with low cost water, and ship them back, people would be doing it
> now.

I think you are arguing that systems make sense.  There are large numbers of
systems in place that do not make sense (from an efficiency or cost
viewpoint) that are in place due to the fact nobody has looked at them from
the perspective of "what would be the *best* solution?"  The trouble with
"best" solutions is that they often have high up-front investment costs.  So
they don't get implemented until the society (esp. far sighted individuals
with a society) get rich enough.  What would be really interesting is to see
how/where the oil wealth in S.A. is distributed and whether it is
distributed to people who are willing to innovate and take risks [1].

It takes a *lot* of water to grow food, and it is really expensive in terms
> of energy to make fresh water out of salt.  I am well aware that advancing
> technology could change this picture.

It doesn't have to take a lot of *fresh* water.  The cyanobacteria and algae
in the oceans are perfectly happy producing reduced carbon (hydrocarbons)
and proteins in salt water.  You are dealing with a historic artifact that
the food system is oriented around cheap fresh water production methods.

Think about it this way, when the oil runs out how are they going to power
> the desalination plants?

That was the point of the URL.  S.A. is one of the richest countries in the
world in terms of solar energy wealth per individual.  Now that could change
over the next few decades if they subsidize population growth at the expense
of infrastructure investment.

> Which indicates that desalination plants produce water for around $1/cubic
> meter.

The question I would ask is whether this cost includes the recent
improvements in desalination plant technology.  I think the Science Channel
had a recent news blurb about a breakthrough that was going to make them
2-3x more energy efficient (through better recovery of otherwise wasted
energy) and that was being looked at by L.A. and/or San Diego to solve their
water problems.

Given that it takes about 1000 tons of water to grow a ton of wheat, that
> would run up the cost of wheat for the water alone to $1000 a ton.

But it the water is used for transpiration to drag the nutrients from the
roots up into the leaves.  You don't have this problem if you grow you food
in solar ponds or relatively sealed greenhouses that you can condense the
water from at night.  Its a "change the traditional thinking" or
"infrastructure investment" problem.

Wheat runs about a $100 a ton, and shipping to the mid east might run
> around $50 a ton.  It would still cost them better than 5 times the
> current
> cost.  http://www.ndwheat.com/buyers/default.asp?ID=287

So don't use wheat.  Use cyanobacteria engineered to produce a lot of starch
that end up tasting like wheat.

Interesting way to look at food imports as water imports, and a certain area
> of the world would be in deep trouble if food imports were shut off.
> http://www.unesco.org/courier/1999_02/uk/dossier/txt32.htm

As we have learned the hard way with oil imports.  All countries should try
to structure their economies so they are sustainable without essential
foreign sources.  Otherwise one can be subjected to extortion, coercion,
etc. and have higher than really necessary taxes in order to support large
military budgets required to prevent people from attempting to subject you
to such situations.


1. It would be interesting to ask the question of why S.A. isn't building
ships to tow icebergs from the North Atlantic (or Antartctic) back to S.A.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20070414/8b4974f4/attachment.html>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list