[ExI] FW: How Electricity Became a Luxury Good

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Sep 11 12:07:27 UTC 2013

On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 04:02:01PM -0700, spike wrote:

> Ja, all of these, but I was looking at the long term in the event that there
> is some fundamental reason why a singularity is impossible.  For the record,
> I think a singularity is both possible and inevitable, but there is value in
> mapping out a future in which it is not, or a future in which the
> singularity takes longer than we thought, analogous in a way to nuclear
> fusion power.  We have coal and we have oil enough for now and the next
> decade or two, but then what?

No, we've already not having "enough" since roughly 2004.
What we have is a bumpy plateau (decline, in terms of net
energy) despite increasing effort, and according increase
of price. The pain point varies across the globe, but is
roughly in 100-115 USD/barrel (today's value) range. This is what
is causing demand destruction. Lack of fuel liquids causes
a shift to somewhat more available fuel solids, and increasingly
lower-grade fuel solids, accelerating advent of peak total
fossil, roughly 2020 (the exact time doesn't matter, as
it's a regime, not a point of inflection).

We've been running in energy hunger mode. It is steadily
getting worse. Energy hunger compromises our ability to
alleviate energy hunger. The degree of compromise is not
linear and likely not smooth, and hence surprising to 

The symptoms of trouble are widespread, but clouded by
cooked figures and nonobvious in their causality to 
naive observers. There is little incentive in highlight
these causal links by those parts of the establishment
that are aware and care (their own future is not in
jeopardy, due to cushioning).
> The notion of a poverty trap is real.  I have some distant cousins who are

It is difficult to explain people the poverty trap who have not
experienced it personally pretty much for the same reason why
the energy cliff is not obvious.

> trapped in that now: they live way the hell out in a holler in West
> Virginia, and have only a vague notion of what a computer does.  I can't
> even communicate with them: I have no intentions of writing on paper and
> sending stuff with stamps on it.  I did that with their grandparents, will
> not do it now.  That represents a group of people genetically similar to me,
> who are in a poverty trap.  They do not use the internet; they are on the
> other side of a chasm which I cannot or will not span.
> We can imagine scenarios where humanity gets caught in a poverty trap, or a

Don't look right now, but that giant sucking sound you hear... yes, it
is what you think it is.

> memetic trap similar to what grips much of the middle east today.  The
> collective dedication to Mormonism in those places traps both the believer
> and unbeliever alike, slowing progress and causing retrogression.  If we
> don't get something sustainable long term off the ground, I can easily
> envision most of humanity being far more concerned with their next meal than
> advancing science.

If you look at the failed and failing states, there you see much of
humanity's future, or, rather, lack thereof.
> Regarding oil shale, oil sands, fracking, sure we can do all that, but what
> I am looking at is a long term solution in the event that the singularity
> doesn't happen.  These other things will work for our lifetimes perhaps, but

Any progress is a function of available free energy. Historically,
there have been no deviations. 

> what then?  Also note that oil has made us comfortable and conservative.  We
> don't want to change things when they work so well.  But China and India are
> coming, and they read the internet too.  They want to live like we do.
> Imagine that.  What happens to our oil reserves then?  Our coal reserves?
> As an exercise Kelly, map out a future with optimistic models of current
> energy resources, and anticipating the technological rise of China and

The optimistic energy resource projections do not have a good track
record, even looking back a decade. The apparent pessimists turned
out realists, after all.

> India.  Where does it lead?  Use top level estimates of greenhouse warming,
> just using top level first order approximations, and include increased
> radiation of heat with Boltzmann's law.  Where does it go?  What happens if
> a billion Chinese people and another billion Indians want to drive SUVs?

Ain't gonna happen. In fact, these SUVs you see are going to get a lot
more rare. If you grew up with affordable air flight, well, you know
the drill. So batten down the hatches. The storm is coming, and it's
the Big One.

> Then a billion more middle easterners get tired of being poor?

Their real problem is that their future is going to get a lot crappier
than their already sucky present. When you can't feed your family,
people get desperate. Desperate people have nukes, too. 
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