[ExI] Silence in the sky-but why?

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Sun Sep 22 16:08:36 UTC 2013

On Sun, Sep 22, 2013 at 05:09:56AM -0700, spike wrote:

> Advanced life forms might also need some supply of abundant fossil fuel or
> some access to practically unlimited quantities of concentrated energy, as
> in our case with coal.  This notion then suggests that our current attempt
> at a singularity is a one-shot event.  If we fail this time, this
> millennium, then the supply of easily-attainable energy is gone forever.  If

You've nailed another core aspect of the problem which should be blindingly
obvious -- but for some strange reason isn't.

Net free energy constraints the growth of a culture. Many failed 
civilizations literally burned through their forests in order to produce 
quicklime and charcoal and wood for construction, and then crashed. 

It takes energy to get energy. Wood is easy, peat still reasonably easy,
coal hard and harder, as you you deplete shallow resources and have to
go deeper. You need to be quite advanced in order to tap undersea
resources, or even unconventional gases and liquids.

As EROEI drops we eventually arrive at the energy cliff. Most of society's
efforts are at this point needed to just obtain enough energy so that
that society can stay where it is. There are no spare resources left.
Every nonessential activity grinds to a halt.

And then it gets worse. The fatal nature of the energy cliff is that
it robs you of your ability to homeostate, resulting a regression runaway
which is a yet another nasty positive-feedback process: the less E you can 
invest into the EROEI, the less total return. As soon as you lose
your footing, and fall down the energy cliff you've lost the last
bit of control you had. You're effectively in freefall. 

> we burn up the coal beds and the oil in the next few hundred years and fail

In terms of oil volume, flat plateau (net energy decline) has been with
us since roughly 2004. Total peak fossil and fissible is 2020,
or thereabouts. The energy cliff begins at 8:1. I think we're
already there, or nearly there. Our time has ran out. We've
robbed outselves of all alternative choices which were available
to us in the past. All the Roads Not Taken are in our past.
I hope you like the road in front of you.

> to develop something renewable and sustainable, it is too easy to envision
> human populations dwindling back down to the actual steady-state carrying
> capacity of the planet for our size mammal, perhaps a billion souls, but

Considerably less. http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Sustainability.html

> without the ability to develop or even maintain current technology.  Then we

We already been unable to maintain our current technology for several
decades. The regression is not uniform, and sufficiently slow so that
it can be ignored by many.

> would be unable to advance beyond what I have envisioned as an AD1000-ish
> level of technology for lack of easily-available energy.  Even at current

We have no idea what technology level is sustainable if we have allowed
us to run out of energy.

> intelligence levels, humankind would be stuck at that level of technology
> indefinitely, with no clear path forward.
> So this current surge towards a singularity may be a one-shot deal, do it
> now or do it not, forever.

Our launch window is closing. Whether we still can make it -- we should
be able to see soon enough (~2050).
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 836 bytes
Desc: Digital signature
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20130922/bc86640c/attachment.bin>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list