Monday, January 31, 2011

Modern technological society and the idiot Greenies

For the first million years or so of mankind's existence, mankind lived like animals. Shelter was whatever could be improvised from local materials and was never windproof and rarely waterproof, the best shelter was caves, but the local critters had that same idea too plus caves are always damp and chilly. The invention of fire helped, but as those of you who've huddled around a campfire in cold weather know, your front roasts while your backside freezes, and when the wind blows the smoke in your direction then you suffocate and must make a choice of either moving away from the fire (and getting colder) or breathing. Food was whatever could be scavenged or killed, and hunger was omnipresent, leaving only on those rare instances when large meat animals could be run down or during the spring and fall harvests of berries and roots. Winters in particular were one long misery, where you hoped you had stored enough food in clay pots to last the winter, and if you didn't, you starved. Death was a constant specter, and happened all too often, generally from diseases related to starvation (if you are starving to death, even the common cold will suffocate you from pneumonia because your body isn't strong enough to fight it off). Most children did not make it through their first year -- disease, exposure, starvation, you name it, all happened. Death in childbirth was common, and after childbirth too due to lack of sanitation and clean water. Anytime there was a group of humans in one location for an extended period of time, water-borne diseases soon cut them down, because water sources became contaminated with human feces.

That's a million years of human history right there -- a history of misery. When I go out into the wilderness, I have all the modern conveniences -- a tent made of silicone-impregnated nylon, water purification equipment, a small camp stove capable of heating water and cooking food, a down sleeping bag, ridiculously warm clothing including waterproof outwear, the works. I have the best gear that modern technological society can provide me. But when the weather turns miserable, I'm miserable.

The difference is that this is a choice on my part. I can turn around and go home, and bask in the warmth of central heating, take a hot shower to sooth my aches away, sleep comfortably on a soft mattress. And while I'm miserable, I'm far less miserable than that poor sod even 1,000 years ago, who would have been soaked to the skin and sleeping "cowboy style" on his bedroll with a sheet of canvas over him. The chances of me dying of exposure during a typical backpacking trip are basically nil. My gear is too good, my preparations too extensive, my checking of the weather reports too comprehensive (thus why I was unable to take the long backpacking trip at Christmas that I'd hoped to take -- I'd check the weather report every day, and every day said no).

And all of that -- central heating, hot showers, soft mattresses, weatherproof homes -- is now dependent upon modern technological society with its extensive transportation network and energy-intensive factories. Contrary to popular belief, homes simply don't use that much energy -- less than 22% of the energy used in America is used by homes. THe majority by far is industry and transportation, which together account for almost 60% of energy use. Unless you've tried to put together a small fabrication shop, you simply have no idea of how much energy is required to actually build stuff. Even a small MIG welder needs a full 30 amps of 240 volt service to operate, add in a plasma cutter (ditto), grinders, cutters, large air compressor, and so forth, and you're using more energy than four average households just for the modern-day equivalent of an old-timey blacksmith's shop, one capable of welding together bicycles from tubing and welding the frame of an automobile back together. Actually *manufacturing* an automobile takes dozens of welders, a large assembly line, a fleet of trucks to haul the parts to the assembly plant, paints comprised of a variety of complex chemicals that themselves require significant energy to create, casting and forging plants for engine and transmission parts, and so forth. And there's not much that can be done to make this process significantly more efficient. The laws of physics state that melting steel to weld things together or cast things is *always* going to require a lot of energy, period. Modern engines may have significantly less metal in them than 40 years ago and correspondingly take less energy to manufacture, but it's always going to be a significant amount.

In other words, modern technological society is energy intensive. And without modern technological society, you end up with a mass die-off of virtually every species on Earth, because the Earth simply won't sustain billions of hunter-gatherers.

The problem with solar, wind, and other "green" energy sources is that they simply won't provide sufficient energy to sustain technological society. That apparently is a feature, not a flaw, to the Greenies who push those to the exclusion of the only other non-global-warming-causing energy source available to us, nuclear power. They want us to all go back to being primitives. The problem is that 99% of humanity dies if that happens. The Greenies smugly assume that they'll be part of the 1% that inherits the Earth at the end. Methinks they're deluding myself, personally... there are very, very few people who remember how to live in pre-industrial society, and none (zero) of them live in the United States today. The inheritors of the Earth if modern society collapses will be subsistence farmers in the equatorial jungles, not anybody you or I know.

But wait, I'm speaking sense here, and who cares about sense when there's an ideology to sell? Siiiighhhh... radical righties, radical lefties, about the only real difference is that the righties have power and the lefties largely don't. I do wish, however, that they did not insist upon living in some alternate universe of cotton candy trees and pink unicorns rather than in this universe, where reality simply, well, is, regardless of your ideology...

-- Badtux the Industrialized Penguin


  1. water-borne diseases soon cut them down, because water sources became contaminated with human feces

    Can you explain me, please, why do only humans manage to polute water? What about herd animals, like deer & bisons? Don't they poop too? Do wild animals frequently get water-borne diseases? Were humans somehow more stupidly behaving than animals, literally pooping in the well they drank from? I am honestly curious.

    Don't have a site, so gave this link.

  2. "a mass die-off of virtually every species on Earth"

    Just not true - think bacteria, algae
    insects etc will survive even if we don't

    I totally agree with much of the rest of your post,
    however you should look at disease vectors more carefully.

  3. Elanor, wild animals do indeed spread diseases, but most of them won't jump the species barrier to humans. That said, mosquito and flea borne diseases certainly were a major problem and still are to a certain extent, and sometimes use other species as disease reservoirs. The Black Death was flea-borne. And malaria, spread by mosquitos, is still a major issue in many parts of the world.

    One of the most disappointing things about the way humans behave in the wilderness, BTW, is the way they leave their poop all over the place. They just squat on the ground anywhere they happen to be and let dump. We're having to enforce potty rules on the Rubicon Trail now because idiots were driving the trail, needed to take a dump, and would just hop out of their Jeep and dump wherever they were -- then wipe their butt and leave their TP there too! So now if you're driving the trail and you don't have one of the new portable potties with "poo bags" with you to take a dump in, you get a ticket and turned around and sent home. So anyhow, cholera outbreaks were a regular occurrence in any community that relied on local streams or shallow wells for their water, because humans *will* literally shit into their own water. Most adults will survive cholera, giardia, etc., the big flea-borne plagues stand out because they were one of the few things adults wouldn't normally survive, but small children won't, they'll dehydrate and die -- just another cause of high childhood mortality in pre-technological society.

    Michael -- perhaps I should say "virtually every species above the size of rats". For an example of what people will do to the land if deprived of modern technological society, see Haiti. Haiti was once a beautiful place of green hills and bountiful plantations. Today it is largely a sterile wasteland -- the topsoil has been destroyed by overgrazing or overfarming, the trees all cut down for firewood, the only species that continue to exist there are humans and their domestic animals, and of course the bacteria, algae, cockroaches, fleas, and rats.

    - Badtux the helpful Penguin

  4. I keep hearing it claimed that hemp can provide all our current energy needs while still being "green". Are they just blowing smoke?

  5. Yes, Purple, they're just blowing smoke. Converting plants into fuels can, at best, provide 2.5% of the energy that hit the plants. Photosynthesis simply isn't that efficient to begin with, and then there's the energy required to turn plant sugars into something that can be easily burned in an internal combustion engine. One thing that plant-energy schemes *can* do is provide sufficient fuel to keep aviation going -- batteries are simply too heavy to fly, while turbines as used for jet engines can be easily adjusted to burn a wide variety of fuels -- but when it comes to powering industrial society, you'd need to distill a hundred acres of hemp to run one welding machine for one hour. Multiply that across the large infrastructure needed to keep modern society going. We just don't have enough arable land.

    In short, it can be an important part of the future transportation infrastructure, but in the end we have to migrate to using electric-powered vehicles where the electricity comes from nuclear or hydroelectric power and solar and wind (where possible), because plants simply are not an efficient way to turn solar energy into fuel. 90% efficient solar cells are a theoretical possibility (right now 10% is commonly available, 30% has been demonstrated in the lab). 90% efficient photosynthesis is not, at least not with chlorophyll-based plant life.

    - Badtux the Technological Penguin

  6. So buying less stuff (that is energetically expensive to manufacture) is more effective than just saving a few percent on usage, yes?

    Hmmm. Sounds like most of the green initiatives I hear about.

    We should have solar and nukes, no doubt. But big business can save a few percent and have that be a more meaningful result than the few I save at home, for certain

  7. I think the greenies are useful idiots, though perhaps in an inverse way to the normal use of that phrase. For one, the greens will never be more than a tiny minority party, so realistically, they are mostly harmless.

    For another, they can help the general cause of mankind by calling attention to the abuses of the transnational corporatism that is now controlling the world.

    A small green force pulling in a generally leftish direction might be useful, though the pullers be idiots.


  8. Having said it before, I'll say it again (with even more confidence): The world of 2050 will more closely resemble the world of 1850 than the world of 1950. The reasons? Fewer people (not in itself a bad thing), global climate change, resource wars, and technology becoming useless, on a grand scale, because most of the technology we depend on today relies on an abundant supply of cheap energy derived from petroleum.


Ground rules: Comments that consist solely of insults, fact-free talking points, are off-topic, or simply spam the same argument over and over will be deleted. The penguin is the only one allowed to be an ass here. All viewpoints, however, are welcomed, even if I disagree vehemently with you.

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