The Real Energy Crisis

Physicist: …At that 2.3% growth rate, we would be using energy at a rate corresponding to the total solar input striking Earth in a little over 400 years. We would consume something comparable to the entire sun in 1400 years from now…
Economist: That’s really remarkable—I appreciate the detour. You said about 1400 years to reach parity with solar output?
Physicist: Right. And you can see the thermodynamic point in this scenario as well. If we tried to generate energy at a rate commensurate with that of the Sun in 1400 years, and did this on Earth, physics demands that the surface of the Earth must be hotter than the much larger surface of the Sun.

via Exponential Economist Meets Finite Physicist | Do the Math.

The Congressional Research Service just issued a report on so-called fracking, the technique of using hydraulic pressures to get at hard-to-reach deposits of fossil fuels, which is not related, per se, to the excerpt above, or the excellent, readable and recommended blog post it comes from. But it made me wonder if fracking, which I had dismissed as wrong-headed and risky, isn’t a good idea, after all. I mean, let’s just get the fossil fuels out of the ground already and burn them up so we can stop talking about them. Let’s make gas prices a nonissue, let’s make it unimportant which tyrannical regimes are producing our oil, and let’s put the focus on the real problem: Not, Where will we get our energy from, but When will we stop using so much energy?

That sentiment makes my point in the wrong way, of course, because burning all those fossil fuels will only help us “cook ourselves with perpetual energy increase.” (Did you read that? Cook!) A concept like that makes “peak oil” look positively mundane.

Five years ago, a power strip or extension block was a seasonal thing to me, something that I brought out when I needed to plug in Christmas lights. Now it is a necessity; indeed, I own three, and there are not enough wall outlets in my two-bedroom apartment to satisfy my peak appetites for electricity. That appetite will only grow, I am guessing, which will have deleterious effects that will not be mitigated by my over all conscientiousness, no matter how many plastic bottles I recycle or how much public transportation I take.