Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Playing Chicken with a Wall

Controlled Acceleration

We’re going down the road at sixty miles per hour, that’s one mile a minute.  Thirty minutes ahead a large concrete barricade blocks the road.  It’s too high to go over, too wide to go around, it cannot be moved, and it won’t break when we hit it.  Hey, Hakuna Matata!  No sweat, we’ve got thirty minutes.  What we don’t know is that the brakes are shot.

Let’s react as if we’re shrewd investors or smart businessmen.  We’ll respond to our situation with controlled growth.  After all, we’ve got thirty minutes.  Let’s increase our speed by 5% every minute.  At the end of fourteen minutes we’ll double our speed, fun, and profits.  We’ve still got thirty minutes and in fourteen we’ll be doing one hundred twenty miles per hour, won’t that be exciting.  In twenty-eight minutes we’ll be doing two hundred-forty miles per hour.  In forty-two minutes we’ll be doing four hundred-eighty miles per hour.  Oh, wait, we only have thirty minutes to work with.  Hmmm….

The harsh realities of mathematics show that we only have thirty minutes if we keep the speed at sixty miles per hour.  If we increase our speed by 5% every minute, we only have eighteen minutes left.  If we decide to do something after fourteen minutes, we’ll have four minutes to ponder the discovery that our brakes are shot.  We’ll have doubled our speed and our momentum.  The good news is that the risk of anyone being maimed for life in the ensuing accident is now unlikely: everyone will be vaporized at one hundred-twenty miles per hour.  They won’t even find enough to burry.

I hope that most sensible people would want to slow down.  No brakes, let friction go to work, shift down a gear and create some engine drag.  Maybe in thirty miles we’ll be going slow enough that injuries will be minimal.  Maybe we’ll coast to a stop.  Maybe we can at least ditch it.  The bad news is that everybody might live.

Yet our government budget model is discussing controlled steady growth of nearly 5% per year.  That means in fourteen years our government will be twice its present size, twice its present consumption, and it will take on the look and feel of Jabba the Hutt.  Does everybody agree?  This is a bad plan.  We need to reduce government spending and size, and do it drastically.  Okay?

Let’s build a business model.  We’re going to run out of fossil fuels sometime or other.  When does not really matter.  If we need to know we will look up our present reserves in volume or weight, and divide by our current consumption rate in volume per year or weight per year and we will have the best possible estimate of how many years we have left if we don’t go any faster.  But if we want a nice controlled growth business model of, say 5% per year, we need to use a different formula.  Here it is:

Time Remaining = 1/.05 * ln (.05 * Reserve / Consumption +1)

I’m checking my calculus to make sure this formula is correct.  The point is that if we have the best data and the right formula we will know the best estimate of how much time is left.  So. If we have thirty years at zero growth, we will only have eighteen years at 5% growth.  Now, we can build a serious business plan for what we’ll do when the fossil fuels run out, and we’ll know how fast we have to get ready.  Every year we’ll check our data, because we’re always hopeful that new reserves will be found.  But at least we’ll have a realistic picture, and a plan for what to do when the well runs dry.

We do have alternatives: nuclear, solar, wind, wood fired steam; manpower, horsepower, and other animals in harness.  At the present time that’s pretty much it.  We need the sober-minded involvement of every citizen on earth.  This problem involves over seven billion people and it will take every last one of us to solve it.

At this point, I’m counting on the Iranians to be the very conservative sensible people they are.  If they are using their centrifuges to build nuclear weapons, they and their culture will die.  If they are using their centrifuges to build nuclear power plants, they and their culture will live.  I wonder if the rest of us will have that much sense.

It’s fair to ask where all this energy is going.  The lion’s share of it is devoted to war and war related research.  This is not hard to demonstrate.  If one looks up a graph of national debt by year, we find that the debt curve and the War activities coincide.

When will we learn that we must beat our swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4)?  When will we commit to government and business plans based on negative growth?  I know that nobody wants to hear that; but this is what we need to hear.  Jimmy Carter and James R. Schlesinger told us this; yet, nearly everybody thought them to be fools.  We should have listened then.  We need to listen now.

Will we slow down before we hit the wall?  Don’t tell me I’m wrong.  Look up the numbers and do the arithmetic yourself.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Garden Party

My Back Yard

I threw a garden party in my back yard the other evening.  All the guests were clumped in groups of two: each group arguing vehemently, almost to the point of blows.  The arguments were important too, not some mere trivia, but all the crucial social issues of the day: abortion, business, debt, education, government expansion, health care, jobs, sexuality….  Everybody had a side, and each person clung to her/his viewpoint with fierce tenacity.

A large giftwrapped package arrived and everyone was eager to see it opened.  Quickly removing the bow, wrappings, and carton we discovered a hydrogen bomb attached to a ticking clock.  There was no evident time limit to the clock; it appeared to be able to run forever.  One thing for sure though: if it ever went off, there would be no more back yard, no more arguments; when the ashes settled, there would be only silence.

We look at, and treat events like the birth of Christ as seemingly insignificant local events.  What a cute baby!  What a humble stall!  What poor parents!  What a dinky town!  What is all the fuss about?  We forget the evangelist Luke’s exhortation in 2:13, “multitudes of the heavenly host.”  Not some of the angels, all of them!  Not some of the stars of heaven, all of them!  At the incarnation of the Son of God, stars, whose light has not yet arrived at earth, those stars quaked and sang.  We forget the evangelist John’s exhortation in 3:16, “God so loved the Cosmos.”  The birth of Christ, His Death, His Resurrection, the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost: these are Cosmic events that shake the Universe.  This is bigger than any hydrogen bomb in my back yard could ever be.  The birth of Christ, His Death, His Resurrection, the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost are all Cosmic events that shake the Universe.

A second, smaller giftwrapped package arrived moments later.  It was an atomic bomb attached to a timer, instead of a clock.  It read thirty minutes.  We have barely enough time to take this bomb somewhere where it won’t do any harm.

In the millennia of humanity, the era of fossil fuels is a mere pimple on the horizon.  From the Civil War, roughly 1850, to the end, perhaps 2050: it will last about two hundred years or so, a little more, or a little less.  What is two hundred years compared to tens and hundreds, thousands of thousands of years behind and possibly ahead of us?  To the people of Chicago today, where the temperature is close to zero, and the wind-chill is minus forty, it means that at least half of the population of Chicago died from exposure in their sleep last night.  The rest will die in a few hours or days of dehydration or starvation.  Nearly every pipe in the city will burst: water will be scarce.  Transportation will scream to a halt: there will be no way to get food, even food that is not far away.  What is scavenged will have to be eaten cold or raw.  Some will survive by burning the buildings and their contents.  Chicago will be destroyed.

This is not a doomsday scenario.  This is not Armageddon.  This is not prophecy.  This is hard mathematics, science, technology, data… collected by the best means available and rigorously applied.  It is a business, government, and individual planning device.  Someday the era of fossil fuels will come crashing down and it behooves us all to have a plan that will make that crash as easy and painless as possible.

Two kinds of events, far greater in magnitude than bombs in my back yard, confront all humanity, all of earth.

Humanity is able, to some extent, to manage the second kind of event: the exhaustion of all fossil fuels.  It is the height of human arrogance and stupidity not to plan for and deal with this kind of event.  Yet, we have not had a serious energy policy in many years.  No president since Jimmy Carter, and no energy czar since James R. Schlesinger has had the fortitude to present this issue to the public truthfully.  What you read in your paper and see on TV is, for the greater part, a pack of lies, exaggerations, and cover-ups.  Life will be as it was in 1850, except for the many dead.  That is the meaning of the end of fossil fuels.

We can do nothing to change the first kind of event, other than believe and accept it as what it is, listen to the free offer of the gift of the Holy Ghost, and graciously accept it.  That is the meaning of Pentecost.

Yet, here were are; living as though there were no tomorrow, squandering energy as if it grew on trees, and pretending that God has no power or say in the administration of this world.  The price of our folly will be mind-shattering.  There are roughly three hundred seventeen million people in the United States: at least half of them will die needlessly because no one was willing to deal with the second problem.  They will die quickly from the cold of winter or the heat of summer.  Those who survive will be confronted with famine.  The time to act is now.

Go home, folks.  The party is over.