Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Path Off Carbon

Some premises...

1) Carbon based fuels have historically had an absurdly high level of net energy potential compared to alternative sources of energy. (This is also evidenced by our very reliance upon them.)
2) Poor but growing nations with massive populations currently sit on mountains of this incredibly cheap and effective energy.(1, 2 [pdf])
3) The reductions of carbon necessary to reverse global warming amount to radical change, if any reversal can be effected at all. Worse still, feedback systems may render any small reduction in carbon use a waste of effort.
4) Meanwhile, solar use doubles every two years. Advancements in this technology respond to something like Moore's Law, generating exponential returns on investments. Wind power and nuclear (1, 2) show similar potential to outstrip the energy efficiency of carbon based fuels under certain circumstances.
5) But technological investments are costly, and require spare economic resources. (Er, hmm... this?)
6) Unfortunately, carbon reductions and offsets reduce our consumption of cheap inputs, thus lowering overall economic efficiency. (Gore claimed otherwise, but his explanation of how using different sources of energy can fuel development and improve economic growth is an example of the broken window fallacy.)
7) Moreover, local reductions of consumption make such fuels cheaper globally; while higher local consumption raises the basic price of these fuels and drives investment in cheaper alternatives.

The paradoxical conclusion:
The path off carbon requires aggressive consumption of carbon, either to power the research facilities studying alternative nuclear reactions, to fund the factories building the solar panels, or simply to deplete the cheapest sources of oil and coal to accelerate the cost competitiveness of emerging energy sources.