What will happen if humanity acquires NFE – nearly free energy, in regards to the consumption of natural resources?
Recently the fervor surrounding low energy nuclear reaction LENR has risen again. When this topic became active in 2011 and 2012 I think we were in some state of euphoria dreaming about NFE; what amazing things would be possible with nearly free energy? I’ve stepped back and have opened myself to question the whole premise now. Not of the existence of NFE, who knows if it will ever actually materialize, but of the impact of NFE on humanity and the world. Let me elaborate.
Fossil fuels have allowed humanity to crank up the volume for the last 100 years when it comes to growth. Fossil fuels are undeniably the core cause as to why we have 7 billion people on this planet. Why we have incredible technology, space programs, shipping, mining, transportation, agriculture, commerce all of it growing logarithmically, and all due primarily to the existence and use of fossil fuels.
We’ve had astronomic growth. Unsustainable growth. Growth that, until now, we’ve just assumed to be always available to us, to humanity. This growth curve, if maintained, will strip the planet of every useful resource within our children’s lifetime. Oil has given us the ability to grow at such a rate. Oddly enough though, it is the dwindling resource of oil that is forcing us to change our attitude toward growth. We are starting to think we can do more with less. The tightening of our belts is compelling us onto this course.
If LENR were to actually arrive, lavishly lathering us all in NFE, just think of the exploitations that will be enabled. Sure there will be wondrous inventions, many of which we’ve discussed here, that may alleviate some of the impact and the burden of our avaricious consumption. But just think of the spurt to the growth rate if energy were nearly free. Oil was “nearly” free, comparatively, for the first 50 years of the 20th century and look what it did to spur growth then. With LENR, humanity won’t have to curb its growth rate whatsoever. With LENR we’ll HAVE to terraform Mars and mine the moon and asteroid belt to assuage our hunger for growth. Maybe we’re better off delaying NFE for another 20 or 30 years. At least then we’ll learn to live within our means.
Now, I’m not talking about population growth alone. In fact I’m aware of the tendency for affluence to help shrink family size. This site appears to demonstrates this: http://www.gapminder.org/
If you follow Mr. Rosling’s theory then we must equip at least a third of the population (at least 7.5 billion by 2020) with the same economic station as that of current U.S. citizens. Call it 2 billion world citizens all requiring 2+ TVs, 2+ cars, a 3bedroom home (carpet, wood, copper, asphalt, paint, etc.), dozens of electronic gizmos, tons of fresh or nearly fresh food per year, hundreds of pounds of paper per year, hundreds of pounds of plastic, and so on and so forth. Take all the resources used so far to get the world’s current half billion affluent, a mind boggling and environmentally devastating amount – and multiply that by four! Never mind energy for now – the resource acquisition alone will slam the planet like we’ve never experience before. Throw NFE into the mix and you could probably use a multiple of six! 3 billion affluent people all demanding the highest standard of living. Tell me that’s not going to have one hell of a planetary impact.
We all have faith in science. We’ve all, by definition, have lived in a time where an incredible science renaissance has indeed been capable of solving many of the worlds problems. But know that this has only been true in the last 100 years. We are biased to our own capabilities; we have no other perspective. We only know that science has always come through for us so we assume this will always be the case. Pretty dangerous thinking I’d say. And yes, I have been of the same mind, and generally believe this too. It’s only an unsettling feeling I have now that is forcing me to step back and review this attitude with a detached mind.
Malthusian or not, one must admit that the current growth rate of human demand cannot be sustained. Free energy or not, our current growth rate will falter. My argument is that, perhaps, nearly free energy would accelerate the growth curve to the degree that when collapse does come, and it will, it will be sudden and traumatic. While a dwindling energy capacity would, by its very nature, start the reduction in this growth rate at a more moderate pace.
Humans continue to prove that they will take and take without remorse or future consideration until it’s too late. Give them NFE now, before they’ve learned austerity and the temperance of their demands and then be forced to sit back and watch the next boom in unrestrained consumption.
The one redeeming factor that I have not included here is the ability to recycle. With NFE, recycling may become the primary source of raw materials. It may be that landfills become a new source of precious materials required to support the first class habits of billions of humans.
[Content extracted from NicklePower.org – originally posted by Anonymole]