28 January 2007


In recent weeks China has surfaced a (reportedly undetected) submarine in the midst of a US fleet, and shot down an old satellite.

In a recent post "ABM & Space Stations" I warned that destroying a space station was not very advanced rocket technology. I speculated that Democrat politicians wanted a space station because the component parts would be mainly made in Democrat states.

The Chinese missile test has hopefully put paid to those Democrat plans. I think it would have been obvious to any engineer who thought about it that a military space station was extremely vulnerable to mid range technology. However most people are not engineers, and believe what their elected leaders tell them. I see any attempt by those who promote a military space station (& should know better) as a very dangerous form of corruption.

If the Chinese submarine was in fact undetected until it surfaced, then the technological implications are profound. So profound that I find it hard to believe.

I would (if that sub was truly undetected & I was in charge) be quadrupling the research effort. Need I point out that hostile submarines (if undetected) could launch an attack which would take less than ten minutes to deliver to most major cities in the USA?

These developments (and N Korea & Iran) make it even more crucial than ever that ABMs as proposed in July 2000 and subsequently be developed asap. (The recent submarine technology displayed requires that those ABMs double as anti cruise missiles).

I actually have faith in the US military. It is quite easy to covertly obtain technology to within six months of the leading edge. Getting on the development wagon is another deal entirely. It requires a totally different team, a different ethos, and open communication.

That last six months is hardest to overtake, and it is the winning edge.

21 January 2007


The Democrats are newly in power in the US Congress, and house speaker Nancy Pelosi has created a "global warming" committee. "Weather Channel" Weathergirl Heidi Cullen has

metamorphosed from a tizzy predicting storms into a scientist who wants to muzzle colleagues by stripping those who are not following the "alarmist" line on global warming of their professional weather reader certification.

"Anti alarmist" weatherpersons have counterattacked, charging that many reputable scientists believe that the extreme weather this year is "normal" variation, and cite their colleagues silence as being the product of the unavailability of grant money to establish a contrary position.

As early as April 2005, Professor Lindzen who occipies the "Alfred P Sloane" professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT charged that "Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence." I am already on record as having theorized that global warming would produce more energetic weather. With that caveat, I did not find Professor Sloane's counter argument to Sir John Horton's (similar "more energetic weather") theory at all convincing. That led me to google "Alfred P Sloane" who, it turns out, was a past President of GMH. Follow the money indeed.

So where does that leave me on global warming?

  1. I note that CO2 concentration has risen from 0.028% to around 0.04% in the last few decades. I would not be at all surprised if the concentration exceeded 0.05% within a few decades, especially since it appears that the Arctic Tundra has started to thaw, producing great quantities of CO2 & CH4.
  2. Although CO2 is transparent to visible light, at infra-red wavelengths it is opaque. To an eye that saw infra-red light, CO2 would be like a thick fog. Even the traces present in the atmosphere massively absorb the sun's radiant heat, transferring it by conduction to the air.
  3. The increased CO2 in the atmosphere would be heating the atmosphere even more than it currently is, (producing even more global warming than currently being experienced) if it were not for the particulate pollution emitted by aircraft and other dirty fossil fuel engines. These particles reflects back into space around 10% of incident sunlight, so reducing radiation reaching the surface of planet Earth.
  4. Consequences. Nobody has established definitely just what global warming will actually do to our planet in the medium or long term. One possible scenario is that the biomass potential would increase due to the increased CO2. Hot deserts (such as the Sahara and Australian deserts) would have encroaching jungle as the monsoons of the tropical regions expanded towards the temperate zone. The arctic tundra in Siberia & Canada might thaw & become a fertile agricultural region as the temperate zone expands into the arctic regions. The mediterranean temperate zones (such as lower Europe, upper California, and the bottom of Australia, S.Africa and central Chile) would become deserts as the "roaring 40's" migrated polewards.
  5. Weather patterns will probably become more active. So houses, agriculture & transport will need to withstand more robust weather. This is an engineering problem, and fairly simple to solve.

Whatever the outcome, any attempt to curtail fossil fuel use would prove v.expensive. Fossil fuel gives the third world cheap food, water, medicines and the transport necessary to deliver those benefits to their people. The first people to die if we curtail fossil energy use will be the poor in third world countries. More than two years ago a convocation of scientists determined that the value lost by curtailing fossil fuel use would better be spent stopping AIDS or malaria or providing free trade for the benefit of poor countries.

In fact, no specific action need be taken to stop CO2 emissions. Fossil fuel will become more expensive as deposits become exhausted, and somebody is going to make heaps of money by introducing a competitive, probably non-polluting energy source (with ERoEI way above unity) which will derive energy directly (probably) from the sun.

How do I know this? Because the technology is already foreshadowed, it just isn't economic until the price of oil rises permanently above the esv (= economic substitution value, currently between $80/bbl. and $120/bbl). And it's not going to go over the esv while OPEC holds the reins and still has oil to pump, because OPEC states are just as addicted to the flow of cash from selling oil as the industrialized world is addicted to using oil. I would imagine that, for those sheikhs, a cheap energy alternative to oil would be the stuff of nightmares..

1st, 2nd February 2007.

Following on the Heidi Cullen story above, the "Union of concerned Scientists" have in the last few days claimed that in a survey of about 2,000 government scientists to which 279 responded, 50% (135?) of respondees claimed that they had been "pressured" not to use the terms "global warming" or "climate change" in their publications. Assuming that those who responded were "inconvenient truth" proponents, my gut feeling is that 7% of respondees is a low enough number to establish that the "pressure" was not institutionalized. The fluffiness of the charge of "pressure" in comparison to cancellation of professional certification for media weathermen is stark.

During preparation of the IPCC report (due next week), the climate debate is hotting up. The consensus seems to be drifting from those offered in the Stern Report back towards the predictions that I made above, i.e. that the likely damage from climate change has been massively overstated, and the cost of remedial action has been grossly understated.

The critical difference (at least for CO2) is the calculation of the optimal setting for a carbon tax to produce the greatest nett economic benefit. Yale economist William Nordhaus (Nature, Nov.92) estimated that the optimal tax was $5.00 per tonne, rising to $20 per tonne by 2100 AD. Stern found the optimal tax setting to be $85 per tonne*. According to the Stern Report the economic cost of no control carbon emissions rises to 20% of the economy forever (Bjorn Lomborg). Stern used a model he acknowledged as similar to that proposed by Nordhaus (above). (Prior assumption of the value of constants were more extreme.)

One solution suggested by Nordhaus was that "smart" mirrors be put into orbit to redirect solar radiation. A scientist in Arizona has calculated the cost of a similar project to be about one trillion dollars. Such a solution would have the additional benefit of (theoretically) total weather control. Crops would never fail from lack of water, and no new city reservoirs need ever be built.

NOTE* Petrol assays about 85% - 90% carbon by weight, and one litre weighs 750 grams, so contains about 650 grams of carbon. At $5 per tonne, the carbon tax would be around four tenths of a cent(AU) per litre. At $85 per tonne, the carbon tax would be about 5.5 cents(AU) per litre, or 16 cents(US) per gallon.


  1. I think she's cute!

    Comment by Elvis — 4 February 2007

  2. Cute, yes. Attitude to the first amendment? Yes, she's got attitude.

    Comment by barvennon — 4 February 2007

6 January 2007


Australia is having difficulty with the client governments in the region. East Timor, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, & Vanuatu. Other small states (e.g. Nepal) are having difficulty with the Western model of a Liberal Democratically elected Dictatorship.

In some cases the problem arises because the head of the military believes that the elected government has exceeded it's franchise. This argument does not go well with our democratically elected dictators in Canberra or London where the model we use is held out as the epitome of good government (although if pushed, they would probably allow that there could be a few improvements, like longer terms, outlaw independents, stronger libel/defamation laws curtailing unwanted comment, more pay etc.)

Consider the latest crisis in Fiji. The democratically elected (by a slim majority) government decided to sell foreshore land. The military decided to intervene using that as an excuse, sacked the PM, sacked then reinstated the President, who then appointed the military chief as PM.

In East Timor Politics is polarized between the small western enclave and the east. When about 600 ex-guerilla soldiers from the west were sacked civil strife erupted. The president sacked the PM, who stayed in power, so the President resigned, and a further 30 cabinet ministers threatened to resign. The PM resigned, and a replacement PM was found.

The Solomon Islands have a problem with unstable government & instability connected with allegations of government bribery.

Papua New Guinea has a population exceeding six million. The government of this country is in frequent dispute with the Australian government, which until recently supplied several thousand police for training purposes. When the Supreme court declared unconstitutional an agreement that Australian police would not be liable under PNG law, the police were withdrawn. The PNG government is considered to be unstable and unrepresentative.

The Kingdom of Nepal has been subject to a civil war by Maoist guerillas. The legitimacy of the present King is dubious, as many consider that he murdered his Father the King and then his older brother. A vote on the status of this country (Republic v Kingdom) is soon to be held.

In all of these cases the revolution or civil unrest or instability could have been averted or resolved if there had been a constitutional pathway for the people to directly vote on the issues. Unfortunately, our democratically elected dictatorships do not favour offering such a simple solution to their client states when they give them a constitution, perhaps because it might work.

What do I mean by a constitutional pathway? The principal is the same as the Californian "propositions" system, or the same as the method whereby Californians elected Arnold Schwartzenegger. The method would vary depending on culture, population and communications technology. Basically, it is a method whereby the people can initiate either legislative change or election of a new set of representatives. The method would vary depending on culture, population and communications technology. In a nation with advanced telecommunications, a poll could be conducted via email. In a small country with poor communications, local government officials or tribal elders would have to report on a poll.

Why would it be a problem for our electated dictators if such a system functioned? Consider, if it did work, it would serve to reduce the power of the elected dictatorship. With an example like that, the voters of the democratic dictatorships (that's us) might demand a similar system.

The political reality is, hell would freeze over before our democratically elected dictators would ever condone relinquishing that much power.

EX PM Mal Frazer.

One of the most divisive incidents since Australian Federation presaged the election of Prime Minister Malcolm Frazer. That incident was the dismissal of then PM E.G.Whitlam by the Governor General that EGW had appointed earlier, and the subsequent election of Mal.

Under the rules of our government, cabinet papers are released after thirty years. The following information has been released. Just before his dismissal, EGW had communicated to Indonesian President Suharto Australian acceptance of the Indonesian intent to invade the newly independent Portugese colony of East Timor. That invasion proceeded, during which time four Australian journalists who were present in the region were executed by the Indonesian army.

Just after being elected, PM Mal Frazer confirmed Australia's consent to the Indonesian invasion.

That invasion was directly and subsequently responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of East Timorese people. Now Malcolm is pretending to be extremely upset that an Australian terrorist, David Hicks, should still be locked up in Gautanamo without being charged after 60 odd months.

The reason that PM Howard is not in a hurry to have David Hicks back in Australia is that he does not want the same embarassment as the Indonesians suffered in their action against Bali Bomber Godfather Abu Bakar Bashir.   Five years ago, we did not have specific anti terrorist laws such as "being trained as an Al Quaida terrorist in a foreign country" listed as a crime. So even if it were proven that Hicks had been trained personally by Bin Laden, Hicks would not have been guilty of any crime under Australian law. It might not be legal, but it is justice.  Hicks should be in jail.

Sometimes I wonder where our pollies learn their ethics. For all I care, terrorist Hicks could rot in hell forever if it would save those East Timorese that Mal killed.

Frazer was a politician, so I should not be surprised that he had the chutzpah to speak out against the sequestration of Hicks.  If I had any say in the matter, Frazer would be there with Hicks for his part in causing those thousands of Timorese deaths.

5 January 2007


There are sections of the community that anticipate a recession within the next few years. Economists seem to be concerned with the levels of consumer debt in Australia & the US. Their concern seems to be that consumer anxiety over personal debt compounded by rising interest rates and falling real estate values will inhibit consumer spending. At the other end of the economic predictor spectrum are the new Malthusians, exemplified by LATOC. Latoc believes that "cheap" carbonaceous minerals have provided a "free ride" economically for the last 80 odd years, but that when oil is exhausted (or even in short supply) then the unmet demand will cause a price rise that will produce an economic crash.

I have previously written about Oil & Ecology, in March 2005 and January 2006

LATOC is run by a new age Guru who sees no solution to the inevitable exhaustion of world oil reserves circa 2040. (or more generally, exhaustion of carbon mineral energy deposits some time later). He looks at alternative energy sources and finds all of them to be inadequate to the energy requirements of our first world civilization. He calculates the shock of rising prices will be felt within the next year or two, as rising demand crosses falling supply. LATOC contends that wind and waves, geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear and photovoltaic power have limited application & deliverable capacity, and that they cannot replace oil. There are only so many high-wind hills, only so many tidal inlets, only so many moderately active volcanoes to tap, only a limited number of rivers to dam. Uranium is a limited resource, known uranium deposits would not supply world energy requirements for more than a few decades. Extraction of oil from Shale is not likely to be economic for less than about US$40/barrel, and extraction requires a considerable capital investment. Extraction from oil sands is also possible.

I take issue with LATOC's contention that photovoltaic power cannot substitute for carboniferous energy. Consider the following:

  • According to Wikipedia the most efficiency of photoelectric cells has an efficiency of 25% to 35%. – see esp. the graph.
  • Not only that, but the price of power from photo electric sources can be anticipated to fall drastically as technology advances. See for instance this abstract in sciencedirect. where five scientists from the Toyota Technological Institute express an anticipation that the amortised price of photoelectricity will drop to less than 7 Yen/KWH. (~ 7c/KWH, giving an equivalent gasoline price for mechanical power produced at the driveshaft of ~70c/USgallon) by 2030.
  • At the equator the energy density of sunlight is approximately one kilowatt per square meter. So using existing technology, photocells located in the tropics would be able to provide between 250 and 350 watts per square meter for at least (clouds permitting) six to eight hours a day.

Of course it is early days and Photovoltaic (PV) cells are expensive. However the manufacturing technology is similar to but simpler than computer chip manufacture. When the cost of power produced by PV roofing panels drops to below the price at which the electricity grid sells power from mineral burning power stations, it can be anticipated that quite a few new homeowners would cover their roof with PV roofing. When the cost of power produced by PV roofing becomes less than the price at which the grid purchases mineral sourced power, it can be anticipated that most roofs would soon be covered with PV roofing, and that households would sell power to the grid.

A PV roof of area of 100 square meters (~108 square feet) at latitude 45 degrees (e.g. Minneapolis St Paul) would produce a fine day average (over the year) about 120 KWH. At latitude 30 degrees (e.g. Houseton) this figure should rise to 250KWH on a fine day. Of course there would be regions where cloud cover or other factors would render installation of PV roof panels uneconomic.

Another possible technology being investigated in Australia (and, apparently, Spain) is electrical generation by solar heat. Carnot's equation limits heat engines to a theoretical maximum efficiency of (1-Tl/Th). Taking T-low to be ambient (say 27C=300K) and T-high to be the metallurgical limit for turbine blades (currently say 627C = 900K) gives (1-300/900) ~ 67%. However few (if any) coal fired power stations manage to exceed 40% efficiency.

Per capita electricity usage (industrial use included) in the USA was about 33 KWH per day in 2003 (derived from World Factbook). From this it can be calculated that (so long as per capita roofing in the USA was above ~30 square meters) if PV roofing was installed on homes throughout the USA, that PV roofing could easily meet the total electric grid power requirements of the USA.

Another issue is power storage. Power must be stored for use overnight or on overcast days. What is needed is a battery that is lightweight, high power density, high current capacity, safe and low cost. Such a battery could be stored in the cellar and charged by PV roof panels during sunny days, then run the house during the night or on overcast days. Similar batteries could be put into the family car or provide motive power for trucks and farm machinery.

Failing invention of a suitable battery, various hybrid systems might be possible. For the home, where weight is not an issue, it should be possible to store kinetic energy in a flywheel. Alternatively, in mountainous country, a private hydro scheme might be competitive. Failing those, existing hydroelectric sources could be used.
Most of the oil that is used worldwide is used to power transport. Transport can be powered, given cheap electricity, in several ways.

The obvious is charge a battery, and use electric motors. Existing technology batteries drive fork lifts, and have been applied to cars. Trucks and farm machinery could not be economically powered by existing batteries. If battery technology does not provide a suitable battery within a couple of decades, then perhaps hydrogen gas will fuel the transport of the future. Sufficient hydrogen to operate the family car could readily be generated and liquefied quite cheaply using the home PV power panels. The family car would operate using Hydrogen in either an internal combustion engine or using a fuel cell to generate electricity. Trucks and heavy mobile (e.g. farm) machinery could also function on Hydrogen.

One of the arguments raised against the PV scenario is that the changeover (to say hydrogen powered cars, or PV roof panels) is too great. The USA could not afford such a change. Possibly those critics are not taking account of the obsolescence built into our infrastructure. Cars and trucks are replaced on average every ten years. Roofs, on average, every 20 years. The new electric or Hydrogen cars would be introduced over a 20 year timespan. And of course, oil supplies are not going to disappear overnight. Nor would every roof be replaced instantly. In fact, the introduction of PV technology will act as a cushion on rising oil price rises, and extend the life of oilfields.


  1. censorship!

    Comment by Spleenie — 7 January 2007

  2. haha

    Comment by editor — 8 January 2007

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