28 January 2007
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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?
- I note that CO2 concentration has risen from 0.028% to around
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.
- 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.
- The increased CO2 in the atmosphere would be heating the
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.
- 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"
- 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
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
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.
6 January 2007
DEMOCRACY IN SMALL
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
In East Timor Politics is polarized
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
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
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
The political reality is, hell would
freeze over before our
democratically elected dictators would ever condone relinquishing that
EX PM Mal Frazer.
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
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
any say in the matter, Frazer would be there with Hicks for his part in
causing those thousands of Timorese deaths.
5 January 2007
OIL & ALTERNATIVES
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
- At the equator the energy density of sunlight is approximately
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
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