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Showing posts from March 6, 2011

Who likes to think?

I still cannot get over the interview Mr. Tom Vilsack, the secretary of corn-ethanol agriculture, gave to the Economist.  The stunned reporter observed that Mr. Vilsack's pandering defense of agricultural subsidies was so thoroughly bereft of substance that he began to fear that Mr. Vilsack would be sucked into the vacuum of his mouth and disappear. I think that Mr. Vilsack has calculated that thinking is an activity foreign to most Americans, and internationally as well. Is Mr. Vilsack correct in his cold political calculation?  I doubt if I know the true answer to this question. When I talk to the numerous Polish immigrants of my generation, who really should know better, I often cannot believe my ears. How they mindlessly repeat the assorted talking points-of-the-day that were drilled into their heads by the various roaring heads on a TV channel they watch, a talk radio station they listen to, and an internet "source" they scan for a confirmation of their prior be

The U.S. Fatso After a Miracle Diet of Renewables

Almost every day on the way to campus I watch all kinds of monster trucks overtaking my small diesel engine-powered car.  The drivers look down at me with amusement and proudly roar from all of their 8 monster cylinders, spewing their monster exhaust fumes.  All these dinosaurs on wheels usually carry one person, who is not getting anywhere any faster than I do.  They do burn, however, four times more precious liquid hydrocarbons than I.  And herein lies the quintessential  U.S. infliction: blithe, mindless waste everywhere. Since this blog post will likely be used for all kinds of political spins from the left and right, here is my disclaimer: I am enthusiastic about most renewables (the giant-scale ethanol from any source and biodiesel fuel are excluded), and I would love to see a wiser use of much less energy in the U.S., as well as fewer people. Unfortunately, my fellow Americans - most notably politicians and journalists -  are rather oblivious to the challenges of living

Energy Throughput Defines Metabolism of Societies

Click on the image above to see its full size. A human society can be viewed as a macro-organism, a far-from-equilibrium creature that exists by pumping energy through it.  The more complicated the society is, the more energy per unit time it needs to pump through to keep itself going. What you see above is a plot of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in US dollars per day per person, versus the total rate of hydrocarbon use in Barrels of Oil Equivalent (BOE) per day per person.  The plot is doubly logarithmic, so a straight line here is a power law curve in Cartesian coordinates. The source of data is CIA, and all 200 countries on the Earth are plotted in different colors by their continents. The three poorest countries with the least use of hydrocarbons are Congo, Burundi, and Chad.  On the other extreme, I show Qatar, Gibraltar, Luxembourg, and US.  China and Brazil are in the middle of the cloud of points that clearly form a linear trend. The two solid lines are t