I work in the oil & gas industry. I know, shame on me.
I mean, screw you! I have a job and pay taxes and stuff! Harumpf
My career hypocrisy aside, I live with a couple realities that some people have a hard time processing.
#1 releasing the stored energy in the bonds of fossil fuels is bad for us and pretty much everything around us. (We’ll talk about this at a later date)
#2 I could wake up tomorrow to find that some smart cookie has worked up a slick new way to generate large amounts of energy that can be developed into an inexpensive industry ready for global deployment in my life time, that some other smart cookie has come up with a relatively safe way to store said energy that can be standardized into a package the average human can handle and BLAMO! I’m looking for a new pay check.
(please hold your comments about conspiracies to keep new energy sources off the market, I’ll get to that)
Let’s face it, the reason we don’t have flying cars is that the energy revolution never happened. After we split the atom things kind of stalled on that front. We had to figure out so much infra-structure stuff to take an industrialized nation (I’m just talking about the US here, I don’t know what’s stopping Syria from achieving an energy revolution. Oh, wait. Yes I do.) into the modern age that we ended up concentrating on how to process the data required to make things happen. And so the data revolution happened instead.
Now, it’s easy to think of data as something purely mathematical. To think of it as sales figures, credit card transactions, or interest rates. It’s also easy to imagine that data is just the binary translation of our songs, photographs, and amazon.com purchase histories. But data is actually everything we know, think, feel and experience as recorded and communicated.
Write it down, take a selfie with it, bitch about it to your friends, get it tattooed on your neck, it doesn’t matter. If you do anything except try to remember it, it becomes part of the database of human experience. There’s a knock-on effect to recording and sharing whatever you think, feel or experience. (This is part of a much more complex discussion about sentience and causality that I’m not qualified to get into.) Humans naturally seek to record and share their data and, as our accomplishments and understanding of ourselves and the world around us exploded over the last couple centuries so did our ability to record and share our data. (The data revolution really kicks in with the late 19th century arguments over computational mathematics and an army surgeon who tried to make the US census work better but that’s a story for a better story teller than me.)
The mid to late 20th century is marked by faster communication, bigger networks sharing information, greater standardization of rules and components and automation of every conceivable thing in our lives; all of which has been controlled by data. I imagine you imagining computer networks and the internet as they are now but I’m talking about things like building national highway systems, standardizing rules for driving and flying, developing and sharing new medicine, redesigning our factories and neighborhoods, all done over the last 70 or so years. Sociologically speaking, the civil rights movement should be a perfect example of data used for standardization. And it was freaking hard to get most people to accept the data. (Someone’s going to ask “what do you mean by data?” It’s a literal analogy, figure it out.)
This data had to be processed. This is where computers come in. This is why our cell phones have given us 9 wonderful years of internet access. Seeing and knowing aren’t enough anymore. We have to share what we see and know and we have to be able to process it into metrics that have value. This is what most people think of when you talk about the data revolution. Computers that get more powerful and thus smaller to do the same job. My cell phone in 2015 could more than what my laptop in 2005 could do. Notably, I feed more personal data into my cell phone every day than I would have given my old clunky laptop. But my never ending stream of data is being never endingly processed by whatever I stick it into (there’s a dirty joke there somewhere).
If you believe the experts, we are about to hit a wall with the hardware part of the data revolution (unless that quantum computing thing does something cooler than it’s doing now) so maybe the energy revolution can kick off. This feels like a good place to discuss that conspiracy thing from earlier. Powerful people and corporations make a lot of money off the current energy market and people who are winning never want to change the game. But, my personal opinion, is that the game is more about money and less about energy and the people who are winning are really only competing with each other. So, if the new energy had the right earning potential, and the big players stood to beat out their rivals, I feel like it’s more doable than the conspiracy nuts think.
Hooray! Based on my completely speculative and biased opinion and what seems to be some syllogistic reasoning everything will be fine if we just get a couple smart cookies and some big shots capable of being manipulated by a guy who still can’t touch-type.
But what if the energy revolution does happen? Just, what if?
Let’s start with the climate-change perspective of this argument. (I’ll do another post, later, about my problems with the climate change debate and No, I’m not a climate-change denier but I’m sick of being told the world is coming to an end.)
The largest % of world wide carbon emission comes from energy generation. If you could come up with something to generate 50% of our national electric energy without adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere that’s the same as removing every car, truck, train, ship and plane. Suddenly you can sleep tight knowing that the power plant providing your Prius with a charge isn’t the biggest polluter anymore. And NASCAR can keep right on turning left at <5 miles per gallon.
What will happen to the other energy sources and the people who depend on them for a living? What happened to the coopersmiths, haberdashers, travel agents, and block buster cashiers? Sh1t changes, bro. This goes back to my if-you-can-make-money-doing-it-the-rich-people-will-be-on-board-directly argument. Do you really think that wealthy people will miss an opportunity to stay wealthy? I think…..
*Norris’s phone rings*
Hold on. Hello? Oh!
*Norris turns back to the audience*
It’s the American manufacturing industry from the 1950’s, 60's,&70's. They want their make-more-money-every-year-while-consumer-goods-stay-cheap paradigm back. NO? I’ll tell them it’s a pipe dream.
*Norris turns back to his phone*
They’re too busy trying to save American jobs in the energy sector while preventing global warming without having a socio-economic effect. They’ll have to call you back.
*Norris hangs up*
Eggs + break some + hard work on all our parts = omelet
If you want to discuss what we can do to offset this effect I’ll make a new post for that, too. I have some ideas based loosely on the fact that our economy is imaginary. (Good stuff)
Finally let's talk about what was so important that I made it my topic: We are addicted to energy. If we come up with a cheaper safer source would we really see a net-benefit? Probably not. The history of electricity in our homes is each generation of appliance uses less energy but we have more and more appliances. The 1940's family that had one tube-powered energy sucking radio turned into the 1950's family that then had an energy efficient transistor radio and a huge tube powered energy sucking TV and oven and washing machine. By the 70's we had a house full of appliances, blenders, mixers, washers and dryers and steroes and TV's and air conditioning everywhere! By the 90's there were multiple TV's, radios, game consoles, cordless phones, all types of appliances and now some computers in every house. 15 years later everything we buy plugs into something (note to self: there's a sex toy joke here). The epa greenhouse inventory report (you have to download the full report which is over 450 pages, this link just goes to the source page) shows that the per capita greenhouse gas emission has gone down it he US over the last 15years but the population has gone up...so guess what the net effect is? Yup. Up. The point being, our total usage of energy is going up even though things are much more efficient with each generation. TV's use less power per diagonal inch of screen area and so we make them bigger and buy more of them per household. I'm not preaching here, I have a lot of things that plug into the wall too. I try to offset my little things by carefully regulating my big things. It's 56 deg F in my house right now because I haven't run the heater yet this year. (Another reason I am single)
One of my fictitious readers, Ur4M0r0n writes, “But if there was an energy revolution would I finally get my flying car?”
The short answer is "No". Consider the freaking trouble we are having figuring out drone etiquette. Do we bomb the whole wedding party to get the one evil groomsman? YES! Can I take pics of your sunbathing wife in your back yard? NO! America is a confusing place. (That’s a joke, yo. Save your angry emails)
The straight up math of energy required to make things fly reliably in almost all conditions, how complex the technology must be for it to be intuitive enough for everyone to be able to use it, the ability to train and police a mobile population who can now travel unrestricted through the air and the required cost of new technology on an undeveloped market place make it seem pretty doubtful that this technology will advance fast enough even if we had the power. What’s more likely is that a badass new power source would be misused by the government for a decade or two before a handful of guys in their garages do something interesting but dangerous with it and then it gets popular enough for someone to risk corporate capital on it. Basically this is a multi-generational technological advancement that can’t happen until we have a radically new power source. Get to work on that and then we'll talk flying cars.
I feel like I could have talked a lot more about this, that I rambled all over the place with it, and that I really misused used conjunctions. But I’m tired and it’s bed time.