Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frank Newman: Innovation not for the greenies

The BBC recently reported on a new technology that “creates” petrol from air and water. No, it was not an April fool’s hoax. The technology essentially removes CO2 from the atmosphere, combines it with hydrogen split from water vapour and turns it into methanol, which is then converted into a fuel that can go straight back into the petrol tank.  Not only is it potentially a means by which the world can reduce its dependency on seemingly villainous oil producers but more importantly it is a means of turning carbon emissions into a valuable product – a solution to so-called catastrophic global warming!

As reported, the technology is far from commercially viable so it will not change our fuel consumption habits any time soon. BUT it does serve to illustrate the very important point that technology is not static. That’s hardly a revelation to those who walk around with their senses attuned to the world we live in, but it seems there is a large an increasingly influential segment of our population that have yet to acknowledge advancing technology when advocating policy solutions to anthropogenic global warming . That segment is of course those doomsayers, like the Greens, and others of pessimistic persuasions who believe mankind must reverse evolution if the planet has any hope of being saved from mankind itself.

The merit of any kind of predictive modelling is of course inextricably dependant upon the validity of the assumptions upon which it is based. The well known failure of economic modelling to predict economic outcomes, or even explain them, is a case in point that to date has rendered them of no practical value. And so it is with the catastrophic modelling used by the environmental activists to lobby politicians, persuade the media, and convince the populations of the world that preservation is an imperative if the future is to have a future.

As the “petrol from air” technology demonstrates, when individuals are provided with the freedom and liberty to pursue their ideas and aspirations, mankind will address the needs of the day with solutions that  unimaginative people and politicians could never even conceive. Unfortunately innovation seems to have no place in the pessimistic  world of environmental activism.


jh said...

You'd have to admit that solutions have been slow in coming. We seem still to be stuck. The 1905 De dion used petrol and we are still using petrol today. One innovation we won't do is organise ourselves towards self sufficiency. The bicycle is the best invention yet.

Anonymous said...

I strongly recommend an essay that should be regarded as a modern day classic of "enlightenment" thinking:

George Reisman: Environmentalism Refuted

Reisman points out the following:

We have actually barely begun to prospect the entire surface of the earth, and under the sea bed, for all known resources.

As mankind becomes more technically advanced, he discovers uses for more and more resources. Many of the resources we use most today, we did not use at all until we discovered how to use them.

There is no reason to believe that we have come to an end of that process. That is, we will yet discover uses for resources that give us even more power over our well-being than the current uses we make of known resources.

The more capital accumulated by mankind, the more access we get to resources. We can drill deeper, extract elements more efficiently, access the resources under the sea bed, and so on.

Furthermore, that accumulation of capital underlies the research and technological progress that bring ever more resources within our purvey.

Apart from what has been blasted into space, every molecule in every substance “used” by man, is still here and will be able to be re-used one day; a lot of it has merely been re-ordered to man’s advantage meanwhile. Every carbon molecule that has been burnt to extract energy, returns to the biosystem after a short time in the atmosphere, and will be able to be accessed again for the purpose of energy, by our descendants at some time in the future.

It is actually more “moral” to continue to invent and innovate and adapt as rapidly as possible, and suffer possible “nature strikes back” consequences IF and when they occur (just as mankind has suffered for millennia), than it is to “play god” and do actual harm to humanity immediately, and worst of all, to reduce our ability to accumulate capital, invent, innovate, and adapt. In such cases, the “solution” is always at least as bad as the alleged “problem”, and entirely likely, going by historical example, to be far worse.

Had our ancestors remained pagan tree worshipers, certainly the earth might be wonderfully forested and lightly populated – by primitive people living nasty, brutal, short lives; having never discovered fossil fuels or any other “modern energy”. We could replicate this scenario today, and never know what advances we DIDN’T make.

These are actually issues of religion and ethics, not science or economics at all.

Anonymous said...

(2nd half)
And had the whole world succumbed to Communism, the whole world would have ended up with an environment as toxic as Eastern Europe's and China's; far greater damage for far less actual wealth creation. "Unintended consequences" from regulations favoured by economically illiterate Greens have the potential to be similarly as bad for the very environment that the regulations are alleged to be designed to preserve.

For example, the cities in the western world that have been practising urban growth containment for the longest (eg the UK's cities - since 1947) have the worst traffic congestion, the longest commute times, the worst local pollution, the worst social exclusion, the least affordable housing, and the worst housing quality and condition and space. AND the UK economy is seriously low in "productivity" thanks to its urban planning system. The sprawling low density cities of the USA beat the UK's cities - even much smaller ones - hands down on all these measures.

In so far as total resource consumption per person might be higher, and emissions higher, in the US cities, this is not a consequence of urban form at all, but of far higher disposable income, thanks to housing costs being far lower even though the houses are larger and the sections many times larger. Ironically, environmentalists in the 1970's favoured living on large sections with lots of trees - but that was before the west's radical leftists swamped the Green movement in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism, when they needed a new vehicle for their envy-fueled rage against western civilisation.

- PhilBest

Frank Newman said...

JH has left a new comment, “Technology finds sources of energy and ways to use them. Human population increases at an exponential rate. Technology isn't the answer a change in behaviour is the answer.” (The remainder of the comment has not been published as it is of a promotional nature.)

To say human population is increasing at an exponential rate is arrant nonsense and a good example of comments made by those who do not “walk around with their senses attuned to the world we live in”.

The rate of world growth has been declining (still increasing but at a slower rate) since the 1970s.

This is most likely to be because as nations become more prosperous the birth rate declines, but there did happen to be a minor medical innovation at about this time - the contraception pill! Another example of how innovation will actually ensure humans will survive just fine on planet earth, the place we call home.