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Our world, energy-wise, in 300+ years

 
pollinator
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I've been thinking on this today and was curious what you guys thought.

I've often watched things like climate change, pollution, and the very simple fact that fossil fuels are a finite commodity.

Even if they didn't pollute, they are still finite... yet our society is so incredibly dependent on them.

So I see one of two things happening - either we will be stupid and run ourselves into the ground, and the world has some sort of massive economic crash that throws us back to the dark ages, or we figure it out before that happens and somehow develop a society that isn't dependent on fossil fuel.

What will that look like? I've always kinda thought the former would happen, but I was just thinking about what if it was the latter? What would our world look like?

What do you think the end result is going to be?
 
gardener
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I think about these things a lot.

I think that we will run off of biological solar power--that is to say, using energy from plants like we used to. Wood mostly, and energy from calories. A lot of my friends think the economy will look something like it did in the 1800s, or perhaps further back. I personally don't think solar panels or wind turbines can be made without fossil fuels--all the mining, refining, shipping, maintenance, etc.

I like to think of trees as a very efficient, sensible solar panel though. They capture energy from the sun and make it available to me, for which I'm grateful
 
steward
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Bethany Dutch wrote:What will that look like?



I remember in one sci-fi book I read, the author casually mentioned how on earth, gasoline was saved for very rare things that could only be fueled by gas. It was government controlled and only used for certain situations. Since it was sci-fi, I'm pretty sure they had some other near-magical energy source that they used for their space-ships, etc. But, either way, the idea of the world sesibly agreeing to limiting the use of fossil fuels for only that which was necessary, made a lot of sense to me.

Of course, it doesn't look like the world has much sense. We just keep mining, destroying area after area that we drill...and using it to make little plastic wrappers on single-serve bags of "yogurt"-covered pretzels and on power that we use for the unnecessary tasks, like an elextric toothbrush and countless plastic toys that beep and boop.

Since we don't seem capable of becoming enlightened, I'm thinking James Landreth is pretty on target for what the world will look like in 300+ years.
 
steward
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Bethany Dutch wrote:So I see one of two things happening - either we will be stupid and run ourselves into the ground, and the world has some sort of massive economic crash that throws us back to the dark ages, or we figure it out before that happens and somehow develop a society that isn't dependent on fossil fuel.



I expect more of the same of what has been going on for my entire lifetime... A gradual shift of society towards living within the solar budget of the planet. Perhaps there are fits and starts, but the overall trend has been towards being less able to afford increasingly scarce resources, and thus learning to get by with fewer extravagances. I expect that trend to continue.
 
master pollinator
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I expect some new power source that is so different,  it isn't even on our radar yet.  Think of the changes in technology in the last 300 years. I fully expect we will be exploring other worlds by then.  Who knows what we will find? Certainly new life forms.  Are new elements hard to believe? I think 300 years from now people will laugh at how primitive we are now,  especially in the field of medicine.
 
James Landreth
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A generation ago, my county didn't get hot enough to ripen certain varieties of apple. Now we are successfully ripening citrus, olive, and pomegranate outside and in the ground. I have a hard time believing that natural climate change is that rapid with something like an asteroid strike as a catalyst

I'm talking like twenty years here.
 
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Being Canadian, I realize the resource is not very finite at all, if we would just stop selling it to the US and China. Canada is sitting on the world's second-largest reserve. If we could just agree to leave it in the ground and use it only for domestic purposes, and then be smart about its use, we would have vast amounts left when the rest of the world has already burnt their's. And maybe by then it would be seen as a chemical resource, and not just something to burn. Our great great great great grandchildren will have every reason to curse us if we sell it all to China.
 
pollinator
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Trace Oswald wrote:Are new elements hard to believe?


While I don't doubt that new elements will be created, Tennessine (atomic number 117) was created less than a decade ago, useful new elements is another story. Seaborgium (atomic number 106) has been around for over 40 years, and it still does not have a useful application (outside the study of Seaborgium).
 
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humanity is under constant bombardment of dogma, propaganda and disinformation about energy, the environment,climate and carbon in the atmosphere.

i think as permies, we're all doing our share but there is due diligence to be done and we must seek more information, educate ourselves, and ask: CUI BONO?
 
pollinator
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Molten Salt Reactor

We don't need a new technology. We already have one on the drawing board for decades that eats the waste of the inefficient processes we're trying to move away from now. And we have something on the order of a thousand years of fuel for such reactors to supply power at today's levels.

I don't remember the exact numbers, and I will try to find the post where we were hashing all this out, but I think that MSRs were suggested to have the ability to cut the volume of current nuclear waste stores to ten percent of what they are. Not by ten percent. To ten percent.

In addition, there is thorium-based nuclear power, which is also a natural, as it is a byproduct of rare earth mining. But whereas China has started looking into it as a source of power, rare earth mining companies in California are "disposing" of their "radioactive waste product" by casting it in cement and sequestering it.

We could go backwards, but I doubt it, and I hope not. The only way, I think, that we wouldn't absolutely devastate (not decimate, to cut by a tenth, but devastate, to visit ruin and destruction upon) the planet is if a significant portion of the earth's polluting populations died in some cataclysm, and the remainder were all permies, or were quickly brought around to such, and before global communications cut out, too. It's hard to infect minds, or to have an online empire at all, without the internet, or some future analogue.

I, too, think that our power will come from biology, but probably the engineered variety. I might go with tree-borgs, personally. Imagine a suite of implants and an interconnected network to augment the functioning of trees and the forest as a whole. This has more applications on engineered habitats, on the inner surfaces of spinning cylindrical orbital stations and domed biospheres on colonised planets and moons than here on earth, but it has some applications.

What if we could simply monitor the needs of trees themselves to encourage them to do specific things, to grow in a particular way, such as, in the instance of a desert environment being regreened, minimally above-ground, while perhaps a tap root and subsurface infrastructure grow to gather, retain, and distribute water, until the surrounding environment is supportive of more vertical growth? What if we could increase the amount of energy trees took in from the sun, to store in the form of sap, which we could then distill into fuel?

And many people are black and white on the whole GMO thing, but honestly, as long as they keep it out of my food and the environment as a whole, I could see the use in a genetically-engineered coastal redwood engineered to thrive in a drier, hotter coastal environment than is typical, augmented to perhaps be able to thrive in salt marsh conditions, or in arid ones, to drop a tap root down to the water table, engage in hydraulic lift, or to drink seawater and sweat water vapour into desert areas with air wells and careful plantings of more desert-greening species.

I think that sea walls, oceanic sub-surface storm breaks and ultimately land masses will be grown out of biorock, drawing down the carbon, and therefore dealing with the acidification issues, in the oceans, and also providing prime supportive habitats for endangered corals. I think sea floor-based vertical maricultural projects will move people from being seasonally-flooded shack-dwellers to sea and sub-steading sea farmers, incidentally providing, as their surplus contributions, to the regeneration of the ocean food web by bolstering it's primary providers through wind pump-based oxygenation to combat areas depleted of such by industrial activity.

I think that ultimately this will result in islands being grown, giant, iceberg-scale growing platforms with a subsurface coral reef nine-tenths of the total mass, with floating mushroom booms forming a sheltered perimeter that would foster salt marsh and mangrove growth. These will be giant biological filters, cleaning the oceans as they grow, feeding more than just the people living on them, and with a surrounding buffer zone of hungry sea biology to eat any biological detritus that escapes our reuse.

I think the micro-satellite movement will culminate with swarms of solar panel-bearing satellite drones taking most of the sting out of the sun's heat while we deal with the insulating gasses heating our little ball. That energy will likely be transmitted to the surface to be used as electricity, weaning us further off remaining fossil fuel power generation as a solar-on-steroids.

Cheap power in orbit will spur industrial development there, and industry will slowly start moving off-planet with asteroid mining, probably tele-robotically at first, and then colonisation and settlement will begin, chasing the money.

Venus will be the surprise. We'll probably use Cloud City-style airship cities between 50 and 54 kilometres above the surface, where our normal breathing mix is buoyant and the temperatures are earth-like. The atmosphere is still corrosive, so the first industrial experiments will probably be tele-robotic and involve the production of carbon-based corrosion-proof building trusses, panels, and glazings. High-pressure industrial operations will take place in automated and tele-robotic factories running the length of a "tether" tipped with a power-generating rotor extending down to the higher-pressure levels nearer the surface. It will likely be the source for cheap carbon-fibre and other carbon-based structural and building materials throughout the system.

Ultimately, even with the use of arrays of solar sail-deploying drone craft, we will figure out how to reliably and predictably control the movement of, at very least, asteroids. Dropping celestial rocks with a large hydrogen content into Venus' atmosphere over time would result in water formation, and its gradual terraforming (into a form like Terra).

I don't think that the colonisation of Mars will be popular until there is a clearly defined financial drive for it. What would also help would be if it had a magnetic field. The only way I can think of setting that up is drilling a hole to the core of Mars, probably at one of the poles, and stationing a, well, station there, geosynchronously. It would be another rotating cylinder with habitats on its inner surface, but it would have a giant solar collector on one end, and would beam that on down through the drilled hole to heat up Mars' core. Once there is a fluid core, there should be a magnetic field formed. Or we can create artificial magnetic fields in the canyons, bubble them over, and inhabit them, but I like the whole-planet approach.

But energy won't be a problem, as long as we don't allow civilisation to descend into chaos and madness. Giving up on it, now, when we have tools to prevent that outcome, is foolish. The task is daunting, but play around with all the possibilities, and if you can take an innovative one for yourself and make it work, like for instance pioneering in the aforementioned sea-steading and sea floor-based vertical mariculture with biorock infrastructure, that's one step towards a future where no great number of people have to die, no great masses of people go unemployed, hungry, diseased, or turned into things less-than human.

-CK
 
Dale Hodgins
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Chris has obviously given this more thought than most of us.

I'd like to see solar panels made more efficient and at less cost. Because the sun will still be shining in 300 years, if we ignore the opinion of that guy on YouTube.

Then there's energy from biological sources, be it fuel producing algae, trees that grow very quickly or improved oil palms that are able to live in temperate zones.

I think that in a thousand years, space will still be something that we are exploring, but with a very low population.
 
pollinator
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Chris has put a lot of thought into this, and I like where he is heading.  As he mentioned, any genetic improvement of tree taproot growth has the potential to increase tree utilization of groundwater, stop desertification, improve rainfall, and re-green the planet.  There’s a lot of potential for massive swale/pond construction allied with trans-genic dry-land trees gene improvement for ecosystem modification.  You would just need to market it properly and find a public or private economic incentive.

I guess I’m just pro-GMO and anti-Roundup.  Our current food problems are not directly due to GMOs.  It’s the regular tillage, fossil fuel fertilizer production, herbicides/pesticides, erosion, etc that are hurting our food and damaging the earth.  GMOs are just a tool that can be used for good or bad, much like a chainsaw (spoiler alert, Monsanto is not using them responsibly).  Actually, a chainsaw is a bad metaphor, because one would take centuries to break down in a junkyard.  Evolution works much faster against dysfunctional life.

There are GMO blight-free American Chestnut trees available right NOW waiting on USDA approval to restore the Great Chestnut Forest (starting in my Piedmont front yard).  Pure American Chestnut phenotype – just a small genetic modification (taken from other plants) to ensure blight resistance.  I think J. Russell Smith would be the first in line to improve tree genetics in the lab.

I don’t know how to support a population of several billion humans on this earth without extensive “terra-forming” to our ecosystem to maximize productivity.  Un-modified, Nature does not produce food in the density needed to foster humans at the billion+ level (while every human civilization and quite a few beavers have modified their environment to improve their species survival).  Humans have typically not understood their ecosystems very well, and their modifications have not always been positive to other life-forms.  I believe that our current knowledge (though not complete) allows us to make more mutually-beneficial modifications.

And on the climate change front, I don’t see how to solve that problem without some kind of nuclear energy (given our current levels of battery and renewable technology).  We don’t currently have the energy storage to use intermittent power sources, and I don’t really see how to get there.  Energy density for battery tech is getting good enough to power cars, chainsaws, and other relatively compact/high power devices.  But it’s not clear how we scale that up to store power over several days of cloudy weather.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Deep tap roots are great if there's plenty of water to tap. Extensive plantations of eucalyptus have lowered water tables in many areas.

Work on trees that can grow in saltwater, shows promise. Mangroves do it, but they do it very slowly. All I am asking for is a high-quality hardwood similar to Black Walnut or African mahogany that can grow in saltwater, five times faster than a willow growing by a septic tank. :-)  And I want it to have hundreds of beach ball-sized pods containing very clean diesel fuel.
 
Chris Kott
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Compressed liquid hydrogen. We park solar panels atop the current expanse of pipelines, and convert them from high-capacity rivers of liquid bitumen to high-capacity rivers of liquid hydrogen. When there's excess energy coming into the system, it's converted to hydrogen through electrolysis.

Then we use slightly-tweaked propane and compressed natural gas technology that's been around for decades, at least, and retrofit our internal combustion-dependent civilisation for hydrogen while electric vehicle technology comes into its own. Or doesn't. It wouldn't matter by that point.

As I have mentioned in other places, and you brought up above, Josh, genetic modification is a tool, and what is important is how it is used. Monsanto's use puts more herbicides and pesticides into the environment. If the aim were to give the engineered plants the ability of some green manures to go from germination to shading out competition instead of barely surviving herbicidal armageddon, then the effect of GMOs on the environment, and our health, would be entirely different.

But yes, absolutely, I would love to be able to plant a forest of transgenic, drought-adapted, desertification-reducing trees rather than having to worry about what some idiot is going to spray up into the atmosphere to simulate volcanic ash. I think it would be brilliant to have GMO coastal species that drink salt water and sweat out fresh, reducing the need for desalination plants. Because real plants grow from seed, which should cost nothing to scale up to forest-scale, whereas a desalination plant that size would cost billions, not to mention the toxically concentrated brine by-product.

In the short-term, incidentally, we could nuke our power problems and our freshwater biosphere issues by covering shallow bodies of water with solar rafts. Instead of heating up water that is then too warm for fish species to spawn in, or to hold much oxygen, we get electricity and shaded lakes and ponds.

Part of the current issue is the recyclability of solar panels, electronic components, and batteries. There is an economic push towards materials that are more commonly available, and so cheaper, and a common subtext to that conversation addresses the end-life conditions of these things. A thing can only be truly permaculturally viable if the waste loop is closed.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Being Canadian, I realize the resource is not very finite at all, if we would just stop selling it to the US and China. Canada is sitting on the world's second-largest reserve. If we could just agree to leave it in the ground and use it only for domestic purposes, and then be smart about its use, we would have vast amounts left when the rest of the world has already burnt their's. And maybe by then it would be seen as a chemical resource, and not just something to burn. Our great great great great grandchildren will have every reason to curse us if we sell it all to China.



As to Canada, I agree completely with you, Dale. Actually, I think that the more that can be kept in the ground now, the better, and not just for the obvious carbon economy reasons.

The logistical bottlenecks facing the tarsands have actually driven some businesses to investigate the possibility of carbon fibre and other synthetic materials. If those ideas were capitalised, we could easily be the carbon-fibre producer of the world, making structural materials and cladding for heavy-lift cargo airships that don't need support infrastructure, or roads, or airports, or deafen aquatic life with their engine drone.

-CK
 
gardener
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I expect more of the same of what has been going on for my entire lifetime... A gradual shift of society towards living within the solar budget of the planet. Perhaps there are fits and starts, but the overall trend has been towards being less able to afford increasingly scarce resources, and thus learning to get by with fewer extravagances. I expect that trend to continue.



In one sense, this is a truism, or a mathematical inevitability.  When all the juicy fun joyjuice is gone, that's what's left. The interesting question for those of us alive today is "how gradual?" With some fascinating subsidiary questions along the lines of "what, in a solar budget world, will we consider to be extravagances?"  

The one thing I am not sanguine about is the notion, expressed in this thread, that nuclear power plants will let us keep enjoying a high-energy lifestyle for centuries to come.  When John Michael Greer was essaying weekly, he tried to grapple with the mathematics of the embodied energy of the capital equipment (power plants and associated technical infrastructure) and while I do not pretend to have understood the details of his argument, he seemed persuaded that a nuclear energy economy didn't pencil out without an oil energy economy to build and maintain it.  This is argument by "some smart guy looked at the numbers and shook his head sadly" I admit, but the world is too large to understand everything, and you have to place your bets based on the information you have.
 
Chris Kott
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I often wonder if we will end up engineering something like a fuel tree.

Imagine a species of, I don't know, engineered Sugar Maple, with conferred resistance to freezing by adding genes for winter-tolerant plant species that create antifreeze in their sap, and tweaking it so that the ethanol produced to lower freezing temperature was augmented to be concentrated enough to burn as fuel. Imagine if these trees were tappable for their sap from thaw to freeze, engaging in hydraulic lift for themselves and the plants around them and cranking out carbon-neutral fuel for likely more efficient internal combustion engines.

I mean, if we could breed or engineer a tree species that would suck carbon out of the air and turn it into fuel for our ready use, it would be carbon-neutral. We could simply shut off the taps in Alberta, Newfoundland, Venezuela, Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, Saudi Arabia. Imagine all the money that could be kept at home, and distributed amongst people who would otherwise be lining up at a gas station every few days, waiting in queue to line the pockets of some mad moron billionaires who care more about their pocket lining than their progeny.

And if they were spread to the thawing permafrost, up past the tree line, to the new grasslands, where the bison and Asian Mammophants would roam free, it would help to transition that biome from a nascent grassland to a savannah. More edge habitat, more food, more diversity, and more life locking carbon up in the north.

-CK
 
pollinator
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I think coal is finally going to be turned into Clean Coal.

As much as people might dislike coal, there is 400 years worth of coal ready to be mined...in North Dakota alone! Add in the other sates, other countries, and I just do not see a future without coal being used. There is just too much energy potential in a ton of coal.
 
gardener
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I am going to jump in here as the history of energy is one of my obsessions, having done much research while working on my MA in history.  What that research did to me was make me an environmental heterodox.  What that means is that while I share many/most of the goals of environmentalists, I differ, sometimes drastically, on the means to those goals.  The following make up my informed opinion so please understand that when I make some statements that may not sound environmentally friendly.

Going back to the OP’s original statement, yes, all fossile fuels are finite resources.  However at present they are vast, even though there is widespread concern about running out.  Take oil.  We have approximately 30 years of oil left at current rates of consumption—and we have had about 30 years of oil left for the last 150 years.  I found this little fact very interesting in that when the very first modern oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in the 19th century, at first the oil shot out of the ground like a fountain.  Latter it flowed out on its own pressure but did not leave the surface and finally had to be pumped.  By this point (only a very short time from the initial discovery) it was assumed that the well would run dry in about 30 years.  

In fact, those oil fields still produce oil today.  I had heard all my life that much of the US was covered in oil fields that had been pumped dry.  In fact, I could find not one single well that had been pumped dry.  In fact, they are pumped to the point that they may be uneconomical to pump, but the oil is still there.  As oil prices rise, those wells come back online and as oil prices fall they go offline, but they are not pumped dry.

This brings me to market forces.  Even in a cataclysmic future scenario, I can’t imagine that the last barrel of oil would get pumped anyway.  What would be the point?  To go another 50 or so miles down the road?  Then what?  More likely that other forms of energy will become cost competitive LONG before we get to the apocalyptic last barrel of oil.  Exactly what that form of energy is anyone’s guess at this point.  It may be a variation of a present renewable energy, it may be an exotic nuclear or it could be something not yet even conceived.  My point is that I cannot imagine that we will run out of oil.  Rather we will transition away as other forms of energy become affordable by comparison.

I am also going to echo CK and say that there are forms of nuclear that are vastly more efficient than those at present and they produce a pittance the waste of current day reactors. I know that not everyone (or very many for that point) on these forums is copacetic with nuclear energy, but basically all operating nuclear reactors today are at best modifications of reactors first designed in the 50s.  Nuclear has a LOT of room for improvement but the political will to enact these changes is sorely lacking.

In summary, I cannot predict what energy will look like in 300 years, but I am certain that we will not run out of oil.  This makes for some fascinating thought experiments, and I have my own ideas, but they are just my own.  Please understand, I want to see energy usage in much less than 300 years to be some energetically dense but environmentally benign and cheap.  I just don't know what form that takes.

Eric
 
Chris Kott
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I agree, Eric. I think it's far more likely that cheaper and cleaner ways of producing and storing energy will make petroleum obsolete for energy production.

It will probably be worth more for some other purpose, like the formulation of advanced synthetics. There are already businesses in the tar sands adapting to export bottlenecks by producing things like carbon fibre, though I don't know that any have yet reached the commercially viable stage.

I like that idea, as that is direct sequestration for the life of the product. Plus, if automakers and aerospace took advantage of cheap structural materials with superior structural performance, they could design and build with that in mind, creating either much lighter vehicles, in the case of cars and aeroplanes, that require less fuel to propel, or larger vehicles that take advantage of economies of scale.

I understand the position of the coal lobby. They see billions of dollars in value in the ground, and they are being told that not only does it have a shelf-life in the current socio-political climate, but that the decades-long slide it has seen isn't just a bust before the next boom.

I wish for coal to become uneconomic to mine, except in the case of the type required for specific industrial processes(I forget the name, presently). Its mining will only benefit the tiny fraction of current energy sector workers who can be trained to operate the tele-robotic machines, or swarms of drones, that either mine underground, by far the most environmentally friendly option available to them, or that rip the tops off mountains and turns them into superfund sites.

I wish similarly for other sources of energy to supplant less environmentally-friendly ones, even solar, that has definite cradle-to-grave resource issues. Where does one recycle solar panels, and to what degree? Is the process environmentally-friendly in and of itself? Is it even possible? And what of the new ytterbium-based cells?

I think I would rather tap engineered sugar maples for ultra-clean bio-fuel, and maybe have MSRs generate most of our power, along with tidal and wind, while we work on either completely and cleanly recyclable solar panels, or ones whose operational life is so long that the cost of recycling pales in comparison to the value of their operational lives.

-CK
 
Eric Hanson
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CK, everyone,

So as I read some of the previous posts more closely I saw that they drift towards carbon sequestration as is normal with discussions on energy.  So with that thought, let me drift towards my own thoughts on C sequestration.

I want to focus on the under appreciated American lawn.  My own thoughts revolve around my difficulties getting my lawn seeded/planted/established almost 15 years ago.  I live in the transition zone, an area too far south for northern grasses (like bluegrass) and too far north for southern grasses.  It is not that they cannot be grown, but getting started is rather difficult, especially for that first summer.

Around here, most people use lawn type fescue which has a good taproot, but does not spread like bluegrass.  There are some heat tolerant bluegrass but they are only so good against the brutal summers around here.

So my thought is to selectively breed the heck out of either a bluegrass or a fescue.  The the grass would have the following characteristics:

1). A deep, deep taproot, in excess of 6’

2). It would aggressively spread by rhizomes

3). It would be nitrogen fixing so as to need no additional fertilizer

4). It would not grow terribly tall so as to reduce the need to mow

5). It would be exceptionally vulnerable to vinegar so as to bring it under control easily

Grasses tend to lose about 1/3 their root mass each year, thus putting additional carbon into the ground.  While doing my masters research I discovered that soil fertility increases 25% for every 1% increase in carbon.  Basically I want a grass that will aggressively pull carbon out of the air, fill in gaps, fertilize itself and just look nice without growing out of control and becoming a weed itself.  I have no idea if this can be done, but this is my basic “fantasy grass”.

Any thoughts?

Eric
 
Chris Kott
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I love your fantasy grass, Eric. I think that if every lawn everywhere they grew lawns had taproots as long as alfalfa but grew a maximum of tall mower height, and were nitrogen-fixing bacteria hosts, lawns would be a much better thing. But a problem with one of your points has occurred to me.

Many plants produce acetic acid naturally as a method of surviving drought. I would consider another control mechanism, as encouraging a vulnerability to vinegar could reduce their natural drought resistance.

I love the lawn example because of how applicable it is to most people. If they were able to simply buy a better lawn seed and save the planet, along with not having to mow or water, and everything beside the grass grows better, I don't think many would argue the point.

I like to think about using such methods to tweak wild organisms slightly but intentionally to widen their survivability ranges. Imagine if sea grass meadows could thrive well outside what we understand to be their normal temperature range. Imagine transgenic western redcedars with eastern red cedar taproots in addition to their shallower fibrous network, but enlarged to appropriate scale, and made capable of hydraulic lift, and the increased respiration of a cottonwood, wherein it literally humidifies the air. Now imagine they were also adapted to coastal environments and saline water. What would populating the west coast of the continent with these giant salt-straining humidifiers do for drought inland?

Also crazy is the potential for naturally adapted metal hyperaccumulators. You literally already have trees in southeast asia, I forget the species but I will find and post, that sequester heavy metals from naturally metal-rich soils in their tissues and sap, such that a tree can be "bled" for its metal-containing sap in the same way that rubber trees were for their latex.

Imagine the potential for environmental remediation if you could grow a transgenic sunflower that would pull all heavy metal contamination out of the soil for you and into the seeds (for some non-food use), perhaps host some nitrogen-fixing bacteria, grow six metres tall, and die, leaving a taproot as deep, and a network of root hairs to add carbon and structure to the soil.

I came up with a doozy hypothetical earlier.

Imagine a grape varietal engineered for cold tolerance. Something in an icewine varietal, perhaps. Now imagine that, added to its genome to express in the skin layers was a highly alcohol-tolerant champagne yeast, something that would tolerate 22% ABV or better. Along with that, imagine the biological antifreeze gene you see expressed in some Arctic-circle plants added, to allow continued biological activity after the needle sinks below 0 C.

Oh, and imagine they're engineered to be infertile autoflowering  female plants, to eliminate the possibility of hybridization in the wild.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

So they grow vegetatively for a season before flowering mid-way through their second summer. The fruit grow in their typical clusters, but the young grape's skin has been engineered with a saponin coating typical of quinoa, and remains largely starchy until fall, when amylases from banana are triggered to convert starches to sugars.

When the first frost hits, they start to sweeten further, and the freezing and thawing ruptures cell membranes in the inner skin layers, releasing the yeasts to start fermenting. The grapes, engineered to stay on the vine through deepest freezes, remain there until the sugars have all been converted to alcohol.

Here's the magic part.

Just after the winter solstice, they would all be harvested, outside, in sub-zero temperatures, and cold-pressed, literally in the freezing cold. The only liquid to escape the grapes would be highly, highly alcoholic, as the cold would have frozen all the water contents.

So after almost two whole years, we're left with this highly potent grape jack (after apple jack, basically when you freeze alcoholic cider solid and collect the alcohol). If you get it early, it might be sweet enough to drink, but that's not why we'd engineer a self-fermenting super-icewine grape.

Because we didn't. Or at least, that's not what we've created here. This is a fuel grape. If it's a high-enough proof, and the engine is designed to handle it, this is fuel-grade ethanol produced and refined in nature, with a single mechanical process required to make it power an appropriate engine.

And it would be completely carbon-neutral.

Add to that it's trophic place, and it might even play well in a food-forest polyculture. I don't know how many beneficial characteristics you can glom onto an engineered species' genome before bad things start happening, but I wouldn't be opposed to adding nitrogen-fixing bacteria host onto it's function-stacking CV.

The new CRISPR variant actually allows for addition, not just subtraction or swapping, as I understand it. I hope to see more innovations in this sphere, but done from a permacultural mindset, and not to create nutrient-deficient biomass that resembles food and also grows well in toxicity that will kill everything else.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-45398434

I think we'll see a lot of this, especially if our electronics recycling isn't as successful as we'd like. We'll probably end up taking these guys and tweaking them so they accumulate nickel, zinc, perhaps mercury, whatever is biochemically possible, accumulating it in their sap, which we would tap seasonally like maple or rubber, or even pyrolitic breakdown and collection of the heavy metals from the ash. Heavy metals get sucked out of the soil, and the ash gets turned into our electronics.

I was thinking about Dan's pessimism regarding nuclear energy. To be fair, PWC reactors have given the concept a really bad rap. They're short-lived, finicky, inefficient, which translates to producing a lot of radioactive waste rather than electricity, and their critical failure conditions are fucking scary. Really, I think the PWC method only worked because it bookended well with the concept of nuclear weapons. As I understand it, thorium isn't really weaponizable in the same way.

So imagine, if you will, a scenario where we're growing biorock reef seawalls to protect infrastructure, as well as to sequester CO2, reducing ocean acidification, and to create new reef nurseries below the low-tide mark, or growing reef infrastructure in other forms. I would be the first to adopt tethered buoyant generation where applicable, as well as any number of ideas involving harnessing geography, like the Bay of Fundy and its incredibly high tides, and water that's already moving, but if we're talking about literally fuelling ocean de-acidification by growing reef infrastructure for seafloor hurricane abatement, infrastructure, entire habitable islands, seafloor-based underwater cities based around seafloor-anchored vertical mariculture, and even just replacement coral reefs, because they're ecologically crucial and very pretty, I would turn to a safe nuclear solution as well. I would also strain the plastics out of the oceans with perimeter islands surrounding existing garbage gyres and incinerate them for power, but you can be sure I'd be using the absolute safest, most efficient high-temperature incineration with no exhaust but water vapour and some carbon dioxide.

Eric could much better explain the benefits of the type of reactor I am describing. I will just say that a heat transfer fluid or mechanism that stays at ambient pressure, rather than a giant radioactive steam bomb, surrounding a reactor that, by design, stops being able to produce energy when it exceeds specific parameters, rather than cascading to explosion, sounds like a radically different animal to me, even before you factor in upgrading the waste of less-efficient legacy operations into fuel for itself, thereby reducing its volume and radioactivity.

Insofar as energy savings go, my mind went to soil-based food production again. I was remembering an article where someone was trying to use a non-toxic diaper crystal in the desert as a slow-release water harvesting technique. It just occurred to me that single-celled organisms, and those composite organisms made up of them, like lichen, are some of the best candidates for genetic modification. What if we could take some of our soil-crust lichens, the ones that hold our desert topography in place and help things grow, could be altered to photosynthesize better, to reduce soil evaporation even more, perhaps even be designed with a specific fungal partner in mind that would symbiose with it and the plants growing in the environment, allowing for forest-like transfer of nutrients between soil and plants.

Imagine we create a similar lichen whose job it is to live atop soil where mulch would be too much, where it can perhaps fix nitrogen, photosynthesize, block out crop competition on the soil surface level, and increase water retention, and at need, be tilled into the soil as a micro-green manure.

Here's another thought: what if we engineered an algae that sequestered specific metals, like magnesium, from the water, concentrating it to the extent that the entire algae mat would at some point sink to the ocean floor with the sequestered magnesium. It would effectively absorb carbon by growing, and then at the height of its mass, it would drop all that carbon to the sea floor. The magnesium would, of course, be free to dissolve back into the ocean if it weren't sought out and harvested, but in passive operation, it would drop biomass, potentially a source of food to bottom-dwellers, and by extension carbon, out of the ocean acidification equation.

One non-nuclear, non-GMO thought I had regarding energy and expanding the Earth's energy budget involves satellites. We're concerned with getting more clean energy on earth, and yet we do things like invent cryptocurrencies that blow huge amounts of energy crunching numbers. We're concerned with solar gain, at least as long as there's global warming, which doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.

If we could move industry off-planet, it would suddenly become very expensive to externalise anything, as you only have what you bring with you; we're essentially looking at a scenario where systemic thinking, as in permaculture, is really the only complete thinking. But moving stuff up and down from the planet's surface to orbit and back is prohibitively expensive.

Except for information.

Why don't we design a drone swarm array of solar satellites designed with the sole purpose of sitting at the appropriate Lagrange Point between Earth and Sol, blocking a portion of the incoming solar energy and converting it to electricity to perform the function that pays for the endeavour: mining a new cryptocurrency, or one that exists that wants to completely rebrand as literally planet-saving, in orbit. They could also collect solar data, not only to augment the swarm's own patterning and efficiency, but also to monitor solar weather.

Data would be transmitted down at standard rates, but the energy would be free, the heat cost to the planet (all those computers generate heat, too) a negative, as the energy would be intercepted before it entered the atmosphere, and this mostly (I think) useless technological development could be harnessed to drive the expansion of Earth's energy budget. We might be sub-1 on the Kardashev scale, but we can leapfrog if we aren't purists about it and cheat.

This could be done today. Elon could build a dogecoin solar shield and deploy it. Honestly, I would design the solar panels around some hybrid of opening flowers and origami and name the new cryptocurrency something like the Lotus or Chrysanthemum, but these are all engineering considerations, not actual obstacles. He already launches his Starlink satellites in multiples from single rockets. What better testbed for his ship to mars than if it were first designed to deliver and deploy this payload?

I think that in terms of human development, we will get a lot more done when we are mature enough as a species to expand the human scale, rather than to try and scale our ambitions down to the level of occasionally intelligent story-telling apes. I feel that drones, widely variable in speciality and customization, will be used in swarms to accomplish human goals larger and more efficiently than otherwise possible, just in the same way that additive manufacturing trumps subtractive manufacturing largely due to precision and control.

300 years is a long time. I think that if we look at using solar power in orbit, first with autonomous operations like the crypto-solar shield swarm, then perhaps with tele-robotic operations, like orbital cleanup of legacy hardware and junk, then perhaps lightsail-rigging-bearing drone swarms could be used to capture near-Earth objects of mineral significance at convenient Lagrange Points for tele-robotic mining and industry that would enable us to begin the construction of a ring habitat around the earth, where civilisation could best use more of Sol's energy than the planet could capture or survive.

Am I suggesting that everyone relocate? I most certainly am not. But just as some people live for urban life, some would be drawn to orbital life, or Lunar life, or whatever proceeds after that. Those looking to industrialise would move off-planet, and Earth would transition to something like a collection of heritage sites and parks of different levels of cultivation, with as much as possible completely rewilded. The ring around the Earth would house shipyards and arrival/departure facilities for space travel, as well as serving as the orbital terminus for any space elevator or dynamic megastructure designed to connect the surface with the ring station. Additionally, solar panel arrays would be able to transmit electricity to the surface, obviating the need for any environmentally costly power generation on Earth.

And we'd have the ability to build pastures and prairie systems and forests and oceans in orbit, if we built to a sufficient scale. Imagine, cows in space! (to the tune posted below. There's also an earlier Mel Brooks lyric to this from History of the World Volume 1).

Weee're cows!
We're cows in space!
Just floating up here cuz we're feeding the whole human raaace...

Weee're cows!
We're cows in spaaace!
Just biding our time til the humans are displaced!

We may make you drool now
But we resent that you're thinking about how we taste!

Weee're cows!
We're cows in space!
Cuz our burps and farts were warming up the place!
And you'll risk the whole Earth because of how great we all taste!



Eventually, we make paired, counter-rotating O'Neill cylinders that can be relocated to serve as continent-scale support for other endeavours in the solar system, from mining to terraforming, to exploration and settlement. They would have hollow cylindrical oceans at least a kilometre deep, with tethered floating reef continents supporting whole forest, prairie, jungle, mountain, and ocean biomes, and serve not as zoos, but as living biological repositories for all lifeforms of Earth, both for purposes of relocating and supporting spacefaring life, but also as nuclei of life for later steps of terraforming.

That, in a nutshell but not in an exhaustive or exclusive way, is what I see happening, potentially. That is what I see as being a human-driven forward and upward-progressing path. And if it seems out-there, it's actually what we're talking about. It's also what David Holmgren's Future Scenarios essay was about, if taken that way; he essentially says that there are many ways energy can progress, due to variable availability around the world, so people will use what they have to survive, and sometimes that will be renewables or nuclear, and sometimes that will be fossil. Likewise, some paths are not progress, but regress, into what more properly resembles some Road Warrior dieselpunk or gritty steampunk existences, whereas some transitions will be greener, either low or high-tech.

I choose to believe that those with more ability to go green, and advance technological capability to do so, will counter the ongoing ills that allow communities with fewer such resources to survive, brown though they be, and advance to such a point that they can begin to pull others up atop that wall.

Those that haven't should really read Future Scenarios by David Holmgren really should. It's an eye-opener.

-CK
 
Eric Hanson
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Chris,

I am glad that you liked my “Fantasy Grass” idea.  Actually, most of the qualities I mentioned already exist in many species of lawn grass so this really would not need to be a “FrankenGrass.”

About all that would really need adding would be N fixation to the grass, but I bet this is doable either through the plant itself or through some bacterial or other microbial companion like the legumes already do.

I guess I would need a different control mechanism than vinegar—too bad though as I thought this would be a handy way to control spread.  Citric acid maybe?  I don’t know.  Basically I don’t want my “Fantasy Grass” to get out of control and become a weed.

I thought of one more characteristic that I would want (and many grasses already have this present).  That would be an association with an endo-mycorrhizal fungi.  These EM’s enhance disease resistance, drought resistance and help transport nutrients in the soil.  Actually, EM’s by themselves seem like a very Permie concept to begin with.

At times I liked the idea of Zoysia Grass.  It is a fine grass that spreads by rhizomes.  It is so thick and dense that it self-repairs scuffs and holes.  It actually chokes out weeds.  As a result it needs no fertilizer or ‘cides to get a very nice looking lawn (assuming one wants a lawn).  It is also virtually drought impervious, staying lush green when everything else dies and it rarely grows higher than above 4”.  What more could one ask for?

The major downside is that it turns distinctly yellow in Winter (not a problem for many), but it also spreads, wildly so.  It has been known to invade neighbors lawns and convert their lawns to Zoysia, so it can be unwieldy.

But as a “Green” grass it is good that it needs little energy inputs from mowing to fertilizer (surprisingly large input here) to other nasty chemicals.  

Maybe these types of grass can be a part of our energy solution at some point in the future.

Eric
 
Chris Kott
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You're likely right about the endomycorrhizal fungi. I would much prefer if solutions came first from the natural world.

That's part of why Paul Stamets' work in the field excites me. One example of something I'm excited to do is get into cultivation of culinary and medicinal mushrooms. We eat mushrooms a lot, with almost everything, like sauteed onions and garlic, and oftentimes together.

And while I have been fond of the magic variety in the past, the health benefits apparently far exceed that significant, but niche, area of expertise. Apart from human-use fungi, I also want to make sure that, providing it's appropriate to the ecosystem, I can get and cultivate the fungi (whose name I've temporarily forgotten) that bees use as medicine.

I do see lawns optimised for deep-root carbon sequestration as a really good piece in the carbon sequestration process, as it takes a cultural preoccupation of many, the keeping of a monocultured green lawn, and subverts it to the ends of carbon sequestration, and perhaps by way of that, also drought tolerance.

Instead of transgenics, I also wonder if a shade-loving micro-clover might be able to do the work of hosting nitrogen-fixing bacteria. If not, it might, in any case, be easier to modify a microclover to better accomodate more nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and to respire at a greater rate, such that more nitrogen is fixed and made available.

As to the picture of the tree bleeding blue, that's Pycnandra acuminata and its nickel-rich sap. I mentioned heavy-metal hyperaccumulators two posts ago. That is the follow-up. I am fixing the link to the article now.

Apparently, thorium is found in all soils. I would love a symbiotic guild of a transgenic thorium-accumulating tree whose sap could be bled like a maple for reactor fuel, attended by endomycorrhizal fungi with a taste for bacteria tweaked to seek out and break down thorium oxides and other mineral reserves in the soil.

No mining, only forest agriculture. You can't weaponise thorium, as far as I know, which is why the more weaponisable uranium was selected as a nuclear power source for reactors. This isn't a homestead-scale project, unless we really advance STEM education in the next few generations, and quickly, but it could yield a much cleaner way to derive fuel for an alternate fuel that doesn't increase our carbon footprint.

In fact, unless we're talking about mining higher concentrations or contaminated soils like rare-earth mining tailings piles, the most cost-effective way to get thorium out of soils might be to have natural or tweaked biological processes collect it centrally for you, in a way that allows you to easily harvest it without killing the method of extraction.

As to the argument that we don't need nuclear, I suggest that there's no compelling reason not to go that way, considering the way I am suggesting actually takes a known problem, stored legacy radioactive waste, and making it smaller and less-dangerous by squeezing more energy out of it in a more efficient and safer process. As to the thought that we don't need that much energy, I suggest that perhaps we consider that energy costs can determine quality of life and food availablility.

I feel that if we had endless clean energy, we could do things like biorock seawalls and infrastructure, up to and including massive artificial microcontinents floating on bases of cultured coral reefs. We'd have electric trains, and probably a train-to-rocket planetary launcher with a spur sent up the side of a mountain, something like a hyperloop, except that when the launch vehicle started ascending the mountain in preparation for launch out the end of a 22 km tall tube, its segments would lock together ( or the tube and launcher would be designed so that the launch vehicles could be unjointed and sufficiently long, but that would necessitate a much more gradual curve up the mountainside).

Imagine a cargo container loaded into a pod just larger than itself, off a ship in Halifax. Normally, the cargo pods speed along in trains from Halifax to Vancouver, detaching from the end to stop instead in Montreal, Toronto, Cochrane, or the prairie cities, delivering cargo back to the port cities, and zipping back and forth.

This pod, though, carries a single-stage rocket and microgravity thrusters. At a certain point, around Cochrane, Ontario, a new spur starts. It was already travelling at speeds that enable continental crossings in a half-hour, but now accelerates, the path of the spur seemingly descending underground. It's really just the ground rising at a faster rate than the tube, but that's all to the good; the incline will start halfway through the plains.

This is a cargo pod, so it has begun its final acceleration before the incline. Passenger pods accelerate more gradually, and more after the incline, so as to leave their passengers' insides inside. But this pod shouldn't even require the rocket, as it will achieve escape velocity two-thirds of the way up the mountain spur, far before it ever leaves its airless, frictionless tube, propelled exactly like a projectile from a rail gun by electricity generated without carbon, perhaps by kilometres of solar panels sitting atop the spur itself.

The atmosphere is so thin where it exits there's barely any drag as the slim capsule shoots through the darkening sky. Its thrusters engage at the appropriate moment to set it on course, and then to stabilise its orbit. The launch of 5 minutes before floats a set distance away from it, and from the payload of 5 minutes prior to that. Each starts deploying their load of tarsands-derived carbon nanotube struts, joining them all together to form a ring structure in orbit around the earth.

The space elevators will come first, and then the dynamic structures, each transporting electricity generated from orbital solar arrays down to the surface. The orbital aperture telescope would already be making detailed scans of our solar system, identifying all the planetary bodies from Near Earth Objects to denziens of the Oort Cloud.

Containers of solar sail rigging-bearing drones will have already been launched by the thousands, deployed to capture asteroids in various capacities, either to gather for easy telerobotic drone mining at one of several Lagrange points, or depending on content, set to burn up in the atmosphere or collide with other bodies. Adding enough hydrogen to Venus is a huge step in its terraforming, for instance. Chunks of hydrogen-ice would be flung to burn up there, I would imagine.

The rail spur to orbit wouldn't last too much longer than the completion of the ring structure itself, as once space elevators started operations, they should easily be cheaper to operate, and once industry started up using raw material from off-world and cheap orbital solar in orbit, the economics would change further. It would perhaps continue as an operational museum for tourists that wanted to experience a passenger capsule orbit.

There are many paths we can take to do amazing things that don't kill us or our planet. I advocate for pragmatism and a long and broad systemic view.

-CK
 
Eric Hanson
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So I will try to categorize the qualities I would want to have in an ideal energy source.  Maybe this is available in 300 years, maybe not.

1)  Safe, clean and emissions free--All for obvious reasons

2)  Cheap and plentiful--again, for obvious reasons

3)  Reliable, consistent, predictable and controllable--This is to address the shortcomings of things like solar and wind.  I am not knocking either, but both give us what they can when they can and we can't change that.

4)  Essentially simple in operation--This addresses things like renewable storage (which is good, but adds another layer of complexity), present day nuclear which is extremely complex, and others

5)  Energetically dense--So that we can generate very large quantities of safe, clean energy from a small source and not need to dedicate large amounts of land to their generation (certain biofuels come to mind here)


Other considerations:

6)  Distributed generation?  Have each locality generate its own electricity?  Might be worth some thought

7)  Cogeneration?  Why just generate electricity when excess heat (almost always present) could also be safely stored for district heating

8)  Carbon neutral liquid fuel production?  It is possible (though at present quite expensive) to make liquid fuels from air and water.  If these could be done without releasing any net carbon, might it be worth consideration?  Maybe worth thinking about.


All of this is just a preliminary list and I deliberately don't mention a specific power source.  I imagine that 300 years of R&D will yield up some impressive changes from the present day.  By all means, feel free to add to this list or suggest alterations.  As I mentioned, it is merely a preliminary list.

Happy musings,

Eric
 
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Responding to the original question, I suspect that energy 300 years from now will strongly resemble energy 300 years in the other direction. I don't think any truly viable energy source can replace oil, I don't think we can keep expanding our numbers or our impact--in fact I think we're going to hit the wall within one or two decades, in part because a tiny percentage of us have actual agency, and they seem to be intent on making even more money and hanging on to power as their only objectives--which means crises can't be addressed. I think we COULD HAVE made a transition to solar/wind/water energy sources if we had kept going when there was a brief flurry of movement in this direction around 1980--but it's too late now. In theory, even now with enough belt-tightening we could make a transition such that there is no human die-off--but it would require several simultaneous revolutions in our way of life, starting immediately, and a level of cooperation globally that, to call it unprecedented is a laughable understatement. Since we're blowing the last of the economically recoverable fossil fuels out our tailpipes in a final orgy of consumption instead of carefully investing them in creating the renewable infrastructure to supersede them, I'm afraid it'll be candles and horses for our grandchildren...and please note that thousands of human generations have lived with no advanced energy and didn't seem to think life wasn't worth living. On the other hand, I lived with no electricity for five years (actually 20 but the last 15 we had free gas so we had refrigerators, lights, a gas heater)--now I live with an off-grid solar system and LED lights and I gotta say, LED lights beat kerosene lamps cold.  They require very little power and no attention--kerosene lamps stink, are always needing the wicks trimmed, are a fire hazard, and are after all a fossil fuel. But maybe it'll be candles...
One fantasy I have is that when the fossil fuels are gone, people will travel a great deal less, but will still make, a couple of times in a lifetime, a Grand Journey to see the world. It will take months and involve a combination of walking, biking, perhaps horseback riding or canoeing, perhaps there will be a train that still runs somewhere--and for crossing oceans, good old sailing ships. To make it economically feasible, there could be a custom that any town, village or city neighborhood worth its salt has a Visitors' Center where you can crash for free and sometimes get free food--but you would be expected to do the cooking and cleanup, and to entertain the locals with stories, songs, photos, perhaps a sample of some special seeds your people have developed.
 
Chris Kott
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Hi Mary.

You might want to check out Future Scenarios by David Holmgren. It's quite comprehensive, and it's the closest thing we have to a permacultural futurism paper that I have found.

If the name sounds familiar, yes, it's that David Holmgren.

In it, he describes the energy transition as occurring in different ways in different places, based on the intellectual and material resources available. Societies that don't have, say, a modern, molten salt nuclear reactor that uses legacy waste from old nuclear operations as fuel will probably keep using whatever petroleum or fossil source of energy is available to them.

Greener societies (and yes, that includes anyone generating clean energy from waste, including nuclear waste) might have no need of fossil fuels far before they are exhausted. Fossil fuels won't likely be exhausted; they will simply become too much trouble to bother with unless they're local and don't require much cleaning up.

As an example, if easily extracted and refined crude dried up, we'd still be left with areas like the alberta tarsands in north america. I am sure someone might set up an in situ refinery, but absent enough demand to fund continental transport, the markets aren't there to support it financially. So locals wanting to power their ATVs, motorcycles, and tractors (but probably not trucks) would probably be able to get together to create a multi-homestead operation sufficient to provide fuel for a small group. Much more likely would be a continued exploitation of natural gas.

At the same time in this future world, there will be communities build around, say, industrial complexes that utilize computer-coordinated sun-tracking mirror arrays to produce their power, or solar-thermal arrays that store their power in the form of molten salt thermal batteries. There might be communities centred around extant or new wind power developments, maintaining and building as necessary.

I suspect that it will be very much a patchwork quilt of these green and brown energy transitions. I suspect that there will be some Holmgren might not have anticipated, such as blue transitions, where life is sea-based, either seasteading on traditional craft, building or growing floating islands, or building communities of seafloor habitats supporting advanced and regenerative vertically oriented seafloor mariculture. Power might be wind and wave-based.

All of these, save some of the brownest, offer the potential to keep some of the modern tech upon which modern life relies. Perhaps not to the same extent; I doubt we'll see consumer-driven tech toys, but we might use tablets for systems control for communities and industrial processes, and probably for telecommunications.

I don't think we'll be seeing much travel at all. Even now, unless you're more wealthy than you're willing to admit to yourself, travel is too expensive for the average individual in north america. If the average you're taking includes the whole world, a disproportionate number of people, most of whom also have issues finding enough to eat and enough clean water, would think of the suggestion of blowing whatever meagre resources their family had on travel, on a whim, to see the world, a cruel joke.

And that's today. The only people in this future scenario with the resources to undertake any kind of travel that doesn't resemble refugee living are those whose immediate ancestors caused the problems that lead to the world's collapse. Everyone else is busy trying to hang on, or to transition to something locally sustainable, not because it's the right thing to do, but because if they don't they lose the ability to work after dark, and their caloric needs skyrocket because suddenly they're the ones doing all the grunt work, too.

The transition to renewables is ongoing. Newer, larger wind projects are starting up operations every day. Solar adoption is commonplace; I see both dedicated solar farms and individual homestead installations, the latter with sun-tracking infrastructure, all over southern Ontario. There are new stories all the time about new tidal turbines being employed in areas of extreme tidal action like the Bay of Fundy.

It's regrettable that the billionaire innovators haven't decided to have a competition together over who can bring the most clean energy and water treatment to the globe. But the fact that they're periodically overwhelming the news cycle, and that certain economic players would quietly sweep renewables under the rug if they could, and would then jump up and down on the resultant heap, doesn't change that their cost continues to diminish, and their efficacy continues to increase.

In 300 years, I feel we'll probably have hit our stride in most of the world with a high-tech green revolution. Someone will figure out fusion, and then China will replicate the success immediately, and so large parts of the world with power distribution infrastructure will be powered that way.

If history is any indication, the developed world will see the development of small molten salt reactors that upgrade legacy nuclear waste into fuel to generate electricity, leaving a fraction of the volume and radioactivity behind. These will likely be sold to anywhere that otherwise would be burning fossil fuels if they could afford it, with some developed nations, probably Canada, donating them as parts of aid packages and writing them off as money spent against global climate change and in pursuit of global development.

To be fair, this would be aid diplomacy, and should be treated no differently than vaccine diplomacy or other forms of aid diplomacy seen historically, used to bolster support for other development initiatives, but ultimately to gain economic and diplomatic alliances. It also wouldn't surprise me if business interests interceded to "clean" and "refine" and "repackage" the nuclear waste to be used for fuel, to sell them as consumables for discounted reactor units, the way photocopier companies would sell their copiers for less than you'd think, and make their money back better with service contracts and selling their customers consumables only they could provide.

In this scenario, while green is desirable, it is by no means a guarantee of ethical standards or a suggestion of altruistic intent. Likewise, earlier brown energy transitions won't be because of an innate disdain for the natural world; rather, they will be driven by a need to bring food to the table and ensure safety and shelter for one's own.

Frankly, I'm excited for more developments in green transitioning. I feel that there are many routes to green energy transitions, and that new, safe, and clean nuclear technology that literally eats our dangerous radioactive waste of the last half-century and spits out electricity and a fraction of the residuum, creating energy by tapping into an otherwise dangerous waste stream isn't the only route, nor is fusion, nor are solar panels or wind or tidal turbines.

We could see something astounding, like the fuel grape idea. Imagine growing fuel that refined itself biologically on the vine, then was concentrated by the weather into a form that you could either drink, clean things with, run an internal combustion engine on, or burn as fuel in a lamp or stove. Now imagine that it was carbon-negative, because all the pruned or harvested biomass would be either chopped-and-dropped, fed to appropriate livestock, dropped into new hugelbeets, or made into biochar through strategic reuse of waste heat.

There are so many new things that could happen. I rely on historical patterns to see how we, as people, might react to new things, but honestly, some of these concepts are so new, they'd probably be destructively disruptive in some circumstances. Imaging shitty wine country (good to grow grapes, but bad terroir, undrinkable wine) suddenly turning into carbon-neutral, fruit alcohol-powered ICE agroindustrial heartlands? I could do without the industry part, but again, it's the historical pattern.

There is just so much potential for new and exciting things that we can do to fuel our transition away from fossil sources. These options are waxing, not waning. The limits are conceptual. Unburden yourself of doubt.

-CK
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