Mana from heaven

Image of the sun's rays through clouds, overlaid with text in caption below.

Think of it this way: we kill foreigners to acquire 200 million year old sunlight; we destroy and pollute our environment for an hour’s electricity when we could just take it free as it falls from the sky.

With thanks to Christine.


About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
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6 Responses to Mana from heaven

  1. witsendnj says:

    I’m sorry but I just can’t agree that this is a helpful sentiment. See “The Coming Chaos” by Peter Goodchild

    The current favorite for alternative energy is solar power, but it has no practicality on a large scale. There is a great deal of solar energy reaching the Earth, but it is too diffuse to be of much value. A good analogy to that diffusiveness, and in fact a somewhat related problem, is that metals have been of use to mankind only because they were found in concentrated deposits.

    Proponents of solar energy must therefore close their eyes to all questions of scale. The world’s deserts have an area of 36 million km2, and the solar energy they receive annually is 300,000 exajoules (EJ), which at a typical 11-percent electrical-conversion rate would result in 33,000 EJ (Knies, 2006). Annual global energy consumption in 2005 was approximately 500 EJ. To meet the world’s present energy needs by using thermal solar power, then, we would need an array (or an equivalent number of smaller ones) with a size of 500/33,000 x 36 million km2, which is about 550,000 km2 — a machine the size of France. The production and maintenance of this array would require vast quantities of hydrocarbons, metals, and other materials — a self-defeating process. Solar power will therefore do little to solve the world’s energy problems.

    The quest for alternative sources of energy is not merely illusory; it is actually harmful. By daydreaming of a noiseless and odorless utopia of windmills and solar panels, we are reducing the effectiveness of whatever serious information is now being published. When news articles claim that there are simple painless solutions to the oil crisis, the reader’s response is not awareness but drowsiness. We are rapidly heading toward the greatest disaster in history, but we are indulging in escapist fantasies. All talk of alternative energy is just a way of evading the real issue: that the Industrial Age is over.

    Petroleum, unfortunately, is the perfect fuel, and nothing else even comes close. The problem with flying pigs (as in “when pigs can fly”) is not that we have to wait for scientists to perfect the technology; the problem is that the pig idea is not a good one in the first place. To maintain an industrial civilization, it’s either oil or nothing.

    Most schemes for a post-oil technology are based on the misconception that there will be an infrastructure, similar to that of the present day, which could support such future gadgetry. Modern equipment, however, is dependent on specific methods of manufacture, transportation, maintenance, and repair. In less abstract terms, this means machinery, motorized vehicles, and service depots or shops, all of which are generally run by fossil fuels. In addition, one unconsciously assumes the presence of electricity, which energizes the various communications devices, such as telephones and computers; electricity on such a large scale is only possible with fossil fuels.

    To believe that a non-petroleum infrastructure is possible, one would have to imagine, for example, solar-powered machines creating equipment for the production and storage of electricity by means of solar energy. This equipment would then be loaded on to solar-powered trucks, driven to various locations, and installed with other solar-powered devices, and so on, ad absurdum and ad infinitum. Such a scenario might provide material for a work of science fiction, but not for genuine science — and most certainly, not in the context of the next few years.

    • pendantry says:

      Hi Gail — and thank you for taking the time to pen such a comprehensive response!

      Whilst I appreciate what you’re saying, I fear that it is too entrenched in current thinking.

      As I understand it, your main objection to ‘solar power’ is that oil is the only viable means of powering our industrial technology. What this misses is that oil is solar power, concentrated over millennia.


      • All energy available to this planet (with the exception of some heat from our planet’s still molten core) comes from the sun.
      • The emerging renewable technologies — currently being strangled for funds by the incumbent fossoil industry — are very much in their infancy.
      • Planet Earth is tiny: The amount of solar power that misses the Earth entirely, on its way out from the sun, is totally, utterly, mind-bogglingly vast.

      Concerning porcine aviation: To maintain an industrial civilization requires energy, lots of it, yes. And I dare say we’ve begun considering this too late to do anything about it. But continuing to push the myth that oil is the only answer falls right into the hands of the fossoil industry, and prolongs the day when humanity acquires the will to wean itself off its addiction to this disgusting, poisonous substance.

      • witsendnj says:

        I’m not against renewable energy at all. But I also think we need to be realistic about what it can accomplish. The scale is critical. “What this misses is that oil IS solar power, concentrated over millennia.” What that misses is that the emphasis should be on CONCENTRATED, and it’s not millennia (thousands) it’s millions – sometimes exceeding 650 MILLION years. That’s why fossil fuels are so uniquely powerful, and that’s why modern society – and particularly, the enormous human population on earth – is utterly dependent on them.

        Obviously humanity needs to wean itself off its addiction to fossil fuels and in fact, it will happen whether we want it to or not. But the mix is going to have to include (whether we want it to or not) massive, drastic reductions in consumption and population even if we do our utmost to switch to wind, solar, wave, geothermal and as-yet-discovered options. If that’s ignored in favor of the pretense that “clean” energy will keep the current party going as it has been since the advent of the industrial civilization, then it will be the wrath of Mother Nature that brings about the reductions in consumption and population.

        • pendantry says:

          Hey now, pedantry ill becomes you. So it’s not simply millennia, it’s millennia of them.

          I still think that you’re missing the point that the sun gives out a heckuvva lot more solar power than impacts upon our teensy planet (far more than a factor of mere ‘millions’). If we humans are so smart, we can figure out how to capture some of that free energy. And hopefully not destroy our planet in the process. If such an attempt is to be made, it must be made while we still have access to the cheap energy that oil provides. If we wait till it’s all gone, I think our chances of getting infrastructure into space using woodburning stoves (assuming that we’ve left any trees to burn, of course) is probably just about nil.

          Realism in the face of defeatism ensures a loss. I’m with you in that something’s going to change; I agree that we’re unlikely to change given our track record, but playing the same old song and not even trying something new is a guaranteed fail.

          “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” — Einstein

          Our only chance is to think outside the box. It’s such a pity that our esteemed leaders are clearly incapable of doing such a thing.

          Some new technology is just around the corner if it’s given a chance and not throttled at birth (see for instance Sun burns water, though my conclusion there was somewhat suspect, as revealed in the comments).

          • witsendnj says:

            You do know that I agree with you? I also think that we could save so much – so much – that we currently waste on utterly unnecessary frivolities like snowmobiles and lawn mowers and buying junk from the other side of the planet. The problem is that in order to really conserve, people would have to admit there is a reason we need to – and that’s exactly what they don’t want to do.

          • pendantry says:

            Totally in agreement with you there 🙂

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