Bad news: Renewables won't save the planet.
I love hydrocarbons. So should you.
If, however, you are a planet-saving, greenie millennial: I hate you. You are a disgrace to humanity. If that's you, sit down, shut up, and learn the facts.
Because hydrocarbons rock.
If you want to save the planet; be a friend of the Earth: recalibrate. Stop being a complete muppet. The planet is not at stake, and the Earth is not the kind of thing that can be ‘friends’ with you. (Reciprocity failure, right there.) The planet’s had worse - that’s a matter of geologic record.
What’s actually at stake is the future of humanity.
Cloaking the problem - and there is absolutely a problem - cloaking it in the mist of altruism (doing it for the planet) is mentally retarded. It can’t help. This report is all about humanity’s addiction to hydrocarbons - and we are addicted absolutely, and it could destroy the climate, absolutely. Hydrocarbons are awesome, but they could be the end of us. (And the world lived happily ever after...)
Unlike heroin, crack cocaine, crystal meth, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) our hydrocarbon addiction is overwhelmingly a good thing.
In fact, you have to vote for burning even more. Even though that might kill us all. The only way we can hope to save humanity is burn even more hydrocarbons.
That’s the fundamental petrochemical paradox.
So I’m going to break this down, and I dare you to refute my arguments using logic and reason. Have a crack at it. I don’t believe you can do it.
OPINIONS ON THIS: NOT ALL ARE EQUAL
If you’re a millennial greenie dickhead, get down off your self-entitled soapbox.
If you didn’t bother to learn the history, if you don’t know the thermodynamics, if chemistry and physics seemed irrelevant, or if school was just out of order when you grew up, because you had ADHD, here’s the first bit of bad news:
Scientifically illiterate people are not entitled to an opinion on this - not one that can be validated.
The vast majority of the hemp-wearing dickheads boo-hooing hydrocarbons do not even know what hydrocarbons are.
WHAT ARE HYDROCARBONS?
So here’s the hot tip on that: Hydrocarbons are a readily available, cheap and incredibly dense source of energy, formed over millions of years by geology, from the remains of ancient life.
It's mainly plant life. (Not too many dead dinosaurs...)
If you’re scientifically literate, you know what that means.
If you’re a science moron; still in the dark. So: Hydrocarbons - coal, oil, natural gas. The big three. Carbon and hydrogen, crammed together, cooked 2000 metres down in the ground over geologic time. Slightly different cooks; slightly different forms of the same drug. And it is a drug.
The best drug we’ve ever developed.
OIL IS YOUR GOD
In fact, if aliens pop out of warp drive and probe us all from orbit, they would conclude that oil is our god. If you look at the functionality, oil is what we worship.
The Christian God, Allah, Poseidon, Zeus, Thor - all the frauds, basically - would never even blip on alien probing radar.
There’s a real god. It is oil. And you worship it devoutly - even the greenies - by deed if not word or thought.
If you think it’s our big brains or our clever opposing thumbs that put us in this position of planetary pre-eminence apropos of the food chain, stop being an idiot.
The thing that sets humanity apart is thermodynamics. We are the only species on the planet that has access to vastly more energy than we consume in our food. Hydrocarbons liberate us - beyond belief.
Hydrocarbons liberated you - even if you are a hydrocarbon-hating greenie nutbag. Here are the highlights. Humans have been on earth for (estimates vary, but let’s call it) 200,000 years. For most of that time, our species teetered on extinction. Life expectancy was shit.
In the Bronze and Iron ages, average life expectancy: 26.
At the end of the 19th Century, here in Australia: life expectancy was about 50. So that’s about double in 3000 years. And we’ve added another 50 per cent in just one century. Amazing. When Jesus was walking around - on water, allegedly, turning it into sav blanc, allegedly - there were about 300 million people on Earth. Fast-forward 18 centuries: about a billion people. Threefold increase in about 2000 years.
Add just 200 more years: seven billion people, give or take. Brains, the same size for that whole time. Thumbs: just as opposing. The only difference is: access to energy. Energy exploitation. You think this is about cars? You think that shitbox Tesla is going to ‘turn things around’? If you think that, you’re an idiot. This is a much bigger issue.
WHAT IS ENERGY?
This ‘energy’ - for those of you who really didn’t study - means that the majority of you - of us - no longer has to till the soil all day long just to eat dinner. It means we don’t have to burn wood or dried camel shit inside our homes just to cook, just to see when the sun goes down, just so we don’t die of hypothermia when it’s cold. This is what emancipation feels like.
Emancipating people from back-breaking agricultural labour means they can study stuff. Physics. Chemistry. Medicine. Things that really benefit humanity. Jump in the car. No need to worry about starving, here in the first world. There’s an endless supply of high quality, cheap food just five minutes away. Thank hydrocarbons for that. And by ‘hydrocarbons’ I mean ‘god’. And praise the lord also for how easy it is to collect it, and cook it.
THE GREEN REVOLUTION
(BROUGHT TO YOU BY HYDROCARBON ENERGY)
One billion people are alive today, who otherwise would not be, were it not for the Green Revolution. One of the greatest achievements of the 20th Century. The mechanisation of farming - using hydrocarbons. Petrochemical fertilisers - from hydrocarbons - saved the lives of one billion people. That’s a truly green initiative. Before that term was semantically hijacked by nutbag arseholes.
If you’re a green dickhead, please know that I’m not cherry-picking this. The Green Revolution is an undisputed historical fact. Everyone knows who Usain Bolt is because we are so emancipated in the modern world that we can focus on shit that does not matter, and idolize all the wrong people. Look up Norman Borlaug - I bet you’re drawing a blank. Legend. Hero. Mostly unknown. Sadly.
Norman Borlaug. A greenie I can truly respect. Nobel Peace Prize, 1970. Credited with saving the lives of over one billion people. He used drive and intellect. Genetic modification of cereal grains to increase yield, irrigation infrastructure, mechanised farming, logistics management, petrochemical fertilisers and petrochemical pesticides.
Genius. Hero. Brought to you by hydrocarbons. Impossible without hydrocarbons. One billion lives. He also won, among many awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. And the Public Welfare Medal. And the National Medal of Science. And the World Food Prize.
Adolf Hitler commissioned the systematic mass murder of six to eleven million people. Everyone knows Adolf. Norman Borlaug saved more than one billion people using brains and petrochemicals - and nobody knows him, statistically. Doesn’t seem fair.
Norman Borlaug died on September 12, 2009, aged 95. A great man.
HARMONY WITH NATURE: EPIC CROC OF SHIT
Of course, insidious, allegedly green shitheads paint a picture of humanity striving to achieve a kind of purity and peace, harmony with nature, which we purportedly experienced before all of this evil, corporate, petrochemical industrialisation.
The reality is, if we just eliminate hydrocarbons we not only stop progress, we go backwards.
We’ll be dying our twenties, in childbirth, of infection, of simple accidents, or we’ll just starve to death if it’s a dry summer. Because that’s what real ‘harmony’ with nature looks like, and we’ve already been there. You can only paint this bullshit ‘natural harmony’ picture from a cafe in the first world, sipping coconut water and ordering brunch…
WHAT'S REALLY IN OIL
Every barrel of oil - 159 litres - represents bottled energy. The same energy you’d get from 12 big, strapping slaves, working quite hard for you, every day, for a year. You can rip it out of the ground in some impoverished shithole for about $1.00 - it’s essentially free - and you can sell it on the open market for fifty times that. That’s a business model.
Slavery in a can. And yeah - there’s corruption and profiteering and exploitation. No argument there. All the wars are about energy. Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron - sociopathic corporate cocks. It’s impossible to love an oil company in exactly the same way as you can’t be a friend of the Earth. But nobody who alleges to be green is prepared to divorce hydrocarbons. The drug is so good. And even if you were, how the hell would you eliminate hydrocarbons from your life? It’s not possible.
If you drive a car, if you turn on the light, use the internet, eat food from a supermarket (every kilojoule of energy in the food, brought to you by 10 kilojoules of hydrocarbon energy) - you’re not being green. If you suffer from cancer and get treatment, or you just break your arm and front up to the hospital requesting help, as a greenie you are a comprehensive hypocrite.
LIFE OR DEATH, AND BEING GREEN
If you are a purported greenie, pick the six people nearest and dearest to you. If you’re not prepared to decide which of them must die, when we divorce ourselves from the green revolution, and go back to this pre-petrochemical allegedly paradisical state, how about you just shut up? Because being truly green involves making some unpalatable decisions.
Which brings us to alternatives. We’ll just use the wind, right? Or geothermal energy, or the tides. Right. Good one. If you can say that with a straight face, you really have no idea. Less than no idea. This is about scale. Magnitude.
Fifteen terawatts. Pretty big number. Homo sapiens leaves the light on. And that’s how powerfully that light shines, 24/7/365. Our hydrocarbon power consumption. These alleged alternatives can never be more than a fraction of this total, owing to the fundamental physics. The energy density of the wind. The tides. Whatever.
The big three hydrocarbons: oil, coal, natural gas are equivalent to burning 2.5 cubic miles of oil. Every year. Cubic miles. The next biggest source of energy is biomass - that’s burning wood. Less than one tenth of hydrocarbon energy. All the others, including nuclear: About twice as much as we get from wood. On a good day.
THE NUCLEAR 'SOLUTION'
You know: we could kick hydrocarbons with nuclear. I got no problem with nuclear energy. It’s acceptably safe. The technology is proven. All we have to do, to divorce hydrocarbons is build nuclear power stations - big ones. The biggest ones available are about one gigawatt. So all we need is fifteen thousand of them. Fifteen thousand. And, if we do that, magically, all the world’s known reserves of uranium would be exhausted in 10-15 years.
That’s if we stick to uranium. U-235. We could get significantly more nuclear energy from breeder reactors. Breeder reactors make plutonium. And plutonium is the basic prerequisite for another kind of catastrophic climate change - especially in an increasingly geopolitically unstable world. So nuclear energy is a stop-gap measure at best, for humanity.
FUSION FOR DUMMIES
Nuclear fusion is possible - but we haven’t got the technology yet. I don’t know why - I mean, all they have to do is build a miniature star in a laboratory, and scale it up to industro-spec. What could possibly go wrong?
But if we get fusion right, the deuterium in one litre of seawater would be equivalent to about 300 litres of petrol. A virtually endless supply of energy.
Unfortunately, fusion power has been 25 years away for about 50 years now. It’s still 25 years away. Allegedly.
Hydrogen has legs. The technology is proven. Fuel cells, even internal combustion: all good. Unfortunately, labelling hydrogen ‘green’ is emphatically a croc of shit, today. Industrial hydrogen is produced from methane - the simplest hydrocarbon. They jam steam into methane at about 1000 degrees C to make a deadly poison, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen gas. So that’s nice.
Then, they jam even more steam into the carbon monoxide, at a somewhat lower temperature, and that splits it up and makes a little more hydrogen gas. So ultimately, you start with methane. You add a bunch of energy, and you produce carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas. Carbon dioxide. Sound familiar?
And, problematically, you need to burn the equivalent of between three and six litres of petrol to make enough hydrogen to take a hydrogen car about as far as one litre of petrol would take a conventional car. So that’s a kind of thermodynamic fraud, and it involves the emission of shitloads of carbon dioxide. So there’s no advantage.
Unless you electrolyze water to make hydrogen - but that’s expensive, and if the electricity is coal-fired, it’s also fraudulently green.
So, the only green option for hydrogen is to use sunlight to make the electricity. Parabolic reflectors, photovoltaic cells. That’s possible. Every day on planet earth, the earth drowns in solar energy: 15,000-20,000 times more solar energy than we use from hydrocarbons.
But it’s a question of adapting up.
The photovoltaic hydrocarbon divorce requires about 200,000 square kilometres of photovoltaic cells. That’s about half the area of a place like California. Currently, our species has manufactured about 10 or 15 square kilometres of solar cells - broadly about one-20,000th of a potential solar cell solution.
The benefits of hydrocarbon energy are astonishing - and every greenie denies them, and these deniers also use the benefit of hydrocarbons hypocritically to voice his or her dissatisfaction with hydrocarbons. But it would be ridiculous to suggest there are not also profound negative feedback effects. There are. The arsenic, sulphur and mercury in coal that makes its way into the swordfish.
The oxides of nitrogen, formaldehyde, volatile organics and particles in vehicle exhaust. Not good. But these things can be minimised with technology. Cleaner coal. Catalytic conversion. Stoichiometric air-fuel ratios. Exhaust filtration. It’s all possible, in the same way as we eliminated neurotoxic tetra-ethyl lead from gasoline.
THE PROBLEM WITH CO2
But there’s no clever technical subversion for carbon dioxide. CO2 is intrinsic. While ever we burn hydrocarbons, CO2 emission is a foregone conclusion. This is because hydrocarbons plus oxygen (that’s ‘burning’ if you’re scientifically illiterate) makes carbon dioxide, water, and a shitload of energy. You can’t have the energy without the CO2.
And the energy liberates humanity and saves lives. Makes our lives better. Vastly better, on balance. The negatives are a feedback effect. Would you rather be dead at 26 like a bronze age human, or worrying about the mercury in the fish, aged 70, sitting in a restaurant?
Every kilo of petrol you burn sucks 3.5 kilos of oxygen gas from the air, and it emits 3.1 kilos of CO2 and 1.4 kilos of water (as steam). And we burn it on a grand scale. It extends our lives, and it advances our species exponentially. It even frees us up to bitch about hydrocarbons. And it might kill us all - worst-case scenario.
Does that sound about right?
A LOAD OF SHIT
Let me wind up with this: just 120 years ago, the biggest problem facing the developed world was a load of shit - in more ways than one.
There were 50,000 horses in London alone, in 1900. New York had about double that. Each horse produced about 15 kilos of shit - about as much as your average politician today, when you think about it.
And about a litre of urine each.
Crossing the road must have been fraught, in a long white frock.
Predictions by respectable scientists, in respectable journals, were dire. Cities would, they estimated, literally become submerged in shit. Pompeii in the modern world - only, made of shit. I’m not making this up. What happened next was of course a technical discontiguity - the modelling got up-ended, thanks to the car. The problem - mounds of shit 30 metres high in vacant lots - simply evaporated.
I’m not conflating horseshit with climate change. There is a very real risk we humans might engineer our own extinction by emitting too much CO2. To deny this is problem is nuts. If the Greenland ice shelf disappears, if the thermohaline conveyor shuts down, if the deep-ocean methane hydrates destabilise, it’ll make the horseshit crisis look a bit tame.
Climate change is a huge moral, ethical and technical challenge - to suggest otherwise is simply to be a functional moron. We don’t need windbags full of empty rhetoric and no grasp of science to participate in the discussion. We need the best minds in the business, collaborating.
We need to find a solution where energy remains prolific and cheap, where human advancement continues exponentially. I have enough faith in the human race to think this is possible.
We need the best humans for this. Another Norman Borlaug. We need our children to embrace rational thought and critical analysis, to learn hard science and engineering. We need governments to fork out the big bucks to support pure research. These are the only things which can hope to un-paint humanity from this particular corner.
I’d give anything to talk to the great Norman Borlaug about this problem. Anything. If Satan wants to visit me tonight, I’ll agree. Move over, Faust. But fuck politicians; they’re only interested in re-election and feathering their own nests.
As presumptuous as it seems to speak for a great man, I believe Norman Borlaug would say the solution to this predicament, this paradox, is obvious, based on the data. So look at the data. What has underpinned all of humanity’s big wins?
It’s all built on a foundation of hydrocarbons. But it wasn’t ‘built’, was it? It was burned. Relativity. Quantum mechanics. Green revolution. Space exploration. Advanced medicine. When we burn more, we get ahead. It really is that simple. Counter-intuitive. Offensive, perhaps, if you’re a dumb-as-dogshit, indoctrinated greenie dickhead. But dead obvious, if you’re a critical thinker. We need to burn more to save the planet.
Correction: To save humanity.