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Elephants in the Room: The Discussion of Energy in the Presidential Debates

Eve Donegan, Sales and Marketing Assistant

David Ehrenfeld is a professor of biology at Rutgers University and holds degrees in history, medicine, and zoology. He is the founding editor of the journal Conservation Biology, lectures internationally, and is the author of The Arrogance of Humanism and Beginning Again. His most recent book, Becoming Good Ancestors, focuses on the interactions, both negative and positive, among nature, community, and our exploding technology, and explains the critical role of honesty in moving towards a sustainable society. In the post below, Ehrenfeld talks about the role of energy in the presidential debates and suggests that the candidates have not talked about the really big energy problems that we face.

The presidential debates made one thing clear: regardless of who won, energy technologies are about to get a great deal of attention and money from the U.S. government in 2009. John McCain said that in a McCain presidency he would be trying to build dozens of nuclear plants, step up offshore drilling for oil, and fund “clean coal” technology. Barack Obama said he would focus on wind, solar, and geothermal power, on biodiesel, and on increasing energy efficiency. There was considerable overlap between their energy agendas, but neither candidate mentioned the two elephants in the room.

The first elephant, a medium sized one, is that the technologies the candidates said they would promote, and those they didn’t mention, are not sure bets for solving the energy crisis quickly, if at all. Some, like “clean coal,” hydrogen, and oil shale, come with inherent technological problems that will limit their usefulness for the foreseeable future. Others, like offshore drilling and nuclear power, will take years or decades before they pay a net energy dividend, and there are serious safety issues, which cannot be brushed aside. Biodiesel competes with agriculture for land, and can cause ecological problems – oil shale and “clean coal” need lots of fresh water. Geothermal, wind, solar, and tidal technologies, promising as they are, will be limited in the quantity of energy they can supply. Nuclear and many of the other energy technologies yield only electricity – unlike fossil fuels, they don’t provide chemical feedstock for making the plastics, synthetic fabrics, and many other chemicals that modern society demands. Regardless of our hopes and fantasies, there doesn’t seem to be a really cheap and super-abundant energy source like 20th Century oil and gas on the horizon.

It’s true that we have no choice but to continue to develop alternative energy technologies. In some cases, present problems will be overcome, and there is always the possibility that we will discover entirely new ways of producing energy. But it would be reckless to count on it. Chances are slim of finding a replacement for cheap oil and gas in time to keep our current economy running without tremendous disruptions.

And then there is the other elephant in the room. This second elephant is much bigger than the first – maybe it’s a mammoth. Yet if either candidate noticed it, he didn’t want to talk about it, although it’s simple enough to describe. Learning how to cope with the consequences of our excessive energy use, and acquiring some restraint will be even more important than finding new energy sources. In other words, what if we do find ways to keep on supplying ourselves with vast quantities of affordable energy, but do nothing to moderate our energy consumption? What happens then to what remains of the ecosystems on which we all depend?

The winning candidate is going to have to deal with all the secondary issues arising from our overuse of energy. How will we hold back global climate change if we keep on pumping energy into a stressed environment? With many of the ocean fisheries already gone or going, what will happen to the ones that are left if there is limitless energy to fuel all the world’s fishing fleets indefinitely? How long will the remaining tropical forests last if there is unlimited energy for indiscriminate logging and for shipping timber and timber products to markets thousands of miles away? If there is enough cheap energy to maintain high input agriculture – with its energy-consuming nitrogen fertilizers, huge machines, heavy pesticide applications, factory-farmed livestock, and corporate conglomerates – what will happen to our dwindling supply of precious farmlands, soils, animal and crop varieties, and farmers? These are the sorts of problems that will haunt the new president and the rest of the world even more than the problem of energy supply.

The only energy strategy that can make these elephants vanish is learning to get along with less energy. Conservation based on new lifestyles will be as much of a challenge as creating alternative energy technologies, but it’s faster, cheaper, and far more certain of success. Can we do it? Can conservatives and liberals ever agree on an agenda to move to a low-energy society? There is no choice if we want our society to survive.

11 Responses to “Elephants in the Room: The Discussion of Energy in the Presidential Debates”
  1. On this one Obama won it for me. He said Apollo like program, 10 years $150 billion dollars for renewables and clean technology. His positions remind me of the http://www.apolloalliance.org . They seem very similar.

  2. Shane Carrick says:

    Great blog posting, really very interesting! I would love to see more like this.

  3. Casey Bass says:

    Very interesting. Hopefully we can find some common ground. I suppose we’ll see what happens.

  4. Casey Bass says:

    Very interesting. I hope that we can find some common ground. I suppose we’ll see what happens.

  5. Laura LaFalace says:

    I think the first elephant in the room is definitely a huge cause for concern. In regards to the second, I believe that Obama has made comments to the effect that consumption restraint has to be made on the individual level. Either way- saying and doing are two different things and we can only hope Obama finds a way to encourage energy restraint without completely alienating himself from the country.

  6. Alison Merkle says:

    A very interesting and important read. I think more people need to know about this topic. Great work!

  7. Matt Rushing says:

    Interesting points that have not received enough attention in the mainstream. Good read.

  8. Kate Gardoqui says:

    Great posting. Obama seems willing to talk honestly about the hard road ahead for Americans, at least in financial terms. Let’s hope he’s also willing to be blunt about the need for energy conservation and a new set of consumption habits.

  9. Hello, my name is Solomon Azar- I HAVE FOUND THE ROAD TO SAFE CLEAN NUCLEAR FUSION- When this is found and understood- the energy crisis will end- I have been looking at this system since 2002 and it is perfect in every way. I finished my experiments April-2007. I have since that time tried to the best of my abilities to inform many people upon the net- there is no question It would be nice if concerned citizens would offer suggestions or help provoke a university to simply repeat my experiment to end the energy crisis- 19 months and I still wait as the world crumbles from lack of abundant clean energy.

    I have performed an experiment never done before in science- I used a Tesla coil for its use in high voltage high frequency and apply its discharge plasma not upon the dielectric of free air- but to the dielectric of water itself- specifically I used ultrapure reagent grade water from manufacture NERL-this is to establish the high degree of insulation needed for plasma (you cannot have contaminants for conductivity)- I doped my water with heavy water from the manufacturer UNITED NUCLEAR-(however- a full concentration of heavy water is desired)- I built my 1 million volt Tesla coil entire tunable- every aspect of it- as it must be done to TUNE THE OUTPUT DISCHARGE OF THE TESLA COIL to the water itself- once the arc is stable- the voltage may be increased- I have written in my pdf file in my website of noblefuse.com that a prerequisite of 750 kv is needed as an electric field gradient about the charged particles used in fusion( in this case the hydrogen bound in the water molecule) because of voltage drops as expected as in all electrical systems upon the load (load here is the water)- a much higher voltage is needed in order to distribute the voltage gradient upon entire arc plasma length between electrodes in water- THUS- THE HIGH THE VOLTAGE- THE BETTER- within my website you will find a link to youtube showing my primitive experiment- BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT THIS- THIS IS THE FIRST TIME EVER DONE BEFORE – I propose nuclear fusion of water/heavy water- my little experiment IS THE ROAD TO NUCLEAR FUSION- we must universally connect the dots- put two and two together- and conclude this- MY EXPERIMENT MUST BE REPEATED ON A LARGER SCALE- my system is a direct replacement of nuclear power plants particularly of the pressurized water reactor which uses heavy water already – a vessel already built for gamma radiation and other high energy flux which will emit with the plasma arc-

    Power reactor in which the heat is dissipated from the core using highly pressurized water (about 160 bar) to achieve a high temperature and avoid boiling within the core. The cooling water transfers its heat to the secondary system in a steam generator. Example: Grohnde Nuclear Power Plant in Germany with an electrical output of 1,430 MW.

    Replace the rod assemblies and use electrodes to conduct the Lightning bolt! High Voltage High frequency will create the magnetic pinch to slam the isotopes of hydrogen together which is bound in water- helium and oxygen are the outgassed products recaptured by expansion tanks-it is absolutely perfect!

    _ I HAVE FOUND THE TRUE PURPOSE OF THE TESLA COIL- the answer was always in the lightning bolt- understanding of gamma bursts from lightning discharges have only been recently vindicated from satellite in late 90s—

    CA 94305 United States
    Said, R ( ) , STAR Lab, Electrical Engineering, 350 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305 United States
    Smith, D M ( ) , Physics Department and Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
    Lopez, L I ( ) , Astronomy Department and Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720 United States

    The observation of brief (<1 ms) bursts of intense γ-rays, the so-called Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs), by the BATSE γ-ray experiment was one of the most unexpected discoveries by the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory.

    Let me try to give another analogy to make the point. think about striking a match, if all conditions are proper , one knows that to strike a match, you must go a minimum speed- you cannot strike the match too slowly- this is understood as more speed is more friction and thus more activation energy necessary to create combustion of the match material. the same applies to this fusion system, first, imagine my system as inside a pressurized water reactor used in fission plants- the moderator is already heavy water- we shall use it as the fuel. I have said the plasma arc looks exactly like our friend the electric lightning bolt- but I talk about in my pdf file- that the so called lightning bolt must be understood in regards to high voltage and frequency- just like the minimum speed needed for the match- so it is with the combination on high voltage and frequency to not only resonate with the dielectric molecule of heavy water- but more so- to create a minimum velocity upon charged particles in the fuel water. this velocity is also exhibiting itself as a magnetic field-think of the cathode ray scope- in a snap shot instant in time for analysis, look at when the maximum energy is being applied on a per strike basis of the input cycle- or shall we say the highest amplitude of the ac signal. if for example- an input energy of one megawatt was injected into the strike of the arc- a magnetic pinch shall be directed upon the charged particles in transit of the discharge- in a thermodynamic extraction process such as this – we need at least 5 times more energy out of the system to recoup our initial energy input- and a surplus for commercial energy supply- thus- via fusion of hydrogen to helium- with each strike- a minimum voltage and frequency SHALL give the minimum activation energy required for magnetic pinching and fusion of the isotopes of hydrogen. to increase the q of the reaction in this system- a magnetic toroid may be used around the plasma arc for increased efficiency= such as used in tokamak devices. I hope this analogy helps those who question this system- THANK YOU–

    Here is a thought experiment for electromagnetic fusion with Einstein in mind

    Pretend you are water-you are an oxygen atom- you are stable- you are noble- 8 protons-8 neutrons-and 8 electrons- there are only 5 magic shell nuclear elements of the periodic table- oxygen is one of them- it is very stable-

    Therefore- you are stable and noble- you have no need for fusion- yet it could happen- but the probability of another element such as hydrogen and its isotopes would be made to fuse together in some kind of fashion mankind tries will occur way before oxygen does- – ok-so now you are this noble one and you have outstretched in your hands a hydrogen atom and or its isotope deuteron and you hold it out to mankind as a gift-

    Man understands the gift of fusion for many years and is desperately trying to do such-

    I propose electromagnetic fusion- I propose the BENNET pinch used in poloidal currents used in plasmas of tokomaks- but much further-

    Here we go – the thought experiment- you are this oxygen atom with two hydrogen’s and you stand amongst your friends similar in nature. You are placed in a large vessel filled of your kind-now imagine that two walls opposing in this vessel are the plates of a capacitor- who cares what is applied to the capacitor plates (electrodes of system)-for all you know as a noble oxygen and the hydrogen you have in your hands is nothing more than the electric field upon the plates-

    You are composed of charged particles- thus you will interact with the applied electric field of the plates-this is common electronics and electric knowledge-

    However, I speak of dielectric breakdown- I speak of the lightning bolt- let us now assume we have made the capacitor plates oscillate at 1 million volts peak to peak as way of a tesla coil

    Think of the electric field- everything will be controlled by this field- a dielectric breakdown will occur- and all discharge current will begin to flow and oscillate as a function of the applied voltage-

    Now- you are in the heart of a lightning bolt- you who are noble as a oxygen probably lost all your valence electrons due to the magnitude of such a high electric field- every charged particle in transit of the discharge current is surely ionized and talks of being a complete water molecule should be erased- the state of this plasma current is nothing more than ionized hydrogen and oxygen and a complete sea of electrons-

    Let us think first of the electrons- 1896 times smaller than protons- no question it will oscillate much faster as a function to the applied voltage- remember the cathode ray scope- basic physics also will say this charged particle will also have a magnetic field about itself because of the electric field that has driven it-thus- this oscillating electron current will have an intrinsic magnetic field

    Let us now think of the protons- oxygen has 8 and surrounded by 8 neutrons and is far less likely for reaction than isotopes of hydrogen for fusion- this should merely be understood by refereeing to atomic tables of elements and known theory- but this hydrogen is a singly bound proton with mass one- unless we speak of a deuteron- it will also be controlled exactly the same way as the electron is affected by the external applied voltage- however- it is opposite to the electrons motion-and much slower by its mass – however-its magnetic field will add to that of the electrons- this is standard knowledge of magnetic field generation of charged particles by way of electric fields-

    Thus, in this thought experiment- within this state of dielectric breakdown- I like to say the lightning bolt- can you now see the oscillation of the charged particles by such a large magnitude of the applied voltage plates- can you now see the probability at a certain moment in time- particularly when the applied ac signal is greatest- that all magnetic fields of charged particles in transit can have the power to be magnetically pinched-

    Magnetics have push and pull- it is well known that high frequency causes a constriction upon electrical currents- whether in copper lines and forcing such to the surface- or in plasma and made use to constrict it – high frequency is known to constrict the currents- thus- do you see the forces I am referring to as this dielectric breakdown has occurred upon the most perfect fuel of the heavens- water- this oxygen atom holds the hydrogen for us- we shall apply a high voltage (high is relative- I have stated 750kv in the vicinity of the hydrogen for fusion- I come to this by way of understanding the beta decay of a free neutron- if it can disintegrate- it can come together- made into a deuteron- then made into helium)-

    Thus –we make helium and oxygen is then unbound and must also be recaptured- this is easy in expansion tanks- the byproducts are helium and oxygen-truly noble-

    To increase the q of this system- a simple toroidal magnet as used in tokamaks for plasma control may be used for additional pinching-

    I hope this helps- however- you must always think of the applied electric field and its magnetic inducement upon the charged particles- we will stably run the Tesla coil upon the dielectric of water itself (more appropriately heavy water) and turn up the voltage for greater acceleration speeds and thus magnetic fields- we can control pressure in this vessel- we can control electrode spacing and so much more-

    that is my thought experiment for you to understand it is my intention to use all input energy by way of oscillating a very large electric field which will induce the proper magnetic flux density in units of Tesla for a pinching- not established hot fusion whereby all energy input is chaotic and the probability of fusion comes by way of statistics from a gas equation- no- high voltage and high frequency in an orderly manner by the construction of a man made lightning bolt with controllable parameters inside an existing pressurized nuclear reactor- everything is off the shelf- the world will run on steam power again globally-from trains-factories-ships-and all power plants- I offer the Watt steam engine again- not with two sticks to make fire and boil the water- but electromagnetic fusion with two electrodes to induce fusion of hydrogen isotopes to boil water and make steam- it is absolutely perfect.

    To the CEO’s of nuclear power plants-or pressurized coal fired- you have spare reactors in the back yards of your plants- take a 1 million volt tesla coil and do what I have said- you will measure its fusion reactions and you will conclude this – I have found the road to safe clean energy.

    I speak plain science- please connect the dots and let us end this energy crisis for a world that desperately needs energy- May the light of God shine upon all our actions for the betterment of mankind

    Solomon Sami Azar

    update-after 19 months on this net- it seems evident people do not care until the machine breaks, right before our eyes our economy collapses as inflation and energy costs have been eating at our economy for some time now- maybe even global war with russia and iran will you finally care to investigate the deeds of a human being that has sacrificed his life over a dangerous experiment for all of us. Time will tell.

  10. Alex says:

    My eyes have been opened! The time is now to embrace a lifestyle based on convservation not consumption! Well played, Eve, well played.

  11. Rachel says:

    I enjoy your blog and would like to send you updates on similar issues. May I have your contact information? Thanks!

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