We are quickly running out of resources. This is what the economics of fracking means. Fracking is profitable, precisely because we are past peak conventional oil and gas (there is nothing conventional about high Arctic gas, tar sands, and extracting deep oil below kilometers of ocean as off Brazil).
The problem with peak oil is general. We are past peak zillions of crucial materials, including copper and fertilizers (most fertilizer reserves, worldwide are in Morocco, under the determined French nuclear imperial umbrella, with Washington back-up).
This collapse of all resources has a solution, a dramatic solution, and only one, the solution the Romans were incapable, unwilling to conceive. For the good and simple reason they did not even understand that one could understand why the “world was getting old” as they used to moan.
Our situation is the same, but it’s degenerating even faster, as we enjoy a planetary demographic boom without precedent, and a splurge of waste also never imaginable before. For their vacations, a few days, people jet around the world. Just because they can. Is that the call for self destruction? An appeal to the mysterious god of war and apocalypse?
Yet. Energy is the one and only solution. Ever more energy. (Ever more Absolute Worth Energy, more exactly.)
Solar is useful (yada yada), and will work very well in areas not controlled by Al Qaeda (like North Africa, once it has been thoroughly cleansed).
Wind works, sort of, but the giant investment may turn out silly in the long run (although winds are augmenting now that the melting of the poles is gathering speed, in the very long run, if the poles warm up enormously, winds will die down).
That leaves us with conservation. Yet, as the climate belts switch north, many regions that have now plenty of water will go dry, and require desalination and, or long distance transportation of water, thus augmenting energy spending. An example? The South-West of the USA.
Geothermal will not work on a massive scale. Just as fracking, it causes earthquakes. Oh, and fracking at this point in the USA releases enormous quantities of methane, accelerating the greenhouse.
Coal kills directly two millions a year already (without counting how much it kills indirectly through climate change). Chinese coal is filling California’s Napa Valley vineyards with mercury (I guess Californian excess goes around and comes around as a fine mist of Hg…).
However, coal is used more and more: look at nuclearly correct Germany. Or coal is used obdurately: look at Denmark. Denmark is a paragon of ecological correctness… yet is building a new giant coal plant.
To save the planet, one is left with nuclear. Either new fission technologies (say Thorium techs), or… thermonuclear fusion.
The old joke about fusion is that it’s the fuel of the future, and always will be. However, that’s making fun of the scientific process itself. Understanding is progressing ever more, and results are following.
After decades of unexpected discoveries that were blocking the way to controlled thermonuclear fusion, it is entirely possible that only details may have to be figured out pretty soon.
For example a purely theoretical mathematical breakthrough, a few years back, allowed the existing French thermonuclear device at Cadarache to achieve confinement of the thermonuclear plasma for more than 6 minutes.
Next to that machine is now build the giant International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). ITER is expected to produce ten times the energy put in.
The Joint European Torus (JET) in England has been rebuilt, in ITER style, and the preliminary results are allowing to build ITER directly in (what was supposed to be) stage 2.
In 1997 the Joint European Torus (JET) released 16 megawatts of power from fusion, from using 24 megawatts-worth of heat.
ITER is involved with building new materials, to resist thermonuclear fire. If those work, they may profit the Korean national program, which, although part of ITER is also planning a production style reactor very soon after ITER turns on.
Thus it’s entirely possible that magnetic confinement fusion could become energy profitable within 15 years or so.
Meanwhile the proudly called NIL (National Ignition Laboratory) has succeeded to get in November 2013, twice more thermonuclear fusion energy out of one pellet of Deuterium-Tritium fuel than was put in (by lasers).
The NIL lasers compressed the thermonuclear fuel at three times the pressure and five times what exists (we think) at the center of the sun (where thermonuclear fusion is raging). They improved the efficiency by spending more energy heating up the fuel before compressing.
In a thermonuclear bomb, the thermonuclear fuel is compressed similarly with X rays from a fission-fusion “pit”. Who said nukes were useless.
And yes we need to colonize Mars (be it only because we mess up Earth, and always need to go “meta”). But we will do this only with fusion (there is a scheme to make fusion propulsion by using a technique half way between magnetic clinching, and the ITER and NIL styles.
Who need this?… will whine those who want to feed the poor and build their roofs. Do they know how much energy is needed to feed, quench the thirst, bathe, and shelter eight billions? Lots. We still don’t know how to reproduce Roman cement, but that will save a huge amount of energy.
No way out, but science, ever more science.
That’s the old fashion way, the most human way.
Because, of course, as the old resources run out, just like the Romans did not do, we need, having used lots of brains, to replace the old with the new born. Born from our minds.
This is exactly what happened with Rome. The economy of the empire of the Franks, the Imperium Francorum, rested on new engineering: wind mills, water mills, heavy ploughs (capable of digging deep into the fat land of the wet north), new energy (draft collars), and hundreds of new bioengineered species (horses, oxen, hundreds of species of new vegetable, especially protein rich beans). It was an amazing tech revolution. By 1000 CE, the Franks had surpassed Rome, and had the highest energy usage, per capita.
The Frankish tech revolution was paralleled, nearly as spectacularly in the Far East. New rice cultivars allowed the population to boom. (Originating in Vietnam, they quickly spread-out). China introduced new technologies, such as paper money (having not enough precious metals).
Our similar situation knows an urgency not found before, though. It’s not a question of imperial collapse, or not, but of planetary collapse, or not. So go fusion, go.
Otherwise, well, even older gods will come to dominate. Those presiding the arena of evolution. The survivors incarnate the epigenetics. But there again, fusion will come in handy.