Energetically, We Are Still Mostly Neanderthal. We Need More Science, Not More Puritanism


Neanderthals used coal 80,000 years ago, as an energy source [1]. Hydrocarbons are still our main energy source, and we did not find an energy technology which can replace it. In energy procurement, we didn’t progress much. Indeed… The Chinese mined and used coal 6,000 years ago, the Ancient Greeks used it for metal work: the Greek scientist and student of Aristotle Theophrastus (c. 371–287 BC):

Among the materials that are dug because they are useful, those known as coals are made of earth, and, once set on fire, they burn like charcoal. They are found in Liguria [Italy]… and in Elis as one approaches Olympia by the mountain road; and they are used by those who work in metals.

In 12th Century China, iron works, fed by coal, produced more pig-iron in just one region than the whole of Britain produced in Britain annually in the 1700s. The Aztecs also used coal for decoration and fuel. Many want to go “green”… evoking pleasantly the color of chlorophyll, soft and tender, soothing salad of soft feelings. Instead, real energy, that from the Sun is white-hot, as seen from space (the Sun’s color mellows down to yellowish after getting through Earth’s thick atmosphere… the equivalent in density to ten meters of water… and 100 kilometers in distance).

The Paris Climate Accord clownish signatories pretend to believe we will solve the climate crisis through abstinence in the most democratic countries, or through copious helpings of wishful thinking. In truth, they were just promoting themselves.
Biden has rejoined Paris like a Crusader rushed to Jerusalem. Left to the old instruments we have to create energy, it will be a bloodbath: when the Crusaders entered Jerusalem, blood came to their knees (they themselves declared).
Right now Brazil is destroying the Amazon, to convert it to agricultural exploitation, China and India, with a combined population of more than three billions, are constructing coal plants at a record pace. All this is Paris chic. COAL PRODUCTION IS AUGMENTING:

Coal production from Paris Accord signatories is augmenting spectacularly, and scheduled to augment much more. Tightening the belt of the West will not change this much, although the coal policies of Poland and Japan are to be deplored, the lack of alternatives is to be deplored even more.

***

In the matter of CO2 production, what should progressives push for? Getting out of Neanderthalian technology for good, in the dimension of energy. There is no cause for panic: we, our civilization, can take serious melting of the poles, with an overall augmentation of two to three degrees centigrades above the present. It would be dramatic, sea levels will jump, and so will droughts and floods, but it would be survivable. What we cannot take is to see CO2 emissions keep on climbing because we did not develop replacement energy. 

Keeping on climbing in CO2 production is what the Paris Accord convened implicitly to do, because it did not aim to bring forth an effort towards researching and developing a new energy source, instead pretending viciously that what we have technologically is enough. Instead, it is not. We need more science.

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Dreams of space colonization, or of a “non carbon” future collide with a simple fact: our compact energy source is still hydrocarbons. At best, methane, CH4. So-called “Green Hydrogen”, hydrogen made from “renewable”sources would not be useful in space, because it would have to come from H2O, which is more precious… in space. On the ground, a complex economy around “Green Hydrogen”, storing renewable energy as hydrogen or derivatives thereof, will take many decades to develop, and require huge amounts of hydrocarbons to install. Energetically, we are still Neanderthals.

Reciprocally, though, if we had compact thermonuclear fusion, we could start colonizing space right away, enabling a de-concentration of resources. Mars’ land area is equal to Earth land area. It looks easier to colonize Mars than the bottom of the seas (a question of pressure differences). SpaceX style robotic rockets could land factories on Mars and start to build cities and make habitat and oxygen.

Another nuclear technology, fission, could reduce travel times in the solar system, and augment the payloads carried, by using nuclear fusion heavy duty nuclear tugs which would commute between Earth and various celestial bodies… Including Ceres, which has two drastic advantages on Mars: plenty of easy to access water, and a very low gravity well.

So it all boils down to energy.

Although we do have photovoltaics, they are not very efficient (20%-45%), and they need large surfaces… and also the Sun! So our main energy source is still fully Neanderthalian!

We need ENERGY progress… And create a new powerful, convenient, 24/7 energy source, as the Neanderthals did… when they alighted lignite.

Something which strikes me about proposed space colonies is the waste of space in the proposed concepts. Of course, in the beginnings, we are not going to try to recreate Iowa in space. Agriculture will probably be hydroponic, concentrated… Starting with Moon colonies: the Moon has a lot of solar energy, especially on these tall crater rims by the south pole on which the sun does not set… And the Moon has water, much more than we thought it had… There again, caught in the regolith, so it has to be energetically extracted…

Water on the Moon, or Mars, will all boil down, but we need energy.

Fortunately, NASA is seeing the light again. Perseverance, which just landed on Mars, is NUCLEAR powered. Solar energized probes failed, because they were solar (dust covered the panels, not enough energy anyway). NASA is also realizing that nuclear fission will enable us to get to Mars in 6 weeks, not 8 months.

Of course the anti-science,anti-technology, anti-colonization, anti-reason critters are seriously in the way… Although their ancestors were colonialists… and not necessarily nice colonialists or slave masters… At least Kamala Harris is discrete on that one (Her ancestor Mr. Harris was a wealthy English lawyer cum slave owner)… Not like Michelle Obama… Let me explain: Obama cut down hydrogen research, to the bone, Trump re-established it. Although Biden presents himself as science president, demonstrated by wearing two masks while vaccinated, investors are not clear about whether he is not saying one thing, to cover the fact that he is doing the opposite, as Obama did. 

And the first real hard data indications on Biden’s science drift are not reassuring: whereas under Trump the overall US Congress mandated science budget augmented 17% a year, average, the first Biden budget has only an augmentation of 1% of the science budget, a small fraction of real inflation.  

We would probably already have a functional thermonuclear fusion reactor, if the spending in controlled thermonuclear fusion was open full throttle (ITER was pushed back ten years from lack of funding…). Basically controlled thermonuclear fusion is, at this point, a question of figuring out the details (ITER does not use the best magnets possible, because it does not use High Temperature Magnets; also ITER does not have an energy production system attached, something that will make heat disposal harder to achieve!)

Instead the so-called “Democratic” Congress wants to spend 120 million dollars, in the latest “COVID” stimulus budget, building a tunnel in Silicon Valley below San Jose (several hundreds of millions were already spent on the same system last year… Under Trump). Silicon Valley plutocrats did not want to hear the train anymore, and thus have delayed electrification of railroad lines! The existing train line passes next to Atherton, the wealthiest city in the USA, made of palaces next to downtown Palo Alto (I have two train lines below my windows, I survive… But my wealthy (ex)friends in SV in their leafy ten million dollars homes can’t stand the possible rumble… although they don’t mind the roar of their private jets… to go skiing…)  

Why are the anti-colonization critters so loud? Because, as with animal rights, passion about nothing much diverts from debating the ongoing much more severe real problems, such as the molding and selling of our souls by the tech monopolies, and their financial sponsors, for profit…

Patrice Ayme

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[1] The Mousterian site of Les Canalettes, France (dating to ca. 73,500 years BP) was the first such site discovered in 1996 (more have been found since). It was determined later that there were plenty of trees around at the time, that could have been burned, and that our ancestral Neanderthals burned coal and, or, bone, for technological reasons (the absence of flames enables to heat surfaces such as flint, better; similarly ancient iron production with coal made steel, which is better in several ways than iron)

An English summary of early Neanderthal coal research research (Goldberg and Sherwood 2006:29) concludes as follows:

“Les Canalettes is a shelter in the Causse du Larzac region of France. It contains Mousterian remains dating to the last glacial, about 73.5 ka. Most interesting is the occurrence of what appears to be burned lignite, which was likely used as fuel and was available as close as 5–15 km from the site, well within the acquisition zone of raw materials. Analysis of wood remains in the site suggests that people used coal when wood was in short supply. Furthermore, experiments by Théry-Parisot demonstrated that the occupants were familiar with some of the burning characteristics of the fuel. For example, adding lignite to a fire which no longer exhibited flames added significantly to the burning duration, thus permitting rekindling of the fire at a much later stage and prolonging the ability to heat. In addition, the study found that a hearth mixed with dried wood and lignite, consumed 4 times less wood than a hearth simply using rotted wood. These results provide important insights, suggesting that Neanderthals exhibited a clear knowledge of the combustible properties for diverse fuels.”

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One Response to “Energetically, We Are Still Mostly Neanderthal. We Need More Science, Not More Puritanism”

  1. Gmax Says:

    Neanderthal coal? That’s amazing

    Like

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