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Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Empire on which the Sun Never Sets Feeding the World

    I did previously mention the possibility, taken from Marshall Savage's book The Millennial Project: Colonising the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps that we can build floating cities in equatorial water, powered by Ocean Thermal Energy Converters (OTECs) (basically using the heat differential between surface water and the 4 c water below 3,000 ft). A side effect of that is bringing up nutrient rich bottom water which can grow plankton, fish, beef or however far up the food chain you want to go or could do the same to with oil producing algae.

   It is certainly a feasible idea and is being considered
the grand vision of Japan’s Shimizu Corporation goes way beyond harnessing green energy at sea for use in cities on Terra firma – it takes the whole city along for the ride. The company, along with the Super Collaborative Graduate School and Nomura Securities, is researching the technical issues involved in constructing its Green Float concept – a self-sufficient, carbon-negative floating city that would reside in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean.
  And by individuals like John Craven (no not the British one)
it's already won $75 million from Alpha Pacific, a Memphis, Tennessee, venture capital firm, and $1.5 million in federal funds. Craven hopes that within a year, bulldozers will begin clearing land on Saipan and engineers will start sinking a pipe to pump icy water from the ocean depths to produce electricity and freshwater. And back in Kona, Craven expects to use cold-water agriculture to transform five acres of otherwise barren lava fields into the world's most productive vineyard. "The economics are absurd," he boasts. "Once we prove the technology on Saipan, imagine what it could do for places like Haiti!"
Craven's system exploits the dramatic temperature difference between ocean water below 3,000 feet - perpetually just above freezing - and the much warmer water and air above it. That temperature gap can be harnessed to create a nearly unlimited supply of energy. Although the scientific concepts behind cold-water energy have been around for decades, Craven made them real when he founded the state-funded Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii in 1974 on Keahole Point, near Kona. Under Craven, the lab developed the process of using cold deep-ocean water and hot surface water to produce electricity. By the 1980s the Natural Energy Lab's demonstration plant was generating net power, the world's first through so-called ocean thermal energy conversion.

"The potential of OTEC is great," says Joseph Huang, a senior scientist for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and an expert on the process. "The oceans are the biggest solar collector on Earth, and there's enough energy in them to supply a thousand times the world's needs. If you want to depend on nature, the oceans are the only energy source big enough to tap."
    The main problem with extensive use is the legal position of such floating cities is not defined in international law and investors are understandably unenthusiastic about investing the odd billion in something , no matter how good the investment return, that they may have some problems maintaining ownership of.

    However  this provides some potential for a country that wants to support it. It seems that legally  such a city is either a ship, in which case it is under the protection and authority of the country of registry or that it is a colony and under the protection and authority of the colonising nation.

   Britain has considerable experience of both and is a big enough nation, still, that our flag ownership would be accepted internationally. We also, have experience of being the sovereign of record of small societies and of running them successfully in both the colonial and post colonial world. The Cayman Islands and Bahamas are both British colonies, which provides them with stability and credible financial centres while we know how not to micromanage, something which might make a British floating colony more attractive than a US one for example. Most enthusiastic seasteaders see being free of government as being a major purpose, but the inability to provide legal security is an automatic result of such independence. However few libertarians could hold up the Bahamas as a victim if imperial oppression.

    Indeed the very fact that Britain exists largely offstage has ensured that their politics has not been subject to violence. History does not show that local rulers are always more supportive of freedom than those far away, indeed the opposite could be argued as more common.

    So what would Britain get out of putting floating libertarian seasteads under her imperial wing. Well firstly we could make it a condition of stationary vessels bearing the British flag that they be built in Britain. This would mean, without the £5 billion put into building aircraft carriers, indeed with no government money at all, we would keep shipyards open. That is no small thing. There is also a considerable amount of prestige from having what, if the examples of Singapore and Hong Kong are any basis, are likely to be some of the world's most innovative societies. Perhaps even more form producing, as a byproduct, enough food to feed the world form British territory. Cynocally perhaps even more than that from being the world's primary oil producer. I think it would also be legitimate for the UK to keep some minor tax, perhaps stamp duty (or tea), to be put into paying for the navy. Mark Wadsworth's hobby horse is Land Value Tax - because that tax does not distort the economy because the land supply is fixed. Floating Islands are, not subject to that limitation so perhaps he will be best placed to offer an alternative.

  With each seastead having the right to produce its own constitution we would see social science really becoming something close to an experimental science. That might prove as important to humanity as the ability it would give to feed the world.

     All that is required is passing an Act in Parliament. If the seasteads I predict don't happen then nobody loses. If they do everybody wins. What downside would there be to not passing such an Act apart from the civil service rule that nothing should ever be done for the first time?

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Friday, July 01, 2011

More on Scottish Tunnels

A tunnel from Gourock to Dunoon would be a great convenience for people on both sides of the Clyde and bring the Cowal Peninsula into Scotland's central belt. More than that it should be the start of a series of tunnels connecting to Rothsay, Kintyre, Arran and even Jura and Islay.
We know all this would be possible because that and much more has already been done - in Norway, over the last 25 years, they have cut over 900 tunnels with a total length of over 750 km . Many of them are undersea tunnels up to 25 km long. They have cost, on average, no more than £4 million per km.

A 2 lane tunnel between Gourock and Dunoon should cost between £10 and £20 million. This is petty change compared to the £2,300 million the 4 big parties have promised to put into a new Forth Bridge, despite the fact that nothing more than maintenance is required there. Indeed reading the debate on that bridge it is clear that they all expected it to go over budget and were glad that all 4 could present a united front and "attempt at some education to make people understand what we are getting for that level of expenditure"  Theoretically surprising then that when I asked every MSP to explain why the bridge was costing so much only 2 suppoerters answered - one was simply an acknowledgement and promise to give a full answer later, for which I am still waitong. The other, or rather his researcher, produced flannel and refused to give fuller answers when asked.
The great improvement in the road transport system in Norway has been one of the main drivers in it becoming the wealthiest per head of any sizable country in Europe (the second richest is Switzerland, also outside the EU) . This Scottish Tunnel Project would bring all the West Highlands into the Scottish mainstream.

This project has been suggested to all the Holyrood parties, repeatedly over many years, but none of them have shown any interest. None of them have even shown enough interest to give reasons why they are against it. They just are.

 We know it it is possible to cut such tunnels for a tiny fraction of what our political masters demand because it has been done so many times across the world. It is reminiscent of the Edinburgh trams, where if it cost the same as elsewhere in the world it would now be completed for £110 million or the Parliament building where Donald Dewar rejected a fixed price offer of £40 million, solemnly promising that his government would do it, without assistance for that price.
Scotland's whole economy would be enormously improved by a modern transport system making the country accessible. All the effects of the Highland clearances would be reversed. Inverclyde would become a transport centre for the whole, revitalised, far west of Scotland. Gourock to Kintyre would, at under 25 miles, be a quick dual carriageway drive rather than the present hundred miles by 19th century roads.. We know this can be done at a reasonable cost because it has been done worldwide. Scottish engineers have run far more complicated projects than this, worldwide, but they have not had to put up with Scotland's political class to do so.

Even if our political establishment refuse to invest a penny in this, after all they have to continue pouring £1,000 million a year into subsidising windmills, don't they, there is still a way of doing it. Introduce a land capture tax of £10,000 on any new house built across the Clyde in places where land values go up because of new transport links and create an independent publicly owned company who receive that money and can use it to fund tunnel links across the west Highlands & Islands (and ultimately other parts of Scotland) without interference from the politicians. This is a form of PFI and would probably be more expensive over the long term than government just paying for this out of petty cash but can we trust the old parties to do it, speedily, that way?

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who Benefits from the Benefit System Insanity?

   Anecdotal instance. Among the various ways our benefits system is crazy is that women working over 16 hours get their children's nursery costs paid for. That may be defensible itself, though I suspect that nursery costs are unaffordable purely because of the weight of government regulation, so this subsidy exists to hide a government cost - the net effect to the average recipient being zero or negative but the cost to the taxpayer for both regulators and subsidisers being substantial. However what I have found is that the nursery care is given for the full week, even if the recipient is working only 16 hours!

  So while full time workers are only getting enough to cover the time they need, or less if they or more likely they and their husband, earn a close to average wage, the person on 16 hours, will get the same giving them plenty of entirely free time to go to the hairdresser.

   This is part of a wider problem. While a good welfare system is something a wealthy modern society can provide the complexity and duplication of the system leads to both injustice and very socially damaging incentives.

    If you subsidise anything you will get more of it. This applies to apples, oranges, medical care, windmills and illegitimacy. Our benefit system strongly encourages people, particularly those at the bottom of society, not to get married; not to live with the parent of their children; often not to work; and to take no responsibility for anything. Can society blame those who follow the signals the state has given them? Is any of this in the long term interest of the children, or even of the benefit recipients.

    Many years ago when the Liberal Democrats were a party of ideas (mainly in my father's time) they were supporters of putting all benefits together in 1 negative income tax.
In economics, a negative income tax (abbreviated NIT) is a progressive income tax system where people earning below a certain amount receive supplemental pay from the government instead of paying taxes to the government. Such a system has been discussed by economists but never fully implemented.
     I don't believe they ever officially found an excuse to drop it but it is no longer mentioned. Perhaps the reason it has never been implemented is because THE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT IS TO PAY GOVERNMENT WORKERS AND THEIR ALLIES; which means the real purpose of government is to collect the money to pay government workers and their allies and a benefits system which is unnecessarily complicated, bureaucratic an duplicating is exactly what is needed if the purpose is to pay government workers.

     Perhaps there is some other reason. If so at least one of the politicians I am forwarding this to will be able to say what it is. We shall see.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Energy Development - Technical Progress Enormous - Political Parasitism Too

   It is possible to refine shale gas, of which, with the new fracking technique, there are enormous quantities, into oil. Basically as normal refining involves shortening the chains of molecules making up crude oil this will join the molecules into longer ones. So no oil shortage either for the foreseeable future.

Shale gas doesn't change everything, it's much more important than that.... the report shows that the international shale gas resource base is vast. The initial estimate of technically recoverable shale gas resources in the 32 countries examined is 5,760 trillion cubic feet, as shown in Table 1. Adding the U.S. estimate of the shale gas technically recoverable resources of 862 trillion cubic feet results in a total shale resource base estimate of 6,622 trillion cubic feet for the United States and the other 32 countries assessed. To put this shale gas resource estimate in some perspective, world proven reserves of natural gas as of January 1, 2010 are about 6,609 trillion cubic feet, and world technically recoverable gas resources are roughly 16,000 trillion cubic feet,largely excluding shale gas. Thus, adding the identified shale gas resources to other gas resources increases total world technically recoverable gas resources by over 40 percent to 22,600 trillion cubic feet.
But there's one little adjective here that succinctly describes world shale gas resources: Vast.

On the other hand the "precautionary principle demands the immediate banning of solar panels.
The fifty actual deaths from roof installation accidents for 1.5 million roof installations is equal to the actual deaths experienced so far from Chernobyl.
The same applies to windmills.

But not of nuclear power where IAEA says:
Handling of Fukushima has been exemplary

No one harmed, nothing suppressed, normal life to resume

A preliminary report by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that the response to the Fukushima nuclear incident was "exemplary" and that nobody has been harmed by radiation exposure resulting from it.

Now that the situation at the plant has stabilised and investigations inside the reactor buildings have been undertaken, it appears that fuel elements in the worst-hit reactors actually melted down quite soon after most of their cooling equipment was knocked out. This situation is usually assumed to be catastrophic – the very word "meltdown" has come to mean "a rapid or disastrous decline or collapse" – but in fact, apart from putting the reactors beyond economic repair, it has had no serious consequences (as was also the case at Three Mile Island)....

To date no health effects have been reported in any person as a result of radiation exposure from the nuclear accident.

The preliminary report goes on to praise the way the plant staff handled the crisis:

The response on the site by dedicated, determined and expert staff, under extremely arduous conditions has been exemplary and resulted in the best approach to securing safety given the exceptional circumstances.

  Recent technological developments in solar power satellites, though I should acknowledge that Jerry Pournelle says they are not part of SpaceX's plans (and are not needed to make space development commercial)

  But because of our murderously Luddite political class Fuel poverty numbers rise in Scotland and Wales

entirely unnecessarily.

As will rents

  Why nuclear is only the equal cheapest way of generating power (with coal) rather than the outasight winner:
Duke Power, widely considered to be one of the most efficient utilities in the nation in handling nuclear technology, finished construction on its Oconee plants in 1973-74 for $181/kW, on its McGuire plants in 1981-84 for $848/kW, and on its Catauba plants in 1985-87 for $1,703/kW, a nearly 10-fold increase in 14 years. Philadelphia Electric Company completed its two Peach Bottom plants in 1974 at an average cost of $382 million, but the second of its two Limerick plants, completed in 1988, cost $2.9 billion — 7.6 times as much. A long list of such price escalations could be quoted, and there are no exceptions. Clearly, something other than incompetence is involved...

Even with our personal automobiles, there is no end to what we can spend for safety — This process came to be known as "ratcheting." Like a ratchet wrench which is moved back and forth but always tightens and never loosens a bolt, the regulatory requirements were constantly tightened, requiring additional equipment and construction labor and materials. ...The NRC did not withdraw requirements made in the early days on the basis of minimal experience when later experience demonstrated that they were unnecessarily stringent. Regulations were only tightened, never loosened. The ratcheting policy was consistently followed.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Glasgow Skeptics

  Last night I went to the Glasgow Skeptics, an organisation that runs lectures in pubs for promoting "science, critical thinking and freedom of expression" (a very worthy idea indeed) Perhaps somewhat limited by the answer to the lecturer's "why do you spell sceptic with a k" being "because our founder in New Zealand spells it like that and because climate sceptics spell it with a c".

     Fortunately there is no oath of loyalty to warming alarmism so I could go in. Actually this is the 2nd meeting I have attended. The first, where they didn't take my question, being a lecture by Professor P.Z. Myers who runs the obscenity supporting and censorship dependent Pharyngula blog on scienceblogs, of which more some other time

   This was a lecture by Professor Robert Wright on population growth. He started by acknowledging that the predictions by Ehrlich, Limits to Growth & Karl Sax book Standing Room Only had not been borne out by reality - "yet".

   His main thesis is that by 2100 world population will be up from this years 7 billion to 9 billion which will lead to a lower standard of living.

More interesting was the stuff about Scotland which has, by UK standards, an older and faster aging population and unless we attract 15-20,000 immigrants annually will  have a declining population and a very high proportion of pensioners to workers. That is a worrying situation and I may do some work on that in future.

  In questions at the end I asked
"The elephant in the room you barely mentioned is economic growth. You show population rising by 30% by 2100 but world economic growth is 5% annually and if this is maintained human wealth will be 80 times greater or 60 times greater per capita by then. Bearing in mind that the rate economic growth has been increasing throughout human history what makes you think it will stop now?"
His answer was that economic growth depends on technological breakthroughs and that these are unpredictable and should not be relied on.

I followed up by suggesting that growth is not that unpredictable. That with Moore's Law slowing reducing times for the doubling of computer capacity, down from 18 months to about a year, and with similar, if less spectacular growth in other technologies we should expect the growth trend to continue for the immediate future at, at least, the world 5%.

He replied that with the need for windmills and the amount of resources that would be needed to give all the Chinese a refrigerator that simply could not happen.

I said we must agree to differ.

   I believe I am right. That growth can continue. That the higher the technology the more efficiently it uses resources and thus the less pollution it causes and the more resources we can find. I, obviously, do not believe windmills are a necessary or even worthwhile solution to oil, gas or coal running out (whuich they probably willm, or at least will not be dependent on, when we increase GNP 80 fold, but have no doubt that nuclear or solar can supply essentially unlimited power. If so the base assumption behind Professor Wright's scenario is not population increase at all but the same false collapse in progress the anti-technology movement have been prophesying since at least the 1960s.

    As I say I believe the "Glasgow Skeptics" are doing something very worthwhile even if they seem to be under undue influence from the anti-science Luddites pushing global warming and other scare stories. You can't be a sceptic without considering all options, even that the Guardian or BBC might be telling the truth sometime.

   They are clearly not a fakecharity, carrying round a pint glass at the start of the meeting which looks like it raises all the money they need. Showing what can be done with some drive.

    While, looking at their list of previous speakers, it is clear they have their share of politically correct pseudoscientists (Simon Singh, Martin Robbins, I very much wish I had known at the time of Professor Wade Allison's lecture - he is the British academic who publicly denounced the LNT theory.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

More Human Progress

  New Uranium recovery from Phosphate process would be almost three times cheaper and could recover 7690 tons of uranium per year from existing phosphate

The PhosEnergy process, however, can deliver low operating costs estimated at $20-25 per pound U3O8 and uranium recoveries estimated at 92% with improved environmental outcomes and reduced waste, the company claims.

  The important thing about this is not that we are not going to run out of uranium - that was never on the cards because we know how to get enough for 5 billion years from seawater. And beyond that there is 4 times as much thorium.

   No - the reason why it is important because it is yet another instance of Julian Simon being proven right and the Hucksters of Doom wrong. Human technological progress is increasing almost all our important commodity resources faster than we use them up.Virtually every ecofascist scare story, over the last 50 years, since the DDT and nuclear no threshold ones, have been proven to be merely the non-existent hobgoblins produced by those in power or after our money to keep us scared and obedient.

    Any time these parasites threaten us, or anybody, they should be considered lying until conclusively proven otherwise. Call it the Precautionary Principle.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Recent Links

  Some recent reading, mainly on how the state and media lies to promote ecofascism, with some good news at both ends:

Geert Wilders found innocent of free speech. Possibly the fact that he is the most popular Dutch politician influenced the judges not to find against him though the under the law, as written, his defence that everything he said is factual, was not a legitimate defence. Not reported By our MSM.

The US Supreme Court has also rolled back on previous decisions that suggested "the debate is over" about the catastrophic warming we are said to be experiencing. Again the fact that scepticism is becoming the accepted position among Republican politicians, many distancing themselves from previous alarmist claims, under public pressure. The court has specifically said that Freeman Dyson's public scepticism impressed them. Dyson discussed here as America's greatest living scientist.

BBC dishonesty - they have run this article virtually entirely about the Fukushima meltdown and in a sidebar given the figures for "The disaster in numbers". The disaster meant 24,000 killed and missing. That is the figure for the tsunami. The figure for the much more newsworthy reactor deaths is zero, and virtually certain to remain so. Perhaps I should do a a blog on the BBC, making some small mention of Auschwitz and then say "The number of people killed by the BBC & co" is 6 million. No - fun though it would be we bloggers have journalistic standards to maintain.

Al Fin comes up with the delightful phrase "the hucksters of doom".

Spiked on why the MSM fell for the Syrian Lesbian Democract Blogger - basically you just have to tell them any lie they want to hear and they will happily push it.

Why CAGW scare about warming increasing deaths is false - quite the opposite.
How Lord Oxburgh, chosen by East Anglia University, to do one of its "inquiries" into climategate, by owning a windfarm company, had an undeniable interest in the result. Muir Russell, who headed the other one, having previously taken the blame for "hiding from Ministers" the fact that the Scottish Parliament building had gone more than 10 times over budget (something the ministers would have known if any of them ever read the papers) and being rewarded for his incompetence/taking the blame for ministers incompetence was well rewarded by ministers with a series of plum jobs. I have suggested that his adeptness at whitewashing over that £414 million rip off could only have made him ideal to run the climategate "inquiry" if it was, fraudulently, intended to produce a whitewash. It did produce a whitewash.
The major "catastrophic warming" event recently has been a group very credible scientsts, including  from NASA sating that we are heading for global cooling. At first it got no serious MSM coverage. As the GWPF explains:
"Then the story takes a curious turn.
On Wednesday the Science Media Centre (SMC) in the UK issued a briefing document about the research. The SMC provides commentary by scientists on news stories, giving background and quotes.
Its briefing was headed, “Expert reaction to the GWPF claim that reduced solar activity could mean that ‘Earth May Be Headed Into A Mini Ice Age Within A Decade’ “ It included this link – to the GWPF’s first few lines of the Register article. GWPF claim! The GWPF was not making this claim as a cursory look would reveal. No points to the SMC for accuracy.

The SMC's briefing was widely quoted in the British press and beyond. I wonder if I am alone in being worried that so many media outlets let the SMC chose their experts and pick their comments for them? Journalists should take advantage of expert opinion from whatever source but what happened here with the dominance of the SMC's choice of expert and quote feels like inappropriate outsourcing by a herd mentality.

The SMC's funding comes from these. They don't say how much money comes to them from each source but the NERC alone is a government quango which disburses £400 million annually to promote the warming scare and other ecofascist "hobgoblins". The 2 government "departments" listed, the Economic & Social Research Council, Met Office, NICE and others are also branches of government. I should point out that the Wellcome Trust, which is a major funder, is not government. Nonetheless this organisation, which clearly effectively controls how the "independent" media report scientific matters, looks likely to be getting enough government funding to be considered a fakecharity arm of state propaganda.

    And finally in response to me waxing lyrical, in my normal extreme way, about how great our technological future is because Moore's Law has taken us to the point where a mobile phone has more capacity than the world's best computers in the 1950s, I find I have (reply 2.14 by Rhoda) been way too moderate
My not-very-state-of-the-art mobile phone has more memory on it than (probably) existed in the world when I started working on mainframes in 1977. 1 meg filled a room.
The difference between us and the greens is that we believe there will be progress, and we don't need to worry about it. They fear change, and cannot conceive that things get better. This is so basic a part of human nature that there is no coming to a consensus over it.

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