catmoon wrote:Actually, it turns out there is enough uranium and thorium in ordinary granite* that you could mine it, extract the uranium, and fuel nuclear plants with it. So technology can in fact provide us all the energy we desire, but there are obvious drawbacks!
Nuclear energy possesses a hidden energy subsidy. Fossil fuels are used to build, maintain and decommission nuclear power plants. Fossil fuels also enable a society to be sufficiently complex to support the intellectual and technical trades which operate the nuclear power industry. We rely on fossil fuels for the so-called green revolution (machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, etc...), allowing us to produce vast amounts of food with little labour which would otherwise have to be produced by small family farms making up 80% or more of the population. Such was the case in pre-industrial times, rendering most of the population permanently attached to the land for their subsistence. In our present time we would be no exception if it was not for fossil fuels which provide human labour in a transportable and easily stored form (oil, coal or natural gas). A barrel of oil contains the equivalent of ten years or more of human labour. This enables vast numbers of technicians and scientists to run a nuclear power plant rather than farming.
So, without that energy subsidy it is unlikely the nuclear power industry would be sustainable. Already it is heavily subsidized.
Moreover, it isn't just an issue of electricity. Our whole global infrastructure is largely dependent on petroleum driven machinery. We might have electric cars, but most of the vehicles on the road today depend on petroleum. Planes, tanks and ships likewise run on oil, not electricity. It would be extremely demanding to convert even half of the current global infrastructure to run on electricity produced by nuclear plants.
A quick tech fix is a fantasy. A dangerous one at that. Most people are assuming "they'll figure something out", but this is unrealistic thinking.
Now, if we are confronted with the demise of industrial civilization, I would predict that rather than reduce our wants and desires, humanity will eventually re-evaluate its ethics and reluctantly accept the nuclear solution. Its already a done deal in France. It's just a matter of waiting for the fuel crunch to bite a little harder.
As I pointed out nuclear energy has a hidden subsidy that is not normally taken into consideration. When that subsidy starts disappearing the fate of nuclear power plants that will need to be decommissioned will become uncertain. It is a rather terrifying prospect.
Governments are basically in the business of giving the people what they want. If they fail to do so they are out of a job. And people really really want the power on. Push comes to shove, people will look at their failing economies, then look at France, with their 50 years of relatively problem-free power generation, and say "We could do that. Even if we can't, we can hire them to do it for us."
This is unrealistic. Look at the chart I posted above. Our global conventional petroleum production already peaked and will start to decline within the decade. This will produce countless feedback loops that devastate economies and societies (for instance when economic growth becomes impossible the whole system of creating money from loans, which are issued based on the assumption of future economic expansion, will falter and produce countless more problems within societies). Even if a nation decided to rapidly build nuclear reactors, you can't just set them up in a few years and have them fully operational and on the grid in short order.
In any case, it isn't just an issue of electricity as I outlined above. You need oil, not electricity, for plastics and agricultural petro-chemicals.
It might be possible to turn the culture of greed around, but geez how do you sell life in a cave eating a coupla tsampa balls a day, no medical, no dental, no internet, no pension?
That's not what I'm proposing. If governments were on the ball they'd subsidize organic agriculture and direct youth towards becoming food producers. They'd work on public transit and walkable cities. Trains instead of highways. Local food production rather than salads driven in from thousands of miles away. Bike paths rather than five lane highways.
But that is not happening on any notable scale.
Our industrial system will run its course and self-terminate. In the process many wars will be fought, people will go hungry and in the long descent many ordinary people will just give up on life when they realize their hopes and dreams are utterly impossible despite having been told from childhood otherwise.
This is kaliyuga.