Thursday, January 6, 2011

Zero Energy

In physics, the concept of "absolute zero" is the theoretical minimum temperature – a temperature at which all molecular motion ceases. Defined as 0 degrees Kelvin, it is impossible to actually reach this temperature, although you can get close. The world record achieved by scientists is 100 picokelvins. Even virtual nothingness has some energy: the temperature of the universe is 2.73 Kelvins due to the so-called cosmic background radiation. In other words, achieving absolute zero is really hard – actually impossible. Unless you are a social scientist. According to this: (HT: Ari Armsrong)

Starting Wednesday and continuing for the next year, a large swath of downtown Fort Collins will offset its peak power consumption by generating some of its own energy—an $11 million component of an ambitious and much-heralded effort to create a “zero energy district” in the heart of the city. FortZED, as the district is dubbed, will attempt to offset the energy it currently uses from a publicly-owned coal-fired power plant “through conservation, efficiency, renewable sources and smart technologies,” according to the project’s website.
Zero energy, eh? Well, it turns out they are going to actually use diesel generators and natural gas.

“The whole thing is backwards,” says Eric Sutherland, a Fort Collins resident well known as a citizen watchdog on energy issues. “They’re taking the emergency diesel generators at City Hall and a few places around (Colorado State University) campus and slaving those to power the grid. Gosh, let’s take the most dirty, expensive, scarce fossil fuel—diesel—and use it to generate electricity, and this is our renewable energy source?”
But not to worry. You see, uh, well let’s let the project manager, Dennis Sumner, explain:

“Obviously we’re not going to consider it progress to move toward having lots of diesel engines operate all over town to replace a highly efficient coal plant. That’s not a step in the right direction,” Sumner says. “We’re testing how can we integrate these distributed resources. (Think) of the emergency generation equipment we’re using as proxies for what could be different resources in the future.”
So this town spent $11 million to pretend that alternative sources of energy, like diesel and natural gas, are actually “proxies for what could be different resources in the future” presumably wind farms, solar, or magic pixie dust energy. But, if wind farms and solar and the like are actually viable forms of energy, couldn’t they have just used the $11 million to, uh, show that they work?

“In the broader FortZED concept, I think there was a lot of enthusiasm for the opportunity for something like a wind project,” he says. “When there was discussion about the development of the Maxwell Ranch, I think a lot of people got pretty excited. ‘Gee, that could be a big boost.’ … But at this point, it doesn’t seem to be coming together.”
To me, this article underscores a deeper aspect of the environmentalist ideology. Environmentalism is not a fight against pollution or “dirty energy”, it is a fight against the nature of reality, particularly man’s nature. Man has to use the earth in order to survive - that is our nature! There is no getting around that, unless you choose to die. However, environmentalists regard the earth as a kind of sacred deity to be worshipped and preserved for that eminent, yet insatiable ghost known as “future generations.” Therefore, man is regarded as a kind of Original Sinner, whose piddling sustenance is all but a sacrilege. Evidently, the Sacred Organism yearns to be untouched and held in a kind of cryogenic stasis as determined by panels of Philosopher Kings: assorted central planners, U.N. scientists, and town officals, who divine and translate Her decrees to the unwashed masses.

To the environmentalist, man’s life is to be spent in penance for his Original Sin, absolving himself of guilt by ascetically seeking out ways to minimize his “footprint”, picking through his garbage, substituting privation for convenience, and crusading asymptotically towards that ultimate offering: zero energy.


C. August said...

Great post. A couple of points...

You said However, environmentalists regard the earth as a kind of sacred deity to be worshiped and preserved for that eminent, yet insatiable ghost known as “future generations.”

But I think you're giving them too much credit in this assessment. The really hardcore ones don't give a damn about future generations of humans. They want humanity wiped out except for a few roving bands of hunter-gatherers.

The following is just a great sentence I wanted to highlight: "Evidently, the Sacred Organism yearns to be untouched and held in a kind of cryogenic stasis as determined by panels of Philosopher Kings: assorted central planners, U.N. scientists, and town officials, who divine and translate Her decrees to the unwashed masses." It makes me think of the Council (or whatever it was called) in Rand's Anthem, looking at the electric light before them and smashing its evil incandescence because it "hurts the planet."

Finally, your last part about doing penance for our Original Sin -- the sin of merely existing -- made me think that sorting through our trash is like wearing a hair-shirt. A lot of people really get off on it and even look forward to the degradation.

Doug Reich said...

C. August,

I suppose you're right that I have granted too much credit by assuming that they even care about "the ghost of future generations." Of course, they really don't care.

However, having a human recipient of the sacrifice does serve a major purpose, in the same way that major religions must promise their acolytes "heaven" or some tangible end, even if the actual purpose is blind service to God.

In other words, it would be difficult for the environmentalist, even to rationalize in his own mind, the concept of intrinsic value where no human end is served. Thus is born the "future generation." So, you can still be a good little sacrificer but it's not "selfish"....

Re the idea that they get off on suffering, I wholeheartedly agree. There is a psychology of "pain as pleasure" that clearly is in operation in our culture. You could say it stems from the acceptance of unearned guilt and self-hatred due to conventional morality of altruism, but maybe it has a genetic or even psychiatric component.

In other words, I understand the argument that guilt naturally follows from the acceptance of altruism but I'm somewhat fascinated by the possible origin and even speculate that this idea of "pain as good" has evolutionary origins...

(To a wild animal or our primitive ancestors, pain may be associated with a kind of feedback to productive work and there is even an adrenaline or chemical by-product...the reasoning mind allows us to transform nature and live in relative comfort which may feel "unnatural" in the biological sense. I read in a book "Mind of the Market" some speculation related to tribal living (our ancestors) in which those who "took too much" were ostracized by the tribe for not sharing in the hunting spoils...there may be some fundamental roots that explain why this tendency towards "sacrifice as virtue" is so prevalent for so long...)

Mike said...

I've always understood the environmentalist movement to be composed of two kinds: the pragmatists and the extremist (read more consistent).

Michael said...

Doug do you think leaving a lower carbon footprint is a rational thing to pursue? for example if one remarked to you that he prefers using renewable energy resources because they leave a lower carbon footprint is that a rational objective?

C. August said...

@Michael, what would the purpose be of leaving a smaller carbon footprint? What is the concern with using carbon?

Or have you drunk the Kool-aid of anthropogenic global warming pseudoscience?

Doug Reich said...


"if one remarked to you that he prefers using renewable energy resources because they leave a lower carbon footprint is that a rational objective?"

No, I do not think that is a rational objective. First, a "rational" objective must be something that furthers or promotes one's life.

With that said, I do not understand what a "renewable energy resource" is much less why that is an objective or rational value. Further, I reject that the consumption of "carbon" is a problem as it relates to human life.

In a totally different context, if someone said they are trying to minimize their use of resources in order to economize on costs, save money, increase productivity of their firm, etc. then I would say that is entirely rational. They are economizing in order to further their own interest based on their independent judgment.

However, to "lower carbon footprint" as an end in itself, or in order to "promote a healthy planet" or some other nonsense, is entirely irrational. There is no basis for such a claim and in fact, I think they are committing to a course of sacrifice and privation for no objective purpose.

Hope that helps.

Roger said...

I, for one, am increasing my carbon footprint by as much as possible because I want a more "green" earth. Carbon dioxide is plant food. More carbon dioxide means more plants. Since plants are green, more plants means a greener earth.

garret seinen said...

Doug, I'd like to share a statement made by one Margaret Wente, a columnist for Canada's Globe and Mail.
"Will we return to what made us great or will our future be picking dental floss out of coffee grounds."

Good post. Zero energy = zero life.

Anonymous said...

Just as an aside from Doug's enjoyable commentary, wouldn't it be great if we could purge the phrase 'fossil fuel' from our language? Do we still believe the remains from once living surface organisms somehow yielded trillions of gallons of deep lithospheric hydrocarbons? What happened, right before the dinosaurs became extinct they all of a sudden decided to migrate to Saudi Arabia?