11 August 2008

Doing More with Less -- No Limits

There are two dominant themes in the western world today: the limited world view that wants to slash energy use, slash human populations, and release most of the human world back into the wild -- and there is the theme of upward evolving, and growing into a peaceful world of abundance, without limits. Julian Simon represented the latter view, par excellence.
The ultimate embarrassment for the Malthusians was when Paul Ehrlich bet Simon $1,000 in 1980 that five resources (of Ehrlich’s choosing) would be more expensive in 10 years. Ehrlich lost: 10 years later every one of the resources had declined in price by an average of 40 percent.
Buckminster Fuller was another person who believed that human ingenuity would allow humans to continue to do more -- with less.
Doing "more with less" was Fuller's credo. He described himself as a "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist," setting forth to solve the escalating challenges that faced humanity before they became insurmountable.
The key to humanity evolving (as opposed to devolving into a collectivist lifelong larval colony) is in learning to do more with less. Recent spikes in commodities prices convinced many superficial students of resource economics that Simon would finally be proven wrong. But scientists and engineers are beginning to catch the spirit of Fuller and Simon in their work. We may yet escape the collectivist larval farm.

Brian Westenhaus at New Energy and Fuel describes an Australian innovation that will allow the substitution of a cheap Teflon compound in place of ultra-expensive Platinum in fuel cell catalytic membranes. The cost savings will be immense, and should rapidly speed the transition to fuel cell applications for automobiles and stationary installations. It will also greatly extend the world's supply of platinum.

Brian Wang at Next Big Future presents several innovations that will make automobiles lighter and more fuel efficient. These include several new uses of carbon nano-fibers, ways of making titanium cheaper for use in cars, and the use of graphene enhanced plastics.

The ability to substitute cheaper, smaller gasoline engines for larger more expensive diesel engines, should introduce cost savings into many industrial applications.

Of course, the holy grail of "more with less" is molecular nano-assemblers that can manufacture an almost limitless array of products quickly, precisely, and relatively cheaply. Brian Wang presents an update on carbon nano-assemblers.

When confronted with a challenge, humans can either try to find workable solutions, or they can hide behind "limits." Whether "peak oil doom", "climate catastrophe", "overpopulation", the challenge of militant Islam to secular western ideals--a dominant refrain from modern left-limitists is "cut back!"

Instead of cutting back, however, ingenious and resourceful humans will substitute and innovate, and do more with less. The limits are in the mind. Think laterally, as well as logically.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

I find it interesting how often a simple sensor, processor and switch are implemented into a system which allows great savings in energy or material. The presence of such common place elements of our technological age have been with us for such a short part of our history that the flow of possible innovations is just starting to amp up. Likewise with networking simple machines by giving them the ability to share and process information as a community to improve efficiency and accuracy.

Monday, 11 August, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...


The energy concerns will easily be solved by switching to alternative fuels but the population issue is not so easily solved. It is my humble opinion that we are already overpopulated. Yes we may be able to pack three or four times as many people on this planet and we will be able to provide for the food and the energy uses that are needed but what about such concerns as quality of life? Personally I believe if we had half of the current population this world would be a much better place. God gave us a brain and we should be able to see that uncontrolled population growth is insane, regardless of our ability to sustain it.

Tuesday, 12 August, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Robert, you have expressed your opinions. Everyone has opinions, and I respect the apparent honesty of your own.

If you could somehow demonstrate that it will be easy to switch to alternative fuels--demonstrate by the numbers--your opinion on that score would be bolstered.

If you could demonstrate objective support for your other opinions, they would also be bolstered.

Population density and quality of life may well relate to each other. But given the worldwide rush of rural populations to the cities, it is a difficult relationship to prove in the way you suggest.

But whenever someone says that they want the human population reduced by half, 70%, 90%, 99% etc., my response is always the same: you first.

Wednesday, 13 August, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...


I've just recently read a book titled "Alcohol Can Be A Gas" written by David Blume, this book provides a wealth of information on how converting to alcohol as a fuel we can easily solve the current energy problems. Another book along the same lines is "Energy Victory" by Robert Zubrin. David Blume just recently made a very good presentation on Coast to Coast a.m.(kept me up half the night after listening) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty6URD0khPk On the subject of population density and quality of life, I'll refer you to recent book titled "Five Short Blasts...A new economic theory exposes the fatal flaw in globalization and its consequences for America" The author has a blog in which he is very happy to talk about this theory. http://www.openwindowpublishingco.com/custom2.html As far as reducing our population by half might I point out that this is a target that will obviously take years to reach through the slowing of the birthrate but even so, it is a worthy goal. Thanks for posting a great blog, I read it quite frequently.



Wednesday, 13 August, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Robert: Have you ever read the Al Fin Energy blog? I post there almost daily, and cover renewable energies extensively.

I respect Bob Zubrin for his work on Mars missions, and space exploration. He also has some good ideas on flex-fuel and conversion to renewable fuels.

Thanks for suggesting Blume, although I hope he is not promoting ethanol as a long term solution. I have done an incredible amount of research on the wide choices of biofuels and petro-fuels available to us. Ethanol should be merely a stopgap on the way to something much better.

Population implosion rather than explosion is what is happening in western nations, as well as Japan, S. Korea, Russia. The population increase you may be concerned about is occurring in the third world.

You must be careful when you advocate strong measures to reduce third world populations. The charge of "racism" seems to be on the tip of the tongue of large numbers of people these days.

Wednesday, 13 August, 2008  
Blogger Ugh said...

The Julian Simon / Paul Ehrlich thing was the seed that spawned Bjorn Lomborg's "Skeptical Environmentalist". He, being a Greenpeace activist, was incensed by Simon's assertions and literally set out to proof him wrong. Three years later he was on Simon's side and has since become the enemy of the CAGW crowd. He is definitely an interesting guy... Simon was as brilliant as Ehrlich was wrong.

Thursday, 14 August, 2008  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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