Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Energy and Philobarbarism

I'm one of that kind of person who, when confronted with two four letter words, has a math-anxiety attack. There's a bit of math involved below that shouldn't hinder anyone's understanding of the proposition. The question is one of energy consumption, and to a lesser extent, energy exhaust; but most importantly, it's a matter of attitude toward energy in Human society. What is good and useful energy, and how much should we consume? To what purpose?

It seems to be a rite of passage into adulthood in the West in recent generations to come to the realization that one hates multi-national corporations; and more than any other kind among them, one must hate those that deal in energy, whether Coca Cola or Nestles or The Oil Companies. Corporately manufactured energy is seemingly bad. More specifically, energy alienated from the end-user is, to varying degrees, bad. Thus, walking is good in that one is not alienated from ones own energy. Riding a bike is good in that one uses a machine but still uses ones own energy to propel the machine. A bicycle, a corporately manufactured machine, is better still if it's as old and clunky and "non-corporate" as one can find. Low-tech is ideal in that it is also "low-profit." There is a comparable decrease in ones alienation and a corresponding decrease in ones collusion with "consumption." To use "recycled" material, e.g. hemp shoes for walking, or a bike salvaged from dumpsters is energy-friendly. One then has extra cash for other goods and services such as ethical investments and organic, locally produced food, for example. For those communal projects that require more energy than one can produce oneself, natural energy is preferable: solar or wind power, for example. Unalienated from Nature, to an extent, one still might use solar panel and windmills, but the lowest tech possible is preferable. It is a high ideal to corporate hate energy. It is a sign of adult maturity in Modernity.

A large proportion of post-Modernists seem to think it is a good thing to indulge in expressions of sympathy for philobarbarism. Primitive cultures are, expressly, low-tech or even no-tech, using natural power exclusively. Those who are pastoralists or nomads, using animal power, are lauded as "in touch with nature." In Modernity's heart, the homeless are equally lauded as "non-consumers" of non-renewable resources. For the post-Modernist, it is a matter of morality. The higher ones energy consumption, the lower ones personal morality. And conversely.

Immediately below is a selection from Wikipedia on the Kardashev Scale, followed by some short selections from an essay by popular writer Michael Crichton on energy use.

The Kardashev scale is a method of measuring a civilization's level of technological advancement. The scale is only theoretical and in terms of an actual civilization highly speculative; however, it puts energy consumption of an entire civilization in a cosmic perspective. It was first proposed in 1964 by the Soviet Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II, and III. These are based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal, and the degree of space colonization. In general terms, a Type I civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet, Type II of its solar system, and Type III of its galaxy.[1]

Energy is a static quantity and is denoted in joules. Power is a measure of energy over time, and is denoted in watts (joules per second). The three levels of the Kardashev Scale can be quantified in units of power (watts) and plotted on an increasing logarithmic scale.
  • Type I — a civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet — has approximately 1016 or 1017 W available.[2] Earth specifically has an available power of 1.74 ×1017 W (174 petawatts, see Earth's energy budget). Kardashev's original definition was 4 ×1012 W — a "technological level close to the level presently attained on earth" (presently meaning 1964).[3]

Using nuclear explosion tests as a perspective, Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated, released an estimated 57 megaton yield; even a Type I civilization makes use of roughly 25 megatons of TNT equivalent a second. A Type II civilization consumes 4 × 109 times more energy (4 billion hydrogen bombs per second), and a type III 1011 times more yet.

Current human civilization has a Kardashev value of about 0.7. However, the Kardashev scale was not developed to model a specific civilization. It's primarily used by SETI researchers, science fiction authors, and futurists as a theoretical framework.

Human civilization is currently somewhere below Type I, as it is able to harness only a portion of the energy that is available on Earth. The current state of human civilization has thus been named Type 0. Although intermediate values were not discussed in Kardashev's original proposal, Carl Sagan argued that they could easily be defined by interpolating and extrapolating the values given above. In 1973, he calculated humanity's civilization type to be 0.7, in relationship to Kardashev's model for Types 0 and I.[4]

Sagan used the formula:

K = \frac{\log_{10}{W}-6} {10}

Value K is a civilization's Kardashev rating and W is its power output in watts. Sagan used 10 TW as value W, which was considerably higher than present data suggests.[5] Sagan's overestimation makes little difference in regards to human civilization's K rating, effecting only a difference of 1% in the value of K (See Table Below). International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook (2005)[5] and section 7 of Key World Energy Statistics[6] project values for planetary power production yielding these corresponding Kardashev scale estimates:


Methods by which a civilization could feasibly advance to Type I:

Large scale application of fusion power. Type I implies the generation of about 5 kg of energy per second. This can be achieved by fusing about 1,000 kg of hydrogen into helium each second, a rate of about 3 × 1010 kg/year. A cubic km of water contains about 1011 kg of hydrogen, and the Earth's oceans contain about 1.3 × 109 cubic km of water. So this rate of production can be sustained over geological time scales.

Anti-matter production is still beyond our civilization's ability to utilize as a power source,[10] but any civilization with the technological ability to produce or collect anti-matter[11] in large quantities cheaply, would have a mechanism to produce power on a scale several factors above our current level of technology. In antimatter-matter collisions, the entire rest mass of the particles is converted to kinetic energy. The energy per unit mass is about 10 orders of magnitude greater than chemical energy (compared to TNT), about 4 orders of magnitude greater than the energy that humans liberated today using nuclear fission, and about 2 orders of magnitude greater than the best possible from fusion.[12] The reaction of 1 kg of anti-matter with 1 kg of matter would produce 1.8 × 1017 J (180 petajoules) of energy (by the mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc²), or roughly the equivalent of 47 megatons of TNT. For energy comparisons see anti-matter as a fuel source.

Solar energy — converting sunlight into electricity by either solar cells or indirectly through wind and hydroelectric power. Currently, there is no known way for human civilization to successfully utilize the equivalent of the Earth's total absorbed solar energy without completely coating the surface with man-made structures, which is presently not feasible. However, if a civilization constructed very large space-based power satellites, Type I power levels might be achievable.

Full essay at:

It is a certain goal among many post-Modernists to decrease energy use. It is, for them, a religio-philosophical position, and it is a religion per se for many.

Michael Crichton, "Environmentalism as Religion."

Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people---the best people, the most enlightened people---do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.


There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden?

And what about indigenous peoples, living in a state of harmony with the Eden-like environment? Well, they never did. On this continent, the newly arrived people who crossed the land bridge almost immediately set about wiping out hundreds of species of large animals, and they did this several thousand years before the white man showed up, to accelerate the process. And what was the condition of life? Loving, peaceful, harmonious? Hardly: the early peoples of the New World lived in a state of constant warfare. Generations of hatred, tribal hatreds, constant battles. The warlike tribes of this continent are famous: the Comanche, Sioux, Apache, Mohawk, Aztecs, Toltec, Incas. Some of them practiced infanticide, and human sacrifice. And those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated, or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs to attain some measure of safety.

How about the human condition in the rest of the world? The Maori of New Zealand committed massacres regularly. The dyaks of Borneo were headhunters. The Polynesians, living in an environment as close to paradise as one can imagine, fought constantly, and created a society so hideously restrictive that you could lose your life if you stepped in the footprint of a chief. It was the Polynesians who gave us the very concept of taboo, as well as the word itself. The noble savage is a fantasy, and it was never true. That anyone still believes it, 200 years after Rousseau, shows the tenacity of religious myths, their ability to hang on in the face of centuries of factual contradiction.

There was even an academic movement, during the latter 20th century, that claimed that cannibalism was a white man's invention to demonize the indigenous peoples. (Only academics could fight such a battle.) It was some thirty years before professors finally agreed that yes, cannibalism does indeed occur among human beings. Meanwhile, all during this time New Guinea highlanders in the 20th century continued to eat the brains of their enemies until they were finally made to understand that they risked kuru, a fatal neurological disease, when they did so.

More recently still the gentle Tasaday of the Philippines turned out to be a publicity stunt, a nonexistent tribe. And African pygmies have one of the highest murder rates on the planet.

In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don't, they will die.

And if you, even now, put yourself in nature even for a matter of days, you will quickly be disabused of all your romantic fantasies. Take a trek through the jungles of Borneo, and in short order you will have festering sores on your skin, you'll have bugs all over your body, biting in your hair, crawling up your nose and into your ears, you'll have infections and sickness and if you're not with somebody who knows what they're doing, you'll quickly starve to death. But chances are that even in the jungles of Borneo you won't experience nature so directly, because you will have covered your entire body with DEET and you will be doing everything you can to keep those bugs off you.

The truth is, almost nobody wants to experience real nature. What people want is to spend a week or two in a cabin in the woods, with screens on the windows. They want a simplified life for a while, without all their stuff. Or a nice river rafting trip for a few days, with somebody else doing the cooking. Nobody wants to go back to nature in any real way, and nobody does. It's all talk-and as the years go on, and the world population grows increasingly urban, it's uninformed talk. Farmers know what they're talking about. City people don't. It's all fantasy.

Those who are certain are demonstrating their personality type, or their belief system, not the state of their knowledge.


Energy production and consumption are "Progress." Those who indulge in philobarbarism and philistine Romance are condemning the world to a life, as Hobbes described it, as one "nasty, brutish, and short. A prime example today, Zimbabwe. It's an attitude and a religion. Philobarbarism is the life of the mind of a Death Hippie. It is an expression of Povertarianism. There is a price to pay for it. That price is the death of Civilization. It's a price many spoiled adults think they want to pay for the sake of a moralistic pose to impress their fellows. They will find few friends in the world of poverty, would that they would go and find out.

To deny energy use to others is to deny them life, the ultimate alienation from authenticity. To what purpose?


vancityguy said...

“To deny energy use to others is to deny them life, the ultimate alienation from authenticity.”
I can’t agree with you more on that point. But here’s where you loose me Dag, aside from the high flying concepts of anti-matter and/or fusion, you’re grasp on the feasibility of such energy solutions is as naive as the impractical leftist’s hatred for any type of hydrocarbon.

What drives the methods and styles of the planet’s energy consumption is economics. Period. The left can champion Kyoto all it wants while the right questions the science, it simply doesn’t matter. The industrializing nations of Asia are concerned with the monetary cost, not the social or the environmental cost. That’s just economics, so whether or not the West meets carbon emission requirements is moot, because for every bicycle in North America there is going to be three cars in Asia. Hydrocarbon energy will continue until a cheaper and more efficiently disseminated energy source is employed.

That said, the problem is not who gets access to energy and who doesn’t, it’s the amounts of energy that is consumed. Hydrocarbons, being a natural resource, are finite and cannot be reproduced by the most energy addicted countries, thus they are harvested from countries that do have them, sometimes to the betterment of that nation, sometimes not. But the realities of depleting reserves, the higher cost of bitumen extraction and the increasing difficulty of exploration projects only serve to make the increasing appetite for hydrocarbon sourced energy more desperate, thus more lucrative, thus more open to manipulation and employment as an idiom of a political agenda.

It’s quite easy to pontificate on as to how every human being has the right to access energy (which they do). However, you cannot legitimately say something like that and offer only infeasible solutions. Have you any idea of the cost of these far flung energy ‘solutions?’ Oil has to be at $300 a barrel to make some of the more common ‘green’ sources more economic, and you’re citing anti-gravity?

I don’t think you have a full grasp on the economics and details of the oil & gas industry, or, how those details and economics affect every opinion regarding hydrocarbons, whether from the left, or the right, and how they manifest in geo-politics. I’m in no way saying you’re off-base on the dedicated leftist’s hatred for energy consumption, because I agree with you on that accord.

But you stop there, and I think it’s because you’re as clueless as the leftist is on how to feasibly change the situation. But then again, this is only a sermon. Everyone has the right. That’s a nice theory Dag. You make a lot of speeches, but you offer very few solutions.

truepeers said...

Seems to me that some variety of environmental religion is here to stay, a reflection of man's increasing technological power and its inevitable ecological impacts. So perhaps the bad religion of, say, "global warming" should become for us a question of what is good religion (which will be strengthened not weakened by its reliance on science, just as to some degree is the "bad" religion of today). People need some kind of religion; so, pragmatically, what kind of religion, in general terms, would best serve people who need to organize to get useful things done in the 21st Century?

It seems to me Dag that your hatred of a bad green religion is, to be brutally simplistic, hatred of a high church religion. You hate death hippies because they are a kind of priest performing stupid sacrifices; you hate the Al Gore type because he is some kind of patronizing archbishop. So here's a thought experiment for you: what would a truly presbyterian green religion look like?

Anonymous said...

Due to my rather limited grasp of the science surrounding the manufacture and distribution of energy, I won't focus on that.

But as for the 'religious' way in which environmentalism is sought, to the extent of philobarbarism, I don't think that any of that can be classified as religious. Most of it seems based in a pursuit of the unnattainable, which if anything, is an artistic aspiration, and not a religious one.

So to couch this in different terms, environmentalism is merely a form of art. In which case, the question is begged of whether or not art should be couched by reason. I believe it should, although a combination of reason and art, in my mind, leads one close to religious aspirations.


either way, it seems that there are some in this world who are almost literally missing the forest for the trees.

Dag said...

To be brutally honest in response to both comments above, my interest here is not in "energy alternatives" nor in priesthoods but in the simple facts of personal living for the mass of people who yearn to breathe free: Humanism.

My interest here, which I assume is shared by the majority of our readers, Left as well as Right is, at its most simplistic, the basic utilitarian approach to Human living: Do the least harm and hope for the best from there that each individual will seek out his own good, regardless of what that might be. To put the individual above the collective is to give the individual a freedom to choose that in many cases is alienating of the soul and is perhaps terrifying to the person to the point of suicidal/ homicidal despair. Such is life of the free man.

Life is freer with the greater amounts of energy, regardless of how it's produced, the latter on which I have nothing to contribute. Freedom is a terrible burden for many, which is a topic I have much to speak to, informed or no. The beauty of freedom is that I might find out what I don't know now. And if I so choose, after the finding, I might flee from my freedom of my own choice, rationally Irrational. An economy based on high energy consumption allows me freedom to find out, not being chained by the leg to slave in a salt mine, for example, but free to ask and wonder.

Epistemology precedes technology; but it is the incremental growth of technology that allows for the full flowering of epistemology. The throes of Leftist philobarbarism and other reactionary forms of thought, particularly ecologism, threaten the physical lives of the majority of Humanity, not simply in the case of, as but one example, the banning of the use of DDT. The worse hurt of ecologism is its prizing of Nature itself as equal to or greater than Humanity. People deprived of Modernity's life-saving products, as trivial as they might seem on the surface, e.g. Mr. Tidy Bowl, are doomed to lives of filth and disease and early death, minds too preoccupied with animal functions of survival to think and wonder. People in the main can't think without health and security, which come from, to a huge degree, Modernity's consumer culture, based on high energy consumption, regardless of how it's produced.

The matter here is not what energy sources we use but our attitude toward the use of energy itself. The philobarbarist can be of Left or Right, the Conservatives of the 18th century being as reactionary as any Green fascist today. What is of import is how we see energy use itself. That is definitive. It is about not energy use at all but about the place of Man in the world. What matters? The environment or Man?

It is not an "either/ or" proposition, as many environmentalists would have us believe. It is only a problem of position: What it important? Man or Nature? Emphasis.

Ecology is by definition anti-Humanist. Ecology is about Ecology. It is not about people, free or otherwise.

There is a practical reason for writing about this": that many will not see otherwise that ecologism is about ecology privileged over Humanism. without being able to articulate the distinction, many will gladly support ecologism to the detriment of people, not just free people, but people of all conditions. It matters not what the social position of the various priests of ecologism might be: what matters is the mass of people in their attitude to what they support as public policy. Take for example the banning of DDT. Most would assume it's a good thing to ban it. They know not why. The result is millions of dead Africans. That's some higher math I really don't like.

If the mass will consider rationally the use of high energy as opposed to the philistine romances of sentimental ecologism and post-Modernist fascist propaganda campaigns, then there will be mass rallies of people demanding the restoration of the use of DDT, and the result will be the lessening of death in Africa from malaria, among other diseases. With the sentimentalist vision of ecology, the death of Africans will continue as it is today. Hence, Death Hippies.

Green presbyters? One might imagine community presbyters demanding on behalf of prosperous people that their communities be livable or that those responsible for death by asphyxiation, as is common in Mexico, D.F., for example, be liable in court for manslaughter. But poor people, those living in low energy societies, even nations where a national oil monopoly produces a slush fund for professional politicos and oligarchs, have no power because their societies do not have power enough to extend prosperity to the majority, however unequally. In a democratic Modernist society, where the people are wealthy and free, the oligarchs do pay in the courts because the people have the power to think of themselves as worth preserving as private property. A collectivist society such as Singapore is simply too small to create a problem worth worrying over. In America or Canada, the people are responsible for their own lives as individuals, and they will not allow the destruction of their lives for the sake of unrestrained corporate profit. We know that because we have a "Green" movement, uninformed and sentimental as it is. We can do better, demanding of our states and nations a freedom that emerges from high energy consumption and also the liberty from death to pursue or own happiness. We can have both freedom and the freedom to live only in a high energy society. Ecologism is a fascism. A healthy life in a clean environment is mere prudence on the part of sensible people.

truepeers said...

good response, Dag; it's important to argue that in general high and increasing energy use is for the good. But I wonder how much argument you would get once you clarified this point to various parties in the debates. The opposition will say, yes of course more wealth and freedom is good, but given the practical problem of this technology's side effects, and that one's, we can't be for more consumption in this place and time... In short, their problem is a desire to focus on the victimary, often as a bad excuse (but sometimes maybe not) for not allowing us to do anything that might have some risks or downsides; theirs is the desire to bring history to a halt, to allow rule by a cult of anti-risk, lest their authority be revealed one day as victimizing. This is a variety of anti-humanism, but I think it doesn't see itself as such but rather as profoundly humanist. Championing the environment is for them a way of insisting on some fundamental human solidarity - on our common cause. And that ultimately is why today's environmentalism is such a powerful religion even as it implies limiting human growth - it is the first truly global religion and we need to respect our opponent accordingly.

On the epistemological question, I would argue that whatever the evils of certain "ecologists", I can imagine an ecology that need not be anti-humanist. Why can't we have an "ecology" that takes our distinctive and unique human freedom as a primary factor for its epistemology? Of course, it would take work to integrate different forces, natural and distinctively human, into a single science, but I fail to see why ecology must be by definition anti-human. Anyway, it would seem that we should prefer the term environmentalism since it implies a human centre, around which environs.


today's green movement is a form of victimary thinking: remembrance of the violence we have ostensibly done to Mother Earth. In its remembering of our victim, it is religious. But just as there was a time (before Athens and Jerusalem) when art and religion were not yet distinguished but experienced as one and the same, perhaps many a green aspires to that more compact, less differentiated world.

To say that pursuit of the unattainable is not a religious idea is itself an interesting religious idea, I think...

Anonymous said...


I think you're right, actually, in saying that my suggestion is close to a religious idea...

I'm not quite sure what it is yet, unfortunately. I think your hearkening back to the Greek/pre-Greek religious era, where art and religion were not distinguished between, is probably close to what I'm aspiring toward.

I think religion has evolved away from that Greek/pre-Greek religious era - although I consider it more of a devolution. Not that I'm putting down the beliefs of other people, I just think that there's so much more to religion than ritual and faith.

When applied to environment, I'm not so sure. I think there is an element of the religious in rabid environmentalism - perhaps environmentalism simply has the ritual/faith based part of religion, without the sort of...sophistication that religion needs to develop in order to move to stage, I guess.

vancityguy said...

Again, you are as out of touch with the pragmatics and realities of energy demand/consumption as any crusading leftist. Sure, call for universal energy consumption. And while you're at it, why not throw in world peace?

All you do, Dag, is present cheap, patronizing platitudes that have no feasible way of application in a pragmatic and economic world. Your impractical ideals hamstring any logical application, your naiveté of the complexities of global economics and demographics overshadow your perception of where a solution may lie, and ultimately you’re far better at pontificating than actually building a bridge. You’re guilty of the same ignorance of the unalienable realities of energy that the death-hippy is.

Ultimately, you and your platitude are impotent. Unless you have a potential way to achieve this universal right of energy consumption of course.

Dag said...

What the fuck are you on about? Don't you comprehend even the simplest things? Go piss off someone else, or sit and think about what you're reading and give some intelligent contribution thereafter.

vancityguy said...

Settle down Dag. I apologize, I wouldn't have been so forward if I'd know you rattle so easily. But I assume that having Jihadists lurking around every corner can make one a little jumpy.

What I'd like is a simple proposition, preacher. You're exceedingly comfortable on a soapbox, I'll give you that. But it's glaringly obvious that you proselytize about issues you have, at best, an embarrassingly weak grasp of. Proclamations and punditry is cheap and requires only an opinion. Productive solutions, or even steps in that direction, actually require brains.
I get your point, I really do Dag. And I’m inclined to agree with your interpretation of the death hippie environmental ethos.

But your point is, excuse the pun, pointless. You call for something as unattainable and fictitious the chance you could quote me February’s futures contract on a barrel of oil off the cusp. You’re out of your depth, and quite frankly, really just creating a lot of white noise when you call for the universal right to energy while lacking even the most elementary grasp on the world of energy consumption itself. I’m sorry Dag, but you’re a hack.

How about this, instead of fusion, anti-gravity, and other energy ideas from Prof. Skywalker, how about you comment on the application of CTL technology (coals to liquids), or the unintended incentives and consequences of a carbon trade market. There’s many sources available, so do yourself a great service and educate yourself.

truepeers said...


There is no room at our blog for people with an obsessive need to rant at one or all of us. Personal attacks add nothing to the discussion and since they take up the time and energy of those who read them they pollute the space and make it harder for everyone to exercise their minds.

Henceforth, please take your dislike of us to heart and don't come back.