24 responses

  1. Thornton Parker
    September 3, 2013

    Michael, this is a good analysis,to which I would like to add a point.

    Your first assumption was that there will be no revolutionary technological innovations. But the picture may be brighter. The University of Missouri Sidney Kimmel Institute for Nuclear Renaissance is one of the centers around the world that is working to develop what is called Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) which is sometimes called “cold fusion”.

    A number of techniques are being experimented with and developed to convert ordinary materials into large sources of clean energy. One is to combine ordinary Hydrogen with finely powdered Nickel, a catalyst, and high frequency electronic bombardment to produce large amounts of heat with no radiation or radioactive waste.

    As with MMT, there is a great deal of controversy about this work, but the evidence appears to point to new types of nuclear reactions that are not yet understood, but which do produce large amounts of energy at very low cost. There are claims that such systems are in use on a test basis today, but process control seems to be a significant problem. If they come on stream in the next few years, much that we now think we know about the energy situation can be changed.

    I think that developments in this field parallel, and may be even more important than MMT. One can be introduced to a whole new world of ideas by Googling “LENR”.


    • Dale
      September 3, 2013

      You’re confused on at least one point.

      If the nickel is a catalyst and the hydrogen is “ordinary” and, presumably, is fusing into helium, then you cannot get stable outputs. That would require the use of deuterium and tritium–“heavy hydrogen” not “ordinary hydrogen”–or the proton-proton chain reaction (how stars work) but that’s definitely not happening.

      On the other hand, maybe you’re talking about the e-cat, and the claim there is that the hydrogen and nickel are fusing into copper (i.e., the nickel is not a catalyst) but that reaction would also result in unstable outputs. In other words, the e-cat is a fraud.

      A final possibility, there is work on using nickel as a catalyst for fuel cells, but fuel cells aren’t an energy production process; they consume energy, in order to make hydrogen, which is used to transport energy.

      My guess is the first: you’re talking about deuterium-tritium reactions, not “ordinary” hydrogen.

      • Thornton Parker
        September 3, 2013

        As I understand them, both the Rossi’s e-cat and the Defkalion Hyperion use ordinary hydrogen and nickel plus a catalyst that is a secret. They may be frauds, but I don’t know enough to write them off as such.

    • Michael Hoexter
      September 3, 2013

      As Dale’s comment suggests, I think you have fallen into the trap of technological utopianism…the shaky scientific basis of the technology for which you are advocating makes your position difficult to defend. Technological breakthroughs do happen…but I don’t want the future of the planet depending on them…and neither should you…

      • Thornton Parker
        September 4, 2013

        Michael, if you re-read my comment, you will see that I did not suggest relying on these developments, which may or may not happen. But having worked in technological fields for some years, I feel strongly that it would be a mistake not to try to keep abreast of what is going on and look for ways to fit new technologies into our ideas of how the future might work out.

        I am aware of some of the controversies surrounding the new approaches, but there are also reasons to suspect that some of the critics have vested interests in seeing them not developed. It is too early for me to tell, but there seem to be forces like the funded climate change cynics at work in this field too.

        Keep in mind that the University of Missouri, Kansas City is certainly a focal center for MMT, with which many disagree. The University has also become a focal center for objective information about the infant LENR field including hosting a conference and building an information repository. I urge you to Google “University of Missouri, LENR” and see if the sites that come up give the appearance of fraud or “junk science”.


  2. John C
    September 3, 2013

    All approaches to achieving environmentally sustainable living should be considered socially acceptable in a free and democratic society. Subsidizing any rational efforts that employ the unemployed or underemployed in ways that move us toward the zero carbon goal would be a wise strategy. More real resources should be made available for these types of effort.

    As we pursue such a path, we should be wary of the so called “disaster capitalism”, which operates counter to the goal just described, by merely endeavoring to profit from the problems of climate change, and environmental degradation themselves, with no incentive to remedy the problem itself.

  3. Dale
    September 3, 2013

    Your point 8 should include the largest agricultural use of fossil fuels: the production of fertilizer from natural gas.

    • Michael Hoexter
      September 3, 2013

      Excellent point! Will amend in future versions…

  4. Dale Pierce
    September 4, 2013


    I’m glad to see this article. It begins to situate the MMT movement within the wider frame of our multi-faceted civilizational crisis. I spend my energies on MMT because it takes on the basic fallacy of neo-liberal political economy and just crushes it. Once we know that money is a social construct we can never “run out of”, we are freed to ask and answer the big questions about real-resource use and sustainable human systems. I wouldn’t worry too much about the technical details. There are plenty of ways to get to carbon-free, and we will probably use all of them once we get to a political regime that lets us try.

    You mention one of my favorite technologies in passing – the Thorium reactor. From what I’ve read, this molten-salt breeder technology could easily power the whole world, or many worlds, if deployed on a sufficient scale. In addition to electricity, it could be used to produce carbon-free synfuels and also ammonia for fertilizers – no more need for nat-gas reforming. At the same time, certain versions of it can be set to work digesting all of the nuclear waste and old warheads left over from the first nuclear era. By starting lower down on the atomic-weight scale, Thorium reactors could consume the heavyweight contaminants like Plutonium and Neptunium by neutron bombardment, while continuously breeding fissile U-233 at the same time. Liquid fluoride reactors would produce less than 1/100th as much “long-lived” waste, and “long”, in this case, would mean about 300 years – not 20,000 years. Oh, and they run at a high enough temperature to make useful process-heat as a by-product. The obvious use would be industrial-scale, carbon-free water desalinization.

    But there are plenty of other ways to get there, if nuclear, in any form, is just too scary to people.

    One approach might be to site these Thorium plants remotely and pipe the ammonia and synfuels to wherever they are needed. Does anyone really mind if there are nuke plants on remote, geologically inert islands, or in the low-populaton areas of Wyoming and Idaho? And these salt reactors truly would be immune to melt-downs and, literally, walk-away safe. Google “Kirk Sorenson” for details. And if the worst happens, and we have that “die-off” anyway, technologies like these might help some version of civilization hang on – until our descendants can re-terraform the poor old Earth some day.

    • RobertM
      September 4, 2013

      The sooner we move to thorium, the faster we’ll get to electrifying transportation. China is already investing heavily in making this a reality so it looks like we’ll be buying out LFTRs from them.

  5. SteveK9
    September 4, 2013

    It’s a shame you are wasting all this effort. The answer is nuclear power. It can supply virtually unlimited energy with tiny environmental impact. Wind/Solar are just an invitation to keep burning fossil fuels. Their intermittent, unreliable nature means that without astronomically expensive energy-storage they can never power an advanced industrial civilization. Nuclear power technology exists now, it requires no whiz-bang inventions. Deep-burn technologies need to be developed, but these are engineering, not physics problems.

    If you want to find an example of what is possible, look at France. In 25 years France eliminated the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation. And, that was done in the 1970’s and 1980’s. France now has the cleanest air in Europe and the lowest electricity costs.

    I am familiar with all the objections to nuclear and could answer them one by one, but I urge you to do some reading, and learn something. There are plenty of sources.

    Sometimes I feel like a lonely voice pointing out the obvious, … sound familiar? MMT anyone?

    • Michael Hoexter
      September 5, 2013

      Actually Steve, most MMTers are interested in full employment as part of the goal of using the power of the sovereign currency issuer. If, and this is a very big if, new, cleaner nuclear power is such a snap, it would not necessarily provide full employment. The work of the Pedal to the Metal plan are things that “should be done anyway” for multiple reasons (full employment, skills acquisition, building quality, building common spaces that enable social interaction, passive surviveability, resiliency) and have side benefits to them that simply, as is the vision of nuclear advocates such as yourself, switching from large central station fossil plants to large central station nuclear plants, does not provide.

      I find it curious though, that advocates of nuclear such as yourself spend more time attacking renewable energy and energy efficiency than attacking fossil fuels and the fossil fuel industry. I am presenting a plan that leaves space for the growth of better nuclear technologies, yet your approach to it is hostile and dismissive. I find it curious that you are not directing some of that hostility at the main industries that are driving global warming. I wonder if I’m being too generous in even mentioning newer nuclear technologies, given that they are still in their infancy and may have a long development curve to commercial use. Also that my mentioning it brings in people such as yourself full of arrogance but short on empirical data about the safety and reliability of your favored technologies. I’m saying here, with the building of prototypes, let’s create those data.

  6. SteveK9
    September 4, 2013

    Probably the best way for environmentalists (I am one) to have their eyes opened on nuclear power is Robert Stone’s award-winning film ‘Pandora’s Promise’.

  7. William Cutler
    September 6, 2013

    Just skimmed the article, find the Pedal to the Metal plan quite appealing. Question whether it is wise at this early state to be choosing technology winners and losers. Better to state the envelope parameters to be achieved at the outcome and let the technology sort itself out. I’m wondering why I’m seeing nothing in this kind of discussion about Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). The technology is ready for scale-up, the resource is vast, there are some problems with energy delivery from remote ocean plants and with possible ocean environment impacts. Also what about technology for removing CO2 from the atmosphere?

    I’m disappointed in the comments. Commit the common sins of “plunging” and “lunging”. Plunging down into details while ignoring the big picture. Lunging at fixed-point solutions without setting up a search-and-evaluation methodology to find the better answer.

    • Michael Hoexter
      September 6, 2013

      In an earlier post:
      I lay out the case for specifying technologies… the gist of it is that in the critical area of infrastructure we have most of the solutions, and we need to design and build rather than go through a lengthy process of figuring out which technologies are going to work. In a debate dominated by carbon pricing and the language that attends it, the idea that we can sit back and just specify what the technology is going to do for us is “in the air”. But we just don’t have the time to go down that leisurely and not necessarily productive path.

  8. BruceMcF
    September 16, 2013

    I’ve got an essay at Voices on the Square that looks at one particular piece of a Pedal to the Metal Climate Change policy package for transportation: Sunday Train: Rapid Rail and Pedal to the Metal Climate Change Policy (part 1). Its also cross-posted to dkos.

  9. Mark Stout
    September 26, 2013

    I like the surface transportation goals. Most of this technology is in place or reachable. My thoughts are at http://bit.ly/1dM2Yhn

  10. Garlynn
    November 14, 2013

    On point 8, it seems like you’re missing organic agriculture as a solution. Conventional agriculture, in addition to using equipment powered by fossil fuels, uses agricultural inputs (pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers) produced from fossil fuel inputs. Organic agriculture, on the other hand, uses inputs made from renewable inputs as much as possible.

  11. wili
    December 31, 2013

    These parts:
    Build high speed rail, electrified express rail or equivalently rapid electrified public transit between major cities to replace much short and middle distance air travel.
    Shift high traffic public transportation routes to electrified commuter rail, light rail, subway, elevated rail, trolleybus, street car or electric bus.
    Build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in multifamily, single family residences, office parking facilities and public streets
    Build rapid charge, roadway charging, and/or battery swap infrastructure to facilitate electric vehicle travel over middle and longer distances.
    Increase electrical energy storage performance by a factor of 2 per decade
    Facilitate transition from self-driven to programmable computer driven autonomous vehicles (increasing capacity of existing road infrastructure and reducing emissions)

    Could be largely avoided by a vigorous implementation of your 4)5 element–avoiding most travel most of the time…

    Really, the big thing you miss is that in general we should just be doing a whole lot less of almost everything most of us are doing. As you point out, a whole lot less flying, but also a lot less driving, buying, meat/dairy eating, long distance travel of any kind, procreating, looking at screens (oops!)…

    We should be doing a hell of a lot more of things that mostly don’t show up on cash economy account books: talking, singing, dancing, gardening, meditating, loving (mostly non-reproductively), healing, learning, being, breathing, listening, feeling, being better neighbors/friends/sisters/brothers/partners…, picking up after ourselves, not making too big of messes in the first place…

    Really, most things that require or create cash should be avoided and most non-harmful things that don’t require cash should be indulged.

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