Brian O’Leary began his alternative energy career promoting traditional alternatives, and the plan that he developed for American looked . In his last years, Brian called traditional alternatives too little and too late to solve our energy problems. Although the organized suppression inflicted on technologies are partly why there is not much alternative energy technology on the market, their low EROI and low available energy are leading reasons why those traditional alternative energy sources are not viable replacements for hydrocarbon energy, which in 2014 amounts to . Nearly 40 years after Jimmy declared the moral equivalent of war on energy, traditional alternative energy still amounts to less than 1% of American energy production. dwarfs all alternative and mainstream energy sources, with available energy and EROIs that go off the scale.
Almost all traditional alternative energy sources and related technologies have low EROIs (direct solar 2-to-8, wind turbines 18, geothermal less than 5). Those alternative sources all have the same problems that wind and water power had before the Industrial Revolution and more, such as , not much energy is available to begin with, and they all create environmental impacts that, although not as great as fossil and nuclear fuels, are still considerable. Wind turbines not only kill vast numbers of birds each year, but they are noisy and create inland turbulence. In order to replace fossil fuels, there would need to be about four hundred times as many windmills on Earth as there already are, and I have driven through several windmill farms in the USA, which are spread across many miles of suitable terrain. In order to raise humanity to the American standard of living, there would need to be far more than a thousand times as many windmills. There may not be enough suitable land on Earth to host those windmills, and windmills are considered the most viable traditional alternative. Direct solar, including photovoltaics, makes the most sense in deserts. It does not deliver much energy, but it is considered the next most viable alternative, and there would have to be about four thousand times as many photovoltaic arrays as already exist to raise the world to the American standard of living. Again, finding the land to host them is a problem, and the materials need to be mined. There are maintenance issues and other problems. Rock is not a good conductor, so heat is rapidly depleted from the geothermal source and it quickly goes “dry,” and has to go “fallow” to recover.
As Adam Smith’s invisible hand, fear, became an of classical economics, neoclassical economists greed in their curves. Greed and fear are thereby foundational principles in today’s economic theory, and as a salubrious and critical aspect of capitalism. How can an ideology that elevates, even celebrates, greed and fear be considered beneficial? The obsession with prices and money has also promoted an egocentric view of economic reality. Whenever people think of economics today, they generally only think in terms of money, as that is the medium of exchange by which individuals currently acquire the food, goods, and services that make their modern lives possible. Consequently, the real economy, which runs on matter and energy, not money, becomes demoted and even ignored while the magic of markets and money are worshipped. The financial economy is not real, but is an elaborate accounting fiction subject to . Theorists such as Marx put money in its proper place, as only accounting. Money-based economics is egocentric, in which the focus is on money and greed and everybody’s primary question is “What is in it for me?” That view is also disconnected from the real world.
Many assumptions of neoclassical economics have been convincingly falsified by the physical, biological, and social sciences. Some of those assumptions are that people are independently minded rational actors who do not look to what others do (i.e., humans are not herd animals), that the economy can be divorced from the ecosystem that supports it, that money can substitute for , and that economic production can be described without referencing physical work. Neoclassical economics ignores the fact that entropy saps the efficiency of any system, economic or otherwise. Unlike a genuine science, almost no branches of today’s economics, particularly neoclassical economics, base their theories on hypotheses that can be tested and . Today’s mainstream economics resembles a faith more than a science.
as Venus and Mars did, which saved all life on Earth. An atmosphere of as little as two percent oxygen may have been adequate to form the ozone layer, and that level was likely first attained during the first GOE. The ozone layer absorbs most of . Ultraviolet light carries more energy than visible light and breaks covalent and other bonds and , particularly to DNA and RNA. Before the ozone layer formed, life would have had a challenging time surviving near the ocean’s surface. Ultraviolet light damage presented a formidable evolutionary hurdle, and proteins and enzymes that assist cellular division . Life has adapted to many hostile conditions in Earth’s past, but if conditions change too rapidly, life cannot adapt in time to survive. that dot Earth’s past were probably the result of conditions changing too rapidly for most organisms to adapt, if they could have adapted at all. During the , which was the greatest extinction event yet known, there is evidence that the ozone layer was depleted and . From the formation of to mass extinction events, ultraviolet light has played a role.
Around the end of that , another unique event transpired with enormous portent for life’s journey on Earth: one microbe enveloped another, and both lived. Today's prevailing hypothesis is that an archaean enveloped a bacterium, either by predation or colonization, and they entered into a . Today’s leading hypothesis, , is that the archaean consumed hydrogen and the bacterium produced hydrogen, which formed the basis for their symbiosis. That unique event transpired around two bya and led to complex life on Earth. That enveloped bacterium was the parent of all on Earth today, which are the primary energy-generation centers in all animals. About 10% of the human body’s weight is mitochondria. If not for the red of and the in skin, humans would look purple, which is the mitochondria’s color. That purple color is probably because the original enveloped bacterium that led to the first mitochondrion was .
The high oxygen levels may have turned pyrite on the continents into acid, which increased erosion, flooded essential nutrients, particularly phosphorus, into the oceans, and would have facilitated a huge bloom in the oceans. But this also happened in the midst of Earth's first ice age, so increased glacial erosion may have been primarily responsible, as we will see with a . The two largest carbon-isotope excursions () in Earth's history are related to ice ages. The first was a positive excursion (more carbon-13 than expected), and the second was negative. Scientists are still trying to determine what caused them. Beginning a little less than 2.3 bya and lasting for more than 200 million years is the Lomagundi excursion, in which there was great carbon burial. When the Lomagundi excursion finished, oxygen levels seem to have crashed back down to almost nothing and may have stayed that way for 200 million years, before rebounding to a few percent, at most, of Earth's atmosphere, and it stayed around that low level for more than a billion years.
are limited in size because their energy production only takes place at their cellular membranes. In ecosystems, the race usually goes to the quick, and it is very true with bacteria, as the smallest bacteria are faster and “win” the race of survival. Mitochondria increase the membrane surface area for ATP reactions to take place, which allowed cells to grow in size. The average eukaryotic cell has more than 10 thousand times the mass of the average prokaryotic cell, and the largest eukaryotic cells have hundreds of thousands of times the mass (or around a trillion times for ostrich eggs, for instance, which exist as single-cells when formed). Where an organism has the greatest energy needs, such as in muscle and nerve cells, the greatest numbers of mitochondria are found. In a typical animal cell, dotted with hundreds of mitochondria, a single mitochondrion is the size of the prokaryote that became the mitochondrion, and is representative of prokaryote size in general. That increased surface area to generate ATP allowed eukaryotic cells to grow large and complex. There are quintillions (a million trillion) of those in a human body, spinning at up to hundreds of revolutions per second, generating ATP molecules.
It can help to think of mitochondria as “distributed” energy generation centers in eukaryotes, versus the “perimeter” energy generation in prokaryotes. The new mode of energy production presented various challenges, but it allowed life to become large and complex. Size is important, at the cellular level as well as the organism level. Below is a diagram of a typical plant cell. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The primary advantage that mitochondria provided was not only increased surface area for reactions, but unlike other organelles that began as bacteria (such as ), mitochondria retained some of their DNA. That DNA was probably retained by mitochondria that could make key proteins vital to their functioning on the spot, instead of waiting for the nucleus to send DNA “instructions.” Essentially, mitochondria provided flexible power generation, like a field commander empowered to make decisions far from headquarters and quickly responding to conditions on the ground. Mitochondria move around inside the cells and provide energy where it is needed. That flexibility of decentralized power generation may be the mitochondrion’s chief contribution to making complex life possible, and that in turn led to many changes that are characteristic of complex life, some of which follow.
Perhaps a few hundred million years after the first mitochondrion appeared, as the oceanic oxygen content, at least on the surface, increased as a result of oxygenic photosynthesis, those complex cells learned to use oxygen instead of hydrogen. It is difficult to overstate the importance of learning to use oxygen in respiration, called . Before the appearance of aerobic respiration, life generated energy via and . Because oxygen , aerobic respiration generates, on average, about per cycle as fermentation and anaerobic respiration do (although some types of anaerobic respiration can get ). The suite of complex life on Earth today would not have been possible without the energy provided by oxygenic respiration. At minimum, nothing could have flown, and any animal life that might have evolved would have never left the oceans because the atmosphere would not have been breathable. With the advent of aerobic respiration, became possible, as it is several times as efficient as anaerobic respiration and fermentation (about 40% as compared to less than 10%). Today’s food chains of several levels would be constrained to about two in the absence of oxygen. Some scientists have and oxygen and respiration in eukaryote evolution. is controversial.