Does Future Asteroid Mining Risk an Extinction Event?


Corporations are discussing asteroid mining again.  You may not have noticed, but last November President Obama signed a law establishing mineral rights for asteroid mining.  It seems inevitable that, as human population continues to explode, demand for raw materials will explode with it, driving corporations and nations to search space – first the moon and then the asteroid belt – for additional resources.  This suggests a scenario that, due to human mistakes or terrorist action, could create an extinction event that could wipe out all or most life on the planet, similar to the event that “did in” the dinosaurs and almost all life on the planet.  So how could such a disaster could occur? Continue reading

Autonomous Vehicles May Pave the Way to the Revolt of the Machines


Autonomous vehicles may not achieve their expansive claims and may never share the roads with humans – humans are just too complicated and unpredictable – but that hasn’t stopped anyone from working on the technology, and the concept may already work well when only autonomous vehicles are on the road.  There is a hidden risk, however, that in developing autonomous vehicles, engineers and scientists will make them TOO smart, and at some point computers will suddenly become self-aware and decide they know what’s good for them better than humans do.  Some futurists refer to this as “the Singularity”, but I like to call it the “revolt of the machines.”  Needless to say, we are so dependent on computers today that even a partial loss of internet service could cause problems.  A concerted attack via software could cause major disruption in shipping systems and, as an result, delayed deliveries of food, raw materials, and finished products.  So why is computer self-awareness a problem, and how does it threaten humanity? Continue reading

Review of a Few Solar/Wind Cost Calculators (U.S.)


Solar cost calculators have proliferated on the web in recent years, and here are my reviews of some of the top results in a Google search for them.

http://www.solar-estimate.org/?page=rightforme

This is a decent model with time-to-payback and easily adjustable assumptions.

http://www.wholesalesolar.com/solar-information/start-here/gridtie-calculator

This is not as good a model as the last one, and apparently designed mostly for choosing system size.

http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/solar.html

This is a good model but more complicated and industry-specialized.  It has lots more detailed information attached, though.

http://www.affordable-solar.com/solar-tools/residential-solar-calculator/

This is a good, simple residential system-size calculator.

http://pvwatts.nrel.gov/

This calculator appears pretty comprehensive but is not easy to read.

http://sroeco.com/solar/calculate-solar-cost/what_size_solar_system_do_i_need/

I’m suspicious of some of the results of this calculator, as they differed significantly from the others.  The calculator seems quite comprehensive but is complicated and not easy to read, and maybe I wasn’t using it correctly.

http://solarsimplified.org/solar-resources/calculate-your-solar-savings

This calculator is pretty simple and easy to use.  Answers may vary from those given by other models.

The first calculator I listed may be the best, but try several and you can find the one that answers your specific questions best.

Overview of Rooftop Solar in the United States

It appears that rooftop solar power cost has now fallen below a break-even of 18 years or so, depending on the details, which finally makes a 25+ year system lifespan attractive.  The costs are will continue to drop, though, and solar (and wind, and other renewable energy sources) will only become more attractive and economical.

Converting voluntarily to renewable energy sources will keep fossil fuel costs low as demand will be limited, and while that actually decreases justification for renewable energy, it is a boon to consumers who rely on fossil or mixed fossil and renewable energy sources.  People around the world today seem more and more conscious of the need to stop using fossil fuels and to reduce carbon dioxide and other types of air pollution, and this is driving a strong upward movement in the market for renewables.  It is clear that producing solar panels generates far less carbon emissions than they will save, contrary to some rumors, and it is heartening to see people embracing renewable energy sources more and more.

While the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources will mitigate the ecological and economic problems caused by overpopulation, it will not eliminate them.  Renewable energy buys time for us to figure out how to live in ways more friendly to the planet, but the population and birthrate must inevitably decline (or be voluntarily reduced by humans).  Otherwise, if the global population continues to increase, the production of solar panels and other renewable energy equipment may enable the population to reach even higher levels before some key resource starts to be exhausted and the planet reveals how many people it can actually support.  Note that the number may be billions lower than the number the planet supports now, though.

Please talk about the overpopulation problem with anyone who will listen.  It has critical ramifications as a causal factor for practically every single problem humanity faces.  We each need to contact our political representatives, ask them for their views on overpopulation, and make it clear that reducing birthrate and figuring out how humanity can survive the next century is far-and-away the most important topic for discussion today.  Our grandchildren will live or die young depending on what we do today.

Thanks for reading — Tim.

Worst Disaster of 2015 Was Missed by Many


The news media report many problems and disasters, but they can miss much.  Dr. Jeff Masters Wunderblog for October 13, 2015, brought to my attention a disaster worse than any others I’ve seen this year, in which smoke from forest clearing fires in Indonesia has covered an area thousands of miles across and is causing the premature deaths of thousands of people.  This is made worse by a developing El Nino weather pattern that is increasingly keeping parts of the tropics much hotter and drier than usual.  This is clearly a huge problem, but what interests me most is what it suggests about the next century as the population explosion “detonates”.  The climate changes we’ve seen so far have been worrisome, but I’m more worried about what will happen as the planet warms, the population grows, and the weather changes still more.  Continue reading

Will the Internet Be the Key to Defusing the Population Bomb?


Information and education are the keys to making lasting changes in human behavior, and the most powerful information tool in history is the internet.  Initially access was available to those who could afford it, leaving much of the world in the figurative dark.  Around the world, however, people are extending access to others who couldn’t previously afford it.  One interesting way this is being done is by promoting the construction of high-speed data networks using a free book on how to set up and maintain high-speed data networks  called “Wireless Networking in the Developing World“.  Efforts like this, by leveraging the power of the internet, will increase education and establish a consciousness of global  affairs that will hopefully lead people everywhere to regulate their own birth rates.  With luck that will help lower the peak of the population explosion and ease the transition to a sustainable world economy.  Much more than this needs to be done, of course, but this is a critical movement to which we all should contribute, and it should give us all hope.

Thanks for reading.  — Tim

Remembering the Monarch Butterfly Migration


Yesterday as I walked outside the building where I work, a single monarch butterfly was working its way up wind across the parking lot, heading South.  The day before in the afternoon a single monarch butterfly was working its way south, slowly flapping up and over my house, also headed south.  Was it always like this? ( It was not!) Continue reading

Failure of Antibiotics May Complicate the Population Explosion


Once upon a time you went to the hospital when you had a medical problem, and medical professionals used the means at their disposal: antibiotics, surgery, and other medical tools, to make you better.  Then antibiotics became almost a standard part of being in a hospital, used to protect the patient from the bad germs others had brought.  The germs who were better able to survive did exactly that, they survived.  After many generations had passed there were bacteria in the population almost impervious to the antibiotic.  Meanwhile stronger antibiotics were being developed, including broad spectrum antibiotics that kill most of the types of bacteria in the body, but this only opened the door for the bad bacteria to infect the patient and make them sick, possibly sicker than they were when they sought medical attention in the first place.

Today this problem is becoming increasingly common.  The usual scenario is that  someone goes to the hospital, is given antibiotics, picks up a resistant bacteria strain such as clostridium difficile (also known as C. Dif), and goes home with digestive problems that are nasty, extremely difficult to cure, and could cause the patient problems for life.  The patient could wind up much worse off than if they had not gone to the hospital at all.  Even worse, with enough exposure and coincident with an episode of taking antibiotics for some other problem, the patient’s family members could acquire C. Dif and have gastrointestinal problems of their own.  The result: C. Dif spreads through the population, already resistant to most antibiotics, until most people have it.  Then the economic effects start to become quietly evident: sick time at large and small employers begins to climb. Eventually the GDP could be negatively impacted.