Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction - Bret Victor

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Public is only interested in FE technology to the extent that he can immediately profit from it. Otherwise, he goes back to watching his favorite TV show. It took many years of disillusionment for that to finally become clear to me. While this essay and all of my writings are provided for free to humanity and anybody can read them, I intend to only reach a very tiny fraction of humanity with my writings, but that tiny fraction will be sufficient for my plan to succeed. The readers that I seek have a formidable task ahead of them, but nothing less is required for my approach to have any hope of bearing fruit. This essay and my other writings are intended as a course in (also called "big picture") thinking. Studying the details deeply enough to avoid misleading superficial understandings is also a key goal. I am an accountant by profession, but one of the world's leading paleobiologists surprisingly read an early draft of this essay and informed me that it was one of the best efforts that he ever saw on the journey of life on Earth. There was nobody on Earth whose opinion I would have respected more than his, so I do not think that I am asking readers of this essay's first half to humor me. Every sentient being on Earth should know the rudiments of what this essay's first half covers.Perhaps the most damaging deficiency in FE efforts, after self-serving orientation, was that the participants and their supporters were scientifically illiterate and easily led astray by the latest spectacle. Scientific literacy can help prevent most such distractions. While writing this essay, I was not only bombarded with news of the latest FE and alternative energy aspirants' antics, but I had to continually field queries regarding whether Peak Oil and Global Warming were conspiratorial elite hoaxes (or figments of the hyperactive imaginations of environmentalists and other activists), for two examples that readily come to mind. Digesting this essay's material should have those questions answered as mere side-effects. Far from being a hoax or imaginary, Peak Oil was and , and it is all downhill from there, and conventional oil will be almost entirely depleted in my lifetime. , although both were heavily promoted in the USA in 2014. In every paleoclimate study that I have seen, so-called greenhouse gases have always been considered the primary determinant of Earth's surface temperature (after the Sun), and carbon dioxide is chief among them. The radiation-trapping properties of carbon dioxide are not controversial in the slightest among scientists, and after the Sun's influence (which is exceedingly stable), declining carbon dioxide levels are considered to be the conditions that have dominated Earth for the past 35 million years. Humanity's increasing the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content is influencing the cause of Icehouse Earth, and , and are merely proximate causes. Increasing carbon dioxide can turn the global climate from an to a Greenhouse Earth, and the last time that happened, Earth had its . But have purposefully confused the issues, and a scientifically illiterate public and have played along, partly because believing the disinformation seems to relieve us all of any responsibility for our actions. Although scientific literacy can help people become immune to the disinformation and confusion arising from many corners, and reading this essay's first half can help people develop their own defense from such distractions, my goals for this essay's first half are far greater than that.This essay presents a , and nearly half of the events happened during the timeframe covered by this essay's first half, which includes almost the entirety of Earth's history. Humanity's tenure amounts to a tiny sliver of Earth's history, and surveying pre-human events was partly intended to help readers develop a sense of perspective. We are merely Earth's latest tenants. We have unprecedented dominance, but we are quickly destroying Earth's ability to host complex life. As my astronaut colleague openly wondered, is ? Is our path of destruction inevitable, as we plunder one energy resource after another to exhaustion? Will depleting Earth's hydrocarbons be the latest, greatest, and perhaps final instance?Few people on Earth today have much understanding of the relationship between . Most people think that money runs the world, when it is only an accounting fiction. Money by itself is meaningless, and financial measures of economic activity can be highly misleading. I noted long ago that scientists had little respect for . that obscured the role of energy while exalting money. What a coincidence. Understanding this essay's first half will help with comprehending the last half, and the connections between energy, ecosystems, and economics should become clear.Paleobiologists are fascinated with the history of life on Earth, and I share their sense of wonder. If I can impart the slightest sense of that to my readers, this essay's first half will be successful for that alone. However, just as a math curriculum builds on itself, as each class forms the foundation of the next one, this essay's first half is intended to help readers develop a foundational understanding. With that foundation built, the information in this essay's last half can make a profound impact and help readers achieve personal paradigm shifts. That is essentially this essay's purpose. Studying this essay's first half is far from a waste of time for those whom I seek, but is vitally important. Chapter summary:From their through their and in the Eocene, primates continued evolving.

Mr Money, I agree with what you’ve stated, but to some it may sound too simple

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There are , other than for people to get out of the way and stop suppressing FE and its attendant technologies, either consciously, as the , or mindlessly, as when the masses those trying to introduce FE and prevent , or unless there is immediate personal gain for doing so.In the end, is the most meaningful standard of living measure. Declining total available energy and declining EROI contribute to a declining energy surplus. Most people have some understanding of hunger, and if they have experienced blackouts, brownouts, or gas shortages, they have keenly felt the loss of energy. But the decline of industrial civilization has many other signs that comfortable Westerners can have difficulty grasping, and the following examples are intended to make it clearer.As previously stated, shale oil and tar sands have abysmally low EROIs, which are , but are presented today as some kind of magic answer to the USA's energy problems (in 2015, the oil price collapse was caused by the easy money policies of the central banks, and ). But, what does that mean, as far as what a person could witness in such a declining civilization? The impact of Canada's tar sands operations can provide a preview. Not only do Canada's tar sands operations (Source: Wikimedia Commons – google "tar sands Mordor" and view the image results):but the pollution will inflict an awesome price on Canada, as the tar sands region becomes a "national sacrifice zone." That low EROI reflects highly detrimental impacts. A huge proportion of Canada's natural gas supply will be needed for , and multi-billion-dollar pipelines and other infrastructure projects are proceeding (but delayed in 2015). Beleaguered Canadian Native American nations are overwhelmed by the industrial initiatives, which are . I heard from local friends in the summer of 2014 that the projected pipeline to the nearby waters of British Columbia will present great environmental risk, and the only question is not disastrous oil spills will happen, but , , and they will be. One of Earth's most diverse aquatic ecosystems will be put at risk (Puget Sound is in second place, next to the Great Barrier Reef).The energy disasters may only be previews of future events. The USA's invasion of Iraq and its military presence in the Middle East is all about controlling Earth's remaining high-EROI oil. . Ever since the , the West has been invading and meddling in the oil-rich Middle East.The irony of all this is that and humanity does not have to head down this path where conventional energy prices continue to increase as we deplete the last remaining resources. The choice is really ours; do we continue down this path of declining living standards for the majority of humanity or move into a world of energy abundance for all on Earth? Some of us have been trying to rectify the situation, which is the next chapter's subject. Chapter summary:In this essay’s , I reviewed my journey and touched on Dennis Lee’s, who was my partner during my days of pursuing FE, and that chapter also mentioned amazing explorations. This chapter will dig a little deeper into our experiences. Our odysseys into alternative and free energy all began at about the same time: in 1973-1974, during the , which ended the . Mine started when my first professional mentor invented what was hailed as the , which he invented in about 1968 and began to patent just before the crisis, and it . During that furor, I , spent absorbing its art and culture, and began . Dennis is 12 years older than I am, and as I dreamed of changing the energy industry, he had his in the energy crisis's mayhem. Brian began his alternative energy pursuit around the same time, as he engaged in activism and .

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But science is always subject to becoming dogmatic and hypotheses can prevail for reasons of wealth, power, rhetorical skill, and the like, not because they are valid. The history of science is plagued with that phenomenon, and probably will be as long as humanity lives in the era of scarcity.As will become a familiar theme in this essay, the rise and fall of species and ecosystems is always primarily an energy issue. The Ediacaran extinction is a good example: Ediacaran fauna either an energy source for early Cambrian predators, ran out of food energy, ran out of the oxygen necessary to power their metabolisms, or lacked some other energy-delivered nutrient. After the extinction events, biomes were often cleared for new species to dominate, which were often descended from species that were marginal ecosystem members before the extinction event. They then enjoyed a of relative energy abundance as their competitors were removed via the extinction event. For this essay’s purposes, the most important ecological understanding is that the Sun provides all of earthly life’s energy, either (all except nuclear-powered electric lights driving photosynthesis in greenhouses, as that energy came from dead stars). Today’s hydrocarbon energy that powers our industrial world comes from captured sunlight. Exciting electrons with photon energy, then stripping off electrons and protons and using their electric potential to power biochemical reactions, is what makes Earth’s ecosystems possible. Too little energy, and reactions will not happen (such as ice ages, enzyme poisoning, the darkness of night, food shortages, and lack of key nutrients that support biological reactions), and too much (such as , ionizing radiation, temperatures too high for enzyme activity), and life is damaged or destroyed. The journey of life on Earth has primarily been about adapting to varying energy conditions and finding levels where life can survive. For the many hypotheses about those ancient events and what really happened, the answers are always primarily in energy terms, such as how it was obtained, how it was preserved, and how it was used. For life scientists, that is always the framework, and they devote themselves to discovering how the energy game was played.

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