We as a people are transitioning into a fundamentally different society than previous era’s of humanity. This multi-faceted transition is based on new capabilities given us by the new technologies bursting every day into our lives. The key transition making everything else possible, is the shift from burning stuff to get light & heat & motion to using electricity.
To me the old pattern is like stone age cave people, banging rocks together to make sparks to light the fire that keeps the bears away at night. We are still doing the same today, thousands of years later, using sparks in objects like gas furnaces or gasoline powered cars to set things on fire to give us light, heat and motion. The new pattern is different. Instead of burning stuff, we flip a switch, energy flows through wires, and voila light, heat or motion happens.
Driving an electric car, turning on an electric light, cooking on an electric stove, ironing clothes with an electric iron, etc, are all accomplishable without (directly) burning anything. There’s no exhaust pipe out any of those objects, because nothing is burned (at the point of use). You can’t say that with the previous generation of technology, where cars have exhaust pipes, light comes from burning candles or kerosene, food was cooked on a gas or wood burning stove, and the first step to ironing clothes was heating an iron on a fire. Where tailpipes and smoke stacks once were everywhere, they’re becoming a thing of the past.
To burn, or not to burn, that is the question of our age.
Burning things to get light & heat & motion is, in essence, little different from banging rocks to make sparks to light a fire.
It doesn’t matter how technologically advanced and fuel efficient a gasoline or diesel engine is – you’re still making sparks to make fire to make something move.
The fossil fuel companies want us to continue burning things to run our society. That’s how they make their money, after all, They extract burnable stuff, selling it to us in a form convenient for burning, which we use run machines that supposedly simplify life. But new technologies beckon that let us run the machines without burning stuff. The tech is all electrical, and often has computers buried inside. It’s becoming possible now to completely switch from the cave man paradigm (burning stuff) to the new energy technology paradigm. The new energy technology companies face an enormous headwind of resistance generated by the entrenched power of the fossil fuel companies.
The fossil fuel companies want to, metaphorically speaking, keep us in the stone age.
Instead of using the physics of heat, electrical systems use the physics of electromagnetism. An electric motor operates not on heat and the expansion of hot gasses, but by the opposition of electromagnetic fields. There’s no sparks, no heat, just electromagnet fields pushing at each other, with nothing directly consumed in the process. Soon there may even be lots of gizmos using the physics of the quantum field, as the high efficiency LED lightbulbs do. Who says we have to burn things to make things happen? Oh yeah, the fossil fuel companies.
Instead of burning stuff to run machines, in the new paradigm we harness pure energy to make machines run.
The difference between gasoline powered and electric cars give us another useful distinction: The consumption of fuel. In gasoline or diesel cars, energy is stored in the fuel, that energy coming from sunshine millions of years ago which gave life to ancient plants and animals, whose bodies were sequestered by the planet eventually forming hydrocarbon deposits. Fossil fuel companies de-sequester that stuff, refining it into burnable products like vehicle fuel. Fuel is burned in an engine, releasing the stored energy, causing the wheels to turn, and toxic exhaust gasses spew out the tailpipe. In an electric car, energy is stored electrochemically in a battery, released on command of the car driver, and in the electric motor electromagnetic fields cause the drive shaft and wheels to spin. Nothing is burned or otherwise consumed on the vehicle. Instead, the battery changes its electrochemical state, a state that’s restored when the battery is recharged.
Unfortunately there is a little flaw in the perfection of this story. Where does the electricity come from?
While we are doing fabulous things with electrically powered gizmos, and those gizmos don’t themselves have tailpipes, that doesn’t mean fossil fuels aren’t being burned and that there’s no tailpipe. The tailpipe is over at the power plant. We have a little fiction going on where, at the point of use (say, a cell phone) there’s no tailpipe in sight. The debate over this focuses on electric cars, but it’s a problem for the electrification of all things.
No matter how many studies show electric cars run on electricity generated from coal are cleaner than gasoline powered cars, coal-sourced electricity still keeps our society in the stone age mindset. We’re making sparks to burn ancient hydrocarbons (fossil fuels) to generate the electricity that moves electric cars.
Our electric shaver, or electric computer, or electric hot water heater, or electric refrigerator, or electric car, there’s no tailpipe on any of them. We can ignore the smokestack over at the power plant, see there’s no tailpipe on the electric gizmo, and feel like the gizmo is clean and wonderful. But that’s a sham. Around the world the majority of electricity comes from coal fired power plants, with natural gas plants being proposed as the cleaner alternative. Both are based on the old stone age paradigm of burning stuff to get light, heat or motion.
We can only escape the stone age mindset when the entirety of our society runs on the new energy paradigm. Instead of burning things to extract energy stored millions of years ago, instead of living in the stone age energy mindset, we can and should base our society solely on the modern age energy mindset. The principles of electromagnetism and quantum physics should be our focus, not heat and the expansion of gasses.
There are approximately two reasons why we need to escape the stone age paradigm. a) Peak Oil, b) Climate Change (and other environmental harms). Together those spell out a calamitous future for humanity.
Burning the hydrocarbons stored by the planet depletes their quantity, and we’re already beyond the point where the majority of “easy oil” has been found and extracted. What’s left is the difficult stuff, that has to be fracked or other noxious and expensive processes. Oil and other hydrocarbon products are only going to get more expensive, making it tougher and tougher to keep modern society functioning. Add on top of that the effects of climate change – more frequent extreme storms, deepening drought conditions, and other weather events causing huge costs to society. Add on top of that, the various ecological and food system calamities such as the looming complete die-off of the oceans – the source of much of humanity’s diet – and we can expect widespread famine because it will be impossible to grow enough food.
A big cause for those problems is the stone age mentality of burning stuff (hydrocarbons) to get light, heat and motion.
We’re already deep into the transition into the new energy paradigm. Electrically driven gizmos are completely a part of modern life, with a few big exceptions, one of those being our cars, motorcycles, buses, and trucks. Electrifying the transportation system will be a big step toward completing the shift to the new energy paradigm.
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