Sunday, October 29, 2023

The miniaturization of death: How technology has tipped the balance away from state power

Miniaturization is a signal advance in modern electronics. The slogan has been "smaller, faster, cheaper, better." That has been the case for consumer electronics for decades. But parallel to the seeming benefits are dangers associated with packing ever more destructive power into smaller packages and simpler processes—not all of them electronic in nature.

One of the principles of government and society is the monopoly on force enjoyed by the government. In the abstract, members of society give up the right to use force against one another and agree to live by a set of rules enforced by the government. Law courts become a substitute for internecine warfare and gang violence in resolving disputes. Police become the enforcers of public order. But, in truth, it is the agreement among members of society to abide not only by laws and rules, but also by long-observed customs that facilitates peaceful coexistence which has the most importance.

In reality, the state has never had a complete monopoly on the use of force. There have always been groups or individuals who have challenged that monopoly for various reasons such as the commission of crimes, the resistance to government mandates, the overthrow of governments or the desire to set up one's own independent state in a region currently controlled by the government.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Graphite: A new energy economy resource is suddenly harder to get

The substance that constitutes a pencil lead and an important component of electric vehicle batteries is suddenly less available. China, the world's top producer of graphite, will now require permits for shipments abroad. The country is the world's top producer and plays a special role by refining 90 percent of the graphite used in electric vehicle batteries.

In what now seems like the ancient past, pencils were used to fill out bubble sheet forms and tests because the machines that read them did so by sensing the electrical conductivity of the graphite-filled ovals. (Today, optical scanners read such forms by sensing the reflectivity of the ovals.)

It is the conductivity of graphite which makes its so useful for electric vehicle batteries. China's move would not be such a big deal if graphite were more evenly distributed around the world. But its production is overwhelming centered in China—which produces five times more than second-place Madagascar and 56 times more than either Canada or Russia which are tied for sixth place.

However, the United States, a center for electric vehicle manufacture, has no domestic source of graphite. All of it must be imported.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

We're poisoning teenagers (but it doesn't seem to matter)

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung pointed out that when guilt is assigned to one person for a misdeed, it can weigh heavily on that person. But when guilt is assigned to millions, the burden becomes so light that it is easy to ignore. The general response is, "What can one person do? How can my actions really matter that much?"

See how that works! And, now we have an entire society drenched in synthetic chemicals and people feel powerless to do anything about it. And, the people who make those chemicals may feel that same way. If only one company tries to do something about it, the total picture will remain essentially the same (and the company will probably be penalized in the marketplace as it plays by its own more costly rules). But, on reflection, I think most of those who make these chemicals would deny or minimize their harm.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise then to find out that teenagers are being exposed to two popular herbicides glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and the widely used insect repellent DEET and suffering from poorer brain function. Researchers also opined that the rise in chronic conditions among young people may be related to ever increasing chemical exposures.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Taking a short break - no post this week

I'm taking a short break this week and expect to post again on Sunday, October 15.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

The clean energy economy turns out to be the metals energy economy

A very observant longtime friend of mine opined recently that the clean energy economy is really just a metals energy economy where metals provide the basis for energy production and transmission. The idea that this emerging economy is going to be light on resources compared to our current fossil-fuel based economy is a fantasy.

And you don't have to take his word for it. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has attempted to project the needs of this new economy. The IEA's report entitled "The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions" contains some eye-popping statistics that drive home just how much in the way of metals might be needed in order to supply the builders of this clean energy infrastructure.

Using two scenarios the IEA estimated that growth in demand coming from clean energy industries just for battery-related minerals will explode by 2040 relative to 2020:

1. Lithium: Between 13 to 42 times.

2. Graphite: Between 8 and 25 times.

3. Cobalt: Between 6 to 21 times.

4. Nickel: Between 6 to 19 times.

5. Manganese: Between 3 to 8 times.