faustian economics

today i read an interesting piece from the may 2008 edition of harper, Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits. in general, the piece is about a corollary to the pseudo-economic Parkinson’s Law which states that ‘consumption increases to meet the supply of resources (but not the other way around)’.   the supposed ‘faustian fault‘ of modern society is that we have forgotten how to create a reasonable limit to our lives; if our resources are in theory so prolific that we couldn’t forseeably consume them all, what is to stop us from wrecklessly burning through our worldly supplies?  a great example from the essay:

The entire contraption of “Unbridled Energy” is supported only by a rote optimism: “The United States has 250 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves—enough to last 100 years even at double the current rate of consumption.” We humans have inhabited the earth for many thousands of years, and now we can look forward to surviving for another hundred by doubling our consumption of coal? This is national security? The world-ending fire of industrial fundamentalism may already be burning in our furnaces and engines, but if it will burn for a hundred more years, that will be fine. Surely it would be better to intend straightforwardly to contain the fire and eventually put it out! But once greed has been made an honorable motive, then you have an economy without limits. It has no place for temperance or thrift or the ecological law of return. It will do anything. It is monstrous by definition.

Faust

Faust

further, the essay goes on to explain how humans have come to see the world as a bottomless treasure chest:

Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible. For example, an ecosystem, even that of a working forest or farm, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible. A small place, as I know from my own experience, can provide opportunities of work and learning, and a fund of beauty, solace, and pleasure—in addition to its difficulties—that cannot be exhausted in a lifetime or in generations.

space junk

space junk

to paraphrase the conclusion, there is no way we can go back and undue the wastefulness or re-evaluate the efficiency with which we consumed the first half of our petroleum resources.  only now, with maybe half of the original supplies, we can consider ways to change our habits.

i know this is so zeitgeist, bashing the wasteful habits of generations on a blog without providing any suggestions to fix the problems.  i just enjoyed the article and thought i would pass it forward.  anyways, my dad forwarded me some information about a new type of wind power generator (i guess i should explain that my dad works in the renewable energy/wind power section of General Electric’s renowned power and infrastructure division).  i put some pictures below and some specs on the device, which i think is a pretty cool idea but probably not the solution to all the worlds troubles.

Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS)

Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS)

magenn deployed above arctic research

magenn deployed above arctic research

MARS vs. conventional turbines

MARS vs. conventional turbines

how it works

how it works

The Advantages of MARS over Conventional Wind Turbines are:

1. low cost electricity – under 15 cents per kWh

2. bird and bat friendly

3. lower noise

4. wide range of wind speeds – 2 to more than 28 meters/second

5. higher altitudes – from 200 to 1,000 feet above ground level are possible without expensive towers or cranes

6. fewer limits on placement location – coast line placement is not necessary

7. ability to install closer to the power grid

8. mobile

9. ideal for off grid applications or where power is not reliable.

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