[FoRK] Malthusian machinations

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Sat Jun 12 11:47:20 PDT 2010

(Flight delayed, so I can indulge a little bit more.)

Re:  Eugen's link:


This is actually an excellent overview, as far as the raw data and the first-order back-of-the-envelope analysis is concerned.  The problem is that the author tends to jump from data that is mildly negative relative to the prospects to overly-charged and poorly supported conclusions, and Eugen tends to apply those conclusions even more broadly than is warranted.  In the end, it's clear that he's got a huge axe to grind.

The yield estimates do *not* apply to anything other than the specific technology he discusses.  Further, he consistently makes unwarranted leaps;  for example, he demonstrates that there's ample current flow to drive even low-yield processes in various places such as in the Antarctic.  (In that case, about 135x as much as necessary *even with a low-yield harvest process.*)  But this is typical of his approach:

"But the average depth of the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean is around 3000-4000 meters and the area is highly hostile to human activities. Anchoring there millions of tons of adsorbing membranes, together with all the processing facilities, is simply unthinkable."

Simply unthinkable.  Oxymoron notwithstanding, I'd suggest that it's not only clearly thinkable, but certainly more practical than several of the other straw man engineering examples he throws out.

Another example of failure of imagination / over-focus on particular hypothetical solutions:

"Now, if we want to use membranes for uranium extraction, it means that we have to carry the membrane at sea..."

Yeah, I'm sure it's really difficult to come up with *bad ideas* about how to do something in order to demonstrate that the thing in general can't be done... ;-)

More weasel discussion in conclusion:

"Perhaps, one day, we might develop futuristic robotic facilities anchored to the deep sea floor. These machines would be powered by uranium extracted from seawater and would use marine plankton to manufacture organic "tentacles" for adsorbing mineral ions. Processing would be made in place and the recovered metals would be shipped to the surface in neat packages. But that looks like a dream of the 1950s, on a par with atomic planes and weekends on the Moon for the whole family. With the possible exception of lithium, the best we can conceive today is that mining the oceans could produce only truly "homeopathic" amounts of minerals, thousands of times lower than the presently produced amounts."

Having failed to demonstrate the untenability of the idea in general, only in particular bad straw man formulations, he proceeds to simply ridicule the whole concept by associating it with anachronistic and other absurdities such as leisure space travel and homeopathy.  

Not very convincing, IMHO.  The basic data is reliable.  The basic calculations over the basic data look sound.  The axe, though, is too obvious to credit.  Perhaps the domain name itself should have been a clue, Eugen.


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