the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Mass media

Posted by Jeff Id on September 3, 2010

Often we here about energy shortage, followed by energy conservation.  In my opinion it’s the dumbest two statements anyone can make in polite conversation without being punched in the nose.   Almost equally as often, I’m referred to as an extremist myself. So what does that mean?

From Wikipedia the total non-renewable reserve is:

The estimates of remaining non-renewable worldwide energy resources vary, with the remaining fossil fuels totaling an estimated 0.4 YJ (1 YJ = 1024J)

Renewable energy as a phrase, is equally as physics ignorant as flying by lifting up on your feet, or hooking a generator up to the back tires of your car to power the front.  Thanks to public education, it is as mainstream a term as recycling.

From this link, global energy consumption is 4 x 1020 J/yr or about 1000 years of totally available fossil fuel.  Sounds scary except that mankind has only just learned to use energy for things other than heat a couple hundred years ago.

We’ve all heard of E =  m c^2 but what does it mean in terms of energy?

speed of light c is 300,000,000 meters per second.

If ‘m’ (mass) is 1 g you have 90,000,000,000,000 or 9 x1013 joules of energy from a single gram of mass.  — A single paperclip.

So to replace 100% of the energy stored in all the estimated fossil fuels on earth requires:

.4 x  or   4 x 1023 divided by  9 x 1013 or 4.4 109 which is 4.4 billion grams of mass to replace all the estimated fossil fuel on earth.

Just how much is 4.4 billion grams?

Well pure water has 1,000,000 grams per cubic meter so that would mean 4400 cubic meters of water.

That’s a lot of water for sure but how big is it.

The cube root of 4400 is:  A block of water sixteen meters on a side.

A cube of pure water sixteen meters (52 feet) on a side can replace all the fossil fuel energy on earth.

All of it.

E = mc^2

But look at this quote

world energy consumption is about 500 EJ or about 5.5 metric tons of matter, and U.S.A. consumption is equivalent to about 1.17 metric tons. The mass of fuels burned is, of course, much higher

The world equivalent energy usage is 5.5 tons of matter. Holy crap, it’s like a couple of bathtubs of water per year!!  Not that it has to be water.  It could be granite, or at these rates gold or even Paris Hilton’s personal diamonds would be affordable as an energy fuel.

From the same link:

According to the Energy Information Administration‘s statistics, the per-capita energy consumption in the US has been somewhat consistent from the 1970s to today. The average has been 335.9 million BTUs per person from 1980 to 2006

336 million btu is equal to 354,000 ,000,000 Joules.

Which dividing by c^2 is 0.000004 grams of mass per person in America (which Bart Verheggen calls over-consumption).  In a 80 year lifetime that adds up to 0.1 grams of mass converted to energy at your whim by American gas guzzling standards.  A US penny weighs 2.5 grams.  So 250 people can get together and run their boats, cars, trucks, SUV’s, air conditioners, freezers and whaever else FOR THEIR ENTIRE LIVES, for the mass of a penny.

From a more serious bit of history:

Little Boy” was the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393d Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces.[2] It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon. The second, the “Fat Man“, was dropped three days later on Nagasaki.[3]

The weapon was developed by the Manhattan Project during World War II. It derived its explosive power from the nuclear fission of uranium 235. The Hiroshima bombing was the second artificial nuclear explosion in history, after the Trinity test, and the first uranium-based detonation. Approximately 600 milligrams of mass were converted into energy. It exploded with energy between 13 and 18 kilotons of TNT (54 and 75 TJ)

0.6 grams of matter ended WWII —  half the mass of a small paperclip.

The same energy 6 Americans will 0ver-consume in their lifetimes.  The largest atomic bomb ever detonated was 57 megatons, or 2.3 x 1017 joules equivalent to 2.6 grams of mass or an entire US penny converted to energy in a single moment.

Why the post on mass and energy, because the entire concept of energy shortage and conservation of energy is so far beyond bogus, it’s not worth discussing.   But more than that, consider what it means for our energy future.

Human’s are stupid. We are..  For god’s sakes Mann sorts data by correlation and publishes it in the most prestigious journals in the WORLD.

We’re not that damned bright folks… sorry.  Not me, not you, nobody.

It is a perfectly reasonable assumption that we will be able to convert mass to energy at will someday.  I’m just damned glad that god (or luck if you prefer), made it  difficult enough that it hasn’t happened by accident.

It was only a hundred and thirty years ago that we figured out how to make a car.  A friggin car, with pistons and ugly valves, friction, carnot cycles and the whole bit.  A car.  It was only thirty years ago I saw my first microwave, and about 40 for the color TV.

We are far too young as a species to even consider messing with the planet.

Below is how I see humanity:

Of course I’m one of the humans depicted with slightly more fur than actual in the movie, and by the above video admit my own limitations.  It does remind me of Joe Romm repairing his own car though. hehe  But this is where we as a species are at on the ladder of physics in my opinion.  There is a lot of work to be done, but how amazing is it that we can’t release the energy around us more easily?  How glad should we be that  it’s not easy?  We could destroy the entire world if a single kilogram of mass were be released at once.

Finally, why the hell is solar or wind power the answer to our energy needs but NUCLEAR/ fission/fusion/etc. isn’t? After reading the above numbers, how stupid is the concept of working on wind development to save the atmosphere vs nuclear????

So the next time someone tells you of an energy shortage, let them know of the far bigger problem, mosquito shortage.

I wonder how many mosquitoes there are in a gram?

On a sci-fi note, what if we do learn the technology required to release the energy from a Kg of mass at once.  Perhaps the god of physics isn’t as benevolent as we hoped.

If we find the key, OMG, we had better have our crap together.

48 Responses to “Mass media”

  1. Greg. Cavanagh said

    I love a good rant, they area joy to read.

    Not that I disagree mind you.

  2. josh said

    Consumption will always rise to meet supply. The advent of Mr. Fusion won’t mean much long term if all it does is drive the human population to one trillion, and given them a king’s lifestyle consuming 10 times the energy of a present day American.

    So I predict looming energy shortages indefinitely. Which isn’t a bad thing. It forces us to get creative, and to become ever more efficient and clever.

  3. Hakcyon said

    A little off topic, but not out of the thread: I have a neighbour who was christened Enola Gay. No need to wonder what her parents thought of the dropping of the bomb.
    Probably more than a few of them I guess.

  4. Gary said

    Yeah, it is pretty silly trying to concentrate diffuse energy when liberating condensed energy is more logical. But perception is key; what’s more warm and fuzzy, dutch windmills or mushroom clouds? Technology is only half the battle; PR is the other half.

  5. DeWitt Payne said

    Unless you have a stash of anti-matter, you can’t convert 100% of the mass of anything to energy by fission or fusion. You get energy from fission or fusion because the mass of the products is slightly less than the mass of the starting material. Iron is at the bottom of the curve. The only reason that heavier elements exist is that supernova’s have sufficient energy to supply the energy needed to make them. Deuterium has a mass of 2.01410178. Helium has a mass of 4.002602. So fusing two deuterium atoms to make helium converts 0.6% of the starting mass into energy. The abundance of deuterium is 0.0156%. Direct fusion of hydrogen is unlikely outside the core of a star. Fission is worse in terms of fraction of mass converted. That still means there’s a lot of energy available, but the volumes required are several orders of magnitude larger than you indicate.

  6. Andrew said

    5-We can of course synthesize a bit of antimatter, but the problem then becomes:

    1. It takes a VERY long time to produce any significant amount and

    2. It takes energy to do the synthesizing, indeed it will involving using up some mass, too.

    Which is why, well, The Second Law, QED.

    So more accurately “Unless you have a stash of anti-matter, you can’t convert 100% of the mass of anything to energy”

  7. John Silver said

    I think you are wrong on two accounts:
    The difference between humans and apes in tool making is entailment.
    We can make a tool to make another tool, there can be a long chain.

    The solution to our energy needs is LFTR. It was proven for years by NASA!
    So it must be true, they’re rocket scientists, you know.

  8. Jeff id said

    I didn’t mean to imply that the way forward was to convert 100% of the mass to energy but the way forward certainly is to use methods which harness more of the mass. Solar will make sense from a cost perspective and home use some day but we will need more power in the future, limitation is flat stupid when a single key on this computer has more energy in it than I’ll ever need.

    I’m all for various nuclear options, fossil fuel isn’t much different than shoving a stick in a hole and getting ants.

  9. Retired Engineer said

    Matter to energy conversion is probably a ways off. Ditto fusion. I don’t see much promise in 4 football fields of lasers blasting a drop of water as a practical solution. Nor giant magnetic donuts. 30-50 years, maybe something better. If we could build a Sterling engine that ran on hot air, and put a few in D.C., we could power half the country. Alas, wishfull thinking.

    So we have fossil fuel. And a fair amount of it. Which should last until something better comes along. Which means we don’t have a crisis. Which doesn’t sell newspapers. And that’s the real problem.

    Can’t waste a crisis that doesn’t exist, so first create one.

  10. Chuckles said

    We can’t CURRENTLY convert 100% of the mass of anything to energy.

  11. Al S. said

    I have a couple of quibbles:

    Jeff, I think you’re off by a factor of 1000 for Tsar Bomba; I think it should be over 2 Kg converted to energy (rather than grams.)
    And a small one for Chuckles, # 10: how about positrons?
    But of course, no one has an antimatter mine.

    I am all for nuclear power in some appropriate form, whether “LFTR”, lead-cooled fast, accelerator-driven, Uranium Hydride, etc. I can live with light water reactors, but we don’t have enough of them.
    Needless to say, one can build a bad anything.

  12. Espen said

    #2 Josh: Consumption will always rise to meet supply. The advent of Mr. Fusion won’t mean much long term if all it does is drive the human population to one trillion, and given them a king’s lifestyle consuming 10 times the energy of a present day American.

    There’s no reason to be afraid of that. Most countries (the U.S. is kind of an exception) quickly get far too low birth rates as soon as they modernize, so in a bright future where even countries like Congo have reached a level of modernization where most people (and notably, women!) get an education and have access to the energy and water they need, we may end up with the problem that population is dropping too quickly.

    My bets are on Thorium fission, which, if it works as advertised, diminishes the two most serious problems with Uranium fission: (1) You get only a fraction of the atomic waste and (2) uncontrolled meltdown is simply not possible. Should buy us more than enough time to develop fusion.

  13. Andrew said

    10-See 6, the reality is that 100% conversion to energy is actually impossible. You can approach it, perhaps, but not reach it.

  14. PhilJourdan said

    Dewitt Payne is correct, but that seems beside the point. Of course there is no way to get a 100% conversion machine on any energy source, but the magnitude of fusion/fission makes that irrelevant. As you demonstrated with the simple math, a boulder can provide enough energy – inefficiently gathered – for an entire state for years.

    We have only been playing with the atom and atomic level conversion of mass to energy for about 70 years. Fossil fuels are indeed the interim solution to allow us not only to gather the expertise to use mass to energy technology, but also the wisdom of using it.

  15. steveta_uk said

    So with one penny, and one anti-penny, you get enough energy for 500 Americans for a year.

    Better start minting anti-pennies.

  16. Chuckles said

    #11 Al S, I think your comment on positrons was meant for #8 DeWitt and #9 Jeff? I was just trying to correct the timeframe.

    #13 Andrew, I’m envious of your crystal ball,(and of course I agree with you), but remember Yogi Berra/Neils Bohr – Predicting is hard, especially about the future, and the first of Arthur Clarkes Laws – When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.

    It may well be impossible with our current understanding of physics, natural laws etc. To say it will ALWAYS be so…

  17. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Unless you have a stash of anti-matter, you can’t convert 100% of the mass of anything to energy by fission or fusion.

    And where would one keep one’s “stash” of anti-matter?

    We have an efficient fusion process to convert matter to energy: The fusion process in the sun converts 685 million tons of hydrogen mass to helium each second. And Jeff, sunlight thus qualifies as being non-renewable.

  18. Andrew said

    16-I don’t want to sound insulted, but it’s hard not to be, see, I’m only 19, so I’m neither distinguished nor elderly.

    What I’m doing is saying that it’s basically accounting. Like this: I make 4 cakes at the cost of ten cents per cake. I sell the four cakes at the market prices of say, 25 cents. I have NOT just made a dollar. I first spent 40 cents, then made a dollar, so I just made sixty cents.

    So I use say, a pound of matter and a trillionth pound worth of energy to make a pound of antimatter, I then use a pound of matter, with the antimatter, to get two pounds of energy. In net, did I get the maximum possible energy out of those two pounds of matter? Nope. I’m a trillionth of a pound short, the energy used to make the antimatter from the first pound of matter.

    The numbers are BS but the arithmetic principles apply to any amounts.

  19. Chuckles said

    #18, You might not be, but I am…(or the elderly bit anyway 🙂

  20. Kenneth Fritsch said

    And actually there are no truly renewable sources of energy with the argument coming down to what are the sources of energy that are most economically (all aspects of usage considered) utilized for this time and space in our human existence with the corollary being how do we best choose what is economically the best sources with all aspects considered. I’ll spare you all my argument here for a free market with strict enforcement of private property rights.

  21. Pops said

    Go nuclear.

  22. Dan Hughes said

    re: 17

    “And where would one keep one’s “stash” of anti-matter?”

    In one’s Klien Bottle.

  23. Dan Hughes said

    Rats, Klein.

  24. Pat Frank said

    Oxy Petroleum recently struck a large new oil field near Bakersfield, CA.

    I have relatives near there. Scuttlebutt is that the field is much larger than they’re currently letting on. Also, that the discovery is at 30,000 feet, in a geological formation previously unassociated with oil. They expect to pump it out at less than $10 a barrel.

    Oxy apparently developed an in-house geological theory about potential oil reservoirs, did the test, and it paid off big time. The story is that Oxy executives were dancing in the aisles, on the discovery.

    So, it seems likely that global oil reserve estimates will have to be expanded once again, in light of the new possibilities.

    Even if not, liquids from oil shale, tar sands, and coal mean that “peak oil” is a crock. There will be plenty of energy up until fission is finally utilized, or fusion comes on line.

    Don’t let anyone say that we’re “addicted” to energy. Civilization runs on inexpensive energy. Thermodynamics demands as much.

  25. C Monster said

    Outstanding math lesson.
    But eco-tards don’t do math.

    One nitpicking point…the Tsar Bomba was a fission-fusion-fission weapon, scaled down from the 100mt design. A thermonuclear device.

  26. Neutron Repulsion – repulsive interactions between neutrons in the nucleus – is the greatest known source of nuclear energy.

    Neutron Repulsion (NR) was first recognized in 2000.

    NR is the energy source that powers the Sun and other ordinary stars.

    NR is the energy source that causes supernova explosions and fragmentation of massive compact objects at the centers of galaxies.

    Al Gore, the UN’s IPCC, their army of Nobel Prize winning “scientists”, the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) hope that you will not take the time to read the new manuscript, “Neutron Repulsion”.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  27. Eric Anderson said

    DeWitt Payne: “the volumes required are several orders of magnitude larger than you indicate.”

    Fair enough, so we’re talking a couple rolls of pennies, instead of one penny. 🙂

  28. gigih said

    Please,, also visit blog

    Article in Blogspot

  29. joshv said

    #12 – population has always grown to the limits of available energy. I see no reason why modern society is any different than times in the past when energy constraints forced population growth to slow. The reason population growth is slowing is because we’ve not significantly expanded our available pool of energy resources in 50+ years. Sure, we’ve grown consumption, but at nothing like the rate of the previous 500 years or so.

  30. Espen said

    #29: “population has always grown to the limits of available energy”.

    Not since the invention of good contraceptives. Today fertility rate probably shows a very good negative correlation with available energy. Otherwise, a country like Brunei with its high GDP and enormous energy resources should have an enormously high fertility rate, especially when considering a presumably somewhat old-fashioned attitude to women’s lib (Brunei is islamic). But it doesn’t, the rate is 1.88, which is considerably lower than the ~2.1 required for a sustainable population.

  31. Amabo said

    Does anyone recall the story about how people in a poor village somewhere started to have a lot less sex when they got electric lighting?

  32. Alex Heyworth said

    A piece of thorium about the size of a golf ball provides enough energy for 1 American for all energy uses for an entire lifetime.

  33. Andrew said

    32-It’s also much more abundant than Uranium; presumably this makes refining and putting significant amounts to use that much easier.

  34. josh said

    #30 – Populations are controlled voluntarily (contraception) or involuntarily (starvation), the cause is the same, resource limitation.

  35. Genghis said

    Everyone here is thinking rationally and missing the point.

    There is no real energy shortage, never has been and never will be. What there is is a shortage of free energy. It all comes down to cost and who controls the cheapest energy source. Right now the cheapest energy is oil/gas, followed by coal. There is a reason the Chinese are building a coal plant a week.

    Any investor who tries to get too far ahead of the price curve will pay dearly. It doesn’t matter if the investors are individuals, corporations or governments.

  36. bob said

    After a couple of drinks, I agree with everybody. Besides, whatever happened to all that energy we “use” when conservation of energy is taken into account?

    Damned equations!

  37. Espen said

    #34 Josh: Exactly which resource do you think is limited when modern women/couples decide to have less children? I think the answer is time, i.e. it has very little to do with physical resource limitations. You need to stop thinking like Malthus and Ehrlich.

  38. Geoff Sherrington said

    24. Pat Frank. That’s rather deep at 30,000 ft. It would make the discovery drill hole one of the deepest in the world. Some other deep holes have also stopped because the high temperature defeated the drill materials. The Kola superdeep in Russia has long held the record at 12.26 km and it was started in 1962. Bottom of hole temp was 180 deg C.

  39. Smoking Frog said

    E=MC^2 is merely a straightforward result of Special Relativity, similar in a way to the Newtonian kinetic energy = 1/2 mv^2. It doesn’t tell us a blessed thing about about how or even whether a given fraction of some quantity of matter could be converted to energy, so it is virtually meaningless to say that 16^3 cubic feet of water could replace all the fossil fuel energy on earth.

    People have been misled to believe that E=MC^2 tells us something about why the A-bomb works, or how. It does not. One might as well say that it tells us something about why the burning of coal works or even why hydroelectric power works.

    Try reading this:

  40. Smoking Frog said

    I meant cubic meters, not cubic feet, of course.

  41. joshv said

    #37: I am not thinking like anyone. It’s a fact that we consume up to the limits of our resources, and have hit many population walls in the past. We’ve always found more energy each and every time, and I am reasonably confident that we will find more energy in the future. But if we do, the average human couple won’t content themselves with 2.1 children. Population and consumption will grow, as they always have in the past when we found more energy.

    What resources do I imagine are limited? I cannot afford to raise 6 children to the standard of living that I enjoy. If I could I would. So it appears I will stop at two kids and hope the world is a much cheaper place by the time they are adults.

  42. Derek said

    Jeff Id wrote,
    ” Of course I’m one of the humans depicted with slightly more fur than actual in the movie, and by the above video admit my own limitations.
    But this is where we as a species are at on the ladder of physics in my opinion.

    Spot on, if only more would admit to themselves that this IS the case,
    at present and, for many millenia to come yet..

    Oh, and Post 24 by Pat Frank.
    Abiotic origins of oil anyone. ?

  43. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Pat Frank (Sep 3 19:15),

    Comparisons can be tricky, given Oxy’s estimate that about two-thirds of the new field is actually natural gas.

    That’s not surprising. The temperature at that depth causes the longer chain molecules to break apart. The end result is methane. Also, 200 million barrels is not a huge field. That’s less than three day’s supply for the world. The Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia is estimated to still contain 71,000 million bbl of oil and produces 5 million bbl/day. Iraq’s proven reserves are 112 billion bbl of oil. The new discovery only means something in terms of fossil fuel reserves if it leads to the discovery of at least three orders of magnitude more oil than the estimated size of the Kern field.

  44. Espen said

    #41 Joshv: Current statistics (look up fertility rate and GDP in the CIA world fact book) does not support your position: The poorest countries in the world have out-of-control fertility rates and the richest countries have unsustainably low fertility rates. There is however some recent research (see the Nature article referred in which indicates that in the highest developed nations, fertility will rise again, but we’re talking about fertility levels which are still slightly too low. And IMHO it’s solely due to policies in these countries (e.g. Norway, where I live) which encourage women to combine career and having several children.

    I think that neo-malthusians usually acknowledge that population will stabilize at around 9 billion and then decline, so yours is a very extreme position. Neo-malthusians still ring the alarm bells, though, because they think we’re already too many people and that the industrialization of the developing countries will have grave consequences for the environment. The AGW mantra is very convenient to support this position of course. IMHO it’s the other way round: The neo-malthusians’ dystopian fantasies may well be fulfilled if we blindly follow the advice of the AGW scaremongers, because their “solutions” will damage the economy of both the currently rich countries and the developing countries, and consequently also their environment.

  45. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: joshv (Sep 7 08:18),

    I cannot afford to raise 6 children to the standard of living that I enjoy. If I could I would. So it appears I will stop at two kids and hope the world is a much cheaper place by the time they are adults.

    But you’re outnumbered by the people who decide that children are just too much trouble to raise and so don’t have any. A primary motivation for raising a family used to be so there would be someone to take care of you in your declining years. But now the government will do it, or at least that’s what people think. So they don’t save and they don’t have children.

  46. M. Simon said

    Could some one please explain what sustainable in the context of environmentalism means?

    After all sex is unsustainable (for most of us). You can’t engage in it 24/7. Three to fifteen minutes covers the vast majority of experiences. And yet I’m not aware of anyone who thinks that sex is unsustainable.

    So is sustainable in the context of environmentalism ten years? Far too short. How about 100? In 100 years we will have a different energy economy than we have today. So will we be OK if we can sustain things until something new can be developed?

  47. M. Simon said


    Investing in the future means curtailing current consumption. There is a lot to be said for things. There is even more to be said for children. My mate and I decided to quit at 4.

    At an early age I decided on a life of adventure. The greatest adventure I have ever been involved in is raising children. So far one poet, one student of Russian culture currently teaching American culture and English at a Russian university, a drummer/electronics engineering student, and a student of chemical engineering. If I don’t fix all the world’s problems one of them will.

  48. M. Simon said

    Retired Engineer
    September 3, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Polywell Fusion, Focus Fusion, Tri-Alpha Energy

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