Take a country that has become rich through a combination of natural resources, manufacturing and trade. Let it discover that goods can be imported at lower prices from countries with lower labour costs.

Consider the finance sector, where instant profits today can be made by capturing cash flows from the future. Watch the finance sector suck in all the talent that used to engage in inventing new technologies and making new products by the promise of instant riches.

Now the investors who made those instant profits are committed to making sure those cash flows do eventuate in the “real” economy, so they impose rules and discipline where the only thing that matters is the bottom line, profits are more important than people, economics trumps all.

Politicians are the first to catch on. They pay off their deficits, trumpet their budget surpluses and boast about their “economic management” and of course make sure to protect the finance sector from too much scrutiny or regulation. The taxes roll in and they re-elected because times are good.

Labour is a cost, so everyone must work longer hours and still workers’
salaries must fall but the investors have an answer for that too. They offer loans to make up the difference and because loans must be secured, they inflate the price of the houses and land the workers live in. Everyone wins!

Great news! There are other countries willing to sell cheap products and instead of keeping the proceeds, lend the money back again to keep the cycle moving.

Even greater news! We have finally discovered perpetual motion, the eternal free lunch.

This is what is called the Anglo disease and you can read more about it
here: It was invented in England, although it has been greatly refined in other countries such as the USA.

As it happens the first good example of where it leads is Greece. It will not be the last.

This article argues that an ageing society has a significant upside.

The Japanese will soon be the first where 50% of the population are 50 or older. It’s likely that 50% of all the humans who ever reached the age of 65 are alive now. But as we are now finding out an ageing population has more wisdom, more accumulated knowledge and skills, probably consumes less and puts less stress on the environment. Sure, they need more health care but most older people are fit and active, well able to look after themselves. In Europe and the UK less than 5% are in any kind of institutional care.

Imagine that the natural equilibrium for a human population with enough to eat and good health care turns out to be old and stable,  producing only just enough babies to maintain itself! Certainly some of our current concerns, including alcohol-fuelled violence, drug usage and indeed war would diminish greatly if there were simply far less young people around.

Couple of people have asked me about this, and I did a little research.

The quoted energy usage for early model reverse osmosis desalination plants is around 6 Watt-hours/litre. More modern plants appear to be more efficient and the quoted figures for WA and Vic are 4.1 and 4.6 respectively. A kilolitre of water costs around $1.

Assuming a modern shower head using 9 litres/minute and a 5 minute shower, the energy cost of a 45 litre shower using desalinated water is around 200-250 Watt hours. [In Vic that is about 240-300 gm CO2.]

But think for a moment about the cost of heating the water. Most people shower in water at around 43 degrees C, which is around 30 degrees above the temperature of cold water. It costs 4200 Joules to heat 1 litre of water by
1 degree C and 1 Watt hour is 3600 Joules. Putting the numbers together you get 45 * 30 * 4200 / 3600 = 1575 Watt hours (1800 gm CO2). Boiling water is around 3 times the energy cost.

So before you complain too loudly about the cost of desalination, remember that heating water for your shower costs roughly 6 times as much energy as desalinating the water.

Allow me to make some mildly provocative statements — all of which I can justify.

  1. All climate models are wrong, and not one has yet made a correct prediction of substance (other than by pure chance).
  2. Peak oil and energy shortages will be a threat to our survival long before climate change.
  3. Shortages of food, water and arable land will be a threat to our survival long before climate change.
  4. Worldwide, the only things that can reduce CO2 are coal (don’t use it) and deforestation (don’t do it).
  5. For Australia, the only thing that can reduce CO2 is to close all the coal mines.
  6. The main purpose of a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme is to double/treble the price of electricity and petrol.
  7. The other purpose is give governments more power and/or make rich people/criminals/bankers richer.

I am not particularly sceptical about climate change itself, so much as the excessive claims made especially by non-scientists. Rising CO2 levels and associated climate change are certainly major problems, but that does not mean any of the specific predictions are correct. We need to buy insurance, not guard against a specific outcome. Mainly, we have to treat energy, forests, water and other resources as finite and aim for reduced consumption and genuine sustainability. That is simply not happening.

By the way, these are not the messages that the militant eco-freaks want you to hear.

Just thinking out loud…

Consider a 2 litre petrol engine, idling at 720 rpm or 12 revs/sec. It takes two revolutions for each cylinder to complete its cycle (4 stroke assumed), so 6 cycles/sec. The amount of air/fuel mixture drawn into the cylinder(s) is 2 litre per cycle, or 12 litre/sec. At 7200 rpm it would be 120 litre/sec. In general, the figure is (RPM * engine capacity) / 120.


It is sometimes said that the most of the people who have ever lived are alive today. This is obviously not true (see below), but leads to the more interesting question: what fraction of all the people who have ever lived are alive today, and when will this figure reach its maximum?

This is not easy to calculate with any certainty. The raw data looks like this (best guesses, see

  • Number of humans who have ever lived: 106.5 billion
  • Number alive today (2008): 6.7 billion
  • Births per year: 139 million
  • Deaths per year: 57 million

Current percentage=6.7/106.5=6.29%

This percentage is currently rising, and will do so for the foreseeable future. It should reach 7% in 2019. It will not begin to drop until the net birth rate is far lower than it is now. It never has been and never will be anywhere near 50%.

Don’t you just love high petrol prices?

The change in traffic patterns in my area is dramatic. The roads have unclogged; I can get where I want to go and not get stuck in endless traffic jams; there are noticeably less Toorak tanks on school duty. Wonderful!

Also they’ve just opened Eastlink and they’re widening the Monash so pretty soon those of us who don’t mind paying a bit more are going to have a much better driving experience. Not so good for those who have to give up some of their driving.

From what I read, the same is about to happen to flying. Prices will keep rising, the airlines will retire their older aircraft and will cut marginal routes and marginal flights, and will have to work hard to stay in business. Reduced traffic means fewer delays (especially Sydney). Lower demand means some reduction in loading — fewer flights absolutely full, although they will tend to cancel flights that are not full enough. That means more empty seats and possibly better in-flight service. Again, not so good for those who have to fly less.

And it’s good for the planet too!

I’ve been thinking about Combined Heat and Power (CHP) as a solution to the energy crisis.


Those interested in solar thermal clean power might be interested in this article.

The raw numbers suggest it might have significant advantages over wind power in many parts of Australia, but it’s not cheap.

Based on the Cloncurry model:

To supply 10% of Australia’s power would take something like 150 sq km of
desert and cost around $25 billion. The running costs are very low — break
even in 10 years or so.

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