Monthly Archives: February 2013

Go Eat Bugs!

Last year the world population passed the 7 billion mark. Population projections out to 2100 rise as high as 15 billion or drop to 5 billion. The middle estimate for the future is for population growth to level out at about 10 billion people on earth. That will require a considerable increase in the production of essentials such as food and water. Further complicating the future is the fact energy consumption is growing even faster than population as China, India and other developing countries seek a life style similar to the United States.

Just to feed the future at the current rate where billions go to bed every night hungry will require 40 percent more food and water. To bring the developing world up to western dietary standards will require a 100 percent increase in food, water and land dedicated to agriculture.

Half the land in the United States is already in use as crop land or pasture, and there is little room for expansion. Agriculture already uses 80 percent of the fresh water available. At the same time rising global temperatures are expected to reduce the availability of both land and water. Like it or not, the future of our food production is constrained by energy, land and water.

The only way we will be able to produce more is to become more efficient in our production methods, and/or more efficient in our diets. We are already “eating” crude oil because it takes 10 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per person per year to feed ourselves. In reality food is our fuel which we measure in calories. The average American diet takes 20 calories of energy input to produce one calorie of food. This ratio is obtained by dividing the fossil fuel energy input by protein energy output. The higher the ratio, the less efficient the foodstuff.

America’s “it’s what’s for dinner” favorite is beef,Feedlot-1 which is also about the most inefficient food with a ratio of 54. The ratio is high for beef because of our method of fattening cattle on grains. The efficiency of the process would be much better if we only fed cattle on pasture, but there isn’t enough pasture land for us all to eat grass fed beef. The ratios for some other foods are eggs 26, pork 17, dairy 14, catfish 7, and Chicken 5.

It appears the only way to sustainably feed ourselves in the future is to eat much lower on the food chain. At the bottom is a vegan diet which can actually have a ratio less than one. That is, more energy is produced from the foodstuff than is put in in the form of fossil fuels. Vegan diets suffer only one intrinsic problem — there is no Vitamin B-12. A big extrinsic problem is that it is a rather boring diet which few adopt voluntarily.800px-Mealworm_01_Pengo

One underexploited efficient food source is insects. Insects are eaten regularly in the underdeveloped world but insect farming in the first world could be more than 10 times more efficient than beef, with a ratio of four or less. Adult crickets have a very high protein to fat ratio, whereas various pupae such as meal worms are relatively high in fat. Depending on the species, insects can also be a good source of vitamins and minerals. So for the future what will it be, boring vegan or icky bugs?

Nuclear Socialism

We produce about 20 percent of our electricity from 104 nuclear reactors. This constitutes about 30 percent of all nuclear generated electricity in the world. There are some 30 different power companies operating several different reactor designs. There have been essentially no new reactors since the core meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979.

With increasing concern over global warming, even some in the environmental community have been rethinking nuclear power as a source of “green” energy. There are several impediments to increased reliance on nuclear power. The inherent risks associated with possible catastrophic failure, safe waste disposal and diversion of nuclear material to terrorists are just three. This demands a very high level of governmental control and backing of the industry.

Even if the risk of catastrophic failure is slight, the cost if it occurs is far beyond the capacity of an individual power company to handle. Even the cost of insurance to insure against such risk prices nuclear power off the market. The reason nuclear power came to be in the United States is due to socialism. Taxpayers funded the research that developed the industry and taxpayers insure the industry to the tune of billions of dollars a year, through the Price Anderson Act and subsequent amendments .

The cost and risk of nuclear power could be reduced through even more heavy-handed regulation by the government. Many other countries have standardized reactor design. Not so here. Arkansas Nuclear One Russellville Arkansas operated by Entergy , for example, has two reactors designed by different companies, requiring two different control rooms, operational staffs, procedures, cooling methods, etc.

Even with better standardized reactor design and tighter federal control, risks still exist. A couple of examples are instructive. Most are aware of the Three Mile Island and Fukishima disasters, but near disasters are less well known.

A near failure occurred at a Brown’s Ferry reactor near Athens, Ala., due to the use of a candle to detect an air leak. Electricians were attempting to find air leaks in an area adjacent to the control room. This was a room where all the wiring from the control room was routed out to the reactor elements. Although there are safer methods to detect air leaks, they chose to use a candle, which set insulation on fire, causing a short in the control room wiring between the control room and the reactors. For several hours, the reactors ran at full power, completely out of control of the operators.

Another accident occurred at a Salem reactor in New Jersey. A major circuit in the control room failed, cutting off power to a reactor coolant feed pump and the control room. The lights in the control room went out briefly until emergency power kicked in. An operator realized that the reactor should be turned off — and here is where it gets bizarre: He reached for the main reactor trip switch, but the handle came off in his hand. In his defense, he was new on the job and unfamiliar with the control board. Feel safer now?

Regardless of how well-designed the safety systems are, human error can contravene the best plans. Use of a candle and a broken handle could have cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

Nuclear power may have a future, but only with a massive federal bureaucracy to control it and massive taxpayer subsidization to sustain it.This is definitely not a prescription for limited government and low taxes: this is European Style Socialism.