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Anonymous: on 6/11/14 at 23:42pm UTC, wrote James Technological systems are not sustainable for physical reasons that...

James Blodgett: on 6/11/14 at 8:23am UTC, wrote It may well be that there will be a heat death of the universe, the...

Anonymous: on 6/9/14 at 6:59am UTC, wrote James The sound physical reasons are: 1 energy flow is irreversible 2...

James Blodgett: on 6/9/14 at 2:31am UTC, wrote 1) What are those sound physical reasons? 2) How does biology, which is an...

Denis Frith: on 6/7/14 at 6:58am UTC, wrote James Cells are made of tangible materials. DNA and RNA are intangible...

James Blodgett: on 6/7/14 at 5:27am UTC, wrote Hello Denis Life consists of lots of molecular machines inside of a cell. ...

Denis Frith: on 6/7/14 at 4:40am UTC, wrote James Technology always irreversibly uses natural resources. that is a...

James Blodgett: on 6/7/14 at 0:34am UTC, wrote Science fiction sometimes works. Consider portfolio strategy. If you have...


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FQXi FORUM
October 18, 2019

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: Objectives of the ELAM (Earth’s Lodgers’ Activity Management) movement. by Denis Arthur Frith [refresh]
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Author Denis Frith wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 17:36 GMT
Essay Abstract

Society has a delusion fostered by the powerful that continuing growth of the economy is possible. It conjures up the common belief that sufficient natural resources will continue to be available to enable this growth. This fallacy is examined in order to indicate means by which society can steer the future as contraction inevitably sets in. Can society meet the challenge of living with nature? The ELAM movement can lead the way. Technology has provided civilization with the means to irreversibly use up limited natural material resources, produce irretrievable material wastes and degrade the environment. It does this in providing the temporary infrastructure, goods and services society has become so dependent on. The operation of these technological systems is an unsustainable process that society will eventually have to cope with by powering down during the senescence of the infrastructure. This coping process can be fostered by widespread understanding of what these systems of civilization are irrevocably doing. ELAM (Earth’s Lodgers Activity Management) movement can steer humanity by providing understanding of what has gone wrong and suggest remedial measures. This understanding will help humanity to rise to the challenge of steering future developments as much as is physically possible. It will require the population to accept greater responsibility for their usage decisions in exchange for having the rights to use up natural material resources. This cultural revolution can only come about by educating all into what technological systems are doing wrong rather than focusing on what they supply. The accent to date has been on the benefits of technological innovations without taking into account the irrevocable ecological costs. Improved understanding will encourage altruism and pride in contributing to a society making best possible use of the remaining natural resources.  

Author Bio

Denis Frith received Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Engineering Science degrees from the University of Tasmania. His career in aeronautical engineering research focused on fluid dynamics of turbomachinery and the performance of gas turbine engines while at the National Gas Turbine Establishment, England and Aeronautical Research Laboratories, Australia. He was scientific adviser to the RAAF on engines in the selection of a fighter replacement. He was Senior Principle Research Scientist and Head of Propulsion when he retired in 1990. Since then he has privately researched what the technological systems of industrialized civilization have done to the environment.

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 03:23 GMT
Hi Denis,

You have outlined a lot of problems facing the future, lots to think about. I fear that in your scenario there might be confrontation between those founding a new society with new values along side an existing culture fighting for its own survival. It would be good to transform the existing culture perhaps by education, the arts, film, peer pressure, peaceful rallies and maybe...

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Author Denis Frith wrote on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 04:52 GMT
Georgina

The hope is that the ELAM movement will exert sufficient moderation influence in the developed countries to appreciably reduce the rate of usage of natural resources and the rate of devastation of the environment. However, the residents of Melbourne (where I live) will have a major problem in coping with the inevitable loss of so many transportation and energy services.

I...

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 03:51 GMT
Denis,

You lay out a very clear-headed analysis of the situation to which I would like to offer one particular insight. As you point out, much of our direction as a culture and civilization is increasingly decided by the interests of capital, so the primary focus of concern would logically be the nature of this financial medium and how it came to be in control of humanity.

The...

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Anonymous replied on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 23:57 GMT
John

You highlight some of the deficiencies in the financial system and propose measures to counter these deficiencies. However, the current financial system does not take into account the divestment of natural material wealth. Society is not paying for the usage of oil and numerous other material resources. Society is not paying fully for the vast amount of material waste produced by the operation of technological systems. Adapting to the impact of climate change is only one of the deleterious impacts of technology that society is having to deal with now and in the future. Society is not yet paying fully for the devastation of biodiversity and species extinctions but these are items that will have to be included in future budgets. Ironically, society has used technology to construct the infrastructure (cities, roads, bridges, airports, etc.)that provides the services that society has become so dependent on. But this infrastructure is irrevocably aging. Organizing financial operations to pay for the operation and maintenance of this infrastructure will become harder as the availability of the necessary energy and materials declines.

How will even an improved financial system cope with the inevitable problem of coping with stark reality. That is one of the challenges for ELAM that I envision in my essay.

Regards

Denis

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Author Denis Frith wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 10:21 GMT
John Merryman

The discussion of the impact of money on the operations of civilization deals with the decisions made by people. However, these decisions are affected to a large degree by the facilities available. A discussion that does not take that situation into account provides a biased view. Considerations this century are very influenced by electronic communication, housing and transport systems.All these technological systems are irreversibly made out of irreplaceable crustal materials and have a limited lifetime. This is an unsustainable process. The role of money will change significantly when that physical reality gradually hits society hard.

Thanks for your comment

Denis

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 14:08 GMT
Denis,

I suspect we will have a financial crisis first, as the various ponzi scheme type bubbles in the financial system start blowing up. My hope is this can be used as an opportunity for change before we really reach the end of our resource leash.

Regards,

John M

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Author Denis Frith replied on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 00:54 GMT
John M

Another financial crisis could well occur in the near future. There is uncertainty as whether that intangible event will occur. But the tangible eco costly operation of the infrastructure of civilization continues virtually unabated as natural resources are irrevocably turned into wastes in operating and maintaining the infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers have produced a list of roads, bridges, tunnels, etc. in urgent need for repair. How much longer do you think the cities can continue to function as industry desperately attempts to supply the necessary energy and materials.

That irreversible tangible process continued during the Great Depression as well as during the Global Financial Crisis. But it will gradually slow down as the availability of natural resources continues to decline. ELAM can contribute to easing the inevitable powering down for society.

Regards

Denis

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 10:02 GMT
Denis,

I don't doubt what cannot continue indefinitely will not continue indefinitely. That's why I focus on one basic observation about how our system functions that is designed to extract value for effectively counterproductive ends, which could be reversed, so that people will feel more compelled to store value in their societies and the environment.

Regards,

John

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John C Hodge wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 15:43 GMT
DAF

“Society has a delusion fostered by the powerful that continuing growth of the economy is possible. It conjures up the common belief that sufficient natural resources will continue to be available to enable this growth.”

I disagree. The continued growth of the population and humanity is a historical fact and not a delusion. That this can continue is not a delusion. First a few historical examples. The end of the 1700s saw a limit approaching of food availability for northern Europe. The global cold didn’t help. Then came fertilizer. Saved the 1800’s from starvation especially in the really cold period in the 18 teens. Fertilizer made the natural resources much more productive for us.

New York City was facing a limit on the population that may be in the city by the end of the 1800s. The problem was the amount of horse manure would be so great. Then came the automobile.

Examine the technology improvement suggestions in these essays. Let me suggest one. The availability of cheaper energy – certainly a long tend trend since fire. Note also the beginning of garbage repurposing becoming economical. Why not total garbage repurposing? The only thing we need is energy (fission, fusion, etc.). All the other resources can be repurposed. A suggestion to have computer programs downloaded to make 3D plastic parts and supplies for people. It can be done today. And, the plastic can be remelted and reformed. The problem is the cost is too high for home use. This changes when the cost of energy lowers. So sufficient resources will be available by digging up the old garbage piles. This is Gaia also.

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Author Denis Frith replied on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 01:23 GMT
John

You provide examples of what technology has down in supplying civilization with goods, services and infrastructure. But you do not mention the ecological cost of divestment of natural material resources. You do not take into account the irremediable ecological cost of operating and maintaining the existing infrastructure. You suggest repurposing (recycling) without taking into account that technology cannot recycle carbon dioxide so we have irreversible rapid climate change. You claim recycling can be done because energy is available. But what recycling is carried out uses a system made of materials as well as energy.

Technology has never done more than use natural forces to transform natural resources into energy for use while producing waste material. Society continues to use the goods and services provided by technology and does not take into account the ecological cost. Coping with climate change is just one of the emerging problems. How do you think people will cope with the loss of land, sea and air transportation capabilities as the availability of fuel declines? The oil industry have shown how desperate they have become now that the giant fields are have dried up. Communities do not take kindly to the damage that fracking does to their ground water.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 16:17 GMT
Dear Mr. Frith,

I thought that your essay was extremely well written and I hope that it does well in the competition.

Regards,

Joe Fisher

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Author Denis Frith replied on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 23:38 GMT
Joe

Thank you for that comment. It appears, however, that most people think about the decisions that humanity can make without taking into account that it is technological systems that do most of the physical work by using up natural resources during their limited lifetime.

It will probably be years before there is widespread recognition of that stark reality. Hopefully, ELAM will emerge to lead the way.

Regards

Denis

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Vladimir Rogozhin wrote on May. 11, 2014 @ 09:47 GMT
Dear Denis,

Extremely deep analytical essays in the spirit of Cartesian doubt, optimism and deep knowledge of the problems of modern Humanity. You have a concrete Program of action and it is important that you engineer. We must find the will for the Future of our children and grandchildren. We must remember that "Freedom is the recognition of necessity" (Hegel). Scientific picture of the world should be the same rich sense of the "LifeWorld" (Husserl), as the picture of the world of lyricists . We must every hour, every minute, every second to hear the Voice of the Earth. Call for earthlings: "We start the path ," Hope - our compass earth

I invite you to my forum and my essay FQXi Essay 2012-2013.

I wish you good luck!

All the Best,

Vladimir

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Author Denis Frith replied on May. 12, 2014 @ 06:30 GMT
Dear Vladimir

I have read and obtained insight from your essay on the development of philosophies over time. I will comment directly on it at the appropriate place. However, it also contains points relevant to my essay. You mention 'loss of certainty in mathematics and physics' and allude to deficiencies in science. I have prepared a list of deficiencies in the mode of operation of society and its technological infrastructure. One of the items on the list is the failure of science to warn of the irreversible damage that using fossil fuels to provided energy. So now society has to try and devise means of coping with climate change and ocean acidification together with other deleterious consequence. Another predicament is that society will have to cope with the decline in the availability of many natural resources, including oil. These problems are exacerbated by lack of understanding of how forms of friction are causing all the technological systems to age.

Elam could provide guidance to society in coping with these and the multitude of other problems.

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Vladimir Rogozhin replied on May. 12, 2014 @ 09:05 GMT
Dear Denis,

Thank you very much for your answer! You are doing very important, noble work for the benefit of future generations of spacecraft called "Earth." I wish success to ELAM and success to you in the contest and in research.

Best regards,

Vladimir

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Author Denis Frith replied on May. 12, 2014 @ 23:56 GMT
Dear Vladimir

Thanks for those comments. I have gained insight from your essay and the associated comments. Instilling that insight into the smart young could stimulate the growth of ELAM and the steering of humanity. It might even lead to easing the senescence of Tityas.

Regards

Denis

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Margriet Anne O'Regan wrote on May. 22, 2014 @ 01:45 GMT
Hello Denis ~

In my own essay - “How Should Humanity Steer the Future ?” by Margriet Anne O’Regan - I recommend 're-centralizing' women as the foundation on which to build our 'redemption'.

This recommendation lends itself to this end, i believe & hope to show, due to the fact that 'the agendas' of men not only differ markedly from that of (un-spoiled) women but that 'quantity' rather than 'quality' is an integral & highly destructive component of the male agenda. This grab for 'quantity' is the impetus behind this lethal notion that continued growth is 'the way to go'.

I say 'un-spoiled' women because the agenda of women un-spoiled by patriarchy always veers towards 'quality' rather than vast numbers of anything.

I hope you read, like & rate my essay !!

Thank you

Margriet.

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Author Denis Frith wrote on May. 22, 2014 @ 05:34 GMT
Margriet

My essay calls for ELAM (Earth's Lodgers' Activity Movement) to lead the way in humanity steering the future operation of civilization. I would hope that female member of the movement would provide balance of the type you mention. I will certainly rate your essay as it would contribute to that balance.

Regards

Denis

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Peter Jackson wrote on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 15:32 GMT
Denis,

I'm glad the delay let me get to your essay before scoring closed. I agree entirely with your analysis and you described the argument well. What I've been thinking deeply about in recent years is implementation. Do you think that just; "A Cultural Revolution fostered by the ELAM movement" will happen, or counter the economic forces that drive our actions? And even if we do, what do...

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Author Denis Frith replied on Jun. 3, 2014 @ 00:28 GMT
Peter

I believe a cultural revolution is bound to occur as stark reality hits elements of society hard. Technological systems supplying energy is an unsustainable process even when the source of the energy is solar or wind. The systems are made of materials and they irrevocably age. And energy supply is only one of the predicaments that humanity will have to cope with. I believe the young will lead the way in this revolution. Hopefully ELAM will ease the powering down. In the past, the young expected to learn from their elders. The age when society obtained a free lunch at the expense of the environment is over. The young should now combine in ELAM to meet the challenge of powering down - not paying too much for what their elders enjoyed.

All the best with your essay.

Denis

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Don Limuti wrote on Jun. 2, 2014 @ 19:29 GMT
Hi Denis,

Your essay made a very important point. "The accent to date has been on the benefits of technological innovations without taking into account the irrevocable ecological costs."

Without taking away from that true conclusion there are hints of change in technologies like Wikipedia.

"Improved understanding will encourage altruism and pride in contributing to a society making best possible use of the remaining natural resources." That is your sentence and I like it.

Don Limuti

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Author Denis Frith replied on Jun. 3, 2014 @ 00:52 GMT
Don

You raise an interesting point. All technological systems are made, operate and are maintained by irreversibly using some of the remaining natural material resources during their limited lifetime. The question facing society is what technology will be the most useful in steering the future well being of society while coping with the demise of much of the infrastructure. That is one of the issues to be addressed by ELAM in coping with the challenge of powering down.

I do not expect that the improved communication within society due to electronic devices will help the populace of Melbourne (where I live) cope with the inevitable deterioration of infrastructure such as electricity, food and water supply, sewerage systems, transportation and education and health services.

Thanks for your comment

Denis

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James Blodgett wrote on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 08:11 GMT
Hello Denis

Life is an existence proof. If life can do something, we can hope that technology can do it too. Life has existed on Earth for a long time. Your ideas are one way that technological civilization might do so also. However, there are other possibilities that score better on a utilitarian scale.

For example, Lewis [1] estimates that there is enough material in the asteroid belt to build habitats for 10,000,000,000,000,000 people. (10,000 x 1 trillion) - - probably an overestimate. If we assume that every human life has its share of good, that is a lot of utility. Meltzer et al [2] shows a possible method for construction of these habitats. Armstrong and Sandberg [3] show a possible method for settling, not only the asteroid belt or even the galaxy, but thousands of galaxies. Anderberg's essay in this contest [4] suggests a method that might result in even higher utility.

These all are forms of singularity and require exponential growth. Exponential growth sometimes hits limits. Nevertheless, even if we assign these a fairly low probability, they still have a humongous expected value (probability times value). That suggests that they are worth at least some attempt to make them happen. I suggest that even a future requiring drastic cutbacks should have some hope and some R&D to support that hope.

[1] John Lewis, Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets, and Planets, Perseus Publishing, 1997, pg. 194.

[2] Philip Metzer et al, "Affordable, Rapid Bootstrapping of Space Industry and Solar System Civilization," Journal of Aerospace Engineering, April 2012.

[3] Stuart Armstrong & Anders Sandberg, "Eternity in six hours: Intergalactic spreading of intelligent life and sharpening the Fermi paradox," Acta Astronautica, Aug–Sept 2013.

[4] Tommy Anderberg, A Future Brighter than 100 Trillion Suns, FQXi essay contest.

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Author Denis Frith replied on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 23:12 GMT
Hello,James

You quote "if life can do something" when the simple reality is that technological systems do almost everything. In the main, people just make decisions, good and bad. And technological systems use up limited natural resources in their lifetimes. Mining the asteroid belt is not possible because there is not enough materials, including those supplying the necessary energy. Even the (extremely materially costly)space program cannot continue. The articles you quote are science fiction.

Denis

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James Blodgett wrote on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 00:34 GMT
Science fiction sometimes works.

Consider portfolio strategy. If you have good reason to think the market is going down, you could make money by shorting stocks. However, if your portfolio has nothing but shorts, scheduled to mature at the same time, you are putting all your eggs in one basket and are quite likely to be wiped out. You are right about resource limitations. However, it seems wise not to sell technology totally short. Sometimes it comes up with ways to conserve resources, or to make resources out of things that were not resources before.

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Author Denis Frith replied on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 04:40 GMT
James

Technology always irreversibly uses natural resources. that is a fundamental physical principle. It is likely that innovative technology will use unusual resources in a minor way. But that, at best, will be a minor mitigation. The existing technological systems of civilization are using up vast amounts of natural material resources at a create rate. That is an unsustainable process. What you suggest does not change that principle.

Denis

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James Blodgett wrote on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 05:27 GMT
Hello Denis

Life consists of lots of molecular machines inside of a cell. There are machines that generate energy, machines that pump things through cell walls, and so forth. If we had designed it, we would call it nanotech. Indeed one of the paths to nanotech is to use the machinery of DNA and RNA to make our own versions. We can already manufacture DNA to order.

You say "Technology always irreversibly uses natural resources." It that true of the "technology" inside of a cell?

I quote from Lance McGill's paper in this contest: "... one issue I have dealt with over the course of many articles has been the concept of "using up resources." While on the surface, this seems to be a logical train of thought, it lies very firmly in the assumption that any given resource once used can never be reused. While there are many examples of such one-way transformations of resources in our current reality, it seems unlikely that once we have acquired the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level at will that any given resource will remain 'scarce'. In truth, the overwhelming majority of our 'used resources' lying dormant in garbage dumps will most likely become the source of vast amounts of recycled resources. "

I am not claiming that this will absolutely become true, but can you be sure that it absolutely will not? Life is an existence proof that total recycling is possible.

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Author Denis Frith replied on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 06:58 GMT
James

Cells are made of tangible materials. DNA and RNA are intangible information. Some of the material resources can be recycled but not all. We have learned the hard way that the carbon dioxide emitted by the combustion of the hydrocarbons in fossil fuels cannot be recycled. You talk about manipulating matter at the atomic level. That requires a system made of material that will age. There are sound physical reasons why what you claim cannot occur.

Denis

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Anonymous replied on Jun. 9, 2014 @ 06:59 GMT
James

The sound physical reasons are:

1 energy flow is irreversible

2 energy flow does positive work on systems made of materials but forms of friction does negative work at the same time

3 friction transforms kinetic energy to thermal energy that is dissipated

4 friction also transforms a small amount of material to waste

These principles apply to both biological and technological systems.Birds would not be able fly if it were not for friction. The purpose of the heart is to overcome friction in arteries and veins.

Various forms of recycling (including water, carbon dioxide - carbohydrates)take place naturally in the operation of biological systems. This is a sustainable process that has been under way for eons.

Some recycling of materials used in technological systems is worthwhile (aluminum) by using an aging (due to friction)system made of materials but this is an unsustainable process.

Denis

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James Blodgett wrote on Jun. 9, 2014 @ 02:31 GMT
1) What are those sound physical reasons?

2) How does biology, which is an assembly of physical material, get around those reasons? Or does it?

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James Blodgett wrote on Jun. 11, 2014 @ 08:23 GMT
It may well be that there will be a heat death of the universe, the expansion of the universe seems to be putting part of it beyond our reach, technology as practiced today is unsustainable, and it will be difficult to reach the stars, although perhaps not impossible. On the other hand, these limits do not preclude some amazing singularities. See my essay for a couple of more or less plausible examples. See Anderberg's essay for some even bigger examples. I am not predicting that they absolutely will occur, indeed I say that their probability is low. Referencing my essay is no longer a solicitation for a vote, since the voting is closed. On the gripping hand, the routes around these and more mundane limits may not work, so it may be prudent to prepare to limit growth. I see this as your legitimate argument. If you said it that way rather than asserting that a flying machine is impossible, it would be hard to disagree on fundamental grounds. Is there more to your argument that I have missed? My point is that, since more is possible, a prudent portfolio of initiatives that might include major cutbacks would also include at least some small percent of initiatives that might result in a brighter future.

I can see why an effort to limit growth would want to limit hope too, since hope might justify imprudent reluctance to embrace limits. Nevertheless, truth has value. It seems inappropriate to impose limits based on arguments which are not true when true reasons are available. Your statement that technology is inherently unsustainable is true only because of limits that are billions of years in the future, limits that could in the best case support expansion by many orders of magnitude, and that is not the truth that you imply.

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Anonymous wrote on Jun. 11, 2014 @ 23:42 GMT
James

Technological systems are not sustainable for physical reasons that have always operated. That is truth. It is not based on limits that will apply in the future.

You discuss decisions made by people in your essay without any reference to the irreversible impact of natural forces that have always determined what happens in materialistic operations - and always will. Your comment on Anderberg's space proposal and comments in your essay show the common lack of understanding of these fundamental physical principles.

You certainly did miss or misinterpret my argument.I did not say that a flying machine is impossible. I commented on the role of friction in enabling flight. That is why airliners cannot fly in space - common knowledge of the consequences of fundamental physical principles. You claim more is possible. I challenge you to name any technological system that has not irreversibly used up natural material resources, produces irrevocable material waste and damaged the environment in its limited lifetime. I am well aware of the positives of technology: the infrastructure, goods and services that benefits society. But the negatives, the eco costs and the unsustainable nature of technology should also be taken into account.

Thank you for your comments as they provide insight into how I present my arguments on an issue that most people do not understand as it is not included in science education.

Denis

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