An algae based economy

Planetary transformation should be to different methods of consumption that can sustain and increase human wealth and happiness.   In terms of the climate crisis, thinking on emission reduction needs to evolve into a new paradigm for a transformed ethic of human existence on our planet. The strain on world resources will only be managed through focus on technological transformation.

How I visualise a transformed world is one where the massive unused resources and energy of the world ocean become available through new simple large scale technology, and as a result the grossly inefficient traditional rural systems that perpetuate poverty and impact the environment can be replaced by new modern urban lifestyles in which people have a light ecological footprint but still have abundant energy and resources.

A shift to a high technology urban lifestyle, with materials mainly built from carbon, can create universal abundance for high human populations while also enhancing global biodiversity.  Failing to explore such a path leaves open the risk of catastrophe.

Current affluent lifestyles are not sustainable and replicable in the manner of the First World.   It is actually possible physically on our planet to shift the world economy to a system of abundance rather than scarcity, but this needs a paradigm shift in terms of both technology and culture.

My view is that it is entirely physically possible to achieve sustained global abundance through an algae based economy.  This is not an irresponsible fantasy but a practical reform agenda.  Putting our eggs in the basket of sacrificing wealth by reducing energy and resource use is actually the really irresponsible attitude, since it is a recipe for failure and conflict, whereas discussion of a technological path to universal abundance is a basis for successful stable global peace and justice.  The environmentalist ideology is a genuine barrier to progress when it stymies technological solutions.

We need to shift from a linear waste mentality to a culture of cyclic reuse. Such a shift could sustain vastly higher productivity and happiness than we now have.

My point here is counter-intuitive from a traditional linear view.  We naturally assume that the most wealthy cause the most damage.  But that ignores the role of education as a product of wealth in enabling biodiversity protection by improving understanding and accountability.  Among the real causes of biodiversity loss, one of the biggest factors is poverty, for example in the use of firewood for cooking and in activities of subsistence farmers to clear land.

I propose as a core reform to develop efficient industrial processes to grow algae on immense commercial scale at sea.   The results of that would be immediate direct protection of marine biodiversity by increasing the nutrient available at the base of the food chain, and also by stabilising the carbon cycle, enabling rapid removal of the excess carbon our linear methods have added to the air and water.

We need an unbending focus on the big picture, which is the question of how we can mine twenty billion tonnes of carbon from the air and sea each year.

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1 Comment »

  1. Robert Tulip said,

    November 5, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

    [note – this is my response to quoted comments made at]

    DWill wrote: You are correct that there may be means of utilizing our resources that obviate the harmful effects we’ve seen to this point.

    Yes, that is exactly the conversation I am trying to promote. It is mildly ironic that Booktalk has a discussion on The Martian at the moment with its star trek buzz of space as the next frontier. My firm view is that the real next frontier for human pioneers is the world ocean. We need to stabilise our existence on this planet before we focus on Mars.

    We face a real and present danger of civilizational collapse due to climate change. This can easily be prevented by big new simple technology at sea, mining enough carbon from the air and water to return to the stable Holocene level and preventing sea level rise, acidification and global warming, together with all their major extinction impacts. But this idea that I am presenting is a new paradigm that is totally ignored in any public debate that I have seen, and seems to face hidden social and cultural blockages.

    DWill wrote: There could be a virtual screen that prevents us from seeing a way out of the linear paradigm, toward a really cyclical one.

    I opened up this theme of the linear and the cyclic after I got thinking about it again before my recent trip to Boston to collect my winners certificate from MIT for my tidal pump invention. On the bus from Canberra on the way to the plane in Sydney I arranged to have a long conversation with Dr Glen Corder, a chemical engineer who it turned out studied under my mother’s first boyfriend Don Nicklin.

    From his website page “Glen is a Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining and has over 25 years’ experience in the resources industries. Since joining CSRM in 2004, his research interests have been in the area of responsible resource use and processing. Glen is currently leading a program of work on barriers and enablers for recycling systems in the Wealth from Waste Cluster, a research collaboration that aims to identify economically viable options for the recycling of metals from end-of-life products and industrial waste in Australia.”

    Glen discussed with me the need to shift the coal industry from a linear to a cyclic paradigm as a key to enabling its continued existence. I think that this well illustrates DWill’s very important and interesting notion here of a “virtual screen”.

    My view is that this “virtual screen” that reinforces the traditional linear paradigm is deeply embedded in cultural assumptions about progress, existence, technology and religion. The idea that we are each an individual soul who progresses from conception to eternal life is a major example of linear thinking, as is the idea that technological progress has constantly evolved to make life better, and, more mundanely, the obviously false idea that our planet has infinite resources which can be used once and not recycled.

    Because this linear mentality is so deeply entrenched, there is political hostility towards the idea that it even exists, let alone that we need a conversation about how to shift to a more sustainable paradigm. What is key in my view is the need for a transition plan that has a theory of change and program logic involving a realistic evolutionary visualisation of a different way of living.

    My view is that the main previous efforts in this regard, within the frameworks of socialism and communism, have massively failed to provide a realistic understanding of human incentives, and as a result have created misery and torpor instead of sustained improvement. So the political economy analysis around cultural transformation has to engage in some fundamental work on philosophy, which in practice means engaging with the assumptions surrounding religious faith.

    DWill wrote: But this is a bet, a gamble. And in the space before the advent of this millennium, how much further damage may occur?

    Your mention of the millennium illustrates the connections this debate has to religion. My view is that it is possible and necessary to see Christian thinking as usefully informing the shift of paradigm to a rational scientific economy. And on your question of further damage, I take the view that only a fundamental transformation can save us, that without big thinking about a global paradigm shift we will settled down like a frog in a boiling pot.

    DWill wrote: I prefer to think it’s more practical to have a social transformation, which in any case will be necessary regardless of technology that arrives later.

    The trouble is that the sort of social transformation you describe at the personal level is simply inadequate to the scale of the problem of global climate change. We need coordinated global industrial technological processes, and in my view that means large scale ocean based algae production, to stabilise and repair the climate.

    It is essential that a conversation about such big topics happen in tandem with discussions on personal values and behaviour, but this is a tandem operation where both are powering the bike, not a cart and horse where one pulls and the other rides along.

    DWill wrote: A consumerist paradise of no consequences for more massive consumption is a chimera.

    Yes, since there are only so many tigers and rhinos available to meet the crazy desires of Chinese consumers. But on the other hand, if we shift a lot of our agricultural sourcing to the sea, with highly efficient productivity well above current methods, as is entirely possible, then we will see a massive pressure lifted from land based biodiversity, especially if for example algae based food oils can compete with palm oil on price, thereby saving the tropical rainforests from destruction.

    DWill wrote: Abundance must be redefined as not merely material and not merely a measure of the wealth held by humans. Metrics need to change.

    Yes, and this is where a shift to an education-based urban society will enable values to shift. I think we are now at Kitty Hawk phase for a new Blue Economy based on utilising the world ocean, and as we explore this we will discover how the oceans have barely been tapped for their abundant productive capacity to sustain a global human civilization that is immensely more wealthy and secure than we currently have or imagine.

    Taylor wrote: I really dig this idea of a “Blue Economy”, This is the first time I’ve read the term and it is a brilliant fit.

    Thanks Taylor. Your comment prompted me to look again at the origin of the term Blue Economy, which was the title of a major book published in 2011 which then became the basis of a United Nations program. And the Blue Economy principles align very well to my ideas about technological transformation of the oceans as a key to economic progress.

    Here is some of what Wikipedia has to say: The Blue Economy: 10 years – 10 innovations – 100 million jobs is a book by Gunter Pauli. The book expresses the ultimate aim that a Blue Economy business model will shift society from scarcity to abundance with what is locally available, by tackling issues that cause environmental and related problems in new ways. The book highlights potential benefits in connecting and combining seemingly disparate environmental problems with open-source scientific solutions based upon physical processes common in the natural world, to create solutions that are both environmentally beneficial and which have financial and wider social benefits. The book suggests that we can alter the way in which we run our industrial processes and tackle resultant environmental problems, refocusing from the use of rare and high-energy cost resources to instead seek solutions based upon simpler and cleaner technologies.

    My tidal pump and large scale ocean based algae production system can become a blue economy innovation.

    There is also a website run by Pauli, worth a look

    Taylor wrote: What we are up against starts with the individual person of all nations getting there mind on line with 7.5 billion other individuals, then all the nations of the world getting on line, All with a common goal, a “Blue Economy”. Roberts right, the oceans are more important than manned missions to Mars, There is simply more potential benefit for humans starting at our shores, we are drawn to water but fail to see the importance of that attraction it sometimes seems.

    Thanks for backing me up regarding the space flight question. I am a big supporter of plans to explore space, but it needs to be done in a structured way. The big Apollo-type project we urgently need today has to focus on climate and energy. The context of mass extinction and potential economic collapse due to ecological failure means that we should defer the NASA focus on Mars until we have stabilised the terrestrial climate. I think that should take only five years to get an orderly agreed technological path, so it is not a big delay, and would lay the platform for later space travel.

    A good way to look at achieving the Blue Economy goals is to accept Margaret Mead’s comment “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    This illustrates that discussion of political ideas relating to climate change can proceed without assuming that a technological focus is partisan or uninformed. While denialism clearly is partisan and uninformed and deeply stupid, there is a legitimate and important debate needed about the role of technology.

    The climate movement asserts that because the science is settled therefore its political and economic theories are also settled. That is not true. The political economy around decarbonisation and emission reduction is deeply flawed, involving covert socialist agendas which will not work.

    Rather than accept the G7/OECD rhetoric of decarbonisation, I prefer to imagine a blue economy in which use of carbon is actually massively ramped up. For example, algae farms can make plastic rope out of carbon on massive scale, enough to build ten million square miles of algae farms at sea and rapidly stabilise the climate. That does not involve less use of carbon, or the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, but rather a focus on technological innovation to convert carbon fuels into highly productive industrial systems.

    As I have said before, saying that we can solve carbon waste by emitting less is like trying to solve urban sanitation by making people shit less. It won’t work. It is contrary to physics, and therefore contrary to simple politics. We have to consider the carbon cycle as a whole, which means finding ways to mine the carbon that we have added to the system.

    But our world is gripped by this mass delusion that we can or should stop people from digging up coal and burning it. That recipe, wrapped up in the false language of decarbonisation, will only produce confrontation and conflict, and is a bad distraction from the real agenda of stopping mass extinction and economic collapse.

    Taylor wrote: You are also very correct DWill, I find the idea of global mass consumerism, the continued monstrous consumption of all this planet can produce as being a panacea as simply hard to fathom, the bye product waste of billions of people alone is undaunting to think about, let alone the if come of whether an increase of more of the same consumption will end human need, The idea seems like a weird cycle of trial and error.

    We can consume much more, as long as we recycle everything. The Blue Economy principles include that there is no such thing as waste. We are now finding that rubbish tips are emerging as high yielding mines. I like to imagine taking all our rubbish to sea, and churning it up to get all the metal and other valuable elements out of it, in safe systems that are carefully designed to prevent release of dangerous pollution, run by tide, wave, wind and solar power. Robot whales, robot jellyfish and robot wombats can be used to mine and clean the seas, enabling big increase in biodiversity.

    Taylor wrote: A “Blue Economy” is an uphill idea. Falling back is much more than a loss of ground, its not good thinking. I agree with Robert, we need to push doubly hard, not only to make a sustainable future, but to convince those who doubt downside potentials that there is a worth while task worth joining. How to implement controls in a free society is not an easy question to answer its also the one that has the more important consequence.

    I am less focused on controls than on demonstrating superior methods. Old ways only stop when the new is better. Advocates of obsolete methods don’t need to be convinced, they can simply be out-competed, in the same way that cars replaced horses. By showing that we can make energy in ways that compete with fossil fuels on price, and can make valuable products which reuse the carbon emitted by fossil fuels, we will evolve to a new market economy in which obsolete methods will be discarded as no longer commercially viable.

    Exxon has a choice to be an Apple or a Kodak. Being an Apple means joining the Blue Economy to make energy supply sustainable. The only conflict should be through the open creative competition of market forces, applying to the Blue Economy the same transformative innovation and disruption which has revolutionised information and communications technology.

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