Energy and Progress

The recent centuries brought unprecedented progress.
As a result, more people then ever enjoy prosperity and freedom.
But this absence of existential threats has also resulted in an unrealistic view of life.
Fear and uncentaincy are still engraved in our brains as the inheritance of a woeful past.
These emotions find shelter at environmental organisations, which have taken over the moral compass from the church.
The environmentalists picture our planet as “mother earth” and wilderness as an ideal.
This was a brilliant move because, as a result, all human activity becomes contemptible.
To live there no other choice then to sin. Good news: indulgences are tax deductable (in the Netherlands).

A more realistic view of life emerges when we recall our history.
Humans have separated the world in nature and culture.
What is nature? A piece of rock is -dead- nature. It is in rest and in balance with other nature.
Maybe some chemical reactions take place with water and gasses in the atmosphere.
But once a remarkable change took place.
Chemical compounds emerged that were able to reproduce because they had their building plan stored.
Also, the plan could be changed so new compositions could arise.
We call this life. Adaptation is learning, learning is intelligence.
The evolution does not show much intelligence.
Every square inch of the earth is a labatory in itself, but it took billions
of years to construct insects, fish, mammels and finally humans.
The result however is extremely complicated , incomprehensible and raises immense respect and wonder.

Life on earth evolved simply because it was possible.
This statement seems trivial at first, but it is not, because it has three consequences.
At first there was no predefined aim.
The question “why we are on earth” cannot be answered.
From a cosmic perspective, there is no purpose.
From a human point of view, the answer is obvious : survival.
The second conclusion is: mother earth is not a real mother, caring unconditionally for her children.
We have to care for ourselves. Just as equities, the past is no guarantee for the future.
And third: nature is immoral. Good and bad do not exist, there are no ethical principles.
To survive, other life has to be taken.
Our romantic view of nature has suppressed this cruelty, we do not like to recognize the animals in our food.
While walking in a forest, we do not realise that under our footsteps billions of microbes are fighting for their life.

The average temperature in the Netherlands is 10 degrees Celsius. The human body is 37 degrees.
So, our life is not in balance with nature. We continuously need energy to raise our temperature.
Until some centuries ago, land was the only source of energy. It supplied food and timber.
Power was synonymous with land ownership. Conquering land was the way to gain more power.

Urging that “man should live in harmony with nature” is unrealistic.
Life needs energy to uplift itself from dead nature.
Humans are the first to show ethical conduct: caring for the sick and handicapped, saving nature for animals.
Ethical conduct uplifts mankind from living nature.
Uplifting requires extra energy.
Prosperous countries take care of the handicapped, have cleaner environments and protect nature.

A human body in rest needs 100 watt power, the same as a candle.
Most is needed to maintain our body temperature.
Also, 150 watt mechanical power may be exercised.
This energy is insufficient for a comfortable life. That's why slavery was widespread.
In this way, some people had a nice life, at the cost of many others.
The eulogized ancient Greece was a slave state.

The first external power source was the horse.
One HP = 736 watt, the power a horse may produce continuously.
So a horse replaces five humans, but requires four acres for it's food.
Windmills where the next power source.
Starting 1500, the Netherlands showed big innovations in wind- and wood technology.
The wood was imported from Norway and the Baltic states, the Netherlands was almost deforested,
at a population of one million inhabitants. (now 17 million)
A large windmill generated about 40KWatt of power of which 60% was lost due to friction of the wooden gearwheels.
So, the net effect was 16KWatt, 20HP.
Our ancestors used their mills for water pumping, corn milling, oil pressing and wood sawing.
These were non time critical processes, quite contrary to the present use of windmills to generate electricity.

Dutch windmill museum “Zaanse Schans”:

In 1768 James Watt improved the steam engine.
It's volume decreased while the power multiplied. The first machines generated 10 to 200 HP.
This new and concentrated power source could drive trains, ships and pumps.
It started the industrial revolution and fossil fuel era.
The windmills and sailing ships, with their fickle nature, where expelled to the museum.

Oil and chemical technology begot the combustion engine, again much more power in a smaller volume.
This enabled aviation. A Jumbo taking off exercises 120,000 HP.
Our transportation system is mainly powered by oil.

The production of iron takes much coal, originally from wood.
Starting 1000 before Christ, the beginning of the iron age, mankind has not lived in a sustainable way.
Always more trees were cut, peat and coal digged, oil and gas pumped, then nature replenished.
In the middle-ages forests could recover after plagues when the population was halved.
The industrial revolution could only take place due to this non sustainable lifestyle of our ancestors.
Also, we thank our prosperity and modern societies to non sustainable practices.
The current definition of sustainability, finiteness of resources, therefore is inadequate.
In reality innovation creates a resource.
Iron ore became a resource only after the iron production was mastered.
Sand became a resource after glassblowing was invented.
Better mining techniques create resources. Sustainability is timely innovation.
The Club of Rome, with it's doomsday predictions, was wrong for this reason.

Professors of humanistics preach that ethical arguments made us end slavery.
I have my doubts.
Centuries ago, a Dutch vicar travelled to South Africa to teach the slaves that their hardships
were the only way to eternal salvation.
Such a story better demonstrates human nature then a psychology textbook.
Agricultural machines entered the market starting 1850. The USA ended slavery in 1865.

Centuries ago, 70% of the population worked in agriculture and fishery.
A century ago, 40% of the English population was servant.
Only abundant energy enabled freedom for all and an extensive education system.

Fossil fuels delivered that energy uncoupled land ownership from political power.
Of course, the elite lamented, I refer to the filosofers Adorno and Ortega.

A documentary once showed an African headman who saw no use in schools at all.
Try to convince people in a medieval agricultural society that they should
withdraw their children from the workforce for 15 years and they will call you nuts.
A large-scale education system is not logical at first glance.
Only afterwards we know it's blessings: prosperity due to innovation.

What is progress?
At first it is elimination of grief.
This means more distance from nature by clothing, housing to oppose cold and rain and so on.
Prosperity is victory over nature, defeating parasites and contagious deseases,
using machines to eliminate hard physical work.
“Back to nature” only is nice for a week or so of camping in summer.

Secondly, progress is more freedom.
This may be the absence of coercion, social mobility and the number of choices such as for a lifestyle.
Abundant energy is the prerequisite of freedom.
With insufficient energy feudal times will return with a few rich people and many servants.
With insufficient energy, most of the population must work on the land for basic needs.
Without agricultural surplus by mechanisation no education- and extensive entertainment system.

And third, progress is security.
A transportation system makes us less dependent on our residence area.
The ability to adapt also adds to security.
The Dutch continuously are improving their dikes and coastal defence.

Progress also means that products become available for more people.
This is the case when the price and volume decreases ( Churchbell --> wristwatch) and reliability increases.
Products that do not satisfy this criteria, such as windfarms, should be regarded with great scepticism.

Energy is the basis of everything. It is the precondition for any motion or change.
It's availability builds our society while we gain distance from nature.
Each choice or technology has it's pro's and con's.
But these should be weighted in a fair and proportional way.
Combustion engines stink and make noise, but we cannot live without.

Environmentalists claim that each year thousands of people die of air pollution.
But without coal, oil and gas a modern country is only able to sustain 15% of it's population.

The middle ages knew a sharp border between church and science.
The first managed heaven, the latter was restricted to matters on earth.
This was the craddle of the enlightment.
At present however, the Green church is strongly involved with earthly technology such as energy generation.
We have strayed away from the path of enlightment.
Premature and improvident measures proved to be serious mistakes: unethical bio-fuels, windfarms and the mercury loaded CFL.
By declaring wilderness as ideal, an anti-industrial, anti-human attitude has emerged.
This fundamentalism is very harmfull and precludes research to solve real problems.
It is time to restore the separation between church and state.
Choices should be based on facts and science, not false emotions.