Long-term challenges

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Long-term challenges are relatively slow-moving trends that may be anticipated to have a growing impact on human life.


Underlying fallacy: It is not advantageous for me to support the livelihood of other people.

Why should I pay to educate other people's children?

When a multitude of people have unregulated access to a common resource, those who maximize the ratio of benefits extracted to costs incurred will out-complete other users in the present and enhance their own potential to extract further resources in the future. Under these circumstances it is a losing proposition to devote resources to preserving or enhancing the resources. The benefits of plowing effort back into a resource will be better reaped by those who devote all their own resources to that endeavor.

When the children of a nation are treated by law and by custom as such an unregulated, unprotected common resource, then those who value only the labor or other resources provided by these young people will not be motivated to devote a portion of their own wealth to the enhancement of these children. So long as labor of a sufficiently high quality is available somewhere in the environment, the competitive advantage will belong to those who maximize their extraction ratio. Unlike the situation outlined above, however, there are indirect costs associated with this policy: social disorder, crime, disease, etc. To the extent that the competitive winners in the extraction game can insulate themselves from these social consequences they can afford to ignore them. When the pressures generated by the foresaken begin to impinge on those who are successful at the extraction game, the most economical fix generally is assumed to be imprisonment, "disappearances," and even death squads. Deaths can be engineered into the system to some extent by permitting a negligent attitude toward the presence of various drugs that initially divert the attention of the disadvantaged groups from criminal pursuits and eventually result in deaths by overdose, secondary infections, drug wars, etc.

A nation's leadership can compensate for the degradation of that nation's own labor pool by importing labor resources from abroad. These resources can be treated an an essentially inexhaustible resource so long as the economies of these other nations do not falter too much. It can use those local labor resources at low cost by creating a situation of de facto competition with the depressed external labor markets. Doctors, lawyers, and the like can be imported from mid-level foreign economies.

What, then, would motivate individuals who employ labor and/or corporations whose leadership has a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit to tax themselves to lift the education level of the entire society? If there actually is a valid appeal to the enlightened self interest of those who employ labor in the mass, it is not a transparently clear argument that is persuasive to all. Quite the contrary.

So, what factors actually can motivate people to vote for taxes that will not benefit themselves in any readily apparent manner?

Why should I pay to improve other people's earnings?

Why should I contribute to other people's health costs?

Population growth

Population pressures encourage migration to places with better economic conditions

  • The trend for economically deprived workers to seek a better life by migrating legally or illegally to economically successful regions is already clearly in evidence.

Permeable U.S. southern borders

  • As disparities increase, pressure against borders of the U.S. (and other economically favored countries) can only increase.

Economic disparities cause social chaos

Perceptions that the Islamic world suffers economically (and in related ways) is behind some part of anti-West feelings and activities

Perceptions in the first world that we are in a zero-sum game dissuades some people from agreeing to provide aid programs, conduct nation building, etc.

Climate Change

Additive effects of supposed natural warming and human-caused release of greenhouse gasses

  • Short-sighted "me first" view maintains that there is no scientific proof that humans contribute to global warming, and argues that it would be wasteful to spend money and resources on control of greenhouse gasses. This view is reminiscent of the now-discredited view that some people will always get lung cancer and thatb there was no proof that smoking causes cancer, therefore it would be irrational to curb tobacco consumption.

Increased ensolation on "open field" vs. increased ensolation on "greenhouse"

  • If solar energy increases over open farmland, the land and crops will become hotter while the sun is out. When the sun goes down heat will be re-radiated and the land and plants will cool. If solar energy increases over a closed greenhouse, the enclosed environment absorbs much heat and re-radiates relatively little, producing a higher average temperature. That is the whole point of building greenhouses. Greenhouses must be vented during summer months to prevent overheating the environment of the plants within.

Decreased ensolation on "open field" vs. decreased encolation on "greenhouse"

  • If solar energy decreases over open farmland (as it would during autumn and winter), the land and crops will become cooler. If solar energy decreases over a greenhouse, the enclosed environment will also become cooler, but at a slower rate than outside. Temperatures suitable to plant growth can often be maintained without the need for artificial heating just by closing the venting, improving the insulation, etc.

Effects of environmental degradation on food production and other quality of life issues

  • If the earth were going into another "mini ice age," then an increase in greenhouse gasses would be benefitial because it would tend to moderate agricultural losses and heating costs due to general cooling of the earth. If ensolation were constant and greenhouses effects were in fact minimal, the industrial release of greenhouse gasses could have a negligible effect. If ensolation is increasing and greenhouse effects occur then the impact of increased ensolation would be magnified to some degree. Decreased heating needs might balance increased energy expenditures for air conditioning and other such attempts at remediation, but the number of people in the warm areas of the globe are many times higher than the population of people near the poles, so the net effect would be to release even more greenhouse gasses.

Effects of environmental degradation on population pressures and migration patterns

  • People can migrate to escape catastrophic climate changes, but ecosystems cannot move or at least cannot move repidly. Degredation of ecosystems can have a very bad effect on agriculture and food production.

Possibility of long-term changes if, e.g., the Gulf Stream is shut down by "chaos" considerations

See http://www.cmp.caltech.edu/~mcc/chaos_new/Lorenz.html for a possible model.

Growing scarcity of some non-renewable resources may tip the cost-benefit ratio

"New" energy sources


Wind energy has long been harvested for processes such as milling where the mechanical energy of the rotating windmill can be used to turn something else such as a giant millstone or a lathe. In the last few centuries windmills have been used to pump water to fill watering tanks for farm livestock and even to use in some irrigation applications. Even more recently, windmills have been used to generate electricity. Wind energy is not ideal for this purpose since wind speed in the continental U.S. can vary between 0 mph and something over 200 mpg (at the summit of Mt. Washington). If the gear ration is kept constant, then the voltage produced by an A.C. or D.C. generator will vary. It requires quite a sophisticated procedure to produce a current of constant voltage from a generator being powered at inconstant speed.

In order to store the electrical energy produced, batteries must be provided. The weight of the batteries is not a significant problem for shipboard use (as with a submarine) or for stationary land operations, but electric cars must carry very heavy batterOne alies to achieve a practical range of operation. (That is one of the reasons for interest in fuel cells, storage of electrical energy by producing hydrogen, etc.)

Wind can also be used to power transport vessels for relatively slow but low cost ocean transport.


Falling water has long been used to carry barges to the sea, to power mills for many industrial processes, and, more recently, to produce electricity. Most of the ideal opportunities for hydroelectric generators have already been utilized, but China plans to soon achieve high yields by damming the Yangze River. While benign in the sense that these generators do not produce toxic emissions, they do interfere with fisheries and other natural processes that are part of the ecology that was established over the millions of years that rivers have run in their courses. In some places in the U.S., dams have been removed to remediate environmental damage.


Several kinds of vegetation have been used or will soon be used to supply energy. One common and age-old example is the use of wood for home heating and cooking. While the wood that burns cannot produce any more carbon dioxide than would otherwise eventually be released through slower processes of oxidation, the products of burning cannot as easily be reincorporated into bio-mass (new vegetation) and generally produce high volumes of particulate matter that may have a deleterious impact on the atomosphere, on global warming, etc.

One alternative to direct burning of biomass is to use the natural processes of fermentation to change the starches and sugars in such crops as corn (American maize) into ethyl alcohol. Another promising plan is to turn certain rapidly growing trees into wood alcohol (a chemically different product from grain alcohol, i.e., ethyl alcohol). The resulting alcohols are clean burning, and many of the substances that would produce soot were the vegetation to be burned directly will now be found in the residual mash left at the end of each run of the fermentation process. This mash is typically rich in nutrients and can often be fed to livestock, composed and applied as fertilizer, etc.

Nuclear energy

Nuclear fission is "clean" insofar as it does not produce either carbon dioxide, soot, or other particulate matter to pollute the atmosphere. On the other hand, the problem of how to process and store the radioactive end product has never received a satisfactory solution.

Nuclear fusion would be an ideal way of obtaining energy, providing only that we could achieve a sustainable and slow fusion process to use to power generators. Up to now this idea has remained an elusive dream due to the need to contain fusion rather than producing a fusion explosion. Experiments thusfar performed have required more energy to use in containing the fusion reaction than has been harvested from that fusion reaction, and the process has not been sustained for alength of time that gives much hope for the quick achievement of commercial nuclear fusion generators.


Several other processes for harvesting energy have been proposed and some have been given experimental trials. Among them are geo-thermal heating, harvesting sea currents, harvesting tidal motion, harvesting temperature differentials between the ocean's surface and the water at great depths, etc.

What happens when it takes more energy to extract a barrel of oil than is contained in a like amount of oil?

The "rabbit starvation" model.

When trekkers go into the Arctic region and run out of food, they may attempt to survive by shooting or trapping rabbits. Rabbits may be numerous, tasty, and filling. But in the absence of other things to eat the woodman will starve to death. The reason is that rabbits have very little fat so they have a low caloric value, and the human body actually uses more calories to digest the protein in the rabbit carcasses than are gained from the protein consumed. On the other hand, glucose can be used directly by the human body, and fat is both less costly to digest and higher in caloric yield.

Unless raw petroleum is burned just as it comes from the well, it must at minimum undergo fractional distillation to separate the various petroleum products ranging in viscosity from gasoline to the heavy grease that is used to pack axles. When the more easily processed grades of petroleum are in low supply their high price motivates petroleum companies to extract petroleum products from less and less easily processed sources. It costs energy to run the "cat crackers" and other distillary machinery, and at some point it will require more energy to process the raw petroleum than can be gained from using the finished products. (It is often claimed that ethyl alcohol production is at or near this break-even point.) Once that point is reached the energy extraction must grind to a halt until such time as a more efficient refinery process can be invented. It is very unusual for a technologically higher process to require only less expensive capital investments.

"It costs money to make money," and sometimes it can cost too much money to be able to make any money.

Associated fallacies

I've always gotten away with this before.

It's going to happen anyway.

When the price gets high enough more of resource X will be found

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