Published on The Doomstead Diner on May 29, 2016
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One of the biggest controversies among people who are aware of the Energy problems we face moving into the future is whether Renewable Energy (RE) can substitute for the Fossil Fuels (FF) we currently use to run our Industrial Lifestyle and Civilization. Can they produce enough energy, can we transition to them fast enough, can they replace all the things we use fossil fuels to power?
Last week, Ugo Bardi of the blog Cassandra's Legacy and Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Firenza in Italy put up the results of an Informal Survey he did of “experts” in RE who participate on a discussion forum dedicated to the topic. There were 70 respondents to this survey, and they mostly were positive in their view of the future potential of RE as a replacement for FFs. I thought it would be a good idea to get a wider sample of opinions on this topic, and hopefully a larger Sample Size as well in a new Renewable Energy Survey. The first question in this survey is a duplicate of Ugo's question, the rest of the questions are designed to get further detail on your opinions on the future of RE as we move forward toward a Different Tomorrow. I won't say better or worse, just that it surely will be different.
Now, our survey by no means is a Random Sample of the population at large, it is a sample of people who read blogs & websites where we are dropping the Links on to take the survey. However, we are not just dropping the links on Collapse oriented sites, we also are dropping them on Renewable Energy sites where the readers are generally more positive about the future potential for RE than on Collapse oriented sites. So we hope to get a balance of opinions in this way.
We also hope that the readers will email Friends & Relatives with the link to the survey, so we can get an even wider sample of opinions from people who don't usually concern themselves with this topic and don't haunt either the Renewable Energy blogs or Collapse Blogs. The larger the sample size we can get, the more accurate the results of the survey will be as a reflection of what people think about these issues. Larger sample size also allows better parsing of data based on demographics.
RE doesn't come in only One Flavor, there are many forms of it, some used since Antiquity such as Mechanical Windmills and Water Wheels, which go back to the Roman Empire at least. Animal Labor from Draft animals is also a form of Renewable Energy, as long as you have food for the Horses & Oxen anyhow. Similarly with Slave Labor of Homo Saps, as long as you can feed, clothe and house them in enough numbers they reproduce effectively, this also is a form of RE. The energy itself in both the latter 2 cases comes in the form of FOOD, but for that energy to be converted to usable work, it needs a biological machine that does that, which mainly are draft animals and slave Homo Saps.
More commonly though, when you talk to modern people about RE, what they think of are Photovoltaic Panels popping up on some of the rooftops around Suburbia amongst people seeking to go “off grid”. They also picture the large Arrays of Wind Turbines sprinkled across mountains in California, along with huge Hydro plants like the Hoover Dam. One of the questions in our survey is what you think the relative effectiveness of each of these types of RE will have as we move into the future?
Other questions revolve around your opinions on how much energy we need to maintain the techno-industrial lifestyle, and how large a population of Homo Sap is sustainable on the planet in the absence of FFs, with only REs as a source of usable energy? If we made the transition today, how many people could live sustainably on Mother Earth? We also would like to know your opinion on when serious Energy Shortages for maintaining the Industrial Lifestyle will begin to be apparent in 1st World countries, using the United States as the primary example of a highly consumptive Industrial society.
Our survey provides room for detailed text answers to each question, along with the Multiple Choice and Ranking options for the questions. No matter what you do on such a survey, you never can provide all the answer choices everyone would like to see. The most common criticism we get with our surveys is that “you did not ask this or that” or “you did not provide this or that answer choice”. First off, you never can think of EVERY possibility in advance, and second even if you could your questions and answers would get way too long. So inevitably, any Survey is just a subset of possibilities.
Another common criticism is that our surveys are not "scientifically" designed. This is fucking horseshit to begin with, you don't need a Ph.D to ask a fucking question. lol. However, insofar as designing tests that provide a decent measure of WTF you are trying to measure goes, I'm as close to an expert as you will get. I spent several years working for The Princeton Review designing test questions to mimic the SAT for wannabee Ivy Leaguers seeking to get a leg up on that test. I got the job because I myself am a first class test taker, it's a gift. lol. I also taught Args (Arguments) for wannabee Lawyers taking the LSAT, and all sections of the MCAT for wannabee Doctors. In fact I'm the only person I know of who taught all of those tests for TPR. 🙂 So take it from me, this survey is measuring exactly what I set out to measure here. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement though, and based on responses and criticisms so far dropped on, I may do a follow up of this later on.
One criticism which has popped up in text responses so far is WHY did we not include Nuclear Energy as a Renewable energy resource? This one I will answer now, so I don't get more of the same critique in the text fields as more responses roll in. There are several reasons for this.
First off is that strictly speaking fissionable material that can be mined up is not infinite, so this is not renewable. Even with breeder reactors, eventually this will run out, although it might take quite some time. Then you have the spent fuel problem and the waste generated by these plants. Although in THEORY you might make such waste benign through further nuclear processing and reactions, such a method has not been implemented anywhere, and poisonous spent fuel continues to accumulate everywhere that nuclear reactors are running. Third is that although some projected forms of Nuclear energy such as Thorium Reactors are claimed to be safe and clean, no such reactor has been built to date to demonstrate even on small scale that it can be run economically. So all in all, to date Nuclear energy does not appear to be renewable, but rather presents its own existential threat to the environment due to the waste problems it has.
Next Week or the week after, depending on the Survey Sample size we will present the results here on the Diner for further discussion, and we will keep the survey open after that to see if the discussion materially affects the total numbers for any category. You can't change your answers from your first submission, but if the discussion materially affects your choices, you can make a second submission. Put a “#2” in the beginning of the email field along with your email address if you submitted one, and I will filter the second set. Or I may just duplicate the whole survey to get a whole new sample. Or I may filter the data by submission date. One way or the other, I will try to sort this out.
We did a "pre-release" of the survey in the last week, dropping links on Cassandra's Legacy, Our Finite World, Economic Undertow and various Reddit Subs as well as on the Diner Forum to get some initial readings on what the zeitgeist is out there as far as RE Questions go. As of this publication, we currently have 121 respondents so far, which is not a bad sample size to begin with, but hopefully we can expand it some from this.
I'm not going to publish the current stats on answers to the the substantive questions from this sample, because that would skew answers from people who have not yet responded. However, I will drop down here some of the early Demographics on the respondents.
The most ASTOUNDING one so far is the Formal Education level of the respondents, it is extraordinarily high. 14% of respondents have Doctorate Level education, 29% with Masters level. This compared to a general population level of 3% Doctorate and 12% Masters or above. So by NO MEANS is this a Random Sample! lol.
You can look at this as a Good or Bad thing depending on your perspective. If you consider that getting opinions from mostly well educated people is a good thing, then a survey which draws in mostly well educated people in responses is good. If you would rather have a general cross section of the population at large, then such a survey is not valid for that population.
A disappointing (though not unexpected) demographic so far is the number of Females who have responded. Not unexpected because the collapse blogosphere is heavily weighted toward males, so there just aren't that many females reading this stuff to be able to get them to post up their opinions. A suggestion I have to remedy this problem is for male respondents to the survey to coax females they know into filling it out. Your mom, wife, girlfriend etc. Transgender people self identifying as female are also welcome to check this box! 🙂 Or you can choose the "other" selection (nobody has picked that yet).
The rest of the Demographic questions are coming out distributed nicely, particularly the Age Demographic which is almost a perfect Bell Curve at the moment, though this has fluctuated some. In any event, there are substantial responses in all categories besides <18 or >70 to parse out opinions by age. Global distribution is weighted heavily to North America as to be expected given the Diner is an English language blog based in NA, but substantial contribution from Europe as well since this is where Ugo's blog Cassandra's Legacy is based in Italy. It's been holding pretty steady at 55% North America, 30% Europe, 10% Oz & NZ and the rest everywhere else.
The next question you face when analyzing such statistics is their VALIDITY across the population you sample. Across the entire population of the earth at around 7.2B people right now, this survey has virtually no statistical significance at all! However, that is not the population being sampled here. This population is mainly those who consider energy/collapse questions and regularly participate in net discussions on these topics. How BIG is that population? Well, I have been doing this biz for almost a decade now, and my estimate on the population size for people who both are aware of the eenrgy problems AND regularly haunt the websites concerned with this topic is around 50,000. I get that number because for a variety of reasons I know what the subscription numbers are for the largest sites concerned with the topic.
So, if you take the current Sample Size of ~100 and the estimate of the total population you are sampling as 50,000, what is the Validity of this survey with those numbers? For a Population size of 50,000 with a Confidence Level of 95% and a Margin of Error of 10%, we need 96 respondents to the survey, which we have ALREADY exceeded! Plug the numbers in on Survey Monkey if you don't believe me. lol
I really don't think we need a greater Confidence interval than this, so the main thing a bigger Sample Size will do is to increase the total size of population that sample is valid for. I expect by the time this survey has accumulated maximum responses that we will easily have a 99% confidence interval on the results for a population size of 50K. I only do this statsitical shit because I constantly get hammered when I do surveys they are not "scientific" enough. The only criticism that beats "your question and answer choices SUCK!" when you do a survey is how "scientific" it is and what validity it has. lol. You can easily tell using CFS principles what is going on though, you don't really need to do the math.
Remember though, for surveys to have good validity and make them tough to deny, they need a good Sample Size! So get as many people as you can to fill it out! This is particularly important if you want to parse the data based on different demographic parameters, which is quite interesting already. Everybody who drops an email addy on the survey will get a copy of the complete dataset (less the emails and website referrals) to do their own analysis. If you do undertake such a dissection, let me know and I will publish your analysis. A real nice one to look at is the difference in results between males and females. Parsing by education level and age also is quite interesting.
At current pace, I'll probably have enough numbers for a publication next week of results, but I may wait 2 weeks on this depending on what the stream is and the decay rate in responses.
Thanks to all who have contributed to the survey so far, and for the rest of you, TAKE THE SURVEY NOW!