Why do people demand the impossible? Because that is a big part of what drives humanity forward! Wishing for the impossible is an inevitable consequence of the human condition. If it wasn’t for imagination, determination, our intelligence and ability to use tools better than any other creature on this planet we would probably be living the lives not much different from that of the Australopithecus. Nasty brutish and short. Perhaps we would have a similar improvised tool using ability that chimpanzees and other great apes have demonstrated. But we wouldn’t have anything that could be called civilization, metal tools, clothes, literacy, commonly available clean water and of course the Internet that you are currently reading this article on.
We have built wonders, our technologies has become in many ways like Mr Meeseeks. We wish for something and over time. Sometimes a longer time than we would like, some new technology emerges to satiate this request. Many of these technologies would have seemed utterly impossible to even our most recent ancestors.
However wonderful our technologies are we should remind ourselves that, like the Meeseeks, technology isn’t a God. There is only just much we should ask of it. More than that we need to acknowledge when we are using our technologies and perhaps just our efforts are contributing to a problem instead of solving it.
Shortly before I wrote my article on Thorium reactors I got into an argument with someone on a Thorium Facebook group about the potential effects of the widespread dispersion of LFT Reactors. I pointed out that his belief that LFTR’s could lead to peace in the Middle East was fallacious for a variety of reasons. We discussed the matter civilly. He brought up a point or two that I hadn’t considered. Then as often happens on the Internet someone else jumped into the conversation making my opponents point in a much more obnoxious and extremely pedantic tone. I brought up my original points, he countered with some snide fallacies and I left the discussion because it was very late at night and life is too fucking short to burn it up in pointless debates with snotty know it alls.
The point that the first guy made was that LFT Reactors could change the Middle East radically for the better by providing the energy needed to allow desalinization on a truly massive scale. Eliminating the regions water shortages and suck carbon out of the air for biochar which would turn the Middle East into a garden instead of a desert hellscape alternating wildly between bombed out wastelands and ridiculously decadent cities. I have an unusually wide knowledge base and I pointed out that this rosy scenario wasn’t going to happen for a variety of reasons.
We should start with the fact with the fact that, nevermind that commercially viable LFT Reactors do not yet exist. There will be none built or installed in the Middle East for a very long time. Despite what many enthusiasts claim Uranium 233 created by enriching Thorium in a molten salt reactor can be used to make bombs. This has been done twice, once by the Americans and once by the Indian government in their 1998 nuclear tests. Granted U-233 bombs are rare and the two tested didn’t exactly go bang with the force of a Tzar Bomba, but they did work. For that reason alone I can’t see any government permitting the installation of LFT Reactors in any Middle Eastern nation in the foreseeable future.
Second attempting a project like this, even on a small scale starting with one area of a small country would be preposterously expensive. Even if electricity becomes available through LFT Reactors or some other technology that is literally too cheap to meter. (An old promise of the nuclear industry.) There are manifold other expenses to such a project. Desalinization plants are expensive to build and even more expensive to run. Large scale biochar plants are virtually nonexistent, the secondary infrastructure, such as pipelines, fertilizer plants and all the equipment needed to make sure that any food grown is delivered instead of rotting would have to be built from the ground up. Entirely too much food grown in third world countries rots before it can make it to consumers tables. India produces more than enough food to feed its humongous population. However the transportation infrastructure in India is so bad that much of this food goest to waste.
Granted, funding for such a program would probably be easier to come by in the Middle East than most other places. Sheiks and Princes have a habit of funding projects that would never get off the ground with anyone else’s money.
The third point. You need much more than clean water and carbon to create viable cropland. I lived in Idaho for a few years on a farm which used irrigation. While I was there I learned a great deal about water, growing crops and the problem of soil fertility and salinity control. Irrigation farming has been practiced in the Middle East for as long as civilization has existed. Having too much salt in the soil is an increasingly serious problem for farmers there. I don’t know exactly what the effects of huge amounts of desalinated seawater added to this situation would be. But it could be problematic. Never mind the problems of thin topsoil, sand, sandy soils and the general lack of any decent dirt in the area regardless of water supplies.
Fourth, as impressive as greening the Middle East may sound there are cheaper and easier ways to feed the masses.
I could go on like this but I would like to make one last point. There is a particularly thorny problem with the notion of a “green” Middle East that lies at a crossroads of culture and politics. During the reign of the last Shah of Iran there was a program to plant trees in Iran to bring about a radical change in the Iranian environment. The idea was that by planting massive tracts of land with trees that the desert of Iran would turn into forests, grasslands and farmlands. This program was not a success. Due to a severe lack of native trees, nonnative seeds had to be used. The mass introduction of exotic species to any ecosystem is never a good idea. Beyond that, this program was one of the reasons for the fall of the Shah. It seems the desert dwelling Persians did not take kindly to the suggestion that they were not going to live in a desert anymore.
The cultural and political resistance against a program to terraform the Middle East would be incredible. Corrupt officials would demand their cut of the action long before any profits were made. Terrorists would decry this as another plan of the Great Satan. It would require multinational cooperation on an unprecedented scale. Getting a few Middle Eastern governments together to bomb the crap out of one their neighbors isn’t all that hard. But coordinating a large scale terraforming project which would probably require at least a generation of work requiring technologies that have yet to be used outside laboratory conditions to complete is, in my estimation of current circumstances, impossible.
So why did I write all this? To refute some guy I got in an argument with? Not really, that guy will probably never read this although if he does he will probably start flopping around like a dying walrus and try to refute everything I have said. No, I have written all this as an example, part of what I hope will become part of a series on the real reasons why grand attempts to change the world don’t tend to work out all that well. When you try to change a single persons mind you are working against the headwinds of centuries of traditions, culture and opinion.
It is possible to sail against headwinds, but it isn’t easy and you can’t do it without knowing the factors working against you. So until next time let me leave you with what will be the motto of this series. A little quote that came to me a couple weeks ago.
“Evil is not overcome through ignorance.”