6 votes

Let's terraform West Texas

13 comments

  1. [2]
    nukeman
    Link
    It’s interesting, but several commenters there pointed out issues with aquifer depletion and the ecological damage to the West Texas desert. Additionally, they are vastly underestimating the...

    It’s interesting, but several commenters there pointed out issues with aquifer depletion and the ecological damage to the West Texas desert. Additionally, they are vastly underestimating the costs. $55,000? For a desalination plant? Absolutely ludicrous.

    12 votes
    1. vord
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I agree, but I also think they were discussing less a 'giant infrastructure' desalinization and more of a private project. You could probably build a half-decent solar still for under $10k if you...

      I agree, but I also think they were discussing less a 'giant infrastructure' desalinization and more of a private project. You could probably build a half-decent solar still for under $10k if you have a few acres of clear land.

      You can make a solar still out of two bowls and a plastic tarp, it's just a matter of scaling it.

      2 votes
  2. hungariantoast
    Link
    I'm generally unimpressed by LessWrong and don't really like sharing its content elsewhere, but I came across this today and thought it was a lot of fun to think about

    I'm generally unimpressed by LessWrong and don't really like sharing its content elsewhere, but I came across this today and thought it was a lot of fun to think about

    4 votes
  3. [5]
    MimicSquid
    Link
    I'm glad they start it by saying it's only half-serious, because the number of handwaved issues are immense. Solar efficiency, water quantity, appropriate valleys for pumped water storage, total...

    I'm glad they start it by saying it's only half-serious, because the number of handwaved issues are immense. Solar efficiency, water quantity, appropriate valleys for pumped water storage, total number of desal plants for the plan, maintenance costs for all this infrastructure, economic viability of resource extraction from the hyper-saline remainder, time scale for greening an area to make it appealing for sale, total budget, all of it. But more importantly, the piece never asks the first, most important question to ask when you think you've found some great trick: If it would work, why has no one done it?

    And it's entirely possible that you've discovered some new combination of factors that mean you can make happen what no one else ever has. But it's also possible you're ignorant of factors that make what you're trying a lot harder than you think. (The overlap between narcissistic traits and people who start their own businesses is real.) Unless you've found some new factor or technology that isn't widely known, you're not a special genius for combining the idea of solar panels and the idea of desalination.

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      DanBC
      Link Parent
      Isn't this a bit like fracking? When you have plenty of cheap oil fracking looks stupid. When you don't have much oil, and it's expensive, fracking becomes more attractive to the kinds of people...

      most important question to ask when you think you've found some great trick: If it would work, why has no one done it?

      Isn't this a bit like fracking? When you have plenty of cheap oil fracking looks stupid. When you don't have much oil, and it's expensive, fracking becomes more attractive to the kinds of people who extract oil.

      Or longwall coal mining where the gob was traditionally abandoned, but now we have longwall top coal caving to try to extract as much usable coal from the gob as possible.

      5 votes
      1. Loire
        Link Parent
        Fracking (and horizontal drilling) was more of an engineering problem than an economic one. We worked on the problem for decades through ups and downs in the price of oil.

        Fracking (and horizontal drilling) was more of an engineering problem than an economic one. We worked on the problem for decades through ups and downs in the price of oil.

        3 votes
      2. MimicSquid
        Link Parent
        Those are great examples of a situation where new technologies or changing macroeconomic conditions caused an appropriate reconsideration of prior choices. Someone realized that they did have an...

        Those are great examples of a situation where new technologies or changing macroeconomic conditions caused an appropriate reconsideration of prior choices. Someone realized that they did have an edge that could make them money from something that others had dismissed. But notably these are both innovations implemented by people already in the industry who had very specific data and experience to back up their explorations into previously untapped resource generation methods.

        3 votes
    2. papasquat
      Link Parent
      Yeah, the author is posing this solution as if living in the desert was somehow an unsolvable technical problem. It isn't. There are plenty of communities that exist in the desert and do just...

      Yeah, the author is posing this solution as if living in the desert was somehow an unsolvable technical problem. It isn't. There are plenty of communities that exist in the desert and do just fine. The difference between what he's proposing, and those communities is that there's an economic incentive that those communities have to exist. Vegas was in the middle of nowhere because it was away from the thumb of authorities so grey market gambling rackets could take place. Phoenix was a large farming community because of favorable river deltas.

      What he's talking about is just colonizing a barren wasteland that has no economic means of supporting itself. It's incredibly expensive to do, and without something to pay for all of that economic development, it makes absolutely no sense.

      The problem with living in the middle of nowhere was never a technical one, it was always an economic one.

      2 votes
  4. [5]
    Akir
    Link
    The thing that annoys me about this plan, rather than getting rid of the people who are "crazy" because they want to own land "no matter how shitty that land is", is that there's so many different...

    The thing that annoys me about this plan, rather than getting rid of the people who are "crazy" because they want to own land "no matter how shitty that land is", is that there's so many different choices of places you could have chosen that would have probably worked just about as well. There's a lot of desert where this kind of plan would be possible in California, Arizona, Nevada, and maybe even so far out as Utah, New Mexico and Oregon. Though if you want hot weather in particular, you really should be looking around California's Death Valley, where it gets the hottest.

    Tangentially, I'm also really bothered by how many times the author used the term "brackish". It's a word I've never heard of until now, and the fact that it keeps being repeated instead of using a synonym just makes the author sound like they're trying to convince people that they are smart.

    1. [4]
      MimicSquid
      Link Parent
      That you've never heard of a word before doesn't have anything to do with the appropriateness of its use. Perhaps you're not from a place near a river and coast? Brackish water is mildly salty...

      That you've never heard of a word before doesn't have anything to do with the appropriateness of its use. Perhaps you're not from a place near a river and coast? Brackish water is mildly salty from the mixture of pure river water and salty ocean water, or salty from saline elements in groundwater. It's just a normal thing, not particularly fancy if you're in an environment where it's relevant.

      12 votes
      1. [3]
        Akir
        Link Parent
        I'm not criticizing that he's using it, I'm criticizing the frequency. There are so many synonyms; saline, salty, brine/briney, hard, etc.

        I'm not criticizing that he's using it, I'm criticizing the frequency. There are so many synonyms; saline, salty, brine/briney, hard, etc.

        1. [2]
          vektor
          Link Parent
          Those are all (at least to my ears) distinctly more salty. All those words to me mean salty as the sea, or even saltier. Brine for example I would assume to mean a saturated solution. Brackish...

          Those are all (at least to my ears) distinctly more salty. All those words to me mean salty as the sea, or even saltier. Brine for example I would assume to mean a saturated solution.

          Brackish water is distinctly less salty than the sea: It's the term we use for water in areas such as a port-like bay that is fed by a large river: The river drives the salt concentration down, so you end up with water that is noticably in between.

          If it turns out the salinity of the water below West Texas isn't in that window, then I'd be in agreement with you.

          4 votes
          1. Akir
            Link Parent
            He’s talking about a huge area that is likely to vary dramatically depending on the source or draw point.

            He’s talking about a huge area that is likely to vary dramatically depending on the source or draw point.