12.28.05

Why didn’t you get any presents?

Posted in Society at 15:23 by RjZ

I’ve made an argument earlier that we should all just wish each other whatever greetings we wish and not get to upset about it. I will stick to that claim, but let me mention that it would also be nice if we, the wishers, would at least acknowledge that not everyone celebrates the month of December the same way, or even at all.

I don’t happen to celebrate Christmas, but the look on people’s faces when I acknowledge that I haven’t purchased presents for every person I know, certainly shows a shock and dismay as if I’ve somehow offended them by not sharing their habits. I could ask them how they celebrated Ramadan? ‘Why, it’s not my holiday,’ I am sure they’d respond. At this point I can smile and walk away.

Christmas isn’t an age old tradition from middle age Christians. It was invented in the Victorian ages and the traditions have grown since then. In Charles Dickens’ Christmas tale, the humbled Scrooge wakes up and demands a little boy to go to the butcher to buy a big turkey. Because the butcher is open on Christmas! In Dickens’ time Christmas wasn’t that big a deal and things weren’t closed for this high holiday. Traditionally Christians don’t even typically celebrate birthday’s let alone Jesus’. Saints days are their death days, the day they ascend to heaven! And if they did want to celebrate Jesus’ birthday it surely isn’t in winter. Whatever would those shepherds be doing with baby lambs in the middle of winter, even in warm Israel.

Substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” still doesn’t alleviate the fact that little Jehova’s Witness boys and girls will be left out in the cold with their Buddhist and Hindu classmates during conversations about what toys Santa brought. And it doesn’t eliminate the feeling of disappointment from the poor children who didn’t get all the things they saw on television. Of course, I am not suggesting that we ban Santa or Christmas. I am suggesting that we have a little common courtesy for those around us and realize that maybe, as we’re caught up in our red and green and christmas carols and snowmen, and fat men in red costumes and reindeer and Christmas lights and, and, and, and, and……whew….that we maybe catch ourselves and imagine how this feels to the 37 people who are foolish enough to live in the U.S. and not celebrate the exact same way. Maybe that would be a good Christmas lesson.

So I’ll concede to the Religious Right that “Merry Christmas” isn’t meant as an offense to me but if I had a Christmas wish, it would be that we recognize that Christmas is not for everyone and not everyone celebrates it, or even Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Diwali or necessarily anything. In this great free society we are able to celebrate nothing at all without having overwhelming pressure to spend ourselves into oblivion for the sake of a made up holiday season.

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12.23.05

The odds should be good

Posted in , Travel at 13:56 by RjZ

Red Rocks Self PortraitI was in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. You’d think there would be much to write about from such an amazing, entertaining, horrible, crazy city as Las Vegas. I did have a chance to travel just a few miles out of town to beautiful Red Rocks park to admire the very climbable sandstone cliffs still in view of the strip.

Why are there psychics in Las Vegas? That’s my big observation. Why are there store fronts in strip malls with big neon signs advertising for psychics. Psychics must be true altruists for they perform their service only to benefit others. Sure, you can tell me that some of these psychics are simply empathic and would get no benefit from living in Vegas, but being able to see if a person is likely to be very happy in the future or even know more about who they are right now would seem to be immanently marketable information in Vegas. If you had this skill, how long would it take you to parlay it into some real earnings? At least enough so that you could move your place of business out of a strip mall and maybe some place nearer to the lovely Red Rocks not that far away. This is reason enough for me to be skeptical of psychics. At least in Las Vegas.

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Tree hugger

Posted in Society, Travel at 13:12 by RjZ

I like trees. For some reason I’ve never lived in a place where trees are the most conspicuous feature which is strange to me because I really like trees.

Trees don’t move. When I first started hiking I had a friend who could name birds that he spotted. I found this too difficult. The birds never stood still long enough for me to compare them to the little pictures in field guides. So I switched to trees. Trees just stand there passively while I match pictures of their leaves, bark and size to the pictures and diagrams in the books. I remember being on a back-packing trip puzzling over a towering specimen when a passerby noticed my confusion and said “Pseudotsuga macrocarpa, Big-cone Douglas Fir.” He turned around and named the other trees around me “white fir Pinaceae Abies concolor, and that one is Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa” I was amazed. I decided he was Mr. Tree. I found them in my guide and can usually identify them still.

Holland, where I used to live, is a densely populated country. It has the same population density as Japan. As a result there are precious few wild forests there, none that are original growth. The majority of trees are planted in orderly rows and rarely so big that one can’t easily wrap arms around them. I hated this and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to return to the U.S.A. Just to find trees I couldn’t wrap my arms all the way around.

Trees tell time by opening and closing their leaves or flowers with the sun, changing the color of their leaves with the seasons, and recording the weather from year to year in their growth rings. The leaves change color because as the green chlorophyl departs it leaves behind other pigments in the leaves. Trees practice chemical warfare dropping poisoned leaves around themselves to thwart competition. Poor trees can’t go anywhere so they do whatever they can do to defend themselves. Trees are home to hundreds of animals and tons of CO2. They reduce global warming by storing that CO2 and they increase global warming by absorbing solar energy that would have otherwise been reflected back into space.

Trees store solar energy. Trees are made of hydrocarbons that are comprised of water from the ground and CO2 from the atmosphere. The energy stored in these hydrocarbon bonds comes from the sun and is released again when we burn the wood. Compress the wood very hard for a few million years and it turns to coal which releases more CO2 but also more energy than wood simply because it is made of compressed trees.

Decidious or broad leaf trees are very slowly taking over for coniferous or needle trees. Leafy trees appeared much sooner, but began replacing coniferous trees in the Eocene (about 36 million years ago) so we have plenty of time before we lose pines and firs alltogether. You can see what looks like evidence of this, though, in the fall in Colorado when stands of Aspens spread out in yellow blotches in huge seas of dark green Douglas Firs.

The bark of Ponderosa’s smells like vanilla or butterscotch. It’s better when the bark is orange and warm and whether it’s vanilla or butterscotch depends on the person, but it’s great fun to stick your nose on the bark of tree and breath deep. Piñon pines grow at higher elevations in the southwest and yield the famous pine nut which is a nearly complete food offering fats, carbohydrates, fiber and protein in a tiny convenient package. Squirrels usually horde these before hikers get a chance. The Bristle-cone pine is one of the worlds oldest living inhabitants. Methuselah, in the white mountains on the border between California and Nevada is the oldest living tree at more than 4700 years. The oldest Bristle-cones live in the harshest environments where they receive very little water and grow incredibly slowly. The idea that starving makes one live longer has been demonstrated in mice and rats too. Bristlecones look like our krumholz trees, the stunted firs that live at the edge of inhabitable space for trees at around 12,000 feet in Colorado. Krumholz which means bent wood in German is apt description for these twisted old trees.

A tree once cured a post-teenage depression of mine and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment when I realized how simple and beautiful a spreading California Black Oak could be and decided at that moment that being sad wasn’t really necessary for me any more. Trees mean even more to others. In the sixth century a man sat under a Bodhi tree and vowed not to move until he found enlightenment. The Buddhist religion is founded on his experience and teachings. I visited that tree in Sarnath, India.

So, yes, I am, in fact a tree-hugger, although I like it better when they’re too big to even get your arms around. I am not saying we should place trees above humans in our priorities, but before you decide; hug a tree and see how nice it feels. Except if you live in Arizona, where the state tree is the beautiful saguaro. I wouldn’t hug one of those. Ouch.

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12.22.05

Advocates of ‘Intelligent Design’ Vow to Continue Despite Ruling

Posted in Society at 12:18 by RjZ

“The important thing is ID’s intellectual vitality.” says William Dembski, a philosophy professor from Louisville (I assume Kentucky, not the Colorado town voted to the top five most desirable cities in the nation in which I live). I’d worry if I were Dr. Dembski. The fact is, in spite of how vocal the group of ID supporters are, there isn’t really a vital intellectual movement spreading around the world. Michael Behe who testified in the Dover, PA trial responds to the decision by whining about being attacked: “If you’re…publicly known as an ID supporter you can already kiss your tenure chances goodbye.”

Of course, to hear the ID proponents tell it, it’s not because ID doesn’t even follow the scientific method and is at best, an untestable hypothesis (which is not to say it is wrong, but rather that it’s not science) but rather because those mean awful, dogmatic scientists just won’t listen.

NPR commentator Joe Loconte compares Intelligent Design with the Big Bang theory. Scientists at the time disputed the Big Bang theory and they weren’t willing to roll over so quickly to a new idea. Instead, those scientists stuck in their crazy dogmas wanted something more: they wanted proof.

In time, evidence mounted and the Big Bang theory has become the most accepted scientific explanation for the origin of the universe. By analogy it seems, Mr. Loconte, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who says “I am not a scientist or a fundamentalist”, hopes that ID will be proven some day as well. Maybe, but unlike the supporters of the Big Bang theory who actually provided evidence, ID’s supporters attack the existing theory without any evidence to support ID at all. They tell us that evolution cannot explain the overwhelming complexity of the natural world. That’s it. They’re done. They don’t tell us what can, they just say evolution can’t so it must be by intelligent design. That design might be a space alien, or time traveling biologist, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (well, they don’t usually mention the Spaghetti Monster). But if this is the only evidence scientists receive I think it will be a long wait before it mounts to a point of acceptance.

Loconte finally tells us in his commentary that some scientists want to believe in God’s absence. I am sure some do. Some scientists (Dr. Behe is a biologist at Lehigh University) do not. What Mr. Lonconte missed however is that scientists want to believe in evidence regardless of its impact on the supernatural world of God (or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.) What is being discussed in these court cases isn’t the truth of Intelligent Design theory, it’s whether or not it is science (which the Dover case’s expert witnesses on both sides convinced the judge that it is not) and whether it’s implication that that the Designer really is the Abrahamic God violates the Establishment Clause.

Judge Johnson felt in this case, given the origin of ID (in the second revision of the Pandas and People the word Creationism was simply replaced by Intelligent Design) and given the public opinions of the Dover, PA school board, there was, in fact, a religious intent to the required statements and book choices.

Me, I don’t have a problem with the teaching of Intelligent Design. Perhaps it should be mentioned in a logic class as an example of the classic argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance). Perhaps it should be in a current events lesson. It’s precedence over other theories such as Hindu creation myths is important because it is in the news here in the U.S. Still, one place ID doesn’t need to be discussed is in science class.

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12.21.05

Happy universal day of gift exchange

Posted in Society, Travel at 17:05 by RjZ

Fox News’ John Gibson needs to travel outside the U.S. once in a while. It might open his eyes. He thinks there is a war on Christmas and, worse, this war on Christmas is actually a war on Christians. It’s difficult not to pity these poor persecuted Christians who are forced to choose between either boycotting their local Wal Mart or Target or bearing declarations of “Happy Holidays” in lieu of “Merry Christmas”.

Mr. Gibson’s war on Christmas raves about a liberal plot to ban Christmas. One grievous example he names is renaming Christmas break to winter break in schools, as obviously doing so means that Christmas has been banned and his children will neither receive coal in their stockings nor even be allowed to have stockings. It’s not just Mr. Gibson. Google “war on Christmas” (In quotes no less) and get nearly two million hits!

This issue arises so frequently in the U.S. thanks to the first amendment of the constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note: that’s not the last time you’ll see that quote here.

Contrary to the belief of many who are engaged in this ‘war on Christmas’, the first amendment does not forbid celebrating Christmas while on winter break. What it does forbid is government from getting involved with religion; any religion. Why did our founding fathers do this? To protect religion! European countries from which the Pilgrims fled did not have the Establishment Clause in their governments and citizens were forced to change their faiths with the whim of a monarch. Even today, religion has flourished in the U.S. in part due to it’s private nature. When the government funds religion it must also select which religions it deems appropriate and which not. Mormonism, for example, was only recognized in Germany in the last decade. Worse, if tax revenues are down, churches often go unfunded. Neither of these conditions occurs in the United States. The Establishment Clause doesn’t just acknowledge that our nation is not a religious theocracy but instead a melting pot of diverse faiths and even the freedom to be free of faith. The first amendment also helps to protect religion from the meddling and vagaries of government.

There is no war on Christmas simply because those of other faiths do not wish their tax dollars to be spent on beliefs in which they put no stock. Forget what American Muslims (1.5 million people) think about Christmas vacation. Forget what American Hindus (1 million people) think about Easter break. We can see how difficult establishing a religion would be simply by asking which Bible we should teach in schools? King James or NIV? Leaving religion home seems like a good place for it. If you believe strongly in your faith, you’re welcome to speak proudly about in a public forum (I hear people will actually read blogs!) but the government doesn’t have to support it.

But doesn’t forcing religion out of schools and court houses automatically support the religion of secular humanism? It continues to be frustrating to me that any deeply held belief is considered a religion. Just because the vernacular uses the word religion as such doesn’t make it so. A Boulderite with an almost religious fervor for rock climbing is not a member of the rock climbing religion even if he calls the crags his cathedral. Capitalism is not a religion. Members of the Republican party are not (necessarily) part of a religion. Atheism is not a religion and even the Supreme Court admits that secular humanism is not a religion:

In this 1994 case, a science teacher argued that, by requiring him to teach evolution, his school district was forcing him to teach the “religion” of secular humanism. The Court responded, “We reject this claim because neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are `religions’ for Establishment Clause purposes.” The Supreme Court refused to review the case; they refused to reverse a ruling that secular humanism is not a religion.

The absence of government funded religious activity hardly constitutes a religion and strikes me as a weak excuse to go against the Establishment Clause and choose a religion or group for government support.

So what do we do in multi-cultural United States? We might be able to learn from other parts of the world where many faiths and cultures have found themselves as neighbors. There are many religions in India. Some of the most popular are Hindu, Islam and Sikhism. Traditions for each of those religions influences the outward appearance and even styles of dress for adherents and, as a result, it’s often easy to see, just by looking at someone’s hair and clothes which religion he is. And so it is considered polite to greet someone with the customary greeting of his religion. The Muslim man will greet the Hindu with “namaste, ji.” In return, he’ll hear “a salam alaikum” from the Hindu. When Mr. Singh drops by (names too, are often reliable religious indicators) they’ll both likely offer: “Sat shri akal, ji.”

Some translate “namaste” as ‘the deity in me greets the deity in you.’ I imagine this sentiment is partly responsible for this considerate tradition. This wonderful custom shows respect for the person with whom you are speaking. I must admit, however, that even if U.S. Americans thought this was a great idea it would be difficult to implement here. It’s not nearly so obvious what religion someone is when you meet them. Religion is practically a taboo subject and so we either blithely send our Jewish friends Christmas cards hoping not to offend or just retreat to innocuous wishes of “happy holidays.”

The Indian tradition shows real tolerance and respect for people of other faiths. The U.S. too is a melting pot of religions and traditions, so perhaps we can adapt the south Asian custom to our religious anonymity and simply send out cards that profess our own beliefs and promise not to be offended by the sincerely expressed beliefs of others. I decided to start this tradition myself when my boss, knowing I am not Christian, asked me what he should send me for a holiday card, I told him the story of Indian greetings and suggested he send me a Christmas card.

There is no war on Christmas just because we uphold the first amendment to the constitution but that doesn’t mean we have to drive religion from all corners of life. Perhaps we can choose to respect each other and greet the deity in each other even if that diety is only as supernatural as the regard we have for each other.

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12.20.05

The unending war

Posted in Society at 16:44 by RjZ

I remember recoiling even the very first time I heard the new political brand “War on Terror.” It bothered me immediately that we would have a against an enemy that never goes away. Words have many meanings and there is nothing wrong, per se, with waging a war against hunger or AIDS in an effort to mobilize resources. However, war has a very legal meaning when used in government.

For some reason, driven perhaps by fear, our lawmakers have felt it necessary to modify the laws of the land according to the situation. We have a different set of civil liberties when we are at war than when we are at peace. I can understand the logic of this. Different situations often require different forms of leadership. I may be a consultive leader as a camp counselor; discussing with my campers whether they want to hike or go fishing today, but if a fire breaks out in the cabin I must suddenly become a dictator: “Everyone out! Now!”

President Bush defends his authorization of domestic surveillance by the National Security Administration (NSA) as powers granted him during war. He refers to the 2001 Authorization of Force act of 14 September, 2001 which states that:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Mr. Bush’s actions violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which creates secret courts in which the government may request a warrant for secret surveillance domestically. The courts have heard over 15,000 requests since 1978 and rejected five. Still Bush claims that FISA doesn’t allow him to be agile enough to chase down terrorists. Except that FISA allows the government to spy first (for 15 days) and ask permission after the fact.

In the President’s eyes, FISA is not sufficient and the 2001 Authorization of Force somehow allows him to spy on American citizens because, well, we’re at war and he’s trying to protect us. Follow the link for the 2001 act above and see if you can’t come up with other clever things that might be allowed, so long as you can claim that they might prevent international terrorism. Maybe it will be easier to think of things that might not be allowed. Is the President above the law so long as he wants to protect us? Shouldn’t he ask the congress for new legislation that would allow the administration to do what he has admitted to doing? I have been saying for sometime that our congress should have been voted out for not doing their duty when they granted Mr. Bush this power in the first place, but even I would not claim that unlimited power to spy on Americans was what the congress thought it was granting the President.

Still, the fundamental flaw is the precedent that there are different laws governing our civil liberties during a time of war. Even while I can see situations where this is a reasonable conclusion, it is particularly dangerous when war is so loosely defined. How do we know when these powers end? Will we regain our civil liberties when there is not one single international terrorist? Does that seem likely? Do we wish to grant the president, not just this president but all future presidents, war-footing powers indefinitely? It is hard enough to determine if a nation has won a war with a signed treaty. It is quite obviously impossible when there is no one with whom to sign a treaty.

The alternative is that while we may very well have wars against hunger, AIDS, drugs and terrorism we cannot let these labels be a cause under which we grant special powers to our government and allow our officials to act as though they are above the law. The current line of reasoning appears to be that if we’re under attack, our fundamental freedoms and rights are less valuable. What, then, are we fighting to protect?

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CNN.com – Judge rules against ’intelligent design’ in science class – Dec 20, 2005

Posted in at 15:03 by RjZ

Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center felt it was a troubling decision but Judge Jones rebuked the Dover, PA intelligent design case at about every level he could. He even thought it was “ironic that several of these individuals…proudly touted their religious convictions in public…[only to] lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose.”

I’m curious if Pat Robertson will use his direct line to God to ask for damnation for Bush appointed Judge Jones as he did when he announced to “the good citizens of Dover. If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin…”

With support like that, it’s not hard to see how these folks lost this case; it’s difficult to see why this waste of taxpayers resources must continuously be repeated.

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12.14.05

A new energy policy-Give us the money instead

Posted in Energy, Society at 8:58 by RjZ

I promise to get off this topic of energy policy soon. I really do have other things to talk about but here’s one more just the same.

During a visit to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado I asked if current policy actually maintains that the hydrogen economy for fuel cells really has any merit. It seemed to me that hydrogen gas stations just wasn’t going to work for dozens of different reasons. (Did you know that the flame from a burning hydrogen leak is completely invisible? Well it is until the high temperature flame burns right through your pants and your leg….) I was surprised to learn about a model that does make sense though. NREL pointed out that if consumers generated their own power, at home, they could store it in hydrogen fuel cells for cars (or other applications) and remove all (or at least most) of the distribution problems associated with hydrogen.

Let’s suppose it costs around $10,000 for enough solar panels to power your home. You’re off the grid now and occasionally even selling energy back to the utility but your payback on this investment in savings is more than 10 years, even at current energy prices. Aside from Ed Begley Jr. few of us are committed enough to afford this kind of investment. But what if we could?

According to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) of all 27.8 out of 40.3 exajoules (69%) of power for residential, commercial and industrial use is lost energy. Open this link (it’s a great graph) U.S. Energy Flow Trends –2002 in a separate window and follow along. That loss is due to inefficiencies in energy distribution from inductive storage to resistance along the power lines. More than two thirds of our electric power is thrown away, the majority of which as a result of moving it from the power plant to your home. If we saved just over 76% of this power lost we could stop using coal completely. Coal is used almost exclusively in electric power generation and we could eliminate coal just by reducing loss (not consumption, just loss!) Putting solar panels or a wind generator on your property eliminates all that distribution loss for the energy you consume.

Democratizing energy distribution has other advantages as well. Obviously emissions decrease, but also security risks. I’ve been to power plants and I can assure you it would be extremely easy for terrorists to cause major disruptions to power generation without even flying an airplane into a building. Democratized energy is more robust in exactly the same way the internet is. Knock out one server and the others take up the slack. Centralized power distribution is easily threatened.

Meanwhile on 8 August, 2005, President Bush signed the Energy Bill of 2005 into law. “Of the $14.5 billion tax package, renewable energy and energy efficiency received only $4.5 billion while fossil fuels received $5.6 billion and nuclear power received $1.3 billion.” The law supports renewable energy and has other small victories but overwhelmingly supports the status quo energy policy. Suppose we took just half of that $4.5 billion and instead of offering subsidies to power plants and oil companies we offered loans (not even a subsidy, just a loan that has to be paid back) to individuals who put solar or other zero emission energy generation on their homes. The loan has to be paid back in, say, 10 years.

Clearly, only the wealthy and upper middle class have houses big enough to start installing new solar panels, but what if, thanks to this government loan, a mere half a million people did so. I know I would. I know friends of mine would. I don’t mind paying for solar panels, but $10K is just too big a pill especially for a house I may not live in forever. I may never even see the payback. With the loan I can afford it now and my return on investment starts happening immediately. Do you think the price of solar panels and installation would remain so high? Imagine the boost to the economy from this new industry selling, installing, and servicing wind generators and solar panels on single family dwellings. Every one of those installations reduces emissions not only from their consumption, but also from the two thirds loss thanks to distribution. Every one of those installations increases security in the U.S. Costs of solar and wind plummet and it becomes affordable for commercial and less well-to-do customers. And, in ten years all those loans are paid back.

We won’t eliminate distribution or distribution losses completely. We will still need power plants. There will still be plenty of homes and apartment complexes that won’t be served well by solar or wind. But suddenly asking everyone in Iowa to move away to make room for the wind generators isn’t necessary to achieve the goals of increasing zero emission power in our mix. As I’ve noted before, renewable energy (even the emission producing kinds) currently make up only around 1% of the U.S. energy sources. If we were to double the amount of solar and wind farms we still would barely make a dent. But by democratizing energy production, our impact is greatly improved and the only cost is some ugly roofs (which I think will be seen as cool really quickly) and the government giving up it’s attachment to the status quo.

I’d love to have solar panels on my home. It’s time the government stopped subsidizing business (or, as in my proposal only reduced it’s subsidies) and enable an actual, grass roots shift in energy generation and distribution. It’ll be cheaper for all of us in the long run.

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12.12.05

Nuclear Explosion at Montreal

Posted in , Energy at 16:18 by RjZ

I missed a week and have plenty on my mind to post, but in the meantime here is still more fuel for the lively discussion on nuclear power that’s taken place here.TCS: Tech Central Station – TCS COP 11 Coverage: Nuclear Explosion at Montreal
Or maybe you’re bored of that and I better get to writing something else.

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12.01.05

Is conservation the answer?

Posted in Energy, Society at 23:51 by RjZ

In a recent post I argued that we should take another look at nuclear energy, at the very least in the mid-term until alternative energy sources become more reasonable economic alternatives. I was not surprised that comments on that post reacted so strongly to the bad, bad word: nuclear (or should I say newcular) One solution suggested (if half-heartedly) was conservation.

I am a big fan of conserving as anyone who has visited my home in the winter without a sweater will certainly attest. I feel that conservation, especially conservation that doesn’t impede our economy is the only wise choice. Still, I began to doubt that conservation is an effective solution to our energy problems.

According to EarthTrends energy consumption, per capita in North America is nearly flat from 1999 to 2001 at 7,539.0 kilograms of oil equivalent (kgoe) per person per year in 1999, 8,090.5 in 2000 and 7,928.5 in 2001. (That’s all the data their free database let me collect though. Earth Trends is part of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.

National Atlas.gov had data for this graph from 1960 to 2001 which agrees well with the WRI. Again, consumption is trending down right now and hasn’t been increasing as much as you’d imagine from all those huge cars on the streets.

Pre capital Btus

How is this possible? One thing’s for sure. What’s not happening is people turning off their Christmas lights or wearing sweaters in their homes, let alone driving around in little Geo Metros. Instead, all those big companies that people love to hate have been driven to produce more efficient cars and lights and electronics because, fortunately, there’s a market for it. Conservation is definitely a good thing, it’s even driving part of our economy. That’s good news. A modern mid-size SUV, for example, gets about the same gas mileage as my ‘81 Honda Civic used to and I am fairly certain it has lower emissions of SO2 and NOx as well. I am typing this on a laptop that uses about as much energy as an incandescent bulb and the light in this room is a compact fluorescent that uses about a fifth of the energy of the incandescent bulb it replaces. LCDs use energy than CRTs and my refrigerator and clothes washer all use less than their counterparts of 20 years ago.

Lucky for us we have all those companies, because I don’t think it’s realistic for us to actually turn off those lights and put on sweaters. And as long as that’s not the case, it’s probably equally unrealistic for us to claim that conservation is more than just part of the solution to global warming and pollution put out by all those fossil power plants. I wish it weren’t so, but it doesn’t look like conservation alone will remove that bad “newcular” word from our list of solutions any time soon.

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