03.28.08

They really do want us back in caves

Posted in Energy, Society at 13:53 by RjZ

Have you heard about Earth Hour? Started by the World Wildlife Fund (a charity I actually donate to; and by ‘actually’ here I want to emphasize that I don’t donate to many charities), the idea is that this Saturday, 29th of March, people, businesses, organizations, and governments will turn off the lights from 8:00 to 9:00 in the evening.

I get the leadership and solidarity this is intended to show. Everyone who turns out the lights and joins the WWF will be telling governments and policy makers at businesses and civic organizations that we care about the effects of our energy consumption and we acknowledge we can do something about it.

It’s too bad most people won’t get that.

Many, and for all I know the designers of this action, might be fooled into believing that this has some other purpose. Say, showing how much power can be saved if we all just turned off the lights, for example. A horrible plan. Power plant operators are already concerned that extremist environmentalists want us to crawl back in caves and live by candle light. Even if Earth Hour action could show savings (it won’t!), they’re doing more to justify the fears of people who actually keep our lights on then they are to become agents for change.

Utility owners and policy makers are exactly the ones WWF are trying to convince, but unless extremist environmentalists, who apparently really do think we should return to a pre-industrial agrarian state, are willing to live that way; that is, go off the grid, give up their cars, computers, airplane rides, and all other advancements, like, say, healthcare, they come off as a bit disingenuous.

In fact, it’s terribly easy for the rest of us to turn the light switch off for an hour. During that time of honorable sacrifice we know we can just turn it right back on; we’re not giving up on anything. Meanwhlie, India, China, and the rest of the developing world are getting fed up with the attitude in the West. They want a chance to grow, with the same access to cheap energy, and by cheap, we often mean polluting, that we got to use and all we can do is tell people to turn of their lights.

Sadly, the hour of savings will hardly amount to more than a few megawatts and that people might think otherwise shows a lack of understanding of one of the world’s most incredible industrial inventions—the grid. Let’s have a look. What will happen when everyone turns off the lights at the same time? Unfortunately all the solar plants will already be idle as it’ll be night time. Wind is most steady at dawn and dusk (but this is dependent on many factors) and will not likely have a significant effect (as if we got any significant power from wind and solar today anyway….) Base-load power like nuclear and coal will keep burning away during this lack of demand. That, folks, is how the grid works. You can’t just turn off the overwhelming majority of power in a few minutes. Extra power just flows into the grid and if it’s not used then it will end up heating up transformers and being wasted anyway. There are no giant batteries to store up the extra power. The majority of power doesn’t cycle with demand; fortunately the grid is large enough to simply soak up the extra energy of most short-term changes in demand.

If enough people actually turn off their lights to have a significant demand effect, the power providers will have to respond in some way. Their first choice will be to turn off peaking power sources like oil and gas. Except, most of these will already be off because this isn’t peak demand time anyway, but there could be some actual savings there. Much of the hoped for energy savings will be lost due to inefficiencies of ramping them off and then back up again when demand returns, but these peak power sources are at least intended to respond to changes in demand so it’s not too big a deal.

If WWF gets a huge turn-out and demand really drops, then maybe a coal plant will actually go off-line. That would be really bad news. For that hour of CO2 saved during the coal plant outage, it will take it hours to even days to turn back on. During which all those peaking power sources will be running to take up the slack, drinking foreign oil the whole time.

In the 70s, the peak power season used to be December. Today the peak is during summer. What’s the difference? Air-conditioning units. Before AC on every home, power providers could actually measure the spike in power demand from all the Christmas lights. Now, in spite of the extra lights (have you seen the Joneses keeping up with the Smiths on who can put up the most lights? I sure have) Christmas barely registers above the noise for demand. Come summer, though, and all those AC units raise demand to pay for new power plants. The point is, turning off the lights for an hour won’t even rise above the noise.

At least we’ll have the solidarity. And maybe a romantic candle light dinner or two.

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03.24.08

If you can’t write a law, change the ones we have

Posted in at 16:06 by RjZ

Here, read this:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

It’s the Second Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights.
OK. Now read this:

the activities protected by the Second Amendment “are not limited to militia service, nor is an individual’s enjoyment of the right contingent upon his or her continued intermittent enrollment in the militia.”

Basically, the question at hand is whether the ‘right to bear arms’ is an individual one or group privilege. For decades the Supreme has held that it is a group right. That makes sense to me when you actually take the time to read the Second Amendment. (It’s not that long, is it?)

In Washington D.C.’s case, the Federal Appeals Court, however, decided that their feelings on the rights to bear arms trumped their ability to read the constitution and interpret it. Hey, I agree with them! I too, believe there ought to be a law protecting the right to individually bear arms. It’s just not what it says in the constitution says. In short, these were classic activist judges. They want a different law than what is on the books and instead of waiting for legislators to write one, they just change the interpretation of the ones we already have.

Isn’t that what ‘liberal’ judges are usually up to? The Surpreme Court now takes on the case. What do you think is going to happen?

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03.12.08

Dinner in Palestine

Posted in Society, Travel at 13:11 by RjZ

“Oriental,” I answered, when my Israeli hosts asked what I wanted for dinner that night. Oriental is what Israelis call middle eastern food and it’s a delicious array of mezzes or salads of eggplant, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, chick peas and on and on. We left their office south of Tel Aviv and drove a good 15 miles south along the coast to a small village not far from one of my colleague’s home. He knew the area and often went to a bakery near our destination restaurant.

We parked on the street and walked towards the restaurant past another bakery, still open, and selling warm challah and pitas, but, mysteriously, no bagels. (I assume there are bagels in Israel, there are enough New York jews there for sure, but I never saw one.) It was dusk of a warm evening. The village wasn’t nearly as tidy as Tel Aviv and several people were just hanging about chatting and smoking and taking in the evening. Some children we’re still playing in an alley off of the street.

The atmosphere in the restaurant had more in common with an American diner than a fine bistro. We sat in a booth at a metal and formica table near the windows, from which I could still make out the darkening ocean over the roofs of houses across the way. The restaurant was nearly empty. Some men wearing the traditional Palestinian black and white Shumaggs, like Yassir Arafat used to wear, were smoking a hookah in the far corner and shortly after we were seated a western dressed husband and hijab wearing wife sat at a table not far from ours and quieted their rambunctious young daughter and younger son.

And so, here we were, sitting in a restaurant in the Gaza strip, a few years before it would be in control of the Palestinian authority and no longer an annexed part of Israel. My two colleagues are both rather liberal Israelis. They were far more interested in keeping their electro-optics business running than Palestinian/Israeli politics. But, as I’ve written before, outside of religion and politics, there really isn’t much to talk about in Israel. We were finishing our meal and ordering some baklava when some from the hookah party came by to offer us a few puffs of the perfumy smoke. (We all politely declined.)

“You see…?” my colleague asked, “they don’t care if we’re Jews or Arabs. Real people just go about their business.” My colleagues don’t wear yarmulkas or the dark orthodox Jewish robes and hats, but no one who’s been to Israel would mistake them for anything other than Israelis. The thin, short-sleeve dress shirts and worn chinos all worn with a rather disheveled air are the hallmark of most Israeli businessmen. Still, no one gave us a second glance. The bakery sold Challah along side the pita; families ate dinner together; Arab men offered us the chance to join them enjoying the hookah; and the server spoke to us in Hebrew and English.

Even if the media is exaggerating the real devastation and despair in the Gaza strip today, it’s clear to me that things have gotten worse since that charming evening in a cheap, but delicious restaurant along quiet village streets. While there is real and justified animosity between people living in this region it’s equally important to remember that just a few years ago, people were smoking and breaking bread together. Too bad the pragmatism of my Israeli associate didn’t work out. Sure made sense at the time!

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