Masters in Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Just a brief overview article, here as much for me as anything else, as that's exactly the sort of thing I want to do.

First Earth-like Planet Spotted Outside Solar System Likely a Volcanic Wasteland "When scientists confirmed in October that they had detected the first rocky planet outside our solar system, it advanced the longtime quest to find an Earth-like planet hospitable to life. The rocky planet CoRoT-7 b is, however, a forbidding place. If its orbit is not almost perfectly circular, then the planet might be undergoing continuous, fierce volcanic eruptions, according to information presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting."

What Happened to the Hominids Who May Have Been Smarter Than us? "Two neuroscientists say that a now-extinct race of humans had big eyes, child-like faces, and an average intelligence of around 150, making them geniuses among Homo sapiens."

Return of the Fungi "Paul Stamets is on a quest to find an endangered mushroom that could cure smallpox, TB, and even bird flu. Can he unlock its secrets before deforestation and climate change wipe it out?"
I have a whole folder of bookmarks marked "things to blog about", which I haven't, so I'm going to start dumping things that look interesting, and I haven't had the time/energy/inspiration to write a whole thing about, so at least they get out.

Indian engineer 'builds' new glaciers to stop global warming" In the fine tradition of accurate headlines, he's not building precisely "new" glaciers, nor will it stop global warming. He's piping the meltwater from melting glaciers to the shadowed side of the mountains, where it can freeze until the spring.

SuBET sustainable masterplanning tools It looks like an integrated city desgin/analysis tool to work on making cities, but it's apparently proprietary for that one British engineering company, so not widely applicable, yet at least.

Motorhead Messiah This guy makes some awesome/crazy modifications to cars, like a hybrid Hummer where the electric batteries are powered by a biodiesel jet turbine. Seriously.

There's three to start, more later as I go through the folder(s).
A few years ago, while I was traveling across the country, I was also reading David Brin's Earth (obligatory Amazon link), and I realized what I wanted to do with my life.

I want to save the world.

Or, at least, I want to hack the world. I'm only being slightly melodramatic when I say that, too. Truly, there's nothing we humans can (yet) do to the entire world, it's a giant ball of molten rock and metal, even all our nukes couldn't do much more than scratch the surface. So, yeah, the Earth itself? It'll be fine.

Our civilization, however, may not. So that's what made me decided on what I wanted to study and head back to school, not just take the random gen-ed classes any more. Now I'm trying to finish up engineering, the large scale kind, buildings and cities and regions and things. Our systems are big.

Hacking the whole world is a big project, which will need lots of help. It's the ultimate open-source project, too! Everyone is contributing already. But if you walk into a project without an idea where you're going, you're going to end up making mistakes until you figure things out, and then you're going to have to fix them to get where you wanted to go. And so far we've been all too often bumbling in the dark, and making some awful big mistakes. I wanna help clean those up, and keep from making them again.

But where do I want to go? Well, I've been shorthanding it as the "Star Trek Future", not because I want or expect anything exactly like Star Trek to happen, but because it's more familiar than terms like Bright Green Future as coined by the folks over at Worldchanging. Since it's what I'm devoting a lot of time and thought to, it ought to be reflected here, too.

That didn't come out quite as clear as I was hoping. I'm going to spend the next few posts hopefully clarifying, starting with the twin poles of where we ought to be going, and where we are now, some of which I covered in a post a while ago about the Grim Meathook Future. There's a few other snippets on these thoughts all tagged as "the future", including this one about defining win conditions.

One final thought, from Finite and Infinite Games. Finite games are played until somebody "wins" and the game ends. An infinite game's whole purpose is to keep the game going. Life is an infinite game.
There is no such thing as "away". At least when it comes to throwing things away. The real world isn't like WoW, where when you drop something it's destroyed forever. When you throw something out, it ends up somewhere. These days, it usually ends up in a hole in the ground. It used to end up burned. It doesn't disappear. That's something we're going to have to face, now, and for the rest of the future. (Well, barring nanotech that can break down waste and rebuild it into whatever you want, but if we get to the point of having that kind of universal assembler, the world will be completely different anyway. But even then we'd still need to make sure things got put into the assemblers for them to break down.)

Exactly

May. 16th, 2008 01:22 pm
"So-called "global warming" is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st-century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don't let them get away with it."
- Chip Giller, Founder of Grist.org

(via a Starbucks cup, examples here.)
There's a lot of talk about how corn ethanol subsidies are "responsible" for part of the way food prices have run up lately. And there's some truth to that, and besides, corn ethanol is pretty much a boondoggle anyway. But it's hardly the end of the story, it's just an easy target, especially for politicians who're opposed to sustainability.

But you know what consumes a lot more grain than biofuels?

Growing corn and wheat and so on to feed concentrated grain to livestock which are grown for their meat. That's not touching on any of the other problems that come with modern factory farming methods, such as the waste, spread of diseases, breeding of antibiotic resistant bacteria, mad cow, and the ethical issues with the way many of the animals are raised.

Plus, if America cut back on meat by about 20%, it'd save as much CO2 as if we all drove cars that got 50+ miles to the gallon.

We have so many systems in our civilization that need complete overhauls, or just to be junked and replaced with something better.
One of the most common complaints (I hesitate to call it a counter-argument, because it's not really an argument, just a reflexive cry) against any kind of environmental stuff is always "It's expensive and it will hurt businesses! It'll slow down economic growth!"

This argument basically relies on innumeracy. It depends confusing people with numbers that sound big, but aren't in their context. There's an excellent post over at Crooked Timber about sustainability and living standards, there's a lot of economist-speak in it, so let me highlight the key paragraph.

"Even the sharpest critics among economists only suggested that Stern’s estimates were at the optimistic end of a plausible range, the upper end of which might be 5 per cent of national income, or around two years of economic growth. That is, by 2050, a low-carbon economy might have the material living standards that would otherwise have been reached by 2048."

That's the thing about economic growth. If we grow more slowly than we might have, we're not poorer, we're just less richer than we theoretically might have been. But we're still richer!

This has been tonight's installment of explanations.
Infrastructure for the Future We Want over at Worldchanging.

That's the kind of work I want to do. That's what I went back to school to learn how to do. And we need to do it soon. The US infrastructure needs about $1.6 trillion in repairs and upgrades, and that's just using the most conventional estimates by people like the American Society of Civil Engineers. I suspect a lot of the stuff they suggest is probably not a good idea, like more highways, or can be done better and newer. That's a lot of money.

About half the amount we're spending on the war in Iraq. Just for the US.

Which is also just about 1000 times more than George Bush promised us it'd cost when he started his war.

Maverick!

Mar. 1st, 2008 12:17 pm
The media loves John McCain. He's the "Maverick" riding the "Straight Talk Express" to the Republican nomination. He's the rebel Republican who's stood up to the White House on tax cuts, global warming, and torture.

Hogwash. McCain has given up all of his "maverick" integrity over the last few years. He was one of the least bad of the Republican candidates, but look at his competition! He would make a very bad president. Probably not as bad as the criminals in charge now, but in no way a good president.

Why? Well, I'll start by looking at three of the issues that I'm most concerned about. There's plenty more, so this may turn into a semi-ongoing series of posts.

First though, I'll get the cheapest shot out of the way. Here's how distant McCain is from Bush, even after Bush and Karl Rove attacked his adopted daughter by claiming she was the child of an affair.

Can you hear the romantic music?

Okay, now on to the issues. First, let's start with the invasion and occupation of Iraq. McCain's never been anything but a cheerleader for the war. He supported it when it started, even while we were being lied to about Saddam. He supported every step of the way, every disaster and fiasco. Never voted to force Bush to have any accountability. Pushed for the "surge" and kept hailing its success, even when it wasn't. Never pushed for any new plan, or a defined strategy, nothing.

And from his campaigning, his plan for the future is pretty much "More of the same, but harder!" Even though the same hasn't worked at all and got us into this mess and is making us lose Afghanistan, where we had the best chance.

Oh, and his policy for dealing with Iran? "Bomb bomb bomb Iran. He's later claimed it was a joke, but if it was, it was a really bad one.

So given that he's one of the people who helped get us into this mess, and helped drive us further into this disaster, why on Earth should we trust him to be competent to get us out of it, and make things any better?

Answer: We shouldn't.

Okay, second issue. Torture. The Bush administration has been holding people without charges, "disappearing" "suspected terrorists", and torturing people. Routinely. In violation of US law and the Geneva Conventions, as well as in violation of decency, morals, and our reputation around the world. It's not just terrorists, since we haven't bothered with little things like trial or evidence to see if the people we've caught are actual terrorists or know anything useful. (Not that torture is good at getting useful information. If you hurt somebody enough, they'll tell you whatever they think you want to hear that will make you stop. That's why dictators use it for forced confessions.) McCain's gotten a lot of credit in the press for opposing Bush on it.

I call bullshit. He hasn't done a damn thing to stop Bush from authorizing torture. Every time a bill's come up in Congress, he's voted against it. Here's some more He hasn't lead any bold investigations into the criminal underbelly of the Bush administration. He has, once again, enabled Bush and his cronies every step of the way. Even though he should know all this, from being held captive by the Viet Cong. He's just spoken up enough to get credit from credulous media, not actually DONE anything to really oppose the Bush administration or reign in torture.

And third, the environment. Environmental issues are going to be having a lot more impact over the next many years, between peak oil, climate chaos, plastic islands, and all of the rest. Especially with places like China and India industrializing rapidly. McCain has a reputation as one of the more environmentally friendly Republicans (low as that bar is). So how'd he do last year? Well... according to the League of Conservation Voters, McCain missed every important environmental vote last year. Every one.

Here's his issues page. It doesn't say a thing, it's just a bunch of vague platitudes. Also, look at this. McCain was asked at one of the debates if he favors mandatory carbon caps. He says no, his plan is cap-and-trade. Um. Senator McCain. You see that part in your plan, where it says "CAP-and-trade"? The entire way a cap and trade program works is it sets mandatory limits on how much CO2 can be produced, and then sells or gives away credits for that much pollution. Either McCain doesn't have the slightest idea what he's talking about, or he's flat out lying. In either case, that's hardly a "Straight Talk Express".

There's plenty more too, including his self-professed lack of knowledge of anything to do with economics, his about face to the fantasy that cutting taxes increases revenue, his embrace of scary hatemongers, and many others. Which I may or may not get into.

The saddest part is, even with all this, he's one of the better candidates the Republicans ran this year. I just hope the media gets over their love affair with him and their "Maverick straight-talker" storyline and actually tells people some of this.
Articles and blog posts often have comment sections now. Which is a good thing, because it allows and inspires conversation, feedback, and interaction. Those in turn can make people more interested, learn things more, point out flaws, ask questions, etc.

And sometimes it reveals how completely people can miss the point. In this case? Comments I've seen on articles about global warming. One strain of argument I've seen occasionally is "Scientists are wrong sometimes, how do we know they're not now?" Which would be a fair enough question. The poster could learn about the process of science, repeatability, peer review, fake think tanks, astroturf campaigns, and lots of other stuff. Usually, they're not interested in actually finding out how scientists decide what's true, they're trying to discredit science and scientists.

But what makes some of these comments so unintentionally ironic, and reveal the poster's ignorance? I've seen a bunch saying "Yeah, but what about the ozone hole? Science said that'd kill us!" or even "What about how the Y2K bug was supposed to kill us?"

What makes those two in particular really terrible examples for the "global warming's not humans' fault and we can't do anything about it anyway and why should we bother it'd cost too much and China!" crowd?

Because both ozone depletion and the Y2K bug are examples of how reducing CO2 emissions could work. Scientists and engineers identified a problem, and showed how it could hurt us, government and industries took action on a global scale to address it, and it WORKED. Thanks to treaties and monitoring, CFCs were mostly phased out, and are rarely used any more and are fairly well contained. For Y2K, millions of man-hours were invested in checking and fixing code, old programmers were brought out of retirement because nobody else spoke FORTRAN, and after a lot of work, the fixes WORKED.

Y2K and the ozone layer are both examples of how large-scale major changes and fixes can actually work, and even work so well that people can look back and laugh at how scared we were of the problem. I don't think that's the point the "It's not our fault and it's too hard to fix anyway!" crowd quite intends to make.
Between Peak Oil, global warming, authoritarian regeimes that control most of the world's oil, and many other factors, we can't keep depending on oil (especially gas) as the fuel to run the country. So what do we replace it with? Well, we can't just replace it with one thing. There's no single fuel source that can easily replace oil. We're going to have to replace it with many things.

Ethanol probably shouldn't be one of them.

On the other hand, things like biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil are good. Gets at least one more use out of things that would otherwise be thrown away. Ideally, there should be no such thing as waste, everything should go back either as food for new manufacturing, or degrade to be food for growing more food.

More on this later.
In a lot of RPGs, WoW for instance, when you throw something away, it disappears from your inventory and the world, for good.

It's not like that in the real world. We're all here on the bottom of this thin ocean of air surrounding a ball of molten rock. You're breathing the same oxygen the dinosaurs did. The carbon in that burger you ate could be the same as Abe Lincoln ate.

So what happens when you throw something away? Most of the time, it gets driven off to somewhere, and then tossed on a pile with a lot of other things people didn't want or need any more. Eventually, it all gets covered with plastic and buried under dirt. It's still there. It doesn't disappear.

The Earth is largely a closed system. There is no "away" where we can just throw things and forget about them. Solid, liquid, or gas, it's still gonna be here with us.

The List

Jan. 11th, 2008 06:37 pm
Via a link in a WorldChanging comment thread, I give you The List of what one woman's done to cut down the amount of plastic she uses. A good idea, considering the floating island of plastic trash twice the size of Texas in the Pacific. (Here's more photos)
Two sets of "they" I'm referring to.

First, the people the real blame belongs on. The Republicans in Congress, who don't even pretend to put the good of the country ahead of their bosses in big businesses. In this case, the giant oil companies, who've been raking in record profits for years.

But also, the Democrats in Congress, who aren't even bothering to pretend to put any effort into any of the things they were elected for, they're just letting the Republicans block everything with fillibuster threats, not even actual fillibusters. They just say they need more numbers to get anything done. Which is true enough, their majority rests on Joe Lieberman, who left the Democratic party and ran on the Lieberman for Lieberman ticket after he lost a primary challenge. But they don't even make the Republicans actually get up and fillibuster.

But on to the bill.

A few weeks ago, the House passed an ambitious energy bill, with renewable energy mandates, support for plug-in vehicles, increased fule effieiency standards, and other such goodness. It wasn't perfect, there was a lot of wiggle room and funkiness, but it was a definite step in the right direction.

So then it went to the Senate. And the Republicans there were having none of it. So, the renewable energy package was cut from the bill. It still wasn't enough for the Republicans, by one vote. 59-40 to cut off debate.

So what finally got the Republicans on board? A watered-down version which didn't close $13 billion in tax loopholes for the polluting oil companies. The same oil companies that have been raking in record profits from the high price of oil the last few years. Once that was dropped, the Republicans hopped on board, and the bill passed 86-6. The "free market" party put giant tax giveaways to huge companies who are too lazy to change ahead of tax breaks and incentives for small companies trying to innovate and help fix our problems. And President Bush, a failed oilman, said he'd veto any version with the oil tax llopholes closed, of course.

"The White House has said the taxes would lead to higher energy costs and unfairly single out the oil industry for punishment. A Democratic analysis showed that the $13.5 billion over 10 years amounted to 1.1 percent of the net profits that five largest oil companies would be expected to earn given today's oil prices."

The Democratic leadership couldn't even keep up a fight for more than a single day, to convince one Senator to vote a better way. Not even one of their own, the Senator from Louisiana who broke ranks.

And this is what the Republican party values. Tax breaks to giant profitable companies over the good of the country, over innovation in small and medium businesses, over the ability of our civilization to adapt to and weather the problems we've made.
Mike Huckabee, Chuck Norris approved Republican Presidential Candidate:

"I consider myself a conservationist. I think we ought to have some cap and trade. It worked with acid rain. I think it could work with Co2 emissions. I think we ought to be out there talking about ways to reduce energy consumption and waste. And we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is."

Ending energy consumption in the US within a decade! Wow, that is bold! Is he going to include chemical energy consumption, or just electricity? Because ending electricity consumption just requires a Day the Earth Stood Still style magic ray, ending chemical energy consumption would require killing all life on the continent.

He said this on a national television program. Katie Couric was asking candidates about global warming. And Mike Huckabee is so clueless about the basic matters of energy use he was just spouting inanities, or he meant something else and got flustered by Katie Couric's instense scrutiny.

The other Republicans weren't much better, Giuliani rambled something about energy independence and somehow using coal that doesn't add carbon to the atmosphere, Mitt Romney brought up the same mirage, and claimed that China's the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, which is false, we are. Fred Thompson denied global warming exists, and said that the mythical Social Security shortfall is more important. McCain's response was actually fairly decent, though I must admit to skepticism about how tough an environmental bill by him and Joe Lieberman is. But most of the Republican field is still in denial.

But Huckabee just got another endorsement, besides Chuck Norris, from the founder of the vigilante border guard "Minutemen" guys. A preacher flanked by Chuck Norris and a crazy "Minuteman" seems like the perfect depiction of what the Republican party has become.
#8: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

This book was absolutely fascinating. The idea behind the book is what would happen to all our stuff, and the world, if humans all disappeared suddenly? No specifics as to why, if it's zombies, aliens, the Rapture, nanotech, whatever, because that's not the point. But in the process of that, it ends up being much more about society and civilization and what it takes to keep them running. And what effects humans have already had on the world, and continue to. It's extremely well written. The parts about wildlife returning to Chernobyl, and sea life returning to nuclear weapons test atolls are scary, yet amazing. They have photos of the mountaintop removal "mining" for coal, and I'd heard about it, but pictures are worth a thousand words. See some here.

This book is amazing, and I totally recommend it to everyone.

#9: Marx for Beginners by Rius

It's a cartoon introduction to Marx and his economic theories, and the history he lived in. It was published first in 1976, so it's kind of dated. I'm trying to read some more economics stuff and so figured I'd start with the cartoon compressed version.

And frankly, some of the quoted passages of Marx looking at the inequalities of capitalism could come from a modern analysis of how Wal-Mart works and treats its workers. (In short: Not Well.)

#10 (or 10-13): Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

I'm not sure to count this as 1 or 4, since it's a 4 book manga series, but all one story. I guess I've included other comics as individual books, but sometimes it feels slightly cheaty. Depends on the comic, I suppose.

Anyway. I haven't seen the movie version yet, though I've seen many of Miyazaki's other ones. It was interesting, and good. Though the end, like a couple of Miyazaki's other stories (such as Castle in the Sky) makes it seem like he has serious issues with technology. I think I'm just tired of the trope of "Humanity can't be trusted with this knowledge! So now we'll destroy it!" Aside from that gripe though, it was a very good read. Fantastic environments, good characters, and the other main theme is the futility and waste of war, which I don't have any issues with.

Previous Books:
#1: Grave Peril
#2: Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
#3: DMZ Vol. 3: Public Works
#4: Bad Prince Charlie
#5: Making Money
#6: How to Win Friends and Influence People
#7: H.I.V.E. - Higher Institute of Villainous Education
There Pacific Ocean has islands the size of Texas in it. Floating islands. Made of plastic trash.

In between the great currents and trade winds, there are areas where the water and wind move sluggishly in great whirlpools, called gyres. Here's a simple map that should give you an idea. The big empty spots in the middle are the gyres. Here's a Google Map bookmark for the North Pacific Gyre.

There are few islands there, nothing for trash to beach on. So much of the great piles of plastic waste floating in the ocean gradually make their ways there, sucked in to the low energy center of the giant swirl. And it builds up there, until in may parts, there's six kilograms of plastic stuff for every kilogram of regular plankton.

Greenpeace has a flash version here for the North Pacific.

There's an even greater gyre in the South Pacific, between New Zealand and the west coast of South America. It's full of plastic too.

I think I'd seen a mention of these online somewhere, but had them impressed on me while reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is a book about what would happen to all of our stuff if humans disappeared.

On one large hand, dude. We throw away enough plastic crap to fill giant sections of the ocean. That's horrible. And it's not going to go away for a long time, because nothing in nature can break down plastic. But then there's a part of me that thinks "dude. We could totally go just scoop that stuff up and make something new out of it." But for now that'd probably take more energy than it's worth.

And honestly, it'd be better to try and find replacements for plastic in a lot of things, so our oceans don't get filled with bits of bottles and toys and wrappers and bags that all the animals try to eat.
I noticed an article in Business Week yesterday, called Little Green Lies. It's about Auden Schendler, an environmentalist who got a job at Aspen Skiing Co, as their environmental advocate. It starts off talking about how he's achieved"a lot of sexy projects", but doesn't feel they did anything.

The real story, as I read the article, is how every time he tried anything that would actually work, he was stymied by executives who were either baffled and confused by his insistence, or would rather spend the money on something much more short-term or just that they're used to. The most flagrant example?

" Thwarted on guest rooms, Schendler switched to Little Nell's underground garage. Guests never saw it because valets park all cars. For $20,000, Schendler said he could replace energy-gobbling 175-watt incandescent light fixtures with fluorescent bulbs and save $10,000 a year. Unimpressed, Calderon again balked. If he had $20,000 extra, he would rather spend it on items guests would notice: fine Corinthian leather furniture or shiny new bathroom fixtures."

He finally did get them to convert the lights, two years later, and after getting a $5,000 grant from a local non-profit. That's right, a big profitable company had to get a donation from charity to install equipment that would pay for itself in two years, and then save them $10,000 a year every year after that. Much more than would have been made in new bookings due to leather chairs or shiny faucets, I'm willing to bet. That's a 50% return on investment, better than anything you can find on the stock market. Later they talk about partially funding a solar energy farm outside Aspen, which would have a "paltry" 6.5% ROI. So it'd pay for itself in 15 years.

But as you can see above, corporate honchos aren't thinking long term. Even if the things they are thinking are completely pointless and would make less money than simple efficiencies. The moral of this story is, corporate execs aren't going to change how they do things, even if changing simple things would be a better investment. And since they won't change on their own, they need to be required to change, which means government has to get involved.
The POINT of using hemp fibers in clothing is that hemp is easy to grow, sturdy, and cheap.

So why, pray tell, is all the hemp stuff priced higher than regular stuff and marketed as luxury? Supply and demand may explain part of it, but I can't help but think it's because people decided to market it as something that's a luxury, and a way to show you care more about the environment than the teeming masses, instead of marketing it as a competitor for the regular stuff, and try and show the benefits to the teeming masses.

The same can be said of many of the other "luxury" "eco-friendly" things on the market now. Most of them can be produced for close to the same prices as regular mass-marketed junk, but they get a "luxury" markup, which defeats the point. It keeps it from wider adoption, and marks it with class signals, which can make the "teeming masses" resent it, instead of use it and gain the benefits of it.

Which is flat out stupid.
So Yahoo! has a front page article on their portal, titled "Building Renewable Energy Sources Could Wreck the Environment". (Only they didn't capitalize it like you're supposed to for titles)

So let's take a closer look at this article. First off, on the actual article, the title is "Study: Renewable Energy Not Green". First paragraph:
"Renewable energy could wreck the environment, according to a study that examined how much land it would take to generate the renewable resources that would make a difference in the global energy system."
provocative! But wait, let's look at some details, like who did this research, and how they did the study. That's how you tell if it's any good or not.

"Building enough wind farms, damming adequate number of rivers and growing sufficient biomass to produce ample kilowatts to make a difference in meeting global energy demands would involve a huge invasion of nature, according to Jesse Ausubel, a researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York."

Well, that's the who. Let's do a quick google to find out who this guy is. Here's his bio from the school. "Jesse H. Ausubel is Director of the Program for the Human Environment and Senior Research Associate at The Rockefeller University in New York City." Okay, most of his bio looks like stuff related to the subject at hand. One thing, at the end of his bio, it says he's a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, one of the nodes of conspiracy theorists all over. But of more note here is the list of Corporate Members for the CFR. Pretty much every major oil company there. Oil companies, involved in think tanks influencing government? I am shocked sir, shocked! But the CFR has been involved in a lot of the fiascoes and wars the US has been involved in.

But all in all, it seems like he's pretty qualified, so let's continue through the article.

"Ausubel came to this conclusion by calculating the amount of energy that each renewable source can produce in terms of area of land disturbed.

“We looked at the different major alternatives for renewable energies and we measured [the power output] for each of them and how much land it will rape,” Ausubel told LiveScience. "


Okay now there's a red flag that this guy might not be exactly unbiased. Referring to building solar plants and wind farms and so on as "rape".

"The results, published in the current issue of International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, paint a grim picture for the environment. For example, according to the study, in order to meet the 2005 electricity demand for the United States, an area the size of Texas would need to be covered with wind structures running round the clock to extract, store and transport the energy."

So why is a study on wind power and stuff in a journal for "nuclear governance"? This is the kind of thing a journalist should notice.

"New York City would require the entire area of Connecticut to become a wind farm to fully power all its electrical equipment and gadgets.

You can convert every kilowatt generated directly into land area disturbed, Ausubel said. “The biomass or wind will produce one or two watts per square meter. So every watt or kilowatt you want for light bulbs in your house can be translated into your hand reaching out into nature taking land.”"


This is just talking about wind, which nobody's talking about JUST wind. And there's a couple other points I'd make, but those get made by other scientists later in the article. Like so:

"Other scientists are not on board with Ausubel’s analysis and say that his use of energy density—the amount of energy produced per each area of land—as the only metric may not be the correct way to calculate the impact of energy from renewable resources on the environment.

“In general, I would say his use of energy density just does not capture the entire scope of issues and capabilities for all the different resources,” said John A. Turner, a principal scientist at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who was not involved in the study.

Turner explains that if the entire United States were to be powered by solar cells with 10 percent efficiency, an area about 10,000 square miles would have to be covered by solar panels in a sunny place such as Arizona or Nevada.

“Now there’s 3.7 million square miles of area for the continental U.S.” Turner told LiveScience. “This represents a very, very tiny area. And that’s just one technology.”

“If you look at how much land area we’ve covered with roads, it’s more than double that. So yeah, it’s a large area, 100 miles by 100 miles, if you pack it into one thing, but if you scatter it across the country and compare it to all the other things we’ve already covered, it’s not an egregious area.” "


Here's wikipedia on solar cells. Most solar cells are more than 10% efficient now. And nobody's talking about using just wind, or solar, or whatever. Not to mention all the neat ideas out now, like offshore wind farms (which wouldn't disturb any land, or flying tethered windmills, energy from methane off landfills, or any of the more hypothetical and exotic things either in testing or ready to be used. But I'm kind of repeating myself.

"Ausubel’s analysis concludes that other renewable sources such as solar power and biomass are “un-green”. According to his findings, to obtain power for a large proportion of the country from biomass would require 965 square miles of prime Iowa land. A photovoltaic solar cell plant would require painting black about 58 square miles, plus land for storage and retrieval to equal a 1,000-megawatt electric nuclear plant, a more environmentally friendly choice, Ausubel wrote."

Ah hah. And this is why the study was in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology. I wonder if his analysis of nuclear power plants includes the square mileage of the strip mines and processing centers to dig up the uranium for nuclear fuel. I kind of doubt it.

"However, new land doesn’t have to be put into use just for a solar plant. Some scientists say already existing infrastructures could be doubled up for use to cover such an area.

“We could do with just rooftops of buildings and homes, land area we’ve already covered,” Turner said. “We could meet 25 percent of our annual electrical demand by just putting solar panels on already existing rooftops of homes and businesses.”

“Similarly, wind farms use up a lot of land area but they only really take up 5 percent of the land they cover,” he explained. “The rest of it can be used for farming so it doesn’t really impact the land area that much.”"


I don't really have any disagreement with this part of the article, I just wanted to quote it to agree with it and so it saved me the trouble of making these points. Especially the part about putting solar panels on roofs and other places where they don't "rape" the land, because there's already structures or parking lots there. Like solar trees, which make power and provide shade, which helps reduce the heat island effect from giant spaces of blacktop.

"Ausubel thinks that a better alternative to renewable energy resources would be nuclear power, which would leave behind far less waste than other alternatives.

“There are three legs to the stool of environmentally sound energy policy—one is improved efficiency, second is increased reliance on natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration and the third is nuclear power,” he explained.

“Nuclear power has the proliferation issues, which are serious but the environmental issues are small. With nuclear energy the issue is to contain radioactivity, which has been successfully done.”
"

Well, his three legs are sort of right. We need to vastly improve energy efficiency. We have many many ways of doing that already, but companies haven't been working very hard at them. Which is especially odd since improving efficiency means less waste, which means less costs and more profit. We have the technology to do a lot of energy efficiency, we just haven't been. It's a massive market failure, and one of the reasons we need government to step in on the issue. As for natural gas, I don't recall any working examples of carbon capture and sequestration, the power companies don't seem interested in that except as a way of avoiding any real cuts in their production. And if we have working carbon capture and sequestration, they'd presumably work on coal and oil and anything else, not just natural gas. Nuclear power I'm iffy on. There's a lot of downsides, but there's also a lot of new designs that address some of the safety and other issues, so it's something that depends. There's still the issues of waste, which haven't been as successfully addressed as the flippant quote it the article makes it sound. And the fact that nuclear power is just a matter of piling radioactive stuff up until it gets hot and then using that heat to make steam feels kind of inelegant.

"Turner agrees that nuclear power leaves a smaller carbon footprint, but he thinks that the waste issue associated with this technology is very serious.

“It’s unconscionable to dismiss the issue of nuclear waste," Turner said, “because you have to store that waste for hundreds of thousands of years and nuclear wastes are particularly damaging to the environment and have social impacts also.”

Similarly, Gregory A. Keoleian, co-Director for the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, thinks more in-depth analyses are needed before dismissing renewables and considering nuclear power as a viable option.

“I think the characterizations made that ‘renewables are not green’ and ‘nuclear is green’ sound provocative, but they do not accurately represent these technologies with respect to a comprehensive set of sustainability criteria and analysis,” Keoleian told LiveScience. “The treatment of renewable technologies [in this study] is shallow and the coverage of the nuclear fuel cycle is incomplete." "


I agree with most of the critiques of the study above. It's too bad the people writing the headlines didn't read this part of the article. Or the editor didn't read it and promote this point to the main point of the article, which gives the study a false aura of importance, when it's shallow and flawed and ignores several major issues.

"To capture the entire scope of issues and capabilities for all the different resources, scientists believe there need to be more studies and discussions.

“We have a finite amount of time, a finite amount of money and a finite amount of energy, and we need to be very careful about the choices we make as we build this new energy infrastructure,” Turner said. “I’d like to see something that will last for millennia and certainly solar, wind and biomass will last as long as the sun shines. “ "


Well, the one sentence paragraph about more studies is banal, and mostly false. Not that scientists are against studies and discussions, but the invocation of "more study!" by global warming deniers and opponents of change makes it ring really hollow. Scientists have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done. Which is get away from burning coal and oil and gas, and use less energy, and use the energy we use smarter. The specifics of how to do it for each area depend on the area. Though I'm pretty sure biomass, wind, and solar plants would require upkeep, repair, and upgrades to last as long as the sun shines.

This article's worst sin is its totally misleading headline and title, which are usually not the reporter's fault. And the author did a good job of speaking to other scientists to find out other opinions on the study. But the other big failing with this article is the same as with many other articles, in science, politics, and beyond. It's presented just as a "He said, and he said" article, with the two opposing viewpoints presented, but the author doesn't do any research to determine which of the viewpoints is right. Objectivity doesn't mean reporting just "both" sides of something, it means trying to find the objective truth behind it. And there's no attempt at that here. No concluding paragraph showing the author has an understanding of the issue and isn't just a stenographer. The whole reason journalists are supposed to be paid is to help people reach an understanding and knowledge of what's happening. And at that, they're failing.

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