T Nation

Happy Earth Day

An upbeat Earthday message for everyone - technology rules.

[i] GREEN & SMART

By GLENN HARLAN REYNOLDS

April 22, 2008 –

I HAVEN’T been able to get very excited about the big global-warming debate - but I am excited about some solutions to global warming. These are just as worthwhile even if you don’t believe that human-created climate change is a big problem, or even a reality.

While the religious wars rage on between the Church of Green and the Church of Carbon, a few things have become pretty clear:

  • Reducing carbon emissions by making people poorer will never happen. Just ask people in China - now the world’s No. 1 carbon emitter - how interested they are in returning to the economic conditions they suffered a few decades ago when their carbon emissions were lower.

  • Burning fossil fuels is a lousy idea for reasons that have nothing to do with global warming. These hydrocarbons offer important applications as fertilizers and chemical feedstocks, making it foolish to burn them for fuel.

  • New technologies are generally cleaner, safer and more efficient than old ones.

All this aims us toward a solution that doesn’t involve impossible sacrifice.

Even many scientific champions of global-warming theory are admitting the first point, by shifting their focus from cutting emissions to “geoengineering” - by which they mean responding to global warming by doing things like injecting particulates into the stratosphere to block sunlight, or fertilizing carbon-absorbing algae blooms in the tropical oceans.

These are drastic steps, worth researching in case the worst happens, but nothing we should rush into. But then, impoverishing the world would be a drastic step, too, and it’s one that’s not likely to sell.

But what if we could reduce greenhouse gases without impoverishing the world? That would be worth doing anyway, because along with those greenhouse gases come all sorts of other nasty substances we’re better off without.

That point is catching on, too. Even some environmentalists are already looking to nuclear power as, ironically enough, more environmentally friendly than coal, oil, or natural gas, and we’ll likely see more such sentiment in the future.

But nuclear power is just a stopgap - as more advanced technologies like nanotechnology offer much greater prospects via solar energy and reduced energy consumption.

MIT’s Vladimir Bulovic calls nanotech a potentially “disruptive technology” in the solar-energy field, offering a complete shift from today’s fossil-fuel environment. And famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil projects the current rate of progress in solar power forward and argues, “The power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our energy needs within 20 years.”

Solar research is progressing rapidly, and recent research suggests that “quantum nanodots” may offer dramatic improvements, perhaps on the order that Kurzweil predicts.

Nanotech offers dramatic improvements on the side of energy consumption, too: As computing and other devices become smaller, they become more efficient - and nanotech will allow drastic improvements in both size and efficiency.

Nanotech is starting to yield super-strong, super-light materials, too. Imagine how much more efficient a family car could be if you cut the weight in half, even if you kept burning gas. But nanotech is also likely to produce better batteries and better motors, meaning that your lighter car may also be electric, powered ultimately by those nanodot solar panels.

All of these things are in the works now to greater and lesser degrees, but they could happen faster if there were more research and development support.

Ultimately, we’re probably better off putting our energies into promoting cleaner, more advanced technologies like these than in trying to get people to reduce the scope of their lives through “hair-shirt environmentalism.”

Hair-shirts have always had their fans, but have seldom been widely adopted. On the other hand, most people would like to lead cleaner, better, more efficient lives. Why not give 'em what they want, and help the planet at the same time?

A focus on cutting energy consumption with today’s technology isn’t going to make much of a difference. Let’s work on replacing current tech with something better, instead.


Glenn Harlan Reynolds is Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee and the publisher of the blog InstaPundit.com. [/i]

One only needs to look at the year 1908 and at the level of technology that existed. Imagine the predictions they made in 1908 about what the world would look like in 2008.

Some of those predictions no doubt were anticiapted improvements on existing technology. Many were speculative wishes. Present day reality couldn’t have been imagined however.

The pace of development has increased substantialy. I believe it will continue. It certainly will not level out or go backwards. Most predictions fail to take into account the development of new technology (oil exploration for example).

I don’t think Global Warming is a real problem, more of an alarmist rant. However, if I am wrong I’m pretty confident we will engineer our way out of the problem.

[quote]hedo wrote:

I don’t think Global Warming is a real problem, more of an alarmist rant. However, if I am wrong I’m pretty confident we will engineer our way out of the problem.[/quote]

Without a doubt!

[quote]hedo wrote:
One only needs to look at the year 1908 and at the level of technology that existed. Imagine the predictions they made in 1908 about what the world would look like in 2008.

Some of those predictions no doubt were anticiapted improvements on existing technology. Many were speculative wishes. Present day reality couldn’t have been imagined however.

The pace of development has increased substantialy. I believe it will continue. It certainly will not level out or go backwards. Most predictions fail to take into account the development of new technology (oil exploration for example).

I don’t think Global Warming is a real problem, more of an alarmist rant. However, if I am wrong I’m pretty confident we will engineer our way out of the problem.[/quote]

Hell, they can’t predict the weather accurately 10 days in advance, how in the fuck are they making “models” over the course of years, decades and even centuries and we’re somehow supposed to believe them.

However, I am all for being cleaner but not at the expense of our well being. I like the idea of using technology for the purpose. So other than the GW horseshit, I liked the article.

[quote]hedo wrote:
One only needs to look at the year 1908 and at the level of technology that existed. Imagine the predictions they made in 1908 about what the world would look like in 2008.

Some of those predictions no doubt were anticiapted improvements on existing technology. Many were speculative wishes. Present day reality couldn’t have been imagined however.
[/quote]

It’s a miracle that we haven’t drowned in horse manure yet. They way things were going in the early 1900’s, we were well on our way to driving ourselves out of our own cities with all the manure lying around.

The history of predictions is really fascinating! I remember Paul Samuelson (famous economist) predicting that the Soviet Union would eclipse the USA economically by the year 2000.

The trouble is that these people try to use continuous functions to make their predictions. But, remember the scene in Jurassic Park, where the mathematician says that life is chaotic? Continuous functions are good for describing planetary motions and the like but not social systems.

That was actually the point of the movie I think — why socialism/communism, in fact any planned society, is simply impossible to do, just like the park.

[quote]pat wrote:
Hell, they can’t predict the weather accurately 10 days in advance, how in the fuck are they making “models” over the course of years, decades and even centuries and we’re somehow supposed to believe them.[/quote]

Amen to that.

[quote]
hedo wrote:
One only needs to look at the year 1908 and at the level of technology that existed. Imagine the predictions they made in 1908 about what the world would look like in 2008.

Some of those predictions no doubt were anticiapted improvements on existing technology. Many were speculative wishes. Present day reality couldn’t have been imagined however.

The pace of development has increased substantialy. I believe it will continue. It certainly will not level out or go backwards. Most predictions fail to take into account the development of new technology (oil exploration for example).

I don’t think Global Warming is a real problem, more of an alarmist rant. However, if I am wrong I’m pretty confident we will engineer our way out of the problem.

pat wrote:
Hell, they can’t predict the weather accurately 10 days in advance, how in the fuck are they making “models” over the course of years, decades and even centuries and we’re somehow supposed to believe them.

However, I am all for being cleaner but not at the expense of our well being. I like the idea of using technology for the purpose. So other than the GW horseshit, I liked the article.[/quote]

You guys will like this book then:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0980076315?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwviolentkicom&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0980076315

If I hear the prefix “Eco” again, I am going to by me a 1974 Trans Am with a 455 CID (7.4 liters for you metric folks) pump it full of lead gas, run it rich and pollute the fuck out of everything in site with my middle finger raised in salute. the enviro-fags are getting on my nerves. I like clean air, water and earth, but I am not take their horseshit or be made to feel guilty over anything. Hell, they piss me off so bad, I just may dump my recycle bins in to the regular trash, just to piss them off.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee and the publisher of the blog InstaPundit.com. [/quote]

This guy should stick to writing about law. Talk about “drastic” and “dramatic improvements” is quite silly at this point. Yes, science is making advances everyday but there’s no such thing as a magic bullet here.

Solar energy is already cheaper than getting hooked to the grid, but the initial investment is still steep. And despite the fact that it’s now manufactured in roll-to-roll processes, the generated power still needs to be stored somewhere. As for the idea that computing “become smaller, they become more efficient” we’ve a few years (I’m thinking hand fingers) away from the brick wall. Displays are indeed becoming more efficient thanks to OLEDs, but it’s certainly not anywhere near a dramatic improvement. As for quantum nanodots being used on a massive scale to power the “super-light” car, well, I’m not holding my breath.

Saving the planet is not about stopping underdeveloped countries from bettering the horrid living conditions of their people’s. It’s about stopping the consumer madness that has plagued the developed world. When you throw your old computer in the garbage to buy the shiny new model that also happens to be cheap, you’re not seeing the hidden cost of your actions. This, in my opinion, is the most easily controllable factor. Just imagine if everyone offered poems at Christmas or birthdays instead of clutter.

And, oh, nuclear energy is a mature technology. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why it isn’t used all over the world. That, coupled with electric cars should take care of the issue. Enforce a 100 km/hr speed limit on all roads for private vehicles and see how many people will switch to trains and buses.

But no, the “distinguished Professor” says we should just keep doing what we’re doing and hope that technology will miraculously take care of the problem for us.

[quote]lixy wrote:
This, in my opinion, is the most easily controllable factor. Just imagine if everyone offered poems at Christmas or birthdays instead of clutter.
[/quote]

Far less people employed?

[quote]Sloth wrote:
lixy wrote:
This, in my opinion, is the most easily controllable factor. Just imagine if everyone offered poems at Christmas or birthdays instead of clutter.

Far less people employed? [/quote]

What the fuck does he care for Christmas? He is a Muslim.

Jesus is divine and therefore we must spend, spend, spend for his birthday otherwise he will smite us.

[quote]Zap Branigan wrote:
What the fuck does he care for Christmas? He is a Muslim. [/quote]

I’m pretty certain a lot of people would have trouble understanding the argument had I written 'Achoura instead of Christmas.

[quote]lixy wrote:
BostonBarrister wrote:
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee and the publisher of the blog InstaPundit.com.

This guy should stick to writing about law. Talk about “drastic” and “dramatic improvements” is quite silly at this point. Yes, science is making advances everyday but there’s no such thing as a magic bullet here.

Solar energy is already cheaper than getting hooked to the grid, but the initial investment is still steep. And despite the fact that it’s now manufactured in roll-to-roll processes, the generated power still needs to be stored somewhere. As for the idea that computing “become smaller, they become more efficient” we’ve a few years (I’m thinking hand fingers) away from the brick wall. Displays are indeed becoming more efficient thanks to OLEDs, but it’s certainly not anywhere near a dramatic improvement. As for quantum nanodots being used on a massive scale to power the “super-light” car, well, I’m not holding my breath.

Saving the planet is not about stopping underdeveloped countries from bettering the horrid living conditions of their people’s. It’s about stopping the consumer madness that has plagued the developed world. When you throw your old computer in the garbage to buy the shiny new model that also happens to be cheap, you’re not seeing the hidden cost of your actions. This, in my opinion, is the most easily controllable factor. Just imagine if everyone offered poems at Christmas or birthdays instead of clutter.

And, oh, nuclear energy is a mature technology. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why it isn’t used all over the world. That, coupled with electric cars should take care of the issue. Enforce a 100 km/hr speed limit on all roads for private vehicles and see how many people will switch to trains and buses.

But no, the “distinguished Professor” says we should just keep doing what we’re doing and hope that technology will miraculously take care of the problem for us. [/quote]

Nuclear power is hostage to NIMBYs and stupid hippies. We haven’t created a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years - a complete travesty.

However, solar is a very good option, and it’s just getting better. Once the cost of solar power becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning fossil fuels - which will take what, 10 years? - the CO2 emissions of rich countries will fall dramatically. When solar does get cheaper than fossil fuels, given the large initial investment to hook up solar, the adoption of solar power to the third world will depend on how rich they are in 10-50 years. Which depends a lot on not adopting climate policies that will cut their growth today…

As for storage, battery technology is really advancing too - just look what they’re doing with electric cars.

[quote]lixy wrote:
It’s about stopping the consumer madness that has plagued the developed world. When you throw your old computer in the garbage to buy the shiny new model that also happens to be cheap, you’re not seeing the hidden cost of your actions. This, in my opinion, is the most easily controllable factor. Just imagine if everyone offered poems at Christmas or birthdays instead of clutter.

[/quote]

Consumer madness? It’s human fucking nature. Good luck trying to change that.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
Nuclear power is hostage to NIMBYs and stupid hippies. We haven’t created a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years - a complete travesty. [/quote]

Yeah, we heard. They smell.

Solar is already cheaper than the grid in 90% of the world. The issue is that you that the initial investment is quite steep and there’s no immediate amortization. And I highly doubt that, in a world of credit cards, disposable items and Britney Spears people would go through the inconvenience of investing in solar infrastructure. I sincerely hope that I get proven wrong on this point. I’d love nothing more than to see companies financing solar installations. I just don’t think it will be done in 10 years time.

And why the hell should we wait for a pie in the sky technology (see, I can do poetry too!) when we already have the nuclear route.

What we need is some kind of breakthrough. What we have are minor improvements.

[quote]lixy wrote:
BostonBarrister wrote:

And, oh, nuclear energy is a mature technology. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why it isn’t used all over the world. That, coupled with electric cars should take care of the issue. Enforce a 100 km/hr speed limit on all roads for private vehicles and see how many people will switch to trains and buses.
[/quote]

Great idea, oppress the people in to behaving the way you want them too. Wow!

[quote]lixy wrote:

Solar is already cheaper than the grid in 90% of the world. …[/quote]

Because there is no grid in 90% of the world…

Another reason to put efforts toward technology: This just in - carbon capping is expensive!

http://www.dynamist.com/weblog/archives/002761.html

[i] There’s No Such Thing as a Free Carbon Cap

It’s infuriating how all three presidential candidates prattle on about the need to fight global warming while also complaining about the high price of gasoline. The candidates treat CO2 emissions as a social issue like gay marriage, with no economic ramifications. In the real world, barring a massive buildup of nuclear plants, reducing carbon dioxide emissions means consuming less energy and that means raising prices a lot, either directly with a tax or indirectly with a cap-and-trade permitting system. (Alternatively, the government could just ration energy, but fortunately we aren’t going in that direction.) The last thing you’d want to do is reduce gas taxes during the summer, as John McCain has proposed. That would just encourage people to burn more gas on extra vacation trips–as any straight talker would admit.

The connection between higher prices for energy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions may not have hit the national consciousness yet, but the LAT’s Margo Roosevelt reports that California utilities–and eventually their customers–are beginning to realize this isn’t just a symbolic issue ( http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-climate20apr20,0,4318459.story?track=ntothtml ).

[quote] Fighting global warming is the feel-good cause of the moment.

But in California, the self-congratulation that followed the 2006 passage of the nation's first comprehensive law to curb emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases is fast turning to acrimony.

A ferocious behind-the-scenes brawl over how to regulate electricity plants, the biggest source of carbon dioxide after motor vehicles, has pitted Southern California's public power generators against its for-profit utilities.

Why? Because some taxpayer-owned utilities, such as Los Angeles' Department of Water and Power, get close to half their electricity from the nation's dirtiest energy source: coal. [/quote]

The DWP, to whom I pay my electric bills, wants out of the carbon dioxide caps. It apparently thinks the law shouldn’t apply to socialist enterprises.

UPDATE: If you haven’t read it already, check out my favorite economist’s analysis of carbon taxes vs. cap-and-trade: http://organizationsandmarkets.com/2007/03/14/taxes-al-carbon/ [/i]