Sunday, January 29, 2012

What Do We Do Now? -- Continued

Electricity is the nexus of many renewable energy resources.  Renewable energy sources are all over the place, and no one can monopolize them.  These are quite democratizing -- energy is available virtually anywhere and everywhere.

Sure geothermal on the surface is only in a few places (Iceland, parts of the USA, New Zealand, etc.) but wind is in many places, including the corridor from Texas up to the Dakotas, and basically all around the midwest, California, and offshore from our coasts.  Wind scales up well, getting more efficient as the turbines get bigger.  We now have direct drive turbines that eliminate the weakest piece of the previous generation -- the transmission, and so they generate more power, break less often, cost less to build and maintain, and they save about 17 tons of weight, to boot.

Solar can be virtually anywhere -- Germany even!  Germany is about as sunny as Washington state, which is the least sunny place in the lower 49 states.  Solar is great for the highest load which is for air conditioning -- and there are no grid losses when it is right in the same building.  Solar scales down nicely.

Combining solar and wind along with a few gas turbines (methane from sewage or farm wastes) for peak load, and a hydro power station with an elevated reservoir works very well.  Here's how this works in Germany:

Here's a Scientific American article on powering the USA with renewable energy 100% by 2030:

And we can use wave power -- there are three companies (at least) around the world that already make these -- here's the one in New Jersey:

Most of the world's people live close to the coast, so wave power and tidal power are close by.

We need to transition to renewable energy NO MATTER WHAT.  Eventually, the finite resources we are using now -- oil, coal, gas and uranium will run out, by definition.  The earth is just one planet; and it is the only one we have.  The other more likely scenario is that we will cause too much climate change by burning up the carbon fossil fuels dumping all the carbon that has been packed away over million and millions and millions of years back into the atmosphere in less than 200 hundred years, and we will have more chaos in our climate than we can adapt to.

So, hopefully oil and coal gets too expensive so that we will switch to renewable energy -- which will last another billion years -- until the sun explodes!  And it will not pollute in ways that we cannot deal with. 

We need to stop subsidizing oil and coal.  We need to be able to stop requiring a huge military to defend oil supplies.

We need to stop using up all of the finite resources -- our factory agriculture is totally dependent on oil and gas and phosphorus and chemical pesticides.  It kills the natural life cycle within the soil -- the dirt that we are utterly dependent on for our lives.  Dead unproductive soil that erodes into the sea won't grow anything.  It won't hold water and it won't let it filter down into the aquifers that we are pumping dry as fast as we can.

Life itself created all the soil, and we are made of the exact same materials that are in the soil.

Oil is the primary reason that we have accelerated so quickly from living within that cycle of life to living beyond what the earth can sustain.  We need to use our intelligence and our scientific knowledge, and our adaptability to change what we now know needs to be changed; before we lose too much of the life support here on this earth that we cannot live without.

There is no "planet B".

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Do We Do Now?

It is critical that we do something about global climate change and our unsustainable consumption of many important resources -- because we can have an affect. We started the ball rolling, and by the same token, we can work to reverse what we have started. It won't be easy and it will be painful, but as moral beings we have to try.

Paul Gilding in his book "The Great Disruption" talks about an approximate time line of 5 or 6 years of status quo before we hit a big tipping point, and then very aggressive reduction of carbon output over the next 25-30 years, followed by as much carbon sequestration as we can muster.

We need to take the 2C increase very seriously, and we must not pass ~450ppm or all hell will really break loose. We need to return back down to <350ppm to avoid the worst effects. The equilibrium we had for ~650,000 years was ~270ppm.

When and if we can do this, the world won't be back to what we had, because there is real and lasting damage to biodiversity, but it will probably settle down.

We and all life forms here in the present are the results of all life that has come before us. We would not even have oxygen in the air without plants splitting water in photosynthesis. Each and every molecule in our bodies has been part of myriad other life forms before, many times over.
Think of this as a kind of reincarnation.  I love this quote from Neil deGrasseTyson:
We are all connected;
To each other, biologically
To the earth, chemically
To the rest of the universe atomically  ***
Each and every drop of water has been cycling through life forms, the soil, and the rocks of this planet -- over and over and over and over again and again and again... The oxygen carrying iron in our blood came from the stars. All the gold we have came from supernovas.  The soil itself was produced by all of life forms down through the eons.

This is a balanced and efficient and bountiful cycle. The carbon we have so blithely thrown up into the atmosphere in less than 2 centuries was packed away underground over a couple of billion years. We have made a very basic change, and we must take responsibility for it.
A recent study said that 83-95% of ALL daily drives in the USA could be done in a Nissan Leaf.

Can you imagine the day when ~90% of all cars in America are electric?  We wouldn't need a military any where near as large as we have now. We would stop spending 1.5 BILLION a DAY on foreign oil. Our carbon output could be 20-25% lower (if I am anywhere close on this?), and the air pollution would be hugely reduced, saving many lives and many people would be far healthier with out it.
We could all have solar PV panels on our roofs and we would save another 20-30% of carbon output because all the oldest coal plants could be shut down.  We can get almost all out hot water from solar heat vacuum tube collectors, and the most efficient heat pumps, some being geothermal heat pumps would let us heat and cool our houses completely carbon free.
We could employ 250,000+ people building and assembling wind turbines and wave power machines, and in a few decades we could get 100% of our electricity from fuel free renewable energy sources. We would lower our carbon output by 80% overall and we would stop killing coal miners and have zero oil spills and not need to devastate the boreal forests of Alberta or dig for uranium around the Grand Canyon, or poison drinking wells with fracking fluid.
If we switched back to farming like we did it 75 years ago, we would not be poisoning the rivers with chemical runoff, not create dead zones in the ocean, and not add nitrous oxide (the results of chemical nitrogen fertilizers!) to the atmosphere, adding to global climate change. We would all be much healthier and all food could be local and fresh and in season and safer and cancer rates would drop and all food would be fully nutritious and have full flavor. 
And we would avoid the worst of global climate change.  If we can stay below ~450ppm and keep the Antarctic ice sheets frozen and not mess up crop productivity too much, and not cause too many 1,000's of more species to go extinct and not flood our most populous river deltas and low lying coastal plains and only displace a few million people -- then we might just survive the next millennium, and have chance to correct what we have done in the last century and a half.
We would come back into step with the natural cycle of life that has sustained life for millions of years.
 *** This was used in a song, that I blogged about earlier, called "We Are All Connected"