EcoGeek isn't much for activism. I mean, we get excited about solar subsidies and carbon caps, and controlling coal. But really we think that the trick to saving the world is just doing it...creating new solutions that are better than the old solutions.
But there's this little thing that George Bush did that irks me greatly. It's not the kind of thing that will destroy the world, more an ideological difference of opinion that makes me dislike the world a little bit more.
He changed NASA's mission statement from
To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.
To explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.
He took out the part where it's NASA's job to understand and protect the planet! What the frak! So does NASA have no role in using their science to actually deal with the problems they identify?
So now that Obama's on the job and working hard undoing an awful lot of what Bush did, I think it's time he ads that little sentence back in. Alex Steffan at World Changing is spearheading a campaign to try and get the mission statement changed to:
To understand and protect our home planet for the benefit of all humanity; to explore the universe and search for life; to prepare for the future and to inspire the next generation of explorers.
Which I rather like. In any case...I think it's about time we restored science to it's proper place in America. And I think that we now have a fairly good chance of actually getting that done.
In honor of its 10th birthday, Google has announced a competition which calls on people to submit proposals for innovative projects in the areas of energy, education and health. As in other contests, the entries are to be submitted as Youtube videos, and the finalists are voted in by viewers like you.
One entry which is becoming increasingly popular belongs to a Seattlite named Chad Maglaque, an â€œinventor since childhoodâ€ according to the Seattle Times. Mr. Maglaqueâ€™s proposal is essentially to manufacture a small scale wind turbine that can be distributed in large retail stores (think Costco, Wal-Mart, etc.). That way, an average Joe like you or me could simply pick one off the shelf, bring it home and hook it up.
In order to facilitate said hook-up, Maglaqueâ€™s turbine does not require a converter, although it is not clear whether thatâ€™s because the turbine comes with a converter inside or because the electricity generated is already AC (which would make sense considering the motion of a turbine). The turbine also contains a sensor which allows it to kick on when it senses a sufficient amount of wind. All told, it should generated about 40 kwh per month.
So how much will it cost? About $400-500.
Oooh, Chad; thereâ€™s the kicker. See, small scale wind has a few things going for it, but economics has always been its Achillesâ€™ heel. As pointed out in one of the comments to the article, it would take more than 10 years to recoup those $500 in electricity savings, and even after that the turbine would only contribute a relatively small faction of the houseâ€™s energy needs.
Of course, there are other reasons one might want to buy such a device. There is a certain amount of satisfaction one could gain from harnessing even that little bit of wind power, and $500 is hardly at the high end of what people spend on things that they like. Maybe it could earn one some bragging rights amongst the neighbors â€“ no one is questioning the value of green peer pressure. But is this worthy of the Google prize?
It seems like every month or so, I get a press release in my inbox saying something like "Scientists Say that The World Will Explode if We Don't Do X by Y." I have some news for you.
1. No one has any idea what will happen if we don't do X by Y
2. That headline was written by a journalist, not by a scientist
Sure, in their models, scientists can see a precise date of when the gulf-stream will shut down or when decreasing global albedo will take over and global warming will be irreversible. But scientists recognize that models, however sophisticated, are not as sophisticated as the real world. Only a fool would take the date the model spit out and assume that that's the day of reckoning.
Unfortunately, journalists (myself included) are often foolish. Our business is to get people to read things, preferably things that are true. But by the time it goes through three editors, each with a mind on the business, the chances of a headline with more units of sensation per unit of truth get pretty high.
Plus, I think that we, as journalists, have an artificial fascination with deadlines. We think they make the world work because they make us work.
But I'm here to tell you, once and for all, that we need not worry about when the day of reckoning is because every day is a day of reckoning. Every day that the Ford F-150 is the top selling vehicle in America (as it has been for 27 years) is a day of reckoning, and every time someone chooses to pay two cents extra per kilo-watt hour for wind power is a moment of reckoning.
Malcolm Gladwell be damned, there is no defined law for a tipping point.
No matter what we do, global warming will adversely effect our planet, we've seen it already. But the more we do, the less horrible things will get. And if we give up hope, and say that it's all for naught, things will get much much worse.
Success and failure are not absolute, they are defined in increments. The more we do, the better off we'll be. The less we do, the worse off we'll be, and that is the law of incremental suck. Every innovation we discuss here at EcoGeek, every decision you make at home, every graduate who decides to go into clean energy, every investor who thinks of her planet as well as her wallet, every single one will make things a incrementally better for this and future generations.
Some actions (inventing a cheap solar panel) will have a larger effect than others (buying a Prius) of course. But there is no one cure, and there will be no day on which the Earth is saved, just as there will be no day on which it dies. These things are defined in increments, so let's stop worrying about our deadline and get to work writing the story. It's not going to be the happiest or easiest story to write, but it is going to be a good one.
The NYT Freakonomics column is attempting to figure out what affect the economic downturn is going to have on the clean technology industry. By asking three of the leading experts in the field (George Tolley, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Chicago and president of RCF Inc.; John Whitehead, professor in the Department of Economics at Appalachian State University and contributor to the blog Environmental Economics; and Ethan Zindler, head of North American research at New Energy Finance) Freakonomics has done a pretty good job of summarizing what 2009 will probably look like.
If you're looking for a great wealth of analysis, head to the original article. But if you don't have time for that, here's a quick summary:
The cost of fossil fuel is dropping once again, so the cost differential between renewables and fossil fuels is widening, not closing (like it was for years.) In short, that's bad news. It's also bad news that people will have less disposable income with which they will choose renewables (when given the choice.)
And, in the short term, there's less capital for investments and IPO's, for certain. But the fundamentals of the sector are extremely strong. Oil and natural gas prices remain historically high, state and federal renewable energy mandates remain in place, and the possibility for further carbon regulation is extremely strong.
In short, everyone expects things to stagnate for a little while, but the sector will remain an important growth industry, and the possibilities for exponential growth in wind, solar and other renewables remain strong.
The US's new President has a lot on his plate. An unsustainable and unstable energy supply, a crumbling economy with skyrocketing unemployment, and an environmental crisis the likes of which have never been seen.
And, I suppose, he could take on all of these issues one by one...but that just wouldn't be in the spirit of things. Obama seems to have a "one plan to cure them all" kind of attitude and, so far, I'm a fan.
According to his weekly YouTube address, shown above, Obama plans to add three million jobs to the American economy by doubling renewable energy production and vastly improving the efficiency of existing buildings. Jobs, Energy and Environment in one sentence! And if he's including hydro-electric in his renewable energy production numbers, than this is a HUGE commitment. Of course, he doesn't say when it will be done, so we should all reserve judgment until we get a few more specifics.
Of course, this approach is dangerous. By focusing on all three, it's possible that none of them are going to be addressed adequately. Indeed, this plan might be the worst way of all to create jobs and deal with our environmental crisis. But that's not the way it looks to me.
By focusing on efficiency, Obama guarantees energy savings for his buck, and also the creation of infinitely employable jobs retrofitting existing buildings. This creates a very high number of jobs per dollar spent, and they are jobs that can never be outsourced.
Additionally, by setting high but achievable goals for renewable energy production, he creates the foundation of a long-term energy strategy in which we don't just use less, but we replace existing power generation with clean sources. And, theoretically, this plan might breathe a little life into the all-promising growth sector of renewable energy.
Now, I could be wrong about this, I might just be a fanboy with very little economic training (OK, I definitely am.) But I think the time is ripe for a real domestic energy strategy that utilizes the innovation and dedication of the American people.