Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is transmission grid expansion necessary?

This article (and the commentary following) at Renewable Energy World is intriguing in this regard.

The mass media began tossing out the argument in recent years that in order to accommodate new alternative energy sources on the electrical grid, there was dire need to upgrade and expand the transmission infrastructure. Sometimes the argument was muddy. There was talk of the need for a "smart" grid (intelligent load management, requiring information transmission and logic), and sometimes the stated goal was the need to expand the grid due to its supposed insufficiency to carry the new power.

An example project, about to be built in Southern California, is described here in Wikipedia. This project is mentioned in the article.

Could most of this talk of expansion be a ruse by the utilities to maintain their power hegemony under the threat of major changes that might include massively distributed generation, as many RE proponents have proposed? More infrastructure projects would mean more profit for them, after all--- just look at the $300 million profit guarantee mentioned for the Sunrise Powerlink project.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

My Encounter with Ignorance

Outside of the downtown Starbucks, enjoying a beautiful sunny day, only spoiled by the sight of a propaganda table full of anti-Obama posters of the most vile kind.

I walked up to the table, where two well-meaning, if poorly informed, young guys (I'm sure you know the folks I mean, they've been tabling on street corners for at least 30 years now) were asking passersby to sign a petition to "impeach the President" - yep, the same petition they've been asking people to sign since at least, oh, 1992 or so.

I walked up with the sole intention of letting them know that I was offended by the poster they were using, which depicted the President with a Hitler mustache. I couldn't even begin to tell them how ignorant and offensive it was. And in fact I didn't actually get much of a chance, because the moment I began to talk to them - well, at them, they weren't listening - a young woman approached the table, eager to sign up to "get rid of Obama". I tried to inform her a little about who the guy was whose name was at the top of the petition. I told her that he was in prison, that he really didn't have anything to offer, and that the petition would not have the effect she was hoping for.

She said, and I'll try to quote exactly:

"So what if he's in prison! That doesn't make you bad. Obama is bad."


"Because he's a terrorist!"

"No he isn't."

"He's a terrorist, and he's not even American. At least this guy's American."

(I'll leave out the imaginary conversation I had with her later, in which I asked her how she could tell this guy on the petition, with his obviously French name, was "American" - my guess is that she would not have even realized that she was assuming, based solely on his race, that he must be.)

I informed her that the President was born in Hawaii, and that he if of course an American, because you can't run for president if you're not a citizen. That's in the Constitution, and he's a Harvard-educated constitutional scholar, so he probably knows that. It didn't penetrate. She accused me of being a "racist against prisoners" (interesting in itself, as was her reaction when I asked her if she knew being in prison didn't make one a separate race. Total blankness).

She continued to write her signature on the "petition" proffered, and asked the guy behind the table, with a hint of desperation in her voice, "Will this get rid of Obama?" The guy behind the table said with great assurance, "Yes!" And she was satisfied. She was so happy to be able to "do something" to "get rid of Obama", who she obviously believed was a dire threat to the nation. (I think I actually recall her cautioning me, with great fear in her voice, that he was "taking away my rights" - although I'm not sure exactly what she meant, and didn't have an opportunity to ask.)

It's fun to laugh at Leno's "man on the street" interviews, when he asks average Americans about history or geography, and they reveal that they aren't exactly sure whether World War II took place in the 18th Century or the 19th, or they don't know which country Europe is in. But ignorance sure isn't funny when you're confronted with it face to face. I had found myself talking directly into the fantasyland created by our friends at Faux News, in the interests of boosting their Republican/corporate agenda. (Can you say "unintended side effects?" I hope you can, Mr. Murdoch, because it's liable to bite you back one of these days.)

I was done with the guys; I hadn't expected to make a dent in their glassy-eyed certainty, although I ruffled their feathers enough to get them to tell me to "go away". The woman and I left the table together, both walking in the same direction with our Starbucks in hand. She avoided my gaze as I continued talking to her, basically telling her that we didn't have to be mad at each other just because we disagreed. She relaxed a little and said she knew that, but she "had to pick up her kids at daycare" (visions of little innocent babes mouthing, "Obama is a tewwowist!" burbled up in my mind). I wished her a good day and silently hoped that some day, some time, when she's gotten enough propaganda in the mail from the guys behind the table to have learned to question everything, including the crap being sent to her by the guys behind the table, she might realize that she was wrong about the President.

I just hope that by then we aren't seeing the guys at the tables with posters of President Palin with a Hitler mustache.


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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I want one!

This is my kind of car.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gulf cleanup: Mission Accomplished!

.... or maybe not so much.

Watch this YouTube vid posted by Gulf coast fishermen and see what you think.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

The end of innocence (Chapter 63)

August 6, 1945: The day the world leaped into a new age. Human history seems at times a story of the peeling away of layers of innocence.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

If I hide behind my finger, you can't see me

And the corollary is also true: if you can't see it, it doesn't exist.

At least according to the UK news, the U.S. administration is trumpeting cleanup success in the Gulf, saying that 75% of the oil has been either "captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf of Mexico."

Uh, could you clarify that "broken down" part? Sure: "the remaining oil is so diluted that it poses little risk of harm."

And you know this for a fact? I don't think we actually know whether there will be harm, and won't know for years, if not decades. They're still finding crude in the beaches near the Valdez spill, where no dispersants were permitted for use and the water is colder (hence slowing natural microbial degradation of the crude). And we've no clear consensus on whether the dispersant Corexit (evidently so named because it "Corrects the visual problem") is itself toxic enough (it's definitely toxic) to further disrupt the already beleaguered Gulf food web; not to mention the combined effect of the two chemical complexes.

BP pressured the government to use dispersants because they were worried about their liability and knew that oil floating to shore was more visually egregious (and possibly more damaging) than oil that "disappears" beneath the surface. But there were apparently no studies to gauge Corexit's toxicity or long-term effects. In a world obsessed with surfaces and appearance, "sinking" the oil was an predictable move on BP's part. And caving to their pressure was a predictable response for a pro-business (read: business-owned) government.

Only time will tell. Begin your long-term studies now, scientists; there's a lot of data to collect as this disaster continues to unfold.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

So obvious it's invisible

from www.energysavvy.com

The framer of the debate often wins the argument. Political campaigns have known this for decades. And so with Big Oil. Their message-- "we've got to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by drilling here at home"-- is a tough point to argue. We all want our troops out of the Mideast (well, everyone not in the upper echelons of the military-industrial complex), we all want to stop bleeding national treasure to war and foreign governments.

But what if that statement comes from the wrong question?

What we should be asking is, "do we need oil-- certainly ever more oil-- in the first place?" And the answer is: No. Rather than continuing in the same game (i.e., Get More Oil), we should look at the game we're playing and decide if it's the right game to be in at all.

This NRDC Switchboard blog post makes a plain and simple comparison: BP Gulf disaster spill losses vs. oil use obviated by energy efficiency retrofits. The $$ spent on "cleanup" (which, after the use of dispersants, probably cannot be achieved) could have been spent to hugely better effect to retrofit homes for energy efficiency, avoiding the "need" for risky drilling in the first place. (Be sure to follow the link to Energy Savvy toward the end of the article.)

By allowing the vested interests (Big Oil, their lobbyists and captive congresspeople) to frame the debate, we continue to lose the argument-- and the planet, piecemeal. By every measure, it's clear we must end our addiction to fossil fuels; yet we galumph along as though we have no choice. Of course we have a choice! But making the right choice will mean stepping out of our comfort zones and acting with heart and mind in concert. Not an easy request for a convenience-softened populace.

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