Not so rotten in Denmark

Some recent words about the Danes and energy independence brings into focus one or two of the tautologies that have us by the throat: That

Roughly speaking, in America when energy gets expensive quality of life declines. And Denmark has adopted policies that make energy expensive. Ergo, you might conclude that in Denmark quality of life is low. But in fact, Denmark is a rich and happy society in which people enjoy a great quality of life. The reason is that cheap energy over a prolonged period of time doesn’t buy you happiness — it buys you infrastructure that’s adapted to wasteful use of energy.

Yglesias goes on to hint at Green as a foreign policy issue, not just the nebulous, energy security aspect but also that we do not factor in the cost of wars as part of the way we subsidize our wasteful lifestyles.

And relatedly, from the Bob Costas interview with GWB during the Olympics Sunday evening (EST), amid all the pain caused by his every word choice Bush recalled going around Beijing on a bicycle in 1975. He marveled at how so much had changed since then, when everyone was on bikes, to now when, presumably many millions more are driving.

Backward is forward, and forward is back again.

Unified Theory

of General Stupidity.

Still putting it all together, but with most precincts now closed in the East it looks like the wound is greatly self-inflicted. The thread running through the denial-shaped impulse to Green our way out of an increasingly disastrous set of consequences is the inclination toward stupid. We can, of course, attribute malevolence and run-of-the-mill skulduggery to the use of such tactics; but the acceptance of them is pure stupid.

This is strictly counter to the self-preservation mode of our tribal instincts. And it’s a potent combination – electing and re-electing people (especially in our humble state) who think so little of us that they can outright lie about any number of issues, knowing that a simple majority (no pun intended) will nod along all the way to the Diebold machine and back to their armchairs. That, plus the great pride taken in vilifying intelligence and sophistication as evil liberal attributes – these create the view to the straits we are in. I wanted to get out of the self-fulfilling prophecy business, but we can ask for no quarter where none is given… electing people to run the government who believe the government is incompetent… tasking people to deal with climate change who don’t believe it is real… following an education policy designed by those who do not believe evolutionary biology. Asking yourself to what degree people have internalized a staggering degree of absolute bullshit is beginning to resemble that question about who is the sucker in the room.

All this, and there is still a presidential candidate who believes he can win on the merits. Amazing.

Update: Oh. my. God.

Who loves the sun? An ongoing investigation

Problem solved? As a writer of press releases about science and engineering research, I know personally that we shy away from using the term ‘Major Discovery’, but there it is in the headline. Seems you can add up some targeted federal funding, visionary thinking based on the fundamentals and some intuitive hunches et voila’… MIT reseachers hit upon a simple, highly efficient process for solar energy storage.

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

As we’ve said, solar will be the only source that can address our energy needs and climate change.


Globe-spanning supply chains, the demise of

Reading such an article, I wonder how much we even think about the consequences of the following:

Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages. Rising concern about global warming, the reaction against lost jobs in rich countries, worries about food safety and security, and the collapse of world trade talks in Geneva last week also signal that political and environmental concerns may make the calculus of globalization far more complex.

There is more to this than merely imagining the situation as it exists. Explain it to yourself like you are a ten-year-old, and see how well you do. This is not a test or condescension, but an attempt to see how much of this we really understand. WALL·E did a great job of this, but we all need to challenge ourselves in this way.

Just to hear yourself explain the progress we have made on the back of energy supplied by fossil fuels – acknowledging* the reasons why it cannot continue – opens the door to reconciling its unforeseen consequences with a lower impact existence. Are we not smart enough to do this? And wouldn’t it be the next height of civilization?

*The amount of savvy required to continue to ignore all of this also being within our grasp may provide a wagering element for sporting types.

The Emerald City

“We sleep until twelve, off to work at one, an hour for lunch, and then we’re done.”

I should have known; another clue that’s been right in front of us since 1939.

Bonus: what does the Tin Man have to do with bee hives?

Vis Viva or, Major Failing meets General Awakening

In the 17th century, the German polymath Liebniz first lent expression, both mathematically and otherwise, to the idea that would be called energy a couple of centuries later. His vis viva, or living force of the system, was the quantity that was conserved within the motion of mechanical systems, with a couple of stipulations. But this is not a history lesson.

It is, rather, an introduction into the laws of Thermodynamics. For as long as one might wish to define the present epoch, society has left itself and its fate in the hands of engineers, and as many of my colleagues will and do admit, it has brought us this far. The previous statement has, obviously, both positive and negative facets equally worthy of consideration.

Since the age of Leibniz and Newton, which continues through today, many have followed in their footsteps to flesh out the concepts that have come to define our world. Who was Sadi Carnot or James Prescott Joule and what were their contributions to our understanding of the physical world are not merely questions for the few, but for all of us. Without knowing about them, the contributions of Ilya Prigogine have little meaning. This is to say that without a proper understanding of entropy and irreversibility there will be difficulty grappling with complex systems, the precautionary principle, and ultimately, sustainability itself.

The discussion is over before it begins, in a very fundamental way, and green IS just another fad if there is not a more general awakening connected to a it. Time to nail a ladder up to that ol’ tree of knowledge. More to come.

Investing in Green

Or maybe just apostrophe futures, but what about a Green bubble? I mean come on, let’s get out in front of this thing.

Actually, that makes me wonder how far off are we from the Pop Art breaking point where you can invest in things that cannot be owned (waves, wind, clouds) and for which no discernible value can be ascertained yet can a market be devised. Sound familiar? Now that is the way to stave off recession

The kid was prescient

About two years ago, my son ran for president of his third grade class. While the election was an elementary exercise in civics perhaps, the junior campaigns quickly took on the dynamic of their national models, with signs, slogans and promises. And while his opponents for the presidency took a familiar tack with promises of ending the war in Iraq, bringing world peace and helping the poor, Ellis went right for the gusto, promising a four-day week, longer recess and three-day weekends. Give them what they want, sometimes before they know they want it.

Of course, he won in a landslide.

The spectrum…

Between useless and necessary is one we all seem to be beginning to perceive. Or act like we knew existed all along, I’m not sure which is preferable. In one way, I don’t know whether this device

is green. But while it fits the definition of the word in common parlance, it encapsulates the phenomenon with airtight precision much better even than a story made up to do the same thing. To wit: its designer, having realized a personal crisis over all the useless crap he has birthed into the world over the last thirty years, at the cost of great personal wealth to himself, now brilliantly pivots toward the responsibility trend. On this he will also realize vast fortunes. Who says design is dead? Oh… he did.

But… I think this is how it’s going to work, if ‘going to’ and ‘work’ still have functional equivalents in a post-industrial society. One word cannot intersect itself. Inventing ways to save us and selling it back to us is the intersection of the meanings of Green in English. We all know that and the double entendre is at least part of the crude appeal, indeed the sustainability, of the term. He who had a real impact in creating this morass of consumption, now comes riding to the rescue. Like I’ve said, while not altogether hopeful, I do think people can redeem themselves. So I’ll not begrudge him, only fold my criticisms into a larger loathing for the overall concept of design – the kind of savvy that got us into the situation in the first place.

gadgets and Green

We’re on an island in Greece and, watching a rebroadcast of the Lakers-Celtics with my son before we go swimming this afternoon, we see a commercial for this car.

In the spot, a dog puppet is driving up an idyllic street in the car, and passes a very beautiful woman riding a bicycle. The puppet dog (it might be a chicken) sort of whistles at her as the road becomes a hill. She pulls over, and the… driver motions to the back, where the license plate in the rear of the car pops out. It’s a hidden bike rack.

In the next scene the beautiful woman is riding with the dog/chicken, while her bike is in back, on the rack.

I’m just sayin’. Imagination, people.