Richard Alley on big infrastructure changes

Some people say transitioning to clean energy will simply cost too much – “leave it to future generations.” In Edinburgh, Scotland, Richard Alley explains that if we start soon the cost of the transformation could be similar to that which was paid for something none of us would want to do without – clean water and the modern sanitation system.

Hey Moses – we can split water too!

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have developed a new catalyst for splitting water. Here’s why this is big news:

One of the great strengths of renewable energy is their consistency and predictability. Yes, wind and solar have periods when they’re not generating power (with some exceptions like certain solar thermal designs), but the sun is available for a set amount of time every day, and wind blows in predictable patterns where turbines are placed. These predictable patterns make it easy to balance the grid, and to calculate how many units are needed to meet demand.

But here’s a little secret. All sources of power are intermittent. There is no power plant, coal, nuclear, or gas, that is available 100 percent of the time. The electrical grid is built with this in mind.

A well functioning coal plant, will not be available 44 days of the year.

For nuclear, it’s 36 days, as well as 39 days for refueling every 17 months or so.

Wind power has a failure rate of only 2 percent, and units rarely go down all at once.

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Someone else’s perspectives on religion and family

It’s easy, when entering the world of atheism, too get a biased view of religion. A lot of what’s talked about are the clearest examples of how bad religion can be. My own experiences with religion were largely positive. I was raised in a Quaker household in New England, and my religious community was, for a long time, my primary social community. It was a group of kind, welcoming people who were great at making everybody feel valued. I think a lot of effort went into creating that space for the kids growing up there, and I’m glad I had it.

And I should be clear – while I was pretty devout, in my way, and pretty clear that Quakerism was a Christian religion, albeit an unusual one, many of my friends, and many adults in the society were not Christian, and viewed Quakerism as more of a lifestyle thing. That really bugged me sometimes. All in all, the people were kind and respectful, and while I had to part ways with that community, I hold no resentment towards Quakers, and it’s been made clear to me many times that if I chose to rejoin the community, or even just to visit, I would be made welcome. The worst that I would suffer would be awkwardness from long absence and different understandings of the world.

Not everybody is so lucky, and not everybody has parents who are as open-minded, understanding, and willing to work for a good relationship with their kids as mine are. Case in point, fellow FTB denizen Joe Sands, over at Incongruous Circumspection:

Now, I will introduce you to one of my most popular series on my old blog, off in that dusty corner of the internet.

I grew up in an abusive environment, learning to cope quite well until I was 19 years old. At that point in my life, the heat got too hot and I was ready to be free. I left and went to live with my dad to get on my feet and expose myself to the real world in full color, rather than a world through sheltered and well defined, paranoiac lenses. My freedom came with many bumps in the road as I discovered that I was truly lazy when I wasn’t being yelled at to accomplish a task. I needed to mature…grow up. Life moved very fast and I needed to jump in and roll with it.

I’ll let you read the rest at his latest installment of Letters from my Mama, and just add that talking to other people from religious families sometimes makes me quite grateful for my own family, and my own experiences with religion.

Video: History of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels

Thanks to SteveoR for showing this to me!

The video shows a graph of the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels over the second half of the 20th century, into the 21st. Then it starts to “zoom out”, showing falling levels, back into the last ice age, rising before it, falling again for another ice age, and so on back to eight hundred thousand years BCE. As longer periods of time become visible on the graph, the timeline compresses, showing the last 50 years or so for the very short time that they represent. Well before the end of the video, it is clear that CO2 levels are far, far higher now than they have been at any point in the last 800,000 years, and beyond.

Steps on the path, showing the way

In my last non-music post I talked about the world of possibilities opened up by renewable energy, and the fact that we could fairly easily generate more power than we currently need, and use that for other projects to make the world a better place. This is a theme I’ll be returning to fairly often in the foreseeable future, and in this post, I want to set aside possibilities, and look at what’s actually happening in some places around the world today, because some places are already taking the serious steps toward that better world.

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Food for thought: beyond meeting demand

Usually when people talk about converting to renewable energy, the conversation covers what it would actually take to replace fossil fuels. It’s a good conversation to have, and a lot of good work has gone into working out how much surface area would need to be devoted to wind and solar, what other sources of power could be used, how much it would cost in the short term, and how much it would save in the long term. The end result of all this is that converting the United States – one of the highest per-capita energy consumers in the world – to renewable energy is entirely doable. The only thing lacking is political will.

That said, why stop at what’s needed?

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