Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times a few weeks ago titled: “Terrorists, bathtubs, and snakes.“
It was about how our evolved abilities to assess risk (which worked great when we were hunter-gatherers) can fail us pretty miserably in the modern industrial world–a point that has been made over and over again by lesser known writers over the last decade about the safety of nuclear powerplants.
In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today. If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!
Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes. So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment — so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake.
I found this study on Nature Energy, which I subscribe to: Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportation.
Although I disagree with the study’s main conclusion, the above chart they put together (which I have modified) was of interest to me because it suggests that things are finally starting to happen when it comes to electrification of transportation. CONTINUE»
The front page of last Sunday’s edition of the Seattle Times had an article titled Elwha: Roaring Back to Life. It’s an update on the many positive impacts to the river ecosystem after removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha hydroelectric dams, writes Russ Finley.
My previous article was about Bill Nye’s choice to ignore the science when it comes to nuclear energy safety. I’m not picking on Bill. My critiques are in response to Nye’s decision to use his celebrity status to publicly air his anti-nuclear energy beliefs. This is likely the last article I’ll write about his views …depending I suppose, on what else he has to say in public about nuclear energy.
An article last week in Business Insider discussed Bill Nye’s conversion from anti-GMO to pro-GMO (genetically modified organisms). According to Nye, while attending a political rally in NYC:
“…one speaker insisted that the US president Barack Obama was part of a conspiracy sponsored by large agriculture companies to control minds — and received a great many cheers — somehow that passionate man at the microphone crossed a line for me.”
Was it a desire to distance himself from conspiracy theorist nut-balls or was it the result of his exposure to facts by real scientists at Monsanto that finally convinced him to change his mind? If it was the latter then his stance was largely based on a lack of knowledge. Some are hoping that because Nye was convinced to distance himself from anti-GMO ideologues that he may also one day distance himself from their anti-nuclear energy counterparts, as several highly visible environmentalists have managed to do over the last few years, but I’m skeptical. Nye was not nearly as invested in his GMO stance as he is in his anti-nuclear energy belief. CONTINUE»
Answer …not really. More on that later.
Chevy Cruze and Volt
I was hoping to see the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model X at the Seattle car show but the Nissan Leaf was the only all-electric car I saw on display this year. Nissan hasn’t messed with the Leaf’s look yet but the range on its SV and SL models has been improved about 22% (for a price). CONTINUE»
Photo Credit The Environmental Blog
Volkswagen was just caught cheating on emissions tests for some of its diesel-powered cars. As a result, their stock price has plummeted. I no longer have to deal with emissions tests because we own a 2006 Prius and a 2011 Leaf, neither of which require testing because one has a SULE (Super Ultra Low Emissions) rating and the the other doesn’t have a tail pipe.
You can’t fake acceleration or gas mileage, but apparently you can fake out emissions tests by installing software capable of detecting when an emissions test is being conducted (via the diagnostic plug in your dash board) that will lean out the fuel mixture and alter the timing (among other things) so the car will pass the test, returning it to normal when the test ends.
I was fooled. Following is a comment I made last year on this subject:
These are all valid points but controlling pollution is mostly a matter of innovation and engineering. You are not necessarily limited by thermodynamics. For example, compare the mileage of the very dirty 2006 diesel Jetta to the very clean 2014 diesel Jetta.
The July announcement from Chevy of its upcoming $38K, 200-mile range Bolt electric car may be of similar historical importance to Nissan’s announcement back in 2011 of the Leaf.
I recently recieved two emails on the same day; one about more palm oil plantations usurping yet another tropical ecosystem, this time for highly endangered African Gorillas instead of Indonesian Orangutans, and the other from my local Sierra Club asking me to urge my elected representatives to reject a transportation funding bill that would not allow our Governor to mandate the consumption of biofuels. Instead, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times expressing my opposition to a biofuel mandate (which, of course, wasn’t published). I put a copy of that rejected submission at the end of this post as an example of what not to send to the Seattle Times Op Ed department. CONTINUE»
I’ve recently discovered the reasonably priced LED shop light. “Big whoop” you may be thinking. It’s a bigger whoop than many realize, especially for me. Just for the fun of it, I measured the current draw of one of my old shop lights and one of the new LED versions. The LED lights use 66% less energy. This won’t make a meaningful, or possibly even a measurable difference in my electric bill but to put this into perspective, if you could achieve that level of efficiency improvement for all lighting in the country, from a CO2 emission perspective, it would be roughly equivalent to replacing about 7% of our fossil fuel power plants with renewable green lower CO2 emitting electrical energy sources, without having to build a single nuclear, wind, hydro, or solar power plant. That’s more than today’s total for wind and solar combined. Put yet another way, that is equivalent to about 1,000 utility scale wind projects (48,000 wind turbines), or about 36 nuclear power plants. But before you toss back that shot of whiskey in celebration, understand that the 66% reduction I achieved with my shop lights would not apply to all lighting across the country.
Just last year the Nobel Prize was awarded to the three Japanese scientists responsible for creating the version of diodes that is used for lighting today.
The only downsides of note I found (and I’m sure there are more) are the fact that insects are more attracted to diode lights and that they don’t generate enough heat to melt the snow when used as traffic lights (easily resolved by not using diodes). The insect problem appears to be potentially serious because insects are the key to nature’s food webs and I would hope that laws could be made to minimize their use outdoors where that is a concern.