Monday, November 12, 2012

It's not enough

Based on the articles I'm reading and the business moves being made, I am convinced that the little bit of whining some of us are doing about how we need to get greener or suffer environmental disaster is accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Almost no world governments are even pretending to be serious about getting greener in a manner that will make any difference. That's not a judgment or a warning, it's a statement of fact. Not only are people not making enough of a big deal about how we're changing the earth, there are still far too many people in denial. Worse, even those that admit we are changing our planet in a manner that may not be reversible, are not doing anywhere near enough about it, neither in a personal way nor in a way to motivate government and business to change.

If this weren't the case, coal-fired power plants would be in decline. They are not. More are being built each year. Coal use is dramatically increasing, even in North America. There should be serious movement toward building an electric vehicle infrastructure by businesses. There is not. Most of the infrastructure in existence is government funded and not necessarily capable of serving ALL electric vehicles. Money being spent finding new sources of oil and natural gas has never been higher. Fracking is at an all-time high. Nobody is seriously looking for replacements for petroleum-based plastics. Oh my, your ketchup or pop bottle is made from corn? So what? Anything else? Homes would be getting built more energy-efficiently. It's not like we don't have the technology. It has been possible for years to build a home that is so energy efficient, you only need a single space heater to keep it warm in the dead of winter. Movement has started slowly, but energy-efficient homes are a custom phenomenon, not a standard issue one. Too bad, since much of our wasted energy is spent heating and cooling our homes, often when we're not even in them. Don't even get me started on water usage. Grass covered lawns and home irrigation systems should be banned as a useless waste of water (IMHO).

Green technologies with any hope of revolutionizing energy use are doomed to failure unless we find ways to install them on a more massive scale. A good example of this is geothermal. The great thing about geothermal is that once the infrastructure is dug / built, it continues producing indefinitely. The problem is initial cost. The solution is bigger geothermal shared between more buildings / homes at once. The same is also true for wind / solar. The biggest problem with solar is that the electric panels still cost too much, while solar arrays can produce too much energy with nowhere to store the excess. The solution lies in pooling solar energy production and storing the heat underground in molten sulphur tanks or other mass heat-storage designs until the energy is needed. Wind should be used to heat massive amounts of water and store that water for heating homes and providing hot water for cleaning and showers / baths. Once the efficiency curve improves, the excess heat could even be used to keep driveways and sidewalks free of ice in winter. More importantly, community-scaled energy projects need to be built in a multi-faceted way, to allow for the use of all forms of energy production in the same site. That way, one never has to rely on just wind or just solar or just geothermal at any one time. You could even use natural gas to fill the gaps in energy needs as required.

Cities are still being designed (at least in North America) that are car-centric. Much more money continues to be spent on vehicle infrastructure than alternatives. Some jurisdictions are even hostile (that word is not an exaggeration) toward the cycling community. Cities try to stem the growth of car trips by restricting parking options, but they are too slow to add more transit capacity as an alternative to driving, so people drive anyway. As Mayor Nenshi of Calgary put it, transit should be the most convenient method of travel, not the last resort. Car sharing is a step in the right direction, but currently only serves the core of the city. With government involvement and a move to a not-for-profit business model, car sharing could transform many of our cities by reducing the cost of use as well as training people to be more frugal with their car use.

None of this is going to change as long as we continue to sit on our asses and pretend that government and business is going to make things better.


Retro Blog said...

I was watching the news last night and it was solemnly announced that America would become independent on imported oil by 2015? Partly due to fracking. Fracking? We are in so much trouble. Bring on the world wide pandemic before we kill the planet. Thanks.

Karl Plesz said...

I know a lot more about fracking than I did 12 months ago. It's scary. The problem is that as oil and gas get more expensive, those who 'mine' it will take ever higher risks to get it out of the ground. Only a government with backbone can stop it from getting out of control.