This May Require Sacrifice

To use an analogy: Your roof has a slow leak. You can’t detect the leak from inside the house, because the water is just soaking into the structural supports and causing them to rot. Fixing the leak is going to cost money, and you don’t have extra money, so you’ll have to give up something to get the leak fixed. Not fixing the leak means, someday, the roof will collapse. You or your family may be injured or killed, and your home will become unlivable.

You may approach with this problem in several ways:

1) You could deny there is a problem and ignore it

2) You could acknowledge the problem and hope it goes away or that the roof holds up long enough that it becomes someone else’s problem (like your children or grand children).

3) You could choose to make some sacrifices to address the problem before it becomes a catastrophe.

Clearly, only choice #3 is a solution. Ignoring a problem is not a solution and kicking the can down the road is just going to make things worse for future generations.

This is my analogy for anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Every time I read about a proposal to address AGW or climate change, I hear someone complain that it might slow the economy, make us less competitive in world markets, increase unemployment, etc. Before I address those points, because I don’t believe those things will necessarily happen, I want to return to my analogy for a second. If we do need to make sacrifices to save our home and protect the future of our children and grand children, that’s what we must do. This isn’t a game we’re playing where we can rewrite the rules. If we continue as we are, our world is going to change for the worse and things could get pretty ugly. The only thing that is unclear about the science is exactly what is going to happen and when. We’ve already had a taste of the future, with extreme droughts in some places, flooding in others, tropical diseases moving northward, catastrophic wind events, etc. Do we really need a detailed map to see that where we’re heading is not where we want to be?

Getting back to the claims of economic gloom: Our society will always need energy, whether we get it from fossil fuels or directly from the sun. If jobs go away in the fossil fuel extraction industry, there will be new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Renewable energy is the future. Every country on the planet knows that. The country that innovates and produces the best renewable energy technology is going to be an economic winner, so it pays to be a leader in renewable energy development.

Furthermore, the biggest drain to our current economy is health care. A leading cause of lung problems and cancer is dirty industry. One of the dirtiest, and most dangerous industries is the fossil fuel industry. By moving away from polluting technologies and towards cleaner technologies, we will reduce our health care costs and lessen the drag on our economy.

Moving to clean energy is a win-win in the long term. There may be sacrifices we’ll have to make in the short term, but we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The sooner we get serious about our carbon dioxide emissions and other environment pollution, the better off we’ll be in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t ask anyone to do anything I haven’t already done. I lead by example and I understand that not everyone can do what I do. All I ask is that people advocate for progressive government policy and think about how they can reduce their energy consumption and dependence on non-renewable energy. Combining trips to the store, eating local food, driving a more fuel efficient vehicle or riding a bicycle are all things the average person can do. If everyone does what they can, it will make a difference to our future and the future of our planet.

Do the Math premiere

You can (and should) view the “Do the Math” movie on-line on YouTube. The movie was produced by 350.org. The movie is a call to action to stop or substantially reduce carbon emissions before our planet warms more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

On a lighter note, solar panels (photovoltaics) can now be purchased for under $1/watt with a 25 year warranty. That is a pretty good deal, even without government subsidies. I have never filed for tax rebates, as a matter of principle. But, I digress …

I’ve been looking into adding a wind turbine to my energy production. The turbines that sell for under $1000 do not impress me. They have small blades and only produce any real power in high winds (25 mph+). It is getting windier, where I live, but a turbine that could harness a 15 mph wind would serve me much better. I’m looking at building a turbine, specifically designed for lower wind speeds. I’m also thinking of purchasing some additional solar panels. At $1/watt, I can’t go wrong. The catch is that my charge controller would need to be replaced, and I might have to add some batteries.

I just got a letter from my electric utility. Electric rates are going up 5% in May, and the facilities charge (a fixed monthly fee) is also going up. I’ve been debating a grid tied inverter, so I could make better use of my photovoltaic output. As it is now, I have excess capacity most afternoons; especially on sunny days. With the increase is the monthly connection fee, I’m tempted to invest my money in going off grid, completely. Going off grid is an attractive idea, but the ramifications of going off grid are nothing to sneeze at. I would have to be able to provide for peak demand, and I’d have to have backup power for when the sun didn’t shine and the wind didn’t blow. For now, that is just not an option. For now, the goal will be to get the electric bill as low as possible.

On an unrelated note, I found time to rebuild my robot car. It’s been fun, writing the software for autonomous navigation. I’ll have to return to my robo-car in a future blog entry. That’s a lot more fun than talking about the destruction of our planet.

The cost of doing nothing

I just received my electric bill. I am pleased to say that I used only 6 kilowatt hours per day, thanks to my conservation efforts. My bill always comes with a newsletter from the electric cooperative. Yet again, the coop is moaning about new and tightening EPA regulations that protect air and water resources. The newsletter speaks of the costs of regulation, and warns me that rates are likely to go up. What they don’t talk about is the cost of not protecting our air and water, and the cost of not cutting down on CO2 emissions. On the one hand, I may have to pay 10% more on my energy bill. On the other hand, my risk of asthma increases due to particulate matter from smokestacks. The fish I would like to eat will bio-accumulate even more mercury from coal plant emissions. The increasingly volatile weather will do more damage to property (including the distribution system maintained by the electric cooperative). My homeowners insurance will go up another 30% due to increased risk from extreme weather events. My local beaches will wash away and be inundated by extreme high tides, as the oceans continue to rise. The food I buy will continue to get more expensive, due, in part, to record-breaking droughts and heatwaves that are decimating food crops.

So, tell me again, why I am supposed to be incensed by regulations that attempt to limit environmental damage and catastrophic climate change? How can you really put a price on clean air and water? How can you put a price on your health? I’d love to have both cheap energy and a pristine environment, but I’d much rather invest a few dollars in protecting the environment, now, rather than squander our natural resources and gamble with our future. The first rule of gambling is to never bet more than you can afford to lose. We have no planet B.