Health vs Growth

10 07 2012

When discussing the environment, I often get into the same argument. I advocate for strengthening environmental protections at the state at federal levels and the other person often opposes those measure, concerned that more regulation would harm economic recovery and growth. I think that the “economy versus environment” argument is a false choice, for two reasons.

First, investing in newer, cleaner technologies will create new jobs, particularly ones in engineering, math, science, and manufacturing, all types of jobs that America desperately needs. Take wind turbines, for example. We need people to design and test them. We will then need trained people to build, transport, assemble, and maintain them. These are all positions that could be occupied by trained, educated American workers.

Second, if we have a planet with unbreathable air and undrinkable water because we polluted the fuck out of it, that 1% increase in last quarter’s profits does not really seem to count for much of it. Saying, “I am okay with relaxing caps on CO2 emissions to help the economy,” is akin to saying, “I will poison myself and everyone else on this planet for money.”

Ultimately, we have to make the decision about how badly we are willing to poison our air, water, and land in order to get some kind of an economic payoff. I would like to think that a properly-informed population would decide to give the environment’s stability more thought that the economy. There are jobs and there is no money in a poisoned world.


Hard to have hope

9 07 2012

I was recently asked what my hopes were for the future. Honestly, I had to think about it for a few minutes because it was a question that I do not ask myself very often.

If I were to have any hope, it would be hope that enough of humanity can come together to create and conserve an environment where future generations can grow and live in good health. I would hope that we use our knowledge and intelligence to avert disasters and minimize one another’s misery.

Unfortunately, that would involve other people, many others, most of whom are strangers to me and my worldview. Pinning one’s hopes on another’s actions or change of heart is ludicrous. The best I can do is do what I can from my end but not necessarily expect recognition or cooperation from others.

Perhaps the fact of the matter is that we are sad, tragic animals. We have our collective future in our hands but do not realize it. Maybe those of us who do genuinely realize the nature of our environmental and political situation are doing the best we can and it just will not be enough. There is no rule written that says the human race has to survive.

Any hope that we can make the world a better place is a hope that other people will practically do an about-face and make radical, difficult changes in their lives. There is hope and then there is false hope.

If had to hope for something, it would be that this blog post has been an illuminating and uplifting experience for you.

My issues with the Weather Channel

24 05 2012

The Weather Channel is just terrible. In the past, it served a useful purpose. I remember watching it as a kid in the 90s. (I was a weird kid.) It was fairly straightforward with its purpose and implementation. It was a 24/7 cable channel where people could go get weather information for their own area as well as the rest of the country. It had incredible utility and was very good at what it did.

Unfortunately, as television executives are prone to doing, they took a perfectly good thing and fucked it up, royally. They must have had some top-level executive meeting ten years ago where they talked about all the things they could do to remove all but the most subtle signs of utility from the Weather Channel.

First, they added programming. They started putting on shows like “Storm Stories,” where rednecks are interviewed about their impressions of the inside of a fucking hurricane. It is a show that showcases the stories of people either unlucky enough to be in the path of a tornado or stupid enough to sit through a Category 4 hurricane.

Second, they added advertising. Granted, ads were on the Weather Channel for a long, long time. Unfortunately, there are way too many and they get more screen time than the weather itself.

Third, they have a morning show. It has Al Roker, no less. The Weather Channel has a morning show. You might be thinking, “Oh, great! I will get some national news while I get my weather!” Nope. “Wake Up With Al” has as tenuous a grasp on news reporting as Roker’s last show, the horrendous “Today” show on NBC.

There is, however, still weather on the Weather Channel. “Local on the 8s” is the last remaining fragment of TWC’s focused and purposeful lineup. Local on the 8s gives a minute or so of actual weather information every ten minutes.

What really pisses me off about weather reporting in general is the lack of climate change coverage. On TWC and local news channels, they go on and on about how we are having record temperatures, record precipitation, and record drought but do not ever once suggest why these things are happening. I know, it’s the Weather Channel, not the Climate Channel. Still, these two are inextricably linked with one another and with virtually every other area of our lives, yet climate change gets virtually no coverage on a network that is dedicated to reporting the weather. I would not expect much, maybe something like, “Hey, you know it’s 120ºF in shade because…” It should not be a big deal.

In a television world where shows and news coverage is mediocre at best, one would think that we could get something as basic as weather reporting right. Unfortunately, due to focus groups and TV executives trying to appeal to a “broader audience,” we are left with another shitty, half-assed news channel like CNN, Fox, or MSNBC. Of course there alternatives to finding weather information, such as local news stations, NOAA, and the old standby, looking out the god damned window.

Welcome to Mars National Park

6 08 2010

This is old news in astronomy circles but I just started thinking about it recently – we may have been polluting Mars for decades. I don’t mean landing probes, rovers, and the like on its surface since the first Viking mission in 1976. Microbes may have been hitching a ride on those probes and spreading to a degree in the areas surrounding those landing sites. There are two big ways this could be bad thing. It is possibly the pollution (even if accidental) of another world and it can interfere with scientific investigations to detect native Martian life.

NASA has long since been cleaning, baking, and otherwise disinfecting its probes before they ever get close to a launch pad. They are nowgiving a special eye to making sure the probes are absolutely sterile. There are some environments on Mars in which Earth-native microbes could survive and grow.

There is nothing intrinsically bad about Earth life growing on Mars. In a way, it’s kind of uplifting and encouraging. It would mean that life is possible on Mars, it could be common in the universe, and it might be possible for us to grow our own food there, a necessary first step toward colonization. The greatest drawback would be that it could contaminate Martian soil samples and make it difficult to determine if life already exists there.

Mars, for the most part, is untouched by human hands. It is a perfectly natural world. As missions to Mars become more common, we will have to decide how important it is to preserve Mars. Maybe we should declare certain areas of the planet to be off-limits to human exploration in order to preserve them, in much the same way we create national parks and reserves to preserve nature here on Earth.

This is really something that bears consideration as we plan for more missions to Mars. We have already made a mark upon our own world; we should be careful not to do the same to others.

How to deal with a NIMBY

27 05 2010

There is little controversy when discussing the need for more renewable energy sources in the United States’ energy mix, with emphasis on solar and wind power. The controversy begins when it comes to deciding where the physical infrastructure for these energy sources will be placed.

This has led to the (somewhat derogatory) term “NIMBY,” which stands for “Not in my Back Yard.” It describes people who may be enthusiastic about the prospect of the renewable energy industry but do not want its associated physical infrastructure in a place where it will affect the appearance of their properties.

An unfortunate consequence of renewable energy developers being pushed to put more and more wind farms on the grid is that they have become a bit overzealous. Plans and permits are issued quickly and residents who will live nearby these windmill farms ultimately complain. Not all complain, just a few.

This makes it extremely important to get feedback from residents who live near proposed wind and solar farms before beginning any planning on the placement of windmills or solar panels begins. Since we are installing infrastructure that will likely be in place for decades, these windmills and solar power plants will not just be infrastructure – they will be neighbors. It is important to get along with your neighbors, especially when you are trying to improve the public perception of renewable energy nationwide.

If a windmill needs to take a slight performance hit in order to not make a serious impact on the appearance of the landscape, then that is a fair compromise. Saving an unnecessary fight with local residents in exchange for a slight drop in efficiency is not really a drop in efficiency.

Having comprehensive public participation would probably be of more importance in the northeastern states, where population density is much higher than in areas such as the midwest and the southwest. More people would be affected by a new windmill in rural Vermont than in rural Illinois simply because the states are smaller and there is a higher overall population density in Vermont.

If you ever find yourself faced with a “NIMBY,” get them all together and tell them where to put the windmill. They will figure it out.

A Carmel resident’s perspective on green asphalt

19 04 2010

A few weeks ago, I had a sprited discussion with a friend of mind, Andrew. He successfully made the case to me that short-cut grass is purely ornamental, non functional, and even environmentally harmful. This is echoed in a blog post that Andrew shared with me today.

grass and pavementFrankly, there are quite a few things that bother me about living in Carmel. The first, most glaring thing is the commute. It takes half an hour to drive to IUPUI from my house. It takes an hour or more to get there by bike. It is very frustrating to have to spend 30 minutes in a car to get to school or work. Not only do I have to drive to work, I am often forced to drive to the grocery store and other business. While these are much closer than the campus, they are still far from my house.

However, these are transportation issues. At home, there is lots of green. Most of that green is in the form of low-cut grass. This grass does not catch rainwater or runoff as effectively as longer grass. Also, because of the shallow root structure in short grass, the roots do not break up and aerate the soil effective, causing the soil under the grass to become compacted and less permeable to water.

In most neighborhoods, there is social, if not legal, pressure to keep grass short and green. Since you have to live near the people next door, simply letting your lawn grow out-of-control is likely not a realistic option.

An excellent way to solve this problem while keeping up the appearance of the lawn is to remove a significant amount of the grass and replace it with plants such as shrubs, bushes, trees, and vines. You could even grow food, though this is probably better suited for the side and back yards. I have seen many houses that use this technique. They are attractive, well-kept, and help retain water and keep it out of the storm drains and water suplies.

Why climate change is so controversial

28 07 2009

I realize that the title of this blog post is a bit loaded. This is not a simple situation to understand. There is so much controversy in American politics regarding climate change. It is extraordinarily frustrating to see one’s own leaders, the people who can make the greatest strike against a global problem wasting everyone’s time with endless bickering. Then the bickering that starts in Washington spreads out to the general American public, polarizing many people.

The question is why? Why do our leaders waste precious time, energy, and money fighting each other over trivial issues when the real fight goes ignored? They are used to fighting. That is all Congress has done over the last twenty years. Passing meaningful legislation that will benefit the majority of the American people has become a secondary concern. What really seems to matter to them is winning the next little argument, the next tiny spat. It all seems to be about members of Congress masturbating their own egos at the expense of America and the rest of the world. It is disturbing, it is unproductive, and it is selfish.

As for the American people, it comes down to laziness, fear, and an unwillingness to change. For the last sixty years, we have become accustomed to a way of living that, while very comfortable, is unsustainable. The resistance to accepting the reality of climate change stems from natural conclusion that a large part of the solution and keeping our planet habitable for human life involves them making life changes that they are unaccustomed to and will probably be difficult. We are indeed a nation of whiners and fear-mongers. It would be terrifying for us all to accept the reality of the situation is because the situation is so dire and the moral imperative to do something is inescapable.

The fact is we need solutions and change, not one or the other. We need to make changes in our lives so that we threaten the status of the global climate less. We need technology innovation and risk-taking so that we will have the tools to implement an industrial transformation. We have can have the ability to avert a catastrophe for mankind, but we must have the courage to admit to our mistakes and our flaws.

We all breathe the same air. Despite this, we put massive amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, long-chain hydrocarbons, benzene, and all kinds of other poisons into the air that we all breathe. China has some of the worst air quality in the world. About 400,000 Chinese die every year because of poor air quality. I used to think we humans don’t shit where we eat. I guess I was wrong.

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