Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NY Times Magazine Green Issue Is Worth The Read

The NY Times just published their "Green Issue" on Sunday with a plethora of articles discussing the movement towards sustainability and the battle against climate change. One of the best articles is "Why Bother", by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food. In the essay, Pollan discusses the notion of hopelessness in decreasing our personal footprint - why should we change our daily practices when on the other side of the world, families in China are buying cars and firing up refrigerators for the first time, thereby undoing any good we may do on an individual level. Frustrating though it may be, the truth is that it is not hopeless. Everything we do makes a small impact on our earth. Everything we buy supports the system wherein it is produced - from the oppressed laborer in horrific working conditions, to the toxic chemicals used in it's manufacture and packaging, to the fossil fuels used in shipping, to the local business owner pushed out of work by the corporate machine delivering the product. Every time we don't speak up to our families, friends, neighbors, and our politicians, we support the status quo rather than being a part of the change. It starts with individuals, and like the proverbial butterfly flapping it's wings causing a storm across the world, this is what personal action leads to. It is not the only answer, and needs to be done in conjunction with wise and foresightful governmental leadership, but it is imperative that we all contribute what we can to the solution.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

5 Trillion Watt Laser Slated To Make Miniature Star in California: Energy Solution Vs. Total Plutonic Reversal

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area has built a facility that takes a single 1/billionth of a joule laser, splits it into 48 beams that are amplified, split again into 192 beams and further amplified exponentially, eventually building to "1.8 million joules of ultraviolet energy", which is 1,000 times as much energy produced by all U.S. power plants, a staggering 5 trillion watts. This energy will be directed into an ignition chamber wherein lies a frozen hydrogen fuel cell in a gold-plated cylinder, dubbed the "hohlarum". There, the lasers will be transformed into incredibly intense x-rays that will compress the hydrogen almost instantly, fusing the atoms together and essentially creating a small star.

Wow. Should we be excited that our energy problems are at an end or should we be worried that we'll pull half the solar system into a laboratory-generated rip in the fabric of the space-time continuum? This type of research is really exciting, just like nanotechnology, genetic manipulation, and other forays into quantum mechanics, like Cern's Hadron collider. As we learn more about our natural world on a smaller and smaller level, and gain the ability to manipulate these properties, we truly begin to have power over our material world. We have the potential to cure disease, stop world hunger, to solve our energy crisis, maybe eventually to travel across space and time and communicate with other civilizations, and other concepts that thus far have been reserved for science fiction novels. Unfortunately, our track records as humans has shown that we, in general, lack the foresight and wisdom to properly develop and use these technologies. Capitalism, greed, and lust for power drives these industries forward, pushing them for marketable results, often without considering the possible ramifications or side effects of the wonders that we create. We've created transgenic crops that have both helped to feed starving children, and at the same time left subsistence farmers hopelessly in debt and committing suicide by the thousands after promised engineered cotton crops have failed. Nuclear fission has powered our homes, yet it has killed hundreds of thousands of people, contaminated soil and groundwater, and caused significant human illness and morbidity. These technologies are child's play next to nanotechnology and quantum manipulation. The potential for good is incredible, yet the potential for disaster is as, if not more amazing.

Should we ban genetic manipulation, nanotech, and quantum physics? No, definitely not. Advancing scientific knowledge is imperative for the human race to survive, especially with the path we've taken - we'll need advanced technologies to either reverse the damage we're causing, or to make conditions habitable enough in spite of the damage. We should, however, be frightened enough of the potential catastrophies to be wise in it's use and ensure oversight and regulation of these technologies as they develop.

via Gizmodo

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spark-EV Closed Down - A Torrid Tale of Broken Promises and Vaporware

Edit: It seems that Spark-EV has shut it's doors, the owner replacing the former website with a description of events that led to Spark's downfall. I'm sorry for posting without researching the company better, but the posted letter is interesting reading!

Previous Post:

I had thought that I was keeping up on the development of this generation of electric vehicles, being completely disappointed by the lack of commitment from American carmakers and the plethora of vaporware from the likes of Zap!, and anxiously awaiting a "new" EV1 that is affordable, practical, and has a decent range. While Tesla has finally started production of their legendary electric roadster, at 100,000 clams, this is still far out of reach of the average eco-conscious consumer. However, I recently came across Spark-EV, a U.S. company that supposedly already has 3 models in production and 2 more pending certification for 75+mph highway operation and over 100 miles to a charge. All that plus a few neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs), 2 electric scooters, and a futuristic 3 wheel EV in the works as well!

The largest option currently available is the Qilin, a 5-seater mini-SUV akin to a Honda CRV with a range of 100+ miles/charge, top speed of 80mph, and a price tag of $27,950. Next is the Zotye (pictured) with a range of 110+ miles, top speed of 75mph, and goes for $24,900. The smallest current full-speed option is the Dragon, a compact similar to a VW Golf or Toyota Matrix with a range of 125+ miles, top speed of 80mph, and sells for $24,950. They also have a micro-compact dubbed the Panda, that is pending full-speed certification, but is a 2-seater similar to a SmartCar that will get you 80mph and 125+ miles per charge for $21,950. These all run on LiFePO4 batteries that charge fully in 10 hours, but can get 75% charge in 5 hours.

Let's do some simple calculations: The average commuter drives 15,000 miles/year, estimate fuel efficiency at a generous 30mpg, and you're using 500 gallons of fuel per year. Over the next 10 years, with fuel prices climbing, let's estimate a lowball average cost of $5/gallon. If you add in solar panels for "free" charging at home (the solar installation will pay itself off in 10-15 years as well in savings), by this calculation, your fuel savings alone in the next 10 years will pay for the price of the entire car! If you're still a skeptic, you can refer to The S.E.E.P.'s New Car Buyer's Guide, which basically says - don't buy a new car! Over the next 10 years peak oil, emissions restrictions, and rising fuel prices will force a significant change in our transportation infrastructure. Combine that with the upfront cost of a new vehicle and the incredibly fast depreciation, you're much better off either buying a used vehicle, preferably one capable of using biofuels, so you can wait for the next generation of electrics and new technology, or buy an all-electric now, which will save you more and more money as fuel prices increase. For the DIY'er, you can build your own EV with a kit from Electro-Auto, EV USA, or pick up kit plans from Riley Enterprises. In addition, battery technology will continue to improve at a rapid pace, so by the time your new EV needs new batteries, it is probable that you'll be able to extend your range by upgrading to an ultracapacitor, hydrogen, or other type of next-generation battery.

We need to stop fearing new technology and think outside of our fossil-fuel box. We still have a chance to change what we have set in motion and preserve much of the planet for our children, but we all need to make some sacrifices and take some risks.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Recycle and DIY - Do It Yourself Websites On The Rise!

I'm a bit of a DIYer, making biodiesel, doing as much as possible myself to retrofit our home into a lower energy place, tinkering on the WVO Vegfalia, etc.. I have to admit, though, that there are many others out there who completely put me to shame as the DIY movement has taken off over the last few years. The best part is that you can share what you've done and learn from other peoples' creativity through a few fantastic websites:

Instructables: With regular contests for contributors, instructables has everything from baby slings to wind turbines, to LED lighting, to gardening constructs, all in a searchable database.

Readymade: A fun DIY magazine that has now gone electronic, with an archive of all past projects with difficulty and time ratings. They have a few kits and plans for sale, we'll be working on our 10 X 10 recycled garden house soon!

Make: Another magazine with DIY projects that has a presence on instructables as well as plenty of creativity, plans, and some kits.

Hit the dump, curbside, freecycle, craigslist, friends' garages, or wherever you can find some material to recycle into some fun and useful projects!

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