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I think solar power, especially photovoltaics will be much bigger than people realize. It's been limited so far by a lack of funding for research. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on nuclear, coal, and oil as their lobbyists have have huge sums to work with to entice governments continue funding their research into oil shale, clean coal, an oxymoron if there ever was one, and safe nuclear. There still is no accepted plan on what to do with spent waste.
That is starting to change. The slowly dawning reality of climate change is starting to affect even the political class. The dangers it poses to the survival of the human race are real and elucidated here:
Source: The Dark Side of Climate Change: It's Already Too Late, Cap and Trade Is a Scam, and Only the Few Will Survive | Environment | AlterNet
Address : <http://www.alternet.org/environment/141081/the_dark_side_of_climate_change%3A_it%27s_already_ too_late%2C_cap_and_trade_is_a_scam%2C_and_only_th e_few_will_survive/?page=entire>
There is another, fourth voice in the debate over cap-and-trade, one ringing out from shadows rarely approached by the media. In these shadows dwell scientists who believe the time has passed for any sort of legislation at all, no matter how radical.
The advantages of solar, wind, etc, and the disadvantages of oil and coal, both economically and environmentally are becoming more obvious. A point not lost upon some hi-tech heavyweights:
Source: Solar Sell: Companies that Mass Marketed PCs Turn to Photovoltaics: Scientific American
Address : <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ibm-hp-intel-solar-power&sc=DD_20080627>Although solar cell technology for converting the sun's power into electricity has improved steadily in recent years, high costs and inefficiencies have kept it from being a serious replacement for fossil fuels. A few high-tech heavyweights—IBM, Intel and Hewlett-Packard (HP)—hope to change this using the same formula of mass production and commoditization that helped them make personal computers mainstream over the past three decades.
As far as the amount of solar energy available waiting to be tapped it dwarfs anything remotely existing with oil or coal:
Source: A Solar Grand Plan: Scientific American
Address : <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan&sc=SA_20071217>Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.
All that's been lacking is the political will to develop the technologies. Something the well connected and funded fossil fuel corporations have been fighting tooth and nail. I remember early in Bush's first term, he had a speech scheduled at an alternative energy research site to publicize his support for renewable energy. They discovered a big problem just before he was to make it: he'd slashed funding for much of the renewable research around the country and that site was one of them, the building was empty and all the scientists had been laid off. The solution was to restore the salaries of the researchers so they could go back to work, however since the money to do any actual research was not restored all they had to do was sit around and play video games and be the backdrop for the speech.
So I think the next big thing will be the realization that the sh&*'s about to hit the fan and continuing on the present course does not compute. Electing a president who's stated a desire to put science first and his appointment of a Nobel Laureate to a cabinet post is a good sign.
Source: Mystery mechanism drove global warming 55 million years ago
Address : <http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Mystery_mechanism_drove_global_warming_55_million_ years_ago_999.html>
A runaway spurt of global warming 55 million years ago turned Earth into a hothouse but how this happened remains worryingly unclear, scientists said on Monday.
Previous research into this period, called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, estimates the planet's surface temperature blasted upwards by between five and nine degrees Celsius (nine and 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in just a few thousand years.
This happened 55 million years ago. Time estimates are imprecise. The estimate is a few thousand years, PLUS OR MINUS A FEW THOUSAND YEARS. In other words one year to 10-15 thousand years to fry the planet.
The Arctic Ocean warmed to 23 C (73 F), or about the temperature of a lukewarm bath.
How PETM happened is unclear but climatologists are eager to find out, as this could shed light on aspects of global warming today.
What seems clear is that a huge amount of heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases -- natural, as opposed to man-made -- were disgorged in a very short time.
The theorised sources include volcanic activity and the sudden release of methane hydrates in the ocean.
The release of Methane hydrates are the feedback mechanism that was missing, and still is, in climate models. The Arctic ocean is already releasing increasing amounts of methane from melting methane hydrates on the warming sea bed. NO ONE expected this to happen so soon. It's feedback mechanisms like this which instruct the reasoning behind the article in the first link in my post: The Dark Side of Climate Change: It's Already Too Late.
Hey, the last link you gave us does not work (so far as I can tell.) Is this the same article?
My mum emailed me this, I think it's worth reading. You can find the article here, but it's a bit different from what my mum mailed me.
Taking Shorter Showers Doesn't Cut It: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change
By Derrick Jensen, Orion Magazine. Posted July 13, 2009.
Are we taking the easy route? Dumpster diving wouldn't have stopped Hitler, and composting wouldn't have ended slavery. Tools
This article was first published in the July/August 2009 issue of Orion Magazine.
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”
Or let’s talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the U.S. was about 1,660 pounds. Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States .
I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.
So how, then, and especially with all the world at stake, have we come to accept these utterly insufficient responses? I think part of it is that we’re in a double bind. A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and withdrawal is not an option. At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world—none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.
I'm not impressed by photovoltaics. You need millions of acres of these(environmental impact). They contain doping materials that are horrible for the environment (cadmium for example) or that are extremely rare (tellurium) and I have never seen an honest figure on the life-cycle costs that include re-refining the panels every 25 years to recover the nasties. I think they are toys - worthy of more research but not newrly ready for prime time.
Concentrated solar is readily implementable and has a higher efficiency - so why bother w/ PVs ?
No the big breakthrough needed is energy storage technology. All current electro-chem storage stink quite frankly - heavy, expensive and very low energy density, very limited lifespan. Look at the dismal laptop batteries for example ... all the better electric autos use the same Li-ion technology. Perhaps fuel cell technology is part of the solution - unclear. If you figure out how to store energy at a good density and with high conversion efficiency then things like solar, wind and electric vehicles all become an order of magnitude more practical.
Someday we will have controlled fusion power. In the mean time thorium probably makes more sense than uranium for fission plants (we would use up all known uranium in a century).
BTW compressed air autos are ridiculous - a joke against ppl who never passed a physics class. 1gal of gasoline(petrol) has ~120MJ energy and about 25% can efficiency for a modern auto (30MJ to the wheels). 1 cubic meter of compressed gas a 1000 atmospheres holds about 700kJ energy perhaps optimistically 70% efficient. You'd need a compressed air tank of 60 cubic meters (~15000 gallon) compressed to an outrageous 1000 atmospheres to match the accessible energy in one gallon of gasoline.