critiques


On a blog I read occasionally I saw this proposal for moving the country to more sustainable energy use:

My proposal is that electric utility companies currently heavily invested in their own coal-fired generation consider adopting the model used by Bell Telephone in the 1950’s. In exchange for a modest installation fee (say a few hundred dollars that could be prorated over a period of time) well within the budgets of middle and working class families with “green values,” the utility company would deliver and install solar panels on the consumers home — but, and here’s what I think is a new idea (at least as applied to electricity generation) the utility company would retain ownership of those panels in perpetuity, and charge the consumer a monthly fee for the electricity consumed from those panels.

Here’s the details — the one’s that I think would make this idea appealing to both the consumer and to the utility company. The individual solar installations would 1) be large enough to provide for ordinary, peak daylight hours electricity use and 2) would be tied into the grid allowing for both inflow and outflow. The utility company would benefit, because all excess electricity generated would flow into the grid for use by other customers (and unlike the situation where a household customer owns the solar installation, the utility company would own that excess flow outright and not be paying the customer with the installation for it). With each household or business that added solar generation, the electricity generating capacity of the entire grid would be expanded. The capitalization costs would be spread out over time — no huge up-front investment in generation capacity years before any new power can be generated. Moreover, following current phone company and cable company practices, the utility company could charge a very small (a few dollars) monthly maintenance fee to consumers, to cover costs of periodic maintenance and repair.

The consumer would benefit in two ways: they would have the assurance that in the absence of sunlight they would still have electricity, and conversely, during widespread power outages due to downed transmission lines they would also still have their locally generated power. Indeed, if several households in a neighborhood had contracted with the utility for solar panels, the entire neighborhood circuit might be protected from electricity loss during a widespread outage….From the utility company’s perspective, they are able to gradually expand their generating capacity, using “green” sources, with small, periodic expenditures of capital that can be partially charged to the customer (installation fees), and also recouped by feeding all excess electricity generated into the grid. Customers without the panels who depended solely on the grid would pay the standard rate for their electricity. By dispersing solar generation through out the households served by a utility, there would be a substantial increase in efficiency, as electricity would be consumed closer to where it was generated, reducing the losses to long distance transmission. Most of all this idea allows utility companies to make the transition to renewable electricity generation gradual and incremental, and thus less painful and more acceptable.

Intriguing idea, particularly since it lays the ground work for a far more radical shift. Once solar installations had penetrated a significant percentage of housing units, the citizens could stage a take-over of power-generation. Instead of “nationalizing” the power industry, we could “communitize” the power industry. Okay, I made that term-up by what I mean is transferring ownership of means of production to community or neighborhood groups. So even though this proposal, on the surface seems to expand the power and reach of utility companies, it does have within it the seeds for a more radical, decentralized energy economy.

A friend of mine who lives and works in a very conservative, community in Appalachia called my attention recently to a phenomenon on Facebook that he calls the “I love Jesus more than you do” competition or what I’d like to call “competitive Christianity.”

Facebook appears to serve as an arena of social competition for many social circles. Who can post the cleverest, most humorous status? Who can find the most pertinent political reference or video to post? Who can post the most beautiful photos, or the ones that make the most people go “aww” and “how cute!” Who can garner the most comments to their status posting?

However, the competition in my friend’s circle of Facebook “friends” from work and his local community centers around declarations of love for Jesus/God. The competition seems to involve one-upmanship in showing verbal devotion, and in seeing how many people to “like” your post or make agreeing comments.

Here are just a few of the Facebook status quotes my friend shared:

…God is so Good and I just want to Praise Him for all things! We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. So lets pray one for another.

…needs patience, though one would think I would be loaded with it by now…God, make me more teachable, so I can see the lessons You have planned for me.

…is so grateful to GOD

…”It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”Psalm 18:32-36

…Thank God that they found your camera…those are memories that you could not get back…GOD IS SO GOOD!! Thank you Lord for watching over my loved ones and bringing them home safe!

…I KNOW! When she came back on the phone from checking the lost & found, she said, “yes, we got it” I said,”PRAISE GOD!” ūüôā And He sure watched over us on the way home, VERY heavy rain, there was a tornado warning in one or two cities we drove through.

…just wanted to let you know you have been on my mind and I have been praying for you. Hope all is well.

…I have just look [sic] at one of the most beautiful babies that my Lord has ever made. He is so loved by all of us and he is so happy. God is so Good . I do praise His Name!

Neither my friend, nor I are Christians, and our knowledge of Christianity is “academic.” For example, I’m aware of several texts in the New Testament, in which Jesus warns his followers against making a big show of their faith and prayers, such as in Matthew 6:5-6:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.


So, it would seem to me, as an outsider to the faith, that Jesus would not have approved of this type of Facebook display.

A friend of mine, an employee of a public college system in a state that’s not quite South and not quite Midwest, told me a tale of wanton waste that would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Seems the head honcho of this public college system has a real thing for marketing slogans. Over the last five or six years he’s paid out money to public relations firms to think up three different slogans or “tag lines” for the college’s in the system to use when presenting themselves to the public. The most recent of these slogans was conceived as part of a lobbying campaign by this public college system to get their state government (which is verging on bankruptcy like every other state in the Union) to give them more money and instead take money away from some other area — like roads, prisons, police, or one of those other unnecessary budget items.

So one of their action designed to convince the governor and state legislature that their college system is more deserving than anything else that state government pays for, they expended money to have some one think up a slogan/tag line, and had entirely new stationary printed up for all the many colleges in their system — and told the colleges to discard all the stationary with the “old” slogan (which was instituted less than three years ago at which time new stationary was printed and the previous stationary was discarded).

What a waste of money and trees.

There are folks who never seem to get it. As I said in my introduction I like to read science blogs, and in general like to read science. Doesn’t matter what, biology, ecology, geology, physics, astronomy, climatology, you name it and I find it interesting.¬† Sometimes the mathematical models get a bit beyond me, but most of the time I can follow the arguments.¬† The most interesting aspect of many science blogs is the comments. Most comments are by other scientists discussing and arguing about some aspect of the data or research findings, often offering other references to scientific material. What always amuses me are the non-scientists who occasionally blunder in with some really simplistic question (they should do some basic research first) or who have some harebrained idea that is more science fiction than science, and some how expect the scientists to take them seriously.

Ran across one of these this week on a climate science blog, where a non-scientist was complaining that no one there was paying attention to his idea for polar cities as a solution to global warming.

There might be a time, in the not too distant future when humans find themselves moving further north, and there just might end up being permanent settlements along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. But this fellow is advocating the construction of these cities in the polar regions now — “when we have time and resources and air transport and fuel available, and get them ready for the future when the world MIGHT need them” before, as he says it’s too late — and deciding what fraction of humanity will get to take refuge in them when the world comes undone.

Let’s see, this guy wants some one to ante up enough money now to build cities to hold 100,000 to 1 million residents on the shores of the Arctic ocean, as a hedge against a¬†possible future in which the mid-latitudes are uninhabitable.¬† There are so many reasons why economically and politically this is not feasible, but how about simple practicality.

Chersky, Russia

Chersky, Russia

Currently most of the land at the Arctic circle is still in permafrost.¬† So one begins building one of these cities now, on the currently stable permafrost land. Then if the warming he’s predicting occurs, all that permafrost melts (releasing its store of methane) and totally rips to shreds everything that was built on it. Like the building pictured to the right in Chersky, Russia cracked like an eggshell by the melting of permafrost.

Add to this the enormous amounts of fossil fuel energy that would have to be expended to air lift materials, food, supplies and workers, and provide power for the project. Because there are no roads from here to there, and no reliable ocean passages (yet).  How does one combat global warming (since that does seem to be what this person is about) by cooking up a scheme that will use dramatically more fossil fuel resources?

No wonder the guy can’t get any feedback from the scientists who frequent the site!