Saturday, July 24, 2010

Miscellaneous Items

Looks like the drywall removal is set to start on Monday, a month after the job was supposed to start. But because we removed the geothermal heat pump from the plan, the job should actually complete about two weeks before the original plan. I'm certainly happy that things are finally getting started.

On the other hand, less thrilling is the fact that the US government now has completely and totally abdicated doing anything serious about climate change. The Senate has dropped any attempt at pricing carbon and now is contemplating a few minor changes, primarily around responding to the Gulf oil spill disaster. It's business as usual on the policy front: we are completely on track for the IPCC's Business as Usual scenario in which the world roasts by 2100.

What happened? Obama basically gave up. He could have come out with a strong speech rallying wavering Democrats and even trying to corral a couple of Republicans who have been sympathetic, like Lindsey Graham. But he did nothing. Peculiarly, something similar happened with his ambitious plans to reform NASA. He unveiled plans in February to scale back on Bush's moon program because the plans were so grandiose  and the technology being proposed so deficient that the US wouldn't have reached the goal until 2030 if then. The amount of money needed was much larger than the US could afford. His plan was to turn development of Earth to orbit transportation over to the new, entrepreneurial companies that are building rockets more cheaply than the government can. But he failed to push the plans, compromised at the first sign of opposition, and now the House wants to continue the Bush plan but at a lower funding level (practically guaranteeing that nothing will happen) purely as a jobs program.

Is there any commonality in these two occurrences? They both involve policy making about science and technology that require difficult decisions in which some political pain will be involved. In the case of pricing carbon, the price of carbon-based energy will go up. In the case of NASA, government employees will lose their jobs. In both cases, it seems the US government wants an easy political out, like buying an iPod for 400 bucks, rather than the hard and difficult work of making policy that will be expensive but, in the end, will make the country and the world a better place. The problem,  particularly with climate change but also with space, is that the physics and economics aren't subject to compromise. For climate, if we continue on the BAU path, the planet will cook, and the only way to get off that path is to make carbon-based energy more expensive. For space, the government's record of technology development over the last 40 years has indicated that it can't develop economical solutions to the problem of getting to orbit. So it's back to where we  were 2 years ago with the Bush administration as far as climate change goes.

What might the world look like after 2100 when the oil runs out and the ice caps are melted? An interesting perspective can be found in the science fiction book The Windup Girl (warning: don't follow the link if you don't want the plot revealed) by Paolo Bacigalupi. The book is set in 2100's Bangkok. Energy is supplied by windup springs, biogas, and human and animal labor, plus coal that is carefully rationed to avoid making global warming even worse. Bangkok is kept from flooding by enormous dikes and coal-fired pumps. Since mechanical technology no longer has any energy source to power it, the world has turned to genetic engineering and the results are environmental catastrophes in which most of the world's original biodiversity is gone and has been replaced by genetically hacked organisms. Like all science fiction, this book takes artistic license with the possible reality in order to generate a good, engaging story, but the general setting sounds plausible to me.

I think we can now reasonably concluded that neither the Democratic nor the Republican party are going to do anything about climate change.What will it take to get the government to finally put in place the policy changes needed to stop the world from cooking?

No comments:

Post a Comment