Archive for May 3rd, 2012
Today, an attorney with whom I work told me I absolutely needed to drop what I was doing in order to listen to a 19-year old man giving a statement to the Iowa legislature. Under consideration was a constitutional amendment that would reverse the landmark case of Varnum v Brien. I looked up Zach Wahls on Youtube and watched his incredible speech.
My friend then told me that Zach also happened to be in town, at Left Bank Books, 5 blocks away from my law office. I walked over, arriving in time to hear Zach ending his prepared remarks, and opening the floor to questions. One of the main points he made is that people react badly to households of two gay parents because they have a “fear of the unknown.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a thought-provoking article about World Press Freedom day. The bottom line is that the United States can do much better than it is currently doing. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Journalists’ sources in the U.S. have been the hardest hit in recent years. The current administration has used the Espionage Act to prosecute a record six whistleblowers for leaking information to the press—more than the rest of the previous administrations combined. Many of these whistleblowers have exposed constitutional violations such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and the CIA’s waterboarding practices—issues clearly in the public interest—and now face years in prison. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has brought no prosecutions for the crimes underlying the exposed allegations.
In addition, a grand jury is reportedly still investigating WikiLeaks for violations of the Espionage Act for publishing classified information—a practice that has traditionally been protected by the First Amendment and which other newspapers engage in regularly. It would not only be completely unprecedented to prosecute a publisher under the archaic statute, but would also endanger many U.S. based publications like the New York Times. And as former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has remarked, the U.S. government’s investigation into WikiLeaks undermines the United States’ ability to pressure countries like Russia and China to allow greater press freedom.
Our energy system is inefficient, disconnected, aging, dirty and insecure. In this TED talk, Lovins argues that we can become frugal with our energy, eliminating our addiction to oil and coal by 2050, in addition to using 1/3 less natural gas. This talk is based on ideas presented by his book, Reinventing Fire, and his website.
This could cost $5 trillion less than business as usual, assuming external costs of business as usual is zero (which he wryly terms a “conservative” estimate). His approach requires no new inventions, no act of Congress and no subsidies, and it will increase the U.S. economy to 158% of the present.
Our addiction to oil costs us $2B per day in direct costs and $4B in indirect costs, such as the U.S. military. This amounts to 1/6 of GDP. Lovins opened his talk by noting that 80% of the energy we use every year comes from burning four cubic miles of primordial swamp goo.
How can we reduce the use of oil? Make cars “oil free.” Cars use 3/5 of this amount. 2/3 of the energy caused to move a car is attributed to its weight, but over the past 25 years, our cars have become “obese.” We have the ability to make lighter and “more slippery” autos, which makes electricity an excellent way to move cars. Lovins asserts that we have the technologies to make the cars much lighter. America could lead this revolution, though Germany is currently in the lead. If this technology were prevalent, it would be the equivalent of finding 1 1/2 Saudi Arabias worth of oil.
He proposes that we save electricity and make it differently. Most electricity now is wasted. Buildings now use 3/4 of our electricity. That offers a tremendous opportunity for savings through “integrative design.” (min 14). One way of doing this is via “2010 retrofit.” Industry still has $1/2 trillion of saving to reap. Pumps can be made much more efficient by using larger straighter pipes instead of narrower winding pipes. (Min 16). Needing less electricity means we can make it more easily. China is leading the way currently. Solar panels are an excellent way to make the shift. Wind and solar constitute half of the new capacity of electricity. (19).
How can we replace coal-fired electricity? Natural gas is one option. A grid using wind and solar can be a substantial part of the grid, much like it is in Europe. (21) The U.S. grid is old, over-centralized and vulnerable, and it will need to be replaced by 2050.
In 34 states, utilities are rewarded for selling us more electricity. Where they are rewarded for cutting our bills, investments are shifting to renewables. (22).
Lovins’ approach to “reinventing fire” asserts that our energy future is a matter of choice, not fate. He recognizes that these facts and numbers seem incredible, but they are true. A bonus would be an 86% reduction in greenhouse gases, in addition to a much more secure energy supply. He describes his approach as a “once-in-a-civilization business opportunity.”
I didn’t catch this Daily Show video when it first aired in October, 2011. Well worth watching:
On a more serious note, this dysfunctional thinking by many conservatives is coming under increasing scrutiny. This is both good and bad news. It is becoming ever clearer that though Republicans tend to have serious issues with at least some scientific findings (but not all–not, for instance the science that we use to develop new weapons), all of us are susceptible to gross distortions. Chris Mooney has written a new book that focuses on Republican lapses. Here’s an excerpt from a spin-off article from The Atlantic:
Why is the American political system so irrational? Why is it that, even though a lot less partisanship and a lot more compromise would be good for the country, nobody can seem to get us there? The good news is that science is starting to figure this out. The bad news is that it seems to be fundamentally rooted in who we are — creatures who can detect bad and emotional reasoning when others are guilty of doing it, but not so much when we’re doing it ourselves.