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Re: Nothing Changes Unless You Complain!
junko.yoshida   11/15/2013 7:28:54 PM
@BobsView. Thanks for your kind words.

I agree. "Nothing changes unless you complain!"

I don't know if I got through to our readers, but my point in writing this blog was really about this:

I want to ask you, readers, where you think our current policies have gone wrong or are missing the point (when it comes to energy conservation), and what you hope to propose instead.

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Re: GIzmos and gadgets vs. big problems
junko.yoshida   11/15/2013 6:49:30 PM
@jmoore852, thanks for your comment. I can't agree with you more, when you wrote:

What is unfortunate, in the engineering community, is a failure to look at the "big picture" - e.g. examining the real, quantitative impacts of policy actions, rather than just jumping on the "feel good" bandwagon.

I don't want us to blindly jump on the "feel good" bandwagon, either. That's why I wrote this. Tell us, then, where specifically you feel we lack in "quantitative impacts of policy actions." What policies are you referring to?

David Ashton
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Re: GIzmos and gadgets vs. big problems
David Ashton   11/15/2013 6:37:44 PM
@jmoore..... you sound like an Australian liberal politician.   "I'm not conviced by the science, and it's gonna cost us a bunch and not save the world, so let's forget about it...."    All of which are at least partially true.

The science is about the most inexact science there is, due to the sheer size and volume of data needed to do any decent modelling.  But the vast majority of the science pretty well confirms that the climate is changing faster than any time in history, and that's not just recorded history - there is data from yonks ago through ice cores, tree rings, etc.   There is perhaps not such a degree of confirmation that we've caused it.  But since the rise of technological man has only occurred recently, at the same time as the climate has suddenly started changing very fast, with no other measureable reason, it's very difficult to find any other cause.  Climate has changed fast in the past, usually due to known causes like volcanic eruptions and the like, but the data for that is understandably sketchy as well.  So in many ways we're flying almost blind.

It's gonna cost us a bunch.   We've bought all our wonderful technology at the cost of the environment, burning huge quantities of coal that took ages to form in the space of a few hundred years, a tiny fraction of the time it took to form.  Not to mention pumping all sorts of other crud into the atmoshere (freon etc).  We DO know that the atmosphere is a finely balanced system, so we can't expect all this to have no effect.

And countries like China, India and most of the third  world countries ARE rapidly increasing their CO2 footprint as  you say.   And yes, it's true, if the developing countries reduce their emissions by even 50%, the effect on the total world emissions will be negligible.  So there's no point in us doing anything, right?

Recent extreme climate events (take the typhoon in the Philippines as an example) are becoming more frequent.  We can't establich an exact cause-effect relationship here, but SOMETHING must be causing it.   and it does not like it's just a one-off glitch.  Our lifetimes are a mere blink of an eye in geologic timescales, so if we ARE causing these problems and don't stop causing them, it's only our children's children who will be really affected.  

If the mainstream science is to be believed, and the evidence is building all the time, the world is not going to be in a good place in a few generations' time.  And we have the technology to find new ways of doing things.  Put all that together and I think it is criminal to sit on our hands.  Can we afford to take that chance in the face of ever mounting evidence?   I think not.

I get intensely irritated at governments like mine (Australia) who introduce a carbon tax meant to make it worth our while to find alternative energy sources, all the while exporting more coal than we'll ever use, cheaply, to the really big polluters.  But unlike you (and my present government) I think there is a lot more we can do:
  • Invest more in alternative energy technology, and use it where it's not tooo expensive;
  • work towards reducing our coal exports as much as we can
  • require that imports have been produced using energy efficient means, or using clean energy sources, or else tax them on import at the same rate as our own carbon tax would apply
  • only implement free trade agreements with countries that have at least as much clean energy regulation as we do

These measures will only work if the whole world implements and abides by them.   And here is where I get as pessimistic and negative as you are.    I think the chances of that happening are about as much as me falling pregnant (and I am 57 and male.....)

And please don't take that too personally.  I get the impression we are more or less on the same side, just at different points on that side.


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Nothing Changes Unless You Complain!
BobsView   11/15/2013 3:38:51 PM

I am a great fan of your reporting because you are willing to take on the tough issues.  This article is a good example. 

I don't agree that Engineering Publications should stay out of politics.  Engineers generally take a very close look at the science behind the facts and avoid any political hype.  If we, both as engineers and citizens, don't speak up, then who will?  When pseudo-experts make statements that are clearly scientifically wrong, someone needs to make sure the public is not misled.  Who better to do it than engineers and scientists?

I have never thought Hybrids or pure electric cars were practical except for very special applications.  One would be for inner-city use in places like Paris or London.  Until I could get at least 400 miles between fill-ups, it would be a hard sell for me.  And as the facts show, it's hard to justify their use based on reducing CO2 alone.

It would be a far better solution to me to just require a minimum highway mileage of something like 30 MPG for any car or truck.  I see lots of folks in my area using Mega-SUV's to go to the grocery store.  If someone needs a Mega-SUV for their work or business, then I'm OK with that.  But why burn all that gas when a more fuel-efficient vehicle would do the same purpose.

There, that's my opinion.  Now if some politician would only consider it...



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Re: GIzmos and gadgets vs. big problems
jmoore852   11/15/2013 1:47:25 PM
I have become increasing annoyed over the years as engineering publications such as EE Times have blindly jumped on the global warming, err... climate change bandwagon, and other popular "green" causes.

We get all the environmental cheerleading we need from "news" sources - finding it in engineering journals is just wrong. Also, as someone who has paid a lot of attention to the climate debate - modeling and paleoclimatology - I'm hardly convinced of the CO2 mantra.

I suspect most engineers who look closely at the issue would agree that, while increased CO2 emissions indeed "bend the curve" of temperature upwards, the science behind the quantitative projections is very weak, and corruption of the scientific method has reduced its validity even more.

As a conservationist, I have no problem with folks who want to be "virtuous" in their approach to the environment. I have a big problem with people trying to force that same behavior onto me, and finding "professional" publications in that camp is especially galling.

An even more disturbing trend is the cheer leading for "green energy" when, by any quantitative policy analysis, forcing its usage not only is usually economically damaging, but   also futile in the face of the understandable desire of the billions of poor people in the world to increase their standard of living by increasing their energy intensity. As long as the BRIC countries are rapidly increasing their CO2 footprint, hair shirt measures in the West will simply not make any difference, other than in economic damage.

What is unfortunate, in the engineering community, is a failure to look at the "big picture" - e.g. examining the real, quantitative impacts of policy actions, rather than just jumping on the "feel good" bandwagon.

Finally, there's nothing wrong with improving energy efficienty, battery technology and other green technology - as long as it is *economically* justified. The free market is very good at the information processing for selecting good investment goals.

As evidenced by the engineering media, engineers are far from the "cool" and "objective" on these issues - which is hardly surprising since we, too, are human.

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Re: Poseurs vs doers
proprietor352   11/15/2013 6:47:13 AM
Bert you have done an excellent job of stating an open-minded, engineering-based, scientific, declaration of the situation. Keep up the good work.

"Dogooder-ness" is the basic assertion of liberalism, but in the self guided attempt to assuage the guilt felt, by doing all of these small things in an attempt to fight the great injustice they feel in their heart, they try to expunge themselves from something that they are afraid to look at. Themselves. Personal responsibility to understand what is truly morally wrong with them and why they actually feel this weight of guilt. It is like an alcoholic's attempt to deaden the pain by drinking more, thereby creating more of their own problem.

Collectivism is the new direction? No it is the old one, see how that worked out in Babel, National Socialist Party, USSR, China, North Korea, etc. Some had apparent economic success, but at what cost. Morality, the affront to their very souls. We are each individually responsible for our own failings and what we allow those who we follow to do, by our choice to follow them.

Junko, I remember the piece you wrote on the woman engineer in China, you have personally seen what the constraints of collectivism do to the human soul, please consider this and understand that a morally constrained free society is far more desirable. IF we would truly allow ourselves to drop our pretenses and look at the world from a position of truly trying to understand the bigger picture, we will come to a much different conclusion.

Anyone who would like to have such an open mind and learn more about these types of views would be greatly enlightened by going to this website and spending some time listening to the debates at almost all major universities by this man, a fellow at Oxford University.

 Please don't make a snap judgment upon arrival at the site, be scientific and at least listen to at least five Q&A sessions before making up your mind. You will not be disappointed in his ability to logically reason the dilemma.




David Ashton
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Re: between two worlds
David Ashton   11/15/2013 3:44:38 AM
@Caleb, I think your gadgets and gizmos are the least of our problems.  Until we develop our gadgets and gizmos enough to store energy that we produce by unreliable but clean means - solar, wind, etc - so that we can depend on it 24/7, we'll continue burning coal and oil and pumping crud into the atmosphere and seas.

Energy storage, and efficiency of clean energy sources,  are our biggest problems, and unless we solve them fast I, like other posters here, think mankind will come to an unpleasant fate, or a sticky end.

David Ashton
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Re: Pointing at the problem doesn't make your solution any less stupid.
David Ashton   11/15/2013 3:00:23 AM
@Wnderer... " but the politicos who want taxes, revenue and more government programs are at the very least exploiting the issue."

Well said.  Our last government put a tax on carbon (the prime minister who did said before the election that she wouldn't, which caused her endless problems) but they also carried on exporting tons of coal - of course without charging the buyers a carbon tax on it.

Any action on this has got to be global to have any effect at all.  And getting global action will be nearly impossible (since when has mankind agreed on anything?).

I heard today that the acidification of seawater has increased more and faster than at any time known in the past (and that's the sort of thing they can get from ice cores).  There are new consequences being found every day, and our children (though fortunately I don't have any) and their children are going to be the ones with the real problems.

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GIzmos and gadgets vs. big problems
sixscrews   11/15/2013 2:42:10 AM
We are much attracted to the 'gizmo' solution to a problem - when presented with the problem of excess C02 emissions people are glad to buy a hybrid, contribute to wind power and make symbolic (and sometimes substantive) moves toward reducing energy use.

However, the gizmo is not the answer - we can't invent our way out of too many people living in an unstable ecosystem that we know very little about.

As engineers we did a good job in the 19th century inventing an industrial system that moved goods vast distances with unheard-of efficiency - but it was owned by a very small group of people who used it to their own benefit. This brought about some of the reforms of the early 20th century - anti-trust legislation, for one (now, sadly, abandoned in favor 'efficiency' so we have three {count them - THREE} airlines controlling 90% of the air travel in the US).
But we did an every better job inventing steel armaments, machine guns, long range artillery, steel battleships, warplanes, poison gas, data systems to ensure the call-up of all able-bodied men in time of war, etc.

The result was the first world war - 10-20 million casualties fighting over a battle line a few miles deep - the centennial anniversary is next year and the consequences are still with us.

This was followed by an 'adjustment' with the rise of totalitarian dictatorships and the inevitable second world war. We are still dealing with this - a totalitarian 'capitalism' in the Chinese Empire, dysfunctional rump states with the capability of disrupting the world (Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Syria the current Russian Empire).

There is that old engineer joke about the guy who tells the French why their guillotine doesn't work - and they use it on him - but it's not funny.

We, as a group of educated people, should be able to understand the consequences of our acts - but they are diffuse, indeterminate and can be used in so many different ways.

My favorite example relates to the efficiency of electric motors - they consume about 60% of the electric energy produced in the US and have an aggregate efficiency of about 60%. If that efficiency were to be increased by 10% to 66% the resulting savings would swamp the savings from all the 'gizmos' we are so happy to buy - but where is the drive to make these millions of motors more efficient? We can't drive them around with a 'Hybrid' label on the rear for all following us to read; we can't put a sticker on our house saying 'all the motors in my house are 10% more efficient than yours (nyah-nyah)' - there is no marketing appeal and no money payback here, just an ant-like slow progression toward a goal. There is no money to be made in proclaiming Proverbs 6:6 'Go to the ant, thou sluggard; Consider her ways, and be wise:'

As humans, with human drives and responses, engineers cannot escape the common fate of fools - too little put to what is important and too much put to what provides a show for our fellow-fools.

I am very pessimistic about the fate of our civilization - the long term consequence is our treasured photos blowing in the wind across desolate farmland and ever more efficient political systems dependent on surveillance fighting each other to the death over a scrap of nothing.



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Re: As to climate change ...
Ogemaniac   11/15/2013 2:17:17 AM
"Given that CO2 is produced literally by every living organism on the planet, as well as other non-organic sources such as volcanos, why isn't it imperative that we first obtain that human contribution number"

We already have that. The build up of CO2 is known to be from fossil sources because plants absorb less C13 than C12 given their ratio in the atmosphere. Thus, fossil fuels also have a lower C13/C12 ratio than the atmosphere, and when burned, should cause the atmospheric ratio to drop in turn. Indeed, this is a well known and well measured phenomenon, and is close agreement with theory. We are responsible for essentially all the excess CO2 building up in both the atmosphere and oceans. This is not in dispute by anyone who knows anything about the topic.

As one great scientist put it, we are responsible for somewhere between 80 and 120% of the observed warning. Uncertainty cuts both ways, my friend.

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