Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wall-E Surprise

I know I usually post only once a week, but I wanted to get a short entry in today, before July's Month o' Music starts.

I just saw Wall-E and was pleasantly surprised. I came in thinking it would be a cute, fun movie, but it turned out to have a good message as well. I'm not talking about the environmentalism, which turned out to be a relatively minor element.

The rest of this post has mild spoilers, so I'm hiding it. Click here to show it.
If you're looking at this through an RSS reader, you'll have to actually click through to the article. Or you could just run the rest of this post through a rot13 decoder, I guess

Friday, June 27, 2008

An environmentalist's manifesto

July is special, so I'm going to devote it entirely to a fun subject. No environmental stuff, no political junk, just my thoughts on music and why all these young whippersnappers with their "hip hop" and "rock 'n' roll" should get off my lawn.

To compensate, I'll leave you, my faithful reader(s), with my militant and proselytizing manifesto.
There's a lot of focus within the environmental movement on conservation: we take for granted that it's our right as humans to consume and consume, and if we've committed any sin, it's that we've consumed inefficiently. We should rethink that mindset.

I would submit that we never had a carte blanche in the first place; we've been taking luxuries as fundamental necessities without thinking, like some character out of The Great Gatsby who's slowly starting to realize that his money isn't coming from a deep trust fund but from a line of credit.

Let's take driving, because it's always fun to beat a dead horse. According to one site I found that lists carbon emissions by mode of transportation, a 180 lb man creates about 200 lbs of CO2 every mile he drives alone in a car. It won't go away for thousands of years.

Okay, cars pollute — nothing new. But the crux is that driving isn't a basic right, it's a huge convenience. Humans survived tens of thousands of years without more than feet, horses and wheels, but we've forgotten all that in the last century. Suddenly, it's not driving that's fast and easy; it's walking or biking that are slow and hard.

It would behoove us all to remember that when we drive, use a computer, turn on the A/C or do any number of other activities that consume power, we're going above and beyond what nature was designed to let us do. We're spending what we were never given to spend.

I'm guilty too; I drive several times a week, use a computer for hours a day and enjoy the A/C at work. But I feel guilty about it, which makes me think every time I do something that pollutes, which makes me do it a lot less. It may be melodramatic and smack of self-flagellation, but I think it's one case where a bit of guilt is deserved and well placed. To put it bluntly: every animal has to pollute a bit, but we might ask ourselves what gives us the right to so grossly exceed our allowance.

And when you stop and think about it, taking an extra half-hour to use public transportation instead of driving isn't really that inconvenient. You're still saving a lot of time compared to having to walk those 6 miles. And if you bring a book or a magazine or manage to grab a seat and doze off for a few, it can honestly be a nice experience.

Hmm, that last graf
wasn't too manifesto-esq, was it? Don't tell Marx.

On an unrelated note for anyone who's holding their breath for the answer to the math question I posed a while back: I haven't crunched the numbers yet, but I will at some point. The suspense will keep you coming back!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The international price of nuclear power

With oil prices and CO2 on everyone's minds, America is looking for other sources of power. Nuclear energy is one option that comes up a lot: it doesn't pollute the air, and we know how to make a lot of it economically and ubiquitously; the latter can't yet be said of wind, hydro or solar power. There are of course concerns about safety — accidents are rare, but they're devastating when they happen — and nuclear waste, but there's another issue I haven't heard much about.

America is the world's superpower, and where it goes, others may follow. But nuclear technology can be used for bombs as well as power plants, and the line separating them is neither wide nor necessarily visible. Every time America has accused Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, Iran has countered that it's only after power plants. The technologies are close enough that proving either side right has been difficult. Nuclear bombs and power plants use the same ingredients, enriched uranium and plutonium, and plutonium is in fact synthesized in nuclear reactors. Even without enriching nuclear fuel to weapons-usable quality, a country could easily use radioactive fuel or waste to make dirty bombs.

If America touts nuclear energy as its energy solution, it will be in a tough place telling other countries they can't do the same. Iran and other countries will have much greater political leverage for pursuing a strong nuclear energy program, and that would put them within dangerous reach of developing a nuclear weapons program.

Even if no country uses the nuclear bombs it develops, we run the risk of coups, corruption, under-the-table support or even just bureaucratic negligence putting bombs in the hands of those who will. And nuclear waste will be around when every government now in existence is long gone; it's irresponsible to leave it for the terrorists and governments of the 60th century to find. Soviet Russia wasn't all that careful in cleaning up its nuclear waste, and who are we to say that no new nuclear power would be as bad?

We need to develop alternatives to energy other than fossil fuels, yes. But we need to examine each option carefully if we're to avoid jumping out of the frying pan and into the incinerator. It may be worth spending a bit more time and money developing the truly clean and safe technologies instead of investing heavily in a technology that could bite us hard later.