What a 19th Century Philosopher can tell us about energy conservation

Posted July 11th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

Back in the 19th century, philosopher William Hazlitt stated we are only “imaginatively connected” to our future self whereas we are naturally connected to our past and present self. But what does a deep thinker like Hazlitt have to tell us about today’s energy debate?

It has something to do with the fact we unconsciously believe that our future self is someone else, not us; that our grasp on the future is tenuous at best and our motivations are totally rooted in the present: My gas bill is going up by 20 per cent so I am going to switch provider rather than save energy; I have just had a new lawn laid so will use as much tap water as I need to make sure it survives despite the ridiculously dry spring we have just experienced.

Our present self finds it hard to make decisions based on anything other than our immediate needs and wants. In Australia, scientists receive death threats because they advocate a carbon tax; China threatens financial retaliation if the EU includes foreign airlines in its Emissions Trading Scheme…countries, not just individuals, find it hard to look beyond the immediate.

Monday Morning
It is the classic Monday Morning Syndrome: I know I should have ironed a shirt on Sunday evening as I have a busy start to the week, I had plenty of time but couldn’t be bothered. Future Me will deal with the problem. On Monday morning I rush around dealing with the issue, making myself late cursing my lack of attention to the problem on Sunday night.

We are collectively leaving the problems on climate change to our future selves. That is bad enough, but we are also leaving them to future generations. Saving a few pounds now to meet the build budget, stores up problems for the future when the building rapidly becomes unfit for purpose. We know what will happen, but leave Future Self to deal with it.
A plumber leaves out an 80p isolating valve and a few years later his successor has to spend three hours trying to isolate the water supply in order to change the washer on a dripping tap. Everything we do now has consequences in the future and those consequences are increasingly frightening.

Germany has announced it will abandon nuclear power and go all out for renewables…but in the meantime that is bound to lead to a significant increase in gas consumption. The UK is decommissioning its nuclear capacity, but nimbyism means every proposed wind or solar farm gets held up by planning red tape.

If you don’t want nuclear; or wind; or to pay more; and you don’t want the hassle…what do you want? You can’t leave everything to Future You and expect to keep the lights on.

David Frise is head of sustainability at the HVCA whose members are committed to delivering high quality, responsible and sustainable building services solutions. dfrise@hvca.org.uk

Read more at www.hvca.org.uk

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/413456228/sizes/s/in/photostream/

The End of Thinking Ahead

Posted March 31st, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

We, as a species, have definitely lost something. We have lost the ability to plan ahead. All we seem to be able to do anymore is immediate and short term thinking . We have reached the point where five years is an eternity to us and anything farther down the road is a miracle. Do not even pretend to think about something 20 years or 40 years down the road. We are definitely living in the NOW era of human evolution and it is costing us gravely.

In our history we have built some of the greatest projects seen by humanity. In the distant past we find Stonehenge, the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. In the more recent past we find the Panama Canal and the Hoover Damn. All of these projects took long term planning and concentrated effort. Of course, many things such as the Great Wall and the Pyramids cost a lot in terms of life and human suffering but, the immensity of their longevity is incredible.

Things are much different now. If you try to talk to someone about global warming or climate change they simply cannot, or will, not look at something that far into the future.  All you hear is now, now and once again, now. If you try to discuss the phasing out of fossil fuels they will tell you that it cannot work because it will not work now. If you talk to them about the degradation of the aquifers they will tell you that it doesn’t matter because they are not empty today. These kinds of discussions are beyond most people today.
Any discussion you have about energy will run into this problem.

The problems with petroleum products are well known but if you try to suggest alternate methods the answer will always be some version of that will not work because everything we do NOW uses petroleum. Those who will argue against you will insist that any problem with oil is not immediate because there is enough and there has been enough. They cannot look down the road of time and see what will happen with projected usage.

Coal is the current magic bullet of the anti-environmental crowd.  The power is produced immediately and the supply seems plentiful. What they do not see, and will not see, is the pile of toxins and waste left behind. We produce a massive amount of coal ash. In 2009 we produced about 75,000,000 tons of coal ash and guess what we did with it. We dumped it into collection ponds for someone else to deal with later. This means we have produced about two pounds of coal ash for every man, woman and child in the United States for every single day of the year. So much for the solution to all our energy demands.

There is a sad flip-side to this inability to think ahead. The ugly and opposite face is the ability of people to put off dealing with something to later generations. Many people are perfectly willing to keep creating waste and leaving for our descendant to deal with. They are willing to do this with coal by-products, greenhouse gases and nuclear waste. Every landfill is a testament to this ability. Do not worry about it. They want to stick it in the ground somewhere and let someone else deal with it later. We do this with our household trash. We do this with our coal waste and we are willing to do this with our nuclear waste, too. How is that for an ability to delay reality and delay answers for later?

 

Further References

Stonehenge
Great Pyramids
Great Wall of China
Secret Costs Of Coal
Sourcewatch: Existing U.S. Coal Plants

 

Dee Neely is a freelance writer, avid technologist and a member of The Zeitgeist Movement.

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/qmnonic/266203795

Scarcity: The Big Lie

Posted March 25th, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

The entire economic system has its basis in scarcity, which is the idea that there simply are not enough of  things to go around.  Scarcity is defined by Investopedia as “The basic economic problem that arises because people have unlimited wants but resources are limited. Because of scarcity, various economic decisions must be made to allocate resources efficiently” There was a time when this was true but the scarcity which we see today is mostly an artificial construct. The problem is that with the increased ability of humanity to produce items through technology, the only way to effectively maintain scarcity is through manipulation.
We are told constantly that there isn’t enough energy to go around, but what this really means is that the companies which control the energy don’t want to lose control. While there are multiple means to provide energy the  arguments are all centered on cost; we are told that the cost of switching to renewable and accessible energy is simply too high. Of course, this is not true. There was a recent plan to remake the roads of America into solar power collectors. The critics answered that the thirty-five trillion dollars it would cost was prohibitive. How much do the transportation departments around the nation spend to maintain the roads we have? Forty trillion dollars every year.
The supply of crude oil is most definitely an example of manipulated scarcity. What does OPEC do when the price of oil goes too low? They cut back production and cause an artificial scarcity so they can keep their profit margins up. If you can keep the production up and you can cut it back to increase profits that is a direct manipulation of the market. This artificial method affects multiple other areas of supposed scarcity such as food.
The availability of food is manipulated all the time. In the United States we even pay farmers to maintain a scarcity of certain foodstuffs to keep from glutting the market and driving the price down.  In addition, the manipulation of fossil fuels leaves its mark on prices, for as the price of oil and energy is raised, the price of production and distribution goes up.  The price and availability of fossil fuels are also changing the availability of food in another way: in an attempt to find something to replace oil countries have turned to Ethanol. The main source of Ethanol is corn and as more corn goes towards replacing oil, the price and availability of many foods are affected.
However, none of this is really necessary because we have experienced an explosion of science and technology in the last century. Our machines are more efficient and we have the means to create limitless amounts of energy. We simply don’t. We don’t because the profit mongers and power brokers don’t want us to. It is up to us to force them to change their ways.

Further References:
Investopedia: Scarcity
Solar Roadways: A fantastic but, futile idea
OPEC Will Increase Oil Production
Wikipedia: OPEC : Economics
Wikipedia: Agricultural Subsidies
Wikipedia: Corn Ethanol

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rmgimages/4881843809

 

Dee Neely is a freelance writer, avid technologist and a member of The Zeitgeist Movement.

Being grateful for small mercies

Posted March 23rd, 2011 by The Environment Site with No Comments

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has received a less than ecstatic welcome from many quarters – the tariffs are widely regarded as too small to deliver the dramatic market shift the Government is looking for.

Come on – let’s get real for a minute.

Look at what has just happened to Feed-in Tariffs. The sound of squealing brakes is almost deafening as PV projects over 50kW are being pulled up short. Small residential projects are unaffected, but the big investments were pouring into solar farms and large ‘rent your roof’ schemes, suddenly, sustainability doesn’t look quite so appealing to the financial sector.

The FiTs powering large PV projects were offering an annual return of over 10 per cent – it looked to good to be true and it was. It is not hard to see why venture capitalists were pouring into this market and why they are now turning tail and stampeding back out again. This is all to do with economics and nothing to do with saving the planet – we need to be clear about this.

And, against that backdrop, take a look at the RHI. The Government needs to cut the deficit; there is nothing left in the public coffers and, yet, it is proposing to spend £860m of public money to try and create a £4.5bn market in solar thermal, biomass and heat pumps.

We should be grateful for small mercies and we also need to respond. Air source heat pumps are not included in the first round of RHI tariffs, but that is only because a perfectly good technology has not been delivering on its promise. Only 13 per cent of the systems trialled by the Energy Saving Trust matched expectations – due partly to poor commissioning; incorrect sizing; bad installation and confused user operation.

If we can get this sort of thing right, the RHI offers a huge opportunity for our sector. Let’s take the carrot, say ‘thank you’ and make it work for us, our businesses and our customers.

For full details of the RHI click here.

David Frise is head of sustainability at the HVCA whose members are committed to delivering high quality, responsible and sustainable building services solutions. dfrise@hvca.org.uk

Read more at www.hvca.org.uk

 

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/4366334742

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