Monday, March 18, 2019

Climate Change? We can Adapt

Debate, really? While some people blather on debating the existence of climate change, the climate is busily changing around us. The debate really is: Are we going to try to stop or at least reduce it, or just blunder along until it slaps us in the face?

The answer should appear obvious. However, here is an examination of what we could do, planet-wide, to adapt if we choose to do nothing.

Some basics: Greenhouse gasses trap heat, thus their name. We are emitting CO2 and methane at rates unparalleled in history, thus we are trapping heat in the atmosphere. Heat is energy. What is essentially happening is that we are adding energy to the weather system. Storms are getting more violent. Cold snaps are colder, and more unpredictable. Rain patterns are shifting. Winds are stronger and more frequent. In general, the climate is getting wilder and somewhat warmer on average.

Areas that were reliably moist before will experience drought. Dryer areas will experience flooding. And as the climate has more energy, those area may change from drought to flood more suddenly and less predictably. Sudden storms with strong winds and tremendous hail will become more common. Because of the increased energy, there will be greater evaporation from the oceans, thus more moisture in the weather patterns altogether, but precipitation will be concentrated more densely. Therefore where it does rain and snow, there will be greater rainfall and snowpack. On the other hand, higher winds will drive those weather patterns farther before they precipitate. In other words, floods will be deeper and droughts dryer.

How to adapt?

Water supply: In the long run the only way to adapt will be to run tens of thousands of miles pipelines to move water from flooding areas to drought stricken areas. These areas may shift and alternate unpredictably--better make those pipes capable of flowing both ways.

Agriculture: Prepare massive seed stockpiles strategically all over the world to be able to plant whatever crops the climate of a region will support that year. Prepare to move land in and out of production or change the crops at the drop of a meteorological hat. What may be the perfect area for rice paddies one year may be perfect for coffee the next--or cactus fruit. Forget crops that take more than one year from planting to harvest. Fruits and nuts will be in short supply, but supplanted with grains and beans.

Construct millions of square miles of roofs over crops to protect them from storm damage. No matter how perfect the weather for a crop is one season, a single tornado or massive hail storm can destroy it in an afternoon. Hey while we're at it, why not make those roofs solar collectors? Might as well use some free energy to power all the water pumping.

Cities: Move all our cities a few miles back from watersides, or elevate the cities above the new, higher flood levels. Also we ought to elevate our roadways, put wind breaks along both sides of every road, and both raise and strengthen ALL our bridges.

Conclusion: If we invest at most a few dozen times the combined annual economic product of the entire planet, we can adapt to climate change easily. For a few years.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Economy on Wheels

I am now seeing more evidence of my favorite indicator of economic instability--absurdly expensive exotic cars. It is now a seller's market for such vehicles as the new Ferrari 612 Scaglietti with an average price of $320000 and the Maserati Quattroporte with an average price of $112000. While the price of some of these exotics is lower than the super-rare exotics of 5 years ago (the Ferrari Enzo sold for $630000), those had extremely limited production of only 200 or 400 individual cars, world wide.

The current crop of uber-expensive cars are showing two trends that worry me: 1. they're biased towards luxury, 2. they're being produced in huge quantities that are selling out as fast as they can turn them out. What this tells me is that the more and more of the money in our economy is moving into the hands of a very small upper echelon, and it is now de-rigeur to have one of these exotics as a status symbol--yet the people who are buying them are not the expert-driver car collectors, just garden-variety ultra-millionaires who have more money than brains and need the status symbol.

When people start dropping $200,000 and $300,000 for a status symbol without caring too much about it, while a vast majority are having increasing trouble making ends meet, the economy is unbalanced and rushing headlong towards collapse.

We saw this in 1989 - 1992, with the Ferrari F40, the Bugatti EB17, the Cizetta-Moroder V16T, etc. As more and more of these $350,000-plus cars became immediate sell-out items, the economy became more and more unstable, eventually collapsing and leading to the election of Bill Clinton over Bush the 1st.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

True Energy Conservation

First a few true statements: We live in a world that is dependent on energy. We use a tremendous amount of energy in transportation. The vast majority of that energy comes from oil. There is no-one who can argue with these facts.

There are a number of ways we can use less oil for transportation:

1. Hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles. Electric vehicles are more energy efficient that traditional gasoline or diesel powered cars, but ultimately they shift the burden of converting a fuel into energy to the power plant. In effect, electric cars run off hydroelectric power, nuclear power, natural gas or coal.

Hybrid vehicles use a gas or diesel engine more efficiently, by allowing the motor to work at its peak efficiency creating electricity and using an electric motor to apply some of that electric energy to the wheels. Depending on the design, a hybrid car can double the fuel efficiency of a traditional car design.

2. Public transportation. Even though buses and trains are heavy and use a lot of fuel, when they are used fully, they use less fuel per mile per person than the sum of the cars needed to drive all those individuals to their destinations. However, many cities these days are not designed in a way to make good public transportation easy to use. Therefore, public transportation is vastly under-utilized. It simply is not convenient enough.

3. Urban and suburban planning. No matter what transportation solution people use, a tremendous number of people move a tremendous number of miles every day in every city. To ferry kids from school to ballet lessons to soccer practice, etc, while fitting a commute to and from work in a modern US city requires traveling several tens of miles per day. In a city of only 100000 (one hundred thousand) population, that could add up to a million miles per day. Reducing the number of miles people need to move would provide a much greater savings in transportation energy than any other conservation method.

If we could redesign our urban and suburban spaces so that schools, practices, lessons, shopping, and workplaces are all within walking distance of small residential centers, then people would not be forced to burn fuel to reach their destinations. This is a radical solution that requires rethinking our civic planning. For decades cities, especially in the western United States, have evolved in parallel with the highway systems. Residential neighborhoods are concentrated away from commercial areas. Industrial and professional spaces are almost always separated from residential development by large distances. We need to redesign our cities so that most workplaces--those that don't present hazard or nuisance to the community--are dispersed in smaller concentrations no further than half a mile from the neighborhoods that could house the people who work there. Similarly, shopping and park spaces need to be dispersed among the residential areas as well.

In addition, we may see other benefits. When people are walking, they are more likely to say hello to others on the street, they are getting some degree of exercise, and they are losing less time to their daily runaround and commute.

Something to think about as we approach greater economic and political crises centered around oil.