Saturday, October 11, 2008

without hot air

David MacKay, a Professor in the Cambridge University Physics department has released a new e-book. I would really recommend anyone who is interested in the environment, global warming or energy sustainability to go to, download the full book of 'Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air' and get reading.

Please do not let the author's title put you off, the book is very reasonable and good to read by non-Physicists.

Some highlights for me were:

1. Proof that lots of small actions do not add up to one large action. MacKay measured the energy use of a mobile phone charger plugged in when it was not on. The energy usage was barely measurable and was lower than the amount of energy wasted as heat as the phone is actually charging. If one focussed on this as a 'green action' one would be affecting less than 0.1% of our personal energy use. Even if everyone in the country did this 'small action' the net effect would be negligible.

2. The fact that we are in a total mess over energy policy. Even if we were to pave the nation with solar panels, stick wind turbines in the sea in an area twice the size of Wales and use all our land area to grow energy crops, that is not going to meet the demand. Sadly, renewables are not going to power our country any time soon.

This is an important issue for us greenies. We protest about nuclear power (a campaign which I support) and incineration (which I support), worry about wind turbines (which I don't) and tidal barriers (which I'm not sure about), complain about energy crops (which I can see might be an issue where they to become widespread, but I think that is unlikely) and protest new fossil fuel power stations (another cause I support). But we don't have a good alternative explanation of where we are going to get energy from.

I am currently writing a comment piece about global fashion. In doing research, I found out that some Sub-Saharan African countries are importing vast volumes of Second-hand European clothing. For some, it represents over 80% of all imports. In Ghana, 60% of all clothing sales are in Second-hand clothing.

Now, to me, this is an unethical trade - something our sorry excuse for a society has created by deciding certain people are only fit for our hand-me-downs. On the other hand, we're not going to be able to stop the trade without major changes in the global fashion industry and in the way we think of clothing when we want to stop wearing it. Also, millions of very poor people depend on it. There is no point in complaining about this trade without a) finding a better use for the clothing and b) thinking about the poor people who would be affected if it suddenly stopped. It would be interesting to snap my fingers and stop it. It would be good if we hadn't got to this position. But I cannot will it away.

In the same way, I cannot pretend the energy problem is easily solved by willpower.

Again, I recommend all readers of this blog to download the book and read it for themselves even if it only provokes questions and further thought on the issues.

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