This is the THIRD of FIVE efforts to profile global energy issues
and relate that to similar challenges with water, climate, and food.
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Gravity in Reverse
The following quotations are from
an essay by, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium. It was
originally published in Natural History Magazine and
reprinted in The Best American Science Writing 2004,
Harper Collins 2004.
"Cosmology has always been weird. Worlds resting on the backs of turtles, matter and energy coming into existence out of
much less than thin air. And now, just when you'd gotten familiar, if not really comfortable, with the idea of a big bang,
along comes something new to worry about. A mysterious and universal pressure pervades all of space and acts against the
cosmic gravity that has tried to drag the universe back together ever since the big bang. On top of that, "negative
gravity" has forced the expansion of the universe to accelerate exponentially, and cosmic gravity is losing the tug-of-war."
And he concludes...
"...Galaxies now visible will disappear beyond an unreachable horizon. In a trillion or so years, anyone
alive in our own galaxy may know nothing of other galaxies.
Our - or our alien Milky Way bretheren's -
observable universe will merely comprise a system of nearby stars. Beyond the starry night will lie an endless void,
without form: "darkness upon the face of the deep."
I read this as
an analogy for earth's predicament. Global population growth and expanding economies are stretching against the boundaries
of natural systems that we have assumed would hold together indefinitely. Now, be it water, soil, endangered species, oil,
the atmosphere, or food, they all seem caught in a
"tug-of-war" and the glue, as we have known it, seems to be coming apart.
Our challenge is here right now. What can individuals do to pull in the direction of balance? .
Web Link - about Neil deGrasse Tyson
I would like to point out that the same book, The Best American Science Writing 2004 also contains an essay by
Michael Pollan, titled 'Cruising on the Ark of Taste' about the Slow Food Movement.
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It is good to get some things clear about "energy". The word, energy, refers to the capacity to do work.
To get at how the word is used in media and conversation these days, it helps to distinguish between
"capacity" in the form of a natural or manmade resources and "work" like, what work needs doing.
A ready example is the resouce oil and the work of transportation. But
it could also be water and electricity.
The global issue with oil is transportation and thus gasoline consumption (oil's use for generating
electric power is insignificant at 2%).
On the other hand, the issue with electricity is burning the fossil fuel, coal to generate 55% of it
(others include 23% nuclear, 12% hydro, 8% gas and 2% oil).
The graph shows what the "big picture" of oil consumption looks like if
seen in a 4000 year window. Obviously the intent is to dramatize the finite nature of oil as a resource.
It is pretty well agreed among experts that we are at the peak of that graph right now as far
as consumption of reserves is concerned.
There may be widely varying opinions about what the down slope of the graph may look like.
It took about 100 years to reach the peak of the graph and, if this picture is to be believed,
it will take another 100 years to hit bottom. That doesn't sound immediately threatening until you look at the cost
side of this picture
This graph is about supply, not about price. A price graph (for the down side) may be an almost
exact opposite. That graph would show that right now the price of oil
is at the low starting point for the next 100 years.
It is frequently said that when people feel the bite in their wallets they will get serious about gasoline
conservation. That seems true. But the down slope of the graph
may impact life styles beyond the gas pump.
The globe depends on oil (gasoline) for food production, transportation, and the movement of
consumer goods. As oil production tightens, all of these systems may be stressed.
Frankly, if there were a sudden large shortage the only communities to be substantially unaffected
would be Third World rural communities that still operate as closed local economies.
Note: Today the state of Texas produces one quarter of the oil per day that it was producing
Perhaps technology will outpace the problem. It has happened before and the rewards here could be huge.
I do believe that we are taking baby steps into the next world without really
being aware of the end goal. By expanding on the following we can make a
difference in years to come.
Expansion of local living economies which require minimal outside resourcing. (see LLE's at BALLE Alliance)
Local energy (wind, solar, hydro and other)
Expanded use of the Internet for business and pleasure
Work from home flextime jobs
Ride a bike and more?
Pedestrianization of communities
Co-op Housing - no less comfortable or personal
More efficient and effective use of land, materials and energy
In addition to water being the basic sustaining fluid of life, it also has
inherent power when in motion. Similar to wind, moving water tries to move things in its path and in so
doing performs work. This power is harnessed and converted
to electricity worldwide.
In 2005 about 12% of electricity in the U.S. is produced by hydro power.
What are the advantages of hydro electricity?
"The "fuel" for hydro electricity is renewable and cheap. The only cost of hydro electricity are the expenses for building
and maintaining the power stations and the dams. There are no costs for fuel or the transportation of such. The whole
process is also environmentally friendly as it does not create any air, chemical, water or thermal pollution.
What are the setbacks of hydro electricity?
"Although hydro electricity has many advantages, there are still quite a few setbacks. The increase of water level
might provide a better habitat for fish, but it could also destroy the habitat for humans and other species' by the
flooding of land.
Along with the disruption of natural orders, flooding also threatens historical landmarks found alongside the river system.
In the case of the Three Gorges Dams Project in China, many historical sites, such as temples and castles were immersed
with the water and 1.2 million people had to be moved."
source: St. Mary's College - http://www.saintmarys.edu/~rtarara/ENERGY_PROJECT/hydro.htm
Web Link - St. Mary's College - Energy Project
"In the United States, it would be possible to produce 50 percent of total electricity through hydropower by the year 2100.
In order for this to be possible, every available resource must be tapped. We would need to build 197 large dams (1000 MW) or
4300 small dams (50 MW), or 10,000 low head generators (25 MW), or a combination of three. This all costing 1 million dollars
per megawatt. We would need 50,000 square miles of land to accomodate these plans. Overall, hydro power is a cheap, renewable,
and efficient means of electricity. However, it is not likely that the United States will tap every available resource in the
next 100 years."
source: ORACLE ThinkQuest, Education Foundation - http://library.thinkquest.org/26366/text/alternative/hydro.html
Web Link - ORACLE ThinkQuest, Education Foundation