Monthly Archives: July 2012

Eeyore and the Future of the Electric Car

Pessimism is a magical personality quality. Like Harry Potter, it belongs to everyone and it’s often dusted off when a new Twilight movie comes out. It draws down moods and gives grit to an otherwise clear picture. Yet at the same time, we need it to temper any complacency or illusion we have about things. In this case, we’re poking at the future of green automobiles. Steven Ashley, scientific writer, recently wrote a BBC column on how unlikely it is for gas-powered car to become outdated, making some very excellent points about the technological, political, and economic reality of the auto industry.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I get it. Here’s the snapshot about the future of automobiles: We’re not sure. We’re not sure about how easily electric vehicles can replace gas ones, especially trucks and 18-wheelers. We’re not sure about the cost and time invested in green power grids. It’s the simple truth that at this point in time in the research, we can’t say if fossil fuels will disappear from cars in our lifetime. Steven Ashley only offers the hope we’re making progress, such as lithium air batteries that can be an important step forward in a fully electric car.

While I think Steven Ashley makes excellent points on the reality of electric vehicles as they stand now, I think he might be jumping the gun on how much hope to assign to its future. I can understand how he can be tentative in admitting optimism; the science is still being worked out. The last time we had pie-in-the-sky designs on the future, Marty McFly was still playing on his hoverboard. But I personally have more faith in the thousands of brilliant and dedicated minds working on this problem. Our ability to discover things has been booming at a practically exponential rate. From particle physics to seedless watermelons, we’ve made leaps and bounds. I don’t think we should start slumping our shoulders and sighing like Eeyore about the state of electric cars. Instead we should be supporting and believing in our scientists and engineers. Steven Ashley gives excellent grounding to our expectations so if what happens falls short, it’s not a big deal. I can respect that. However, he cites what’s known for hope like lithium air batteries but things like hope are generally found in faith and faith is not grounded in what is known. It is grounded in what we wish.

I have faith in the hardworking scientists of the world. I have faith that there will be a breakthrough in my lifetime. In the meantime, I’m going to sigh like Eeyore. Not because I’m a mopey hypocrite. I just like Eeyore. That donkey was my introduction to existentialism at eight years of age.

Eeyore: The Ultimate Pessimist

Source: Wikipedia

Chin up. You’ll find that tail.

Sunny Side Up

What is the most under appreciated thing in your life? If you said your mom, you’re right. If you said electricity, you’re even more right.

Not that Right.

Electricity is something of a miracle in both modern life and a purely scientific sense, but it’s so commonplace that we’ve simply accepted it. However, even if the average person doesn’t contemplate their outlet, other people do. Well, more specifically, researchers at the University of Berkeley and U.S. Department of Energy do. These fantastic (and likely under appreciated) people have pioneered a way for solar cells to be made from any semiconductor, such as relatively cheap metal oxides or phosphides. This is a tremendous step forward to sustainability.

Metal oxides and phosphides were previously too unstable to be used. Also, the chemical treatment that could stabilize them was so cost ineffective that it was better to use existing rare and expensive semiconductors like silicon or cadmium telluride.

So why is this a big deal?

For environmental enthusiasts, this means that solar panels can be created at a far cheaper rate and going off grid has become easier. For political people, it means an opening has been made to reduce demand for rare earth materials from China. For everybody else, it means potentially cheaper, renewable energy. Renewable energy is the thousand dollar prize here and what’s more renewable than a 4.5 billion year old ball of nuclear fire?

All State and Dennis Haysbert: Together again

Source: WordPress

Your car insurance?

Solar energy is usually derided for not being cost-effective and that’s because it’s expensive to build solar panels and the resultant conversion of light to useful energy barely ever touches more than 30%. However, solar panels are still being researched alongside its far more popular cousin, the combustion engine. Combustion engines are still being worked on to improve fuel efficiency because despite more than a century of development, the full potential energy of a gallon of gas isn’t being tapped, which is dangerously wasteful given that we have only so much oil and so many automobiles. With this in mind, detractors should give solar panels time to mature as they do with the combustion engine. Renewable energy is not just about reducing reliance on fossil fuels but also about planning for sustainability. In essence, I am talking about the long game where every human being from this point on will be playing in. Billions upon billions of people that we may never see but will forever affect.

So let’s appreciate this step forward as much as we do our mothers.

Sustainability: Buzzword Extraordinaire

Buzzwords are the highest form of lie. If I talked about Web 2.0, crowdsourcing, and metrics all the time, people might make the mistake of thinking that I know what I’m talking about. Nowadays, anybody can appear to be an expert with a strong wi-fi signal, especially people who write on the internet.

Hi, there.

Sustainability is my word of the day because despite having used it all the time, I realize that I have no idea what it means. Specifically, I have no idea if it means the same thing to me as it does to everybody else. I’ve had a number of responses to what it means that range from vague—

To good old fashioned B.S. I call this guy Steve Holt.

To the nonsensical.

However, I like the word and don’t want to throw anybody off from my use of it. Sustainability has become something of a buzzword. Buzzwords are often used to cover up how little the person knows about the subject. In this case, environmentalism. Environmental poseurs love the crap out of this term and its kin like “biodiversity” or “organically grown” since it gives the appearance of knowledge and wisdom. And that’s all it is in the end. It is appearance. Inside this blog, this word is only going to be used the way words are meant to be used: communication. The means to convey what I think to whomever may be listening, either with their eyes, ears, or whatever Google fixes up in the future.

Sustainability in my little corner of the internet means “responsible natural resource management in the long game” or more simply “live within your means”. The long game is living as a whole species. As it stands right now, there are reports that we’re consuming 50% more resources than the Earth actually has. Essentially, we’re that sorority girl who thinks a credit card is a plastic wand and American Apparel is Hogwarts. It’s not “sustainable”. And as we’ve learned from our recent recession, we can’t take on debts that we can never pay back. In the confines of this blog, sustainability is a buzzword that will transform into a real word with real substance and authenticity that add to a discussion. And that is my mandate for this blog: to be authentic and substantial to the environmental discussion.

Welcome to Embracing Our Environment.