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hunter's Journal
hunter's Journal
February 26, 2017

I wonder if the nursing home will take him back.

My grandma was exactly the sort who'd inexplicably have two hand grenades in her refrigerator. She was a bag lady who happened to own a house and a good pension too but she had to be removed from her house as a danger to herself and others. No nursing home would tolerate her for long so she'd end up living with my parents in the master bedroom with her equally awful cat. I have scars on my body from the cat and scars in my head from my grandma. It doesn't help that I've inherited at least a quarter of my grandma's crazy. Fortunately there are good meds for that now.

Thankfully my grandma didn't pass her smoking habit on to me so I'll probably live at least as long as her crazy mom did. My grandma's mom was True Hard Wild West. As a kid I'd watch mesmerized as she'd cut apart fish, birds, and small mammals for dinner, sometimes still steaming with body heat, faster than I could follow the movements of her hands. My great grandma was also the sort who'd've killed any bad man who'd crossed her and then called her friend the sheriff-coroner to clean up the mess and file the proper papers. All four of my great grandmas were steely eyed women of the Wild West, skilled in the arts of guns, knives, and words that cut to the bone.

When I'm in my nineties I'll consider myself successful if they find something scary in my refrigerator. A plutonium battery or some glow-in-the-dark tritium, even a bit of antimatter would be pretty damned cool. But the testicles of my enemies, fingers, and other Berserker trophies, not so much. We're not pacifists in my family for any noble reasons, it's mostly by necessity.

February 6, 2017

Why the falling cost of light matters

By Tim Harford
BBC World Service

Back in the mid-1990s, an economist called William Nordhaus conducted a series of simple experiments with light.

First, he used a prehistoric technology: he lit a wood fire.

But Prof Nordhaus also had a piece of hi-tech equipment with him - a Minolta light meter.

He burned 20lb (9kg) of wood, kept track of how long it burned for and carefully recorded the dim, flickering firelight with his meter.



Imagine now if we all used as little artificial light as Benjamin Franklin did... a few one watt LEDs would be adequate. But that's not how it works.

There's an LED streetlight in front of our house that's crazy bright. Fortunately it's directed onto the streets and sidewalks better than the sodium vapor streetlight it replaced, which was always casting it's eerie orange glow into our house. The LED lamp is more like natural moonlight.

I've got seven nine watt LED can lights blazing down into my kitchen. They brighten up the room considerably, even when it's sunny outside, thus they are always on when I'm cooking. I value my fingers when I'm using a sharp knife, and I want to see the quality of my food.

So it's all a matter of expectations and income. I expect a bright kitchen and I can easily afford the lamps and the electricity.

Do I need all this light? No. I'm pretty sure I could live without the streetlights, without the bright light in the kitchen. I suspect I could be quite comfortable with a one amp electrical service to my house rather than a ninety amp electrical service. (This is green California. 90 Amp service is residential building code minimum, not 200.) Do I live as if I have a one amp service? No. I just put a load of clothes in the washing machine and that draws more than one amp of 118 volts electricity. But we could build a washing machine that uses less.

These questions become even stickier when we consider transportation. Are automobiles and airliners necessary things?

I don't think we are going to solve any of our environmental problems by technological improvements. If we chose to reduce our fossil fuel use then we have to reduce our fossil fuel use. That means shutting down fossil fuel power plants, and shutting down the refineries that make transportation fuels, and letting the chips fall where they may. Solar, wind, and other energy technologies are not going to magically replace fossil fuels.

I often do the thought experiment of "what would happen if solar panels were FREE? Would they replace gas fired power plants?" No they would not. There is a certain cost of installing and maintaining solar panels, and storing the energy they produce for times when the sun is not shining is not a trivial problem.

What might happen instead is that more gas power plants would be built to back up the "free" solar power as more people in the world begin to enjoy the kind of lighting I enjoy in my kitchen, and the kinds of machines that wash my clothes.

I wouldn't even call this any kind of paradox.

Instead I consider it a flaw of our economic system. This thing we call "economic productivity" is in fact a direct measure of the damage we are doing to the earth's natural environment and our own human spirit.

The sort of "work ethic" our society celebrates is killing us. These sorts of work ethics are of great temporary utility in warrior cultures and that's why they spread, but they are unsustainable in the long run.

GliderGuider has expressed the same sort of opinions in more existential terms, but mostly I'm just musing on how easy it is to become a shill for innovative technologies that won't "save" us unless we make fundamental changes in the way we approach environmental problems.

"More stuff!" is what got us into this mess. More stuff, even stuff judged good and economically desirable by certain environmental activists, won't get us out of this mess.

Profile Information

Name: Hunter
Gender: Male
Current location: California
Member since: 2002
Number of posts: 37,960

About hunter

I'm a very dangerous fellow when I don't know what I'm doing.

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