My Essay for Tommywonk

March 18, 2007

This is my entry in the Tommywonk Energy Essay Contest.  Please create your own entry, but feel free to use mine in any way you see fit.

We tend to have this vision of energy as a rare and wonderfully complicated thing. In reality, we see energy in almost everything. Poets write lovingly of the sun on their faces, the wind in their hair and the surf pounding on the shore. All of these are energy.

We have created energy by burning things since the discovery of fire. It is a simple and powerful model that we have harnessed in amazing ways: from a massive network of interconnected power grids to putting men on the moon. But our simple model is beginning to fail us.

The problem that we now face is twofold. First, the scale at which we burn things is doing damage to our planet. Whether one agrees with global warming or not, pollution’s effects on the planet and humans is unchallenged. Second, the things that we burn these days are finite. Whether you believe that we have 50 or 100 years of fossil fuels, you must believe that we will run into a situation where the scarcity of the fuels will, in the foreseeable future, impact our way of life in profound ways.

The amount of pollutants released by coal plants is sizable. One of the stories that I find most illustrative of this point occurred several years ago during a massive power outage. The power grid failed spectacularly on August 14th, 2003 blacking out huge portions of the Northeastern U.S. As a result, over 100 coal-fired power plants in the Ohio valley went offline and stopped burning fuel.

Researchers from the University of Maryland recognized this as a rare opportunity to look at the immediate effects of taking coal power plants offline.  They analyzed the air east of the Ohio River by airplane. The highlights are:

  • Sulphur dioxide levels in Pennsylvania down 90%
  • Ozone levels in Pennsylvania down 50%
  • Particle light scattering was down by 70%
  • NOx emissions from power plants down 20%
  • SO2 emissions from power plants down by a third
  • Visibility was increased by 20 miles
  • In Washington, DC, a predicted “Code-Red” air quality rating never materialized

These are the effects of just 24 hours offline. The effects are immediate and close to home. Imagine if we could take those plants offline 100 days a year. Or 200 days a year. These are achievable goals.

Fossil fuels are finite. In many cases they are not yet scarce, but their increasing scarcity has influenced geopolitics and global economics, caused massive environmental losses and cost thousands of lives in the defense of the free movement of fuel. Oil may have already peaked in production. If not, the growing demand of China, India and Europe are certain to hasten a day of reckoning. “Peak Oil” may be decades off, but it is coming and we will need to be ready.

While the scarcity of coal is nowhere near the situation with oil, it hosts its own issues. Environmental impacts of mining, health effects on miners, and loss of earth formations through mountaintop removal all extract a high price. In addition, there have been discussions of “carbon taxes” that could add an artificial cost to monetize the actual environmental damage done by massive CO2 emissions.

Natural gas is dealing with a scarcity problem as well as a transport issue. The estimated world reserves of energy from natural gas is just over half of that of oil. Pipelines carry natural gas across this country and the price increases as you move away from Texas due to the length of the pipeline. We are not close to Texas. Anyone that has been reading the papers in the past few years knows the issues that alternative methods of transporting natural gas are difficult to complete, especially here in Delaware.

There are non-polluting, virtually inexhaustible sources of energy available. These harness geology and astrophysical sources of energy to convert to electricity. Gravity drives hydro-power and tidal turbines. The sun drives photovoltaics, heat-exchangers and even wind turbines. Neither of these sources are in danger of exhaustion in the foreseeable future. And if they did, we have much bigger problems.

Finally, there are fusion and fission to harness the energy that is elemental to this universe. Ultimately these may be the answer, but the technology has not yet developed to a point that they are technologically and/or politically feasible.

Of the three proposals on the table for the first state of the union, only one is based on a view forward to a day when energy and environmental concerns are in balance. The proposed wind farm would harness 1/3 of the available energy to be harvested in the Delaware offshore. Additional fields can be installed down the road to actually feed additional energy into the grid. Even if we can turn off some of the Ohio Valley power plants a few days a week. We are making our air cleaner, our water safer, our citizens healthier and our sky bluer.

Delaware has an opportunity to install a forward-thinking, fixed cost, aesthetically pleasing and safe power plant. We should grab this opportunity and make a bold statement to the rest of the states that there is a reason that we are the first state. As with the ratification of the Constitution, we as a people, know a good deal when we see it. We know when to stand up first and say “I’m in.” This is that time.

AIPAC Case May Expose Back-Channel Intelligence Sharing

February 21, 2007

There is an interesting analysis up at Secrecy News.  Apparently, the AIPAC case (essentially an Israeli spy-ring) puts the government in the position of proving that the Isaelis believed what they did was illegal.  But if this was back-channel information sharing, then the guys had every reason to believe that what they were doing was OK, because U.S. officials gave it to them.  This could be interesting.

Internet voting a reality for Estonia

February 21, 2007

I have to admit, being a geek makes me a cynic about stuff like this. Estonia is going to do their elections on the Internet with some sort of triple check that you are who you say you are. I get the feeling that for a few hundred thousand and a heck of a ground game, I could be the new President of Estonia. They held a mock election last week to elect the “King of the Forest” Word is that the Moose lost due to a last minute split of the “incredibly huge animal” constituency when the Green Party candidate Ralph “The Elk” Nader joined the race. The Elk claimed that Moose and Squirrel were both corrupt and that he was the only real choice.


February 17, 2007

I feel like I have a lot of people relying on me to keep DelawareLiberal up to date.  I must admit, being a geek with a background in behavior modification, I have been watching the number of hits that the site has gotten.  It has been without an uptick since Jason left on Valentines day.  I am encouraged by a flurry of comments today though…

This week I also put together a mailing to about 20 friends about the windfarm.  I know that at least 3 of them have sent letters as a direct result, so that helps.  This next week I hope to get a handle of managing both sites and try to split my time more evenly.  I am on vacation through Tuesday, so I don’t know if that will help or hurt.  Thanks for stopping by.

Patrick Murphy Rocks!

February 14, 2007

Way to go Patrick. This is an emboldened leader. Let’s hear from the rest of the fighting Dems.

Love Letters to Politicians

February 14, 2007

It is Valentines Day. I think we should spread some love to those that are serving the public good.

George Bush

You don’t know much about history
You don’t know much about biology
You don’t know much about the science book
You don’t know much about the French you took
But you do know that neocons love you
And I know that if you love them too
What a terrible world this will be.

Dick Cheney

Fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too

Mike Castle

Roses are red
Violets are blue
You can beat Spivack
And still have no clue

Tom Carper

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Joe Biden

Love is gentle
Love is kind
Love is articulate
Love is clean

Ruth Ann Minner

Say you don’t want no gaseous coal,
And I’ll be satisfied,
Tell me that you want the kind of things,
That coal burning just can’t buy,
For I don’t care to much for coal burning.
For coal burning can’t buy me air.

John Carney

Yeah, I wish I had a pencil thin mustache
Then I could run for Guv’ner too

Jack Markell

Dear John,…

Emboldening our leadership

February 13, 2007

I almost threw up today. John Boehner said on the floor of the house today about how we were emboldening the enemy by even discussing the vote of no confidence in the cockamamie surge idea. I love John Stewart’s take on this.

It is time to say screw the terrorists. We have a democracy to run here. If we don’t criticize boneheaded moves, the terrorists win. If we don’t stand up for what’s right for America, the terrorists win. We need bold leadership, and if they aren’t bold enough, we got to get to some serious emboldening of our own. Mike Castle, grow a spine on this issue.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

February 13, 2007

AnnaNicole Smith photos have surfaced showing her in the embrace of a Bahamian immigration official. Was she trying to influence him to gain citizenship? Who cares! Was Scooter Libby trying to influence Tim Russert, the NYT and other MSM figures? That’s a real question. How about “Are we trying to provoke Iran into another bloody conflict?” Hell, I’ll even take news about Kumbaya being sung at the 6 party talks on North Korea. But please, no more of this drug-addled, dysfunctional slut. I’m the father of the child. I confess. Can we please move on to improve our schools, health and standing in the international community?

So now there are 4 branches of Government?

February 10, 2007

DickLooks like Dick Cheney has been busy.  He has been setting up a fourth branch of government for himself.  He claims that he is not of the executive branch, nor the legislative branch.  Although if he had to pick, he’d say that he’s legislative.  But the real issue seems to be classified documents.  Dick is classifying them, but doesn’t feel compelled by orders issued to the executive branch. (h/t Kos)

Obama is in it to win it

February 10, 2007

Today, you may have noticed that Barak Obama announced that he is a candidate for President.  I am overjoyed by this.  Obama represents all that is good with the Democratic Party.  He has an open mind, he is passionate, smart, funny and lots of other things that Joe Biden will never say about anyone again.  Obama is my man, unless Gore runs


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