Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hands Off the Water Part II

See that smiling dude on the right there? That's Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico and presidential hopeful. A couple weeks ago he suggested a National Water Policy, saying that "states like Wisconsin are awash in water."

Translation: Let's take their water!

Unfortunately the Great Lakes are occasionally a political bargaining chip as our national political folks pander to the growing west by offering them our water. Water diversion from the Great Lakes water basin is a very real danger.

Hey, I know. While we're moving Michigan's water to the arid west, let's move Iowa's fertile soil to South Dakota, we'll move Kentucky's coal mines to Minnesota, and as a Michigan resident I've always felt we missed out on trade because we don't have access to the Pacific ocean, so we should shave off portions of the the states between Michigan and the Pacific so we can have the same level of trade as California...which will be fine because all of our fresh water will be in Las Vegas anyway. Everybody wins.

With six quadrillion gallons, or 5,472 cubic miles of fresh water, the Great Lakes seem like all the fresh water in the world when in fact it's only 20% of all the fresh water in the world. We are indeed awash in water. More like seas than lakes, they affect the weather and are a way of life for the thirty million people who live within the water basin. And yet, it shouldn't be moved to accommodate unsustainable settlements in inherently dry regions. The Lakes are not simply a commodity to be bought and sold.

As Michigan loses jobs and citizens to other parts of the country, growing states out west are asking us to help them continue wooing companies and taking our jobs by sending them our water, too. As it turns out, their growth is wildly unsustainable due to an inherent limit to vital resources.

See...these states court national businesses and manufacturing claiming a high standard of living and a clear growth momentum, pointing out that states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are the old guard with an aging infrastructure. Meanwhile they wring their hands about lacking the most essential ingredient to human life and civilization...water. So they come knocking on our door asking for ours, or as Bill Richardson suggests, they simply take it.

Look at civilizations and cities around the world from antiquity on. They tend to be built on or near bodies of water. Without that, growth is unsustainable. It's a historical fact. And the fact is, the very thing that made Chicago, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New York important manufacturing and economic centers is the very thing western states don't have enough of. Why should we help them take our jobs by sending them our most precious resource? The most precious resource in the world? And when when the water gets there, will it find its way back into the Great Lakes basin? No. The Great Lakes simply shrink and shrink and shrink.

As climate change continues to exacerbate drought and water shortages, this issue will become more pressing and more political figures will attempt to sell out our resources and eco-system for political gain. We need to tell them to go stuff it. If businesses want our water, they need to move where there's water.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Don't Look At My Water!

YOU! I see you. I see you eyeing up my Lake with those lust filled eyes like my Lake was put here on earth for your gratification. Well, stop it you sick bastard. Cuz you're not getting a drop. Not a single drop. You want WATER? You come live where there's water. All you city managers and civil engineers out there in LasVegas belly aching about your dwindling water supply need to suck it up and realize you managed to build a metropolis in the middle of the frickin' desert. No water? Holy crap. Who would have guessed? No water in The Frickin' Desert.

I recently read an article about the effects of global warming on water supplies, and it sounds like things are going to get pretty tight, and probably forever. And so naturally, eyeballs turn to this vast chunk of fresh water in the Midwest, this beautiful and unique ecosystem. That's when my dander starts to rise.

The answer is no. No. You don't get a DROP. We're not going to drain the oceans and flatten the mountains because everybody wants absolute choice. We're not going to strip all the topsoil from Iowa because people in LA want to grow corn in their front yards. And we're not going to siphon off water from the Great Lakes because civilizations chose to settle in locations unsustainable for vast populations.

Yes, I value the lives of my fellow man, and feel they are entitled to clean, safe drinking water. All I ask is that people value their own lives enough to live within proximity of it. We're not going to export water away from the Great Lakes. And that's that.

Global warming sucks. And it's drying up previously reliable sources of water for many places in the United States. The solution is not to engage in the same tampering that got us in this mess in the first place. Those of us living along the Great Lakes watch them recede more each year, and watch channels dry up removing shipping ports, commercial fishing ports, and revenue from recreational use of these lakes.

Keep your cotton picking hands off our water.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The DC Show

I like everything about the United States system except for the people running it.

Here's my plan for fixing it:

We build a Great Big Dome that looks like the sky from the inside, like on the Truman Show. And we place it over Washington DC. Then we just start a new capital someplace else, with exactly the same rules...just different people. The CIA can come, too, as long as they don't put me on some crazy list.

Meanwhile, we can let the ""statesmen in DC think they're still in power, except it would be for our entertainment instead of For Real. We can feed them fake national events and see how they respond, or send them emergency calls...we can create airplanes with tinted windows that make them think they're flying to important meetings. Of course it would all be televised. Don't worry about their wellbeing...we'd feed them and water them and change their litter boxes as needed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Black Gold

Step back for a moment and look at how awesome we have it in the United States, from a global and historical standpoint.

Inkeeping with my recent fascination with wood as a source for energy and heat, today I learned how much coal it takes to run a light bulb per year.

See that light bulb? It takes about 746 pounds of coal to run that light bulb for a year, assuming Normal Use.

746 pounds. Of coal. To run a light bulb for a year with normal use. People go several thousand feet under the earth, stick dynamite into holes in a cave, blast out coal, and haul it up from the belly of the earth. Then they ship it all over the country to feed the power plants.

Now...coal is considered Energy Dense compared to most other potential energy sources. The fact that it takes over a quarter ton to light a bulb for a year isn't a deficit on the part of coal. It's simply revealing how much energy we actually use. We use a lot.

Estimate about 7 pounds of coal per annual kWh. A modern refridgerator takes well over 4000 pounds of coal for a year. 18,000 pounds for the AC. 746 pounds per lightbulb. 4000 pound for the computer, and so on and so on.

You see where I'm going with this. The average household consumes 15,600 kWh of electricity per year, or 109,200 pounds of coal per household. Each one of us has a mountain of coal set aside just for us.

This, of course, is awesome. I mean, wow! This is a huge, graphic testament to the efficiency of our economic system and economies of scale. To personally produce the amount of energy you'd need to keep your standard of living, you'd need to haul 95 tones of coal from the ground each year.

This is by no means a condemnation of our energy usage. But we should realize just how MUCH power we use, and most of it comes from coal. Nationwide we're looking at at least 11,000,000,000,000 pounds of coal brought up from the ground and pumped into the atmosphere each ear in the United States alone. That's over 11 TRILLION pounds of buried coal, set aflame and put back into the atmosphere Each Year. It's impossible to believe that has no impact on the atmospheric makeup. Imagine lighting a cigarette in a football stadium. Now imagine everybody lighting a cigarette in a football stadium. How long will it take before somebody walks in and says "I smell cigarettes."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I See Living Things

If you've ever looked at one of those hidden picture activities as a kid, or one of those headache inducing 3D pictures they had in the 90s, you know that it takes a little while for the brain to know how to look for something. But once you see it, you wonder how you ever missed it.

I remember this lamp shade I grew up with as a child. I clearly remember this patch of blue and yellow and white lit up by the lamp. It was always there, that mottled mix of colors. Then, one day, I remember looking at it and suddenly realizing the white splotch was a sail attached to a ship on a stormy ocean. I could never go back to seeing that lamp shade the same way again.

In a flash it went from a chaotic jumble of color to a meaningful picture.

Try to look at letters and words as meaningless symbols and it requires a strain to remove meaning from them.

There's that moment between seeing chaos and seeing patterns, where the threshold is crossed and it can't be undone.

Some day in the not-too-distant future we will find life beyond Earth, no matter how lowly or small. And when that day happens, we'll start to find it everywhere. It'll be all over. And we'll wonder how we ever missed it.

Recently the Cassini probe discovered why Saturn's moon Iapetus seemed to darken and lighten as it orbited Saturn. Dark, organic-rich material is spread across a whole hemisphere. Meanwhile jets of fine water have been observed spraying from an ice fracture on the moon Enceladus. Some day soon we're going to find alien critters, and from then on we'll find a universe steeped in life.

Why does that matter?

Once we find it there will be a brief period of awe and wonder. Some will deny it - The same jerks who deny moon landings, holocausts, and the spherical nature of the Earth, and so on. The nutjobs and people with something to prove. But overall, there will be wonder and amazement. And then, it will be normal. We'll go to work and talk about it at the water coolers. Then we'll talk about sports. Then family. Then so and so's health. And alien life will fade in importance to our lives. Religion, and politics, and economics will continue to be conduits of power just as it has always been. There will be no dramatic moment where our leaders see their own hubris and lay down guns and suspicion and all the wonderful tools of power. Meanwhile everybody will find in this event a way to confirm his or her own life view.

We'll discover a universe of life and our lives will pretty much be the same.

So why does it matter?

Because as far as we know, we are the consciousness of the universe and all of our eggs are in one very small basket. Today all evidence points to Earth as the sole inhabited planet in the universe. Talk statistics all you like, but on evidence alone, we're it. When we're gone, consciousness, art, science are gone. And it takes one asteroid to wipe that spec from existence. When we find life, our lives will be the same, but our perception of the universe as a cold, barren, and hostile environment will evaporate. Like Polynesians watching the migratory patterns of birds before setting off on a vast ocean trek, we will begin to speculate about where we might set off in search of a second and third home.

Finding life will be the moment we grow up and realize that the universe is ours for the taking.

I like to imagine that ten thousand years from now a father will be telling his little boy about some place far away where people all came from.

Tonight Oscar sat on my lap and we explored Google Mars online, and he spoke in the dreamy way he does when his imagination has taken over. He asked to go to Mars. He suggested we sell the car and buy a rocket ship so we can go to Mars and see the Mars Robots.

We talked about how the Mars Robots are looking around for life. He suggested that maybe the robots will find worms and eat them.

I told him, "That would be so awesome."

Friday, October 5, 2007

Lignin Dreams

Plagued by a drive toward self reliance? No? Well I am. And I've got a massive pile of wood to prove it. But not massive enough apparently.

This year we're heating our house with wood. The Lady and I got an attractive and efficient fireplace insert installed where our regular fireplace used to be. Loaded up, it keeps our home comfy.

How much wood do you need to heat your house all winter? As it turns out, a LOT. A lot of damn wood. At least five cords. What's a cord? I didn't really know until I started this whole adventure. A cord is a HUGE amount of wood. It's a legal volume, a neat stack of wood measuring 128 cubic feet, or 8' x 4' x 4'. Or about 3000 pounds of wood. Five cords then would be a wall of split wood 40' long x 4' high x 4' wide and 15,000 pounds.

It really gives me perspective on why everybody turned to natural gas. You can move it from here to there. You don't have to carry it into the house every night. And you don't have to chop it into smaller pieces.

But still...a rotting tree gives off as much CO2 as a burned tree, so I'm not adding any extra CO2 into the atmosphere with this, while CO2 from natural gas is dredged up from a bazillion years ago. Some folks say the particles in wood make it a bad pollutant...I'm going to settle in the middle and guess it's at least not worse, and it's a far sight cheaper than natural gas...and it's renewable. A acre of well managed woodland can produce up to a cord of renewable wood each year, so with 90 million acres of Michigan woodland there's plenty to go around without forest shrinkage.

So far I'm up to a little over two cords stacked up in the garage with smaller piles dotting our yard. Our neighbors seem amused and ask how the wood is coming along. They offer up the wood or dead trees in their yards. They actually offer to let me clean up their yard waste. And the worst part is...I actually WANT to. I've learned quite a bit about tree identification and their various fuel values. When I see a fallen tree in somebody's yard I start sizing it up in terms of British Thermal Units. Some say my wood adventure is obsessive, I prefer the term "Herculean."

Here is where I process, or "beat the hell out of" wood. It's very theraputic, and Julie helps me cut by teaching me the basics of Samurai swordplay. WHACK! Oscar likes to heckle me while I cut as he watches me from afar "Oh! You missed!"

I store my precious wood pile in the garage to keep her dry. This is about a cord and a half. I need five cords.