Thursday, August 23, 2007
I still haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth. That should get top priority on my list. I had a conversation with a friend the other day that seems to come up often - why don't we all drive electric cars? Apparently there is a movie that addresses this question, called What Happened to the Electric Car? or something like that. I want to see that too.
The problem I have whenever this topic comes up is that people don't seem fully aware of the concept of energy transfer. Electricity isn't magic. Nothing is. Getting myself from my house to work every day requires energy. Currently I drive a car. The engine burns gasoline and the energy released propels my car at potentially high speeds. In addition, pollutants like CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere.
If I had an electric car no pollutants would be emitted by my car. But the electricity doesn't appear out of thin air - it has to be created somewhere, like at a nuclear, coal or hydroelectric power plant. Is that really a better system for getting millions of people to work every day? It's better for Los Angeles, because the air will be cleaner here. But the air will be much worse wherever the coal plant is, or a tremendous amount of habitat will be destroyed by diverting river water for hydro plants, or a lot more nuclear waste will be created.
I don't think the two scenarios are equal, and as my friend pointed out an electric car wouldn't require much (if any) oil and the engine would be much cleaner in general - thereby allowing cars to run more cleanly and efficiently. Also, I have no idea how efficient the gasoline refining process is; it could very well be less efficient than the coal-to-electricity or nuclear-to-electricity processes.
All this boils down to the fact that we need to reduce our energy needs. That is the only way to ensure a reduction in net pollution. Unfortunately, this is rarely addressed in the political and media arenas. Sure, we could follow Brazil's lead and invest heavily in corn and ethanol production and eventually become free from dependence on foreign oil. But that would result in a massive transfer of energy from the plains states to the nation's cars (via the corn to ethanol process) which, in addition to still polluting the air, fundamentally alters the current ecosystem. All that solar energy that grows the corn ultimately gets converted into ethanol and is burned in cars all over the country, when it would have otherwise been absorbed by plants and things or reflected back into the air over the plains states, and would have stayed put in that area. (I feel like I'm losing my grasp on what I'm trying to convey).
Again, the point is to reduce our energy requirements. And yet I heard a radio commercial yesterday urging Los Angelinos to conserve water because we are in the midst of a tremendous drought (and LA is a desert climate for the love of god), but also yesterday I saw my neighbor cleaning his sidewalk with a garden hose - something everyone in LA seems to do. Is there a broom shortage too? It's simple things like this, enacted on a large scale, that will change things. The Segway is a good talking point here, but I'm done writing for now.