Social, Economic, Enviromental Responsibility

Month: February, 2010

Bloom Energy

If you haven’t seen the news surrounding Bloom Energy: Take five minutes and Google it immediately.

Or click this link right here!

Fuel cells have been a bit pie in the sky since they were invented. They weren’t cost effective for mass production, and were relegated to such boring, menial tasks as powering NASA missions.

Until Bloom Energy came along.

Bloom Energy has improved the costs and efficiencies of fuel cell technology. The ability to power a hundred homes is now housed in a single parking space and is incredibly efficient and clean.

What this means is we now have the ability to generate clean power cheaply and deliver it more efficiently (owing to the shorter transmission distances). This also means that more efficient delivery systems, like superconductors,  which are prohibitively expensive in large scale applications, could be used in smaller settings. We’ll see.

The question now is whether or not this will be implemented. Or if this is another amazing technological advancement that will never be implemented.


Brown is the New Green

I love “Dirty Jobs.” Mike Rowe is absolutely hilarious. When it comes to comedy, for whatever reason my weakness is dry humor.

But this Saturday I briefly caught the episode “Brown Before Green.” I say briefly because I had to leave to coach an elementary basketball game (My official record in elementary basketball 1-21. I blame the salary caps of the league).

But, I got to see some of the highlights, and I have to agree: Brown is green.


Mike Rowe makes the argument that brown means work and being “green” takes work. He’s right, I’ve said it before as well: To be environmentally responsible takes work.

He even interviewed himself for Men’s Health to explain his position.

  • So you’re sympathetic to the cause, but critical of what exactly – the execution?
  • If we’re talking about the importance of cleaning up after ourselves and leaving a light footprint, I’m all for it. But really, I’m tired of being lectured by people who care more for the planet than the people on it. There’s a lot of “inconvenient truth” in the environmental movement, and a ton of manipulation. That leads to hypocrisy and opportunism. Mainly though, I’m just appalled by their choice of color. I mean seriously – green? What were they thinking?

Full Interview Here

It’s true, the environmental movement is full of guilt and hypocrisy, which is why I’ve tried to steer clear of the term “green.” As I’ve said elsewhere, I want ideas and solutions that work in the real world, and I’m for efficiently using our resources. But much of what is toted as environmental or “green” isn’t that impressive. Hybrids for instance: I can get comparable mpg with a 1995 Nissan 240SX with a bit of work and some self control.

Mike Rowe goes onto say that there are millions of people who would consider themselves environmentally conscious, have been turned off by the marketing of the movement.

Brown before Green.

Let’s start actually doing some work for the environment. For our communities, neighbors and friends. Instead of only changing our lightbulbs and feeling good about ourself, let’s start cleaning up. The rewards of a hard days work and a job accomplished are much more rewarding than changing a lightbulb (unless of course your job IS to change lightbulbs). Furthermore banding together with neighbors to “brown” your community creates: community, of all things.

Get out there, roll up your sleeves and go brown!

Free Market Debate

This is a portion of an ongoing debate between myself and another user Bagzzz. We have gone toe to toe and traded blows and I’m impressed. So I want to present to you his comments and my comments and invite opinions an comments.

Be forewarned: He knows what he’s talking about. If you disagree with him be ready to defend your position. While not as close to his skills of debate and oration, I’m close. Be careful.

A bit of context though, these comments were in response to an article I wrote detailing the efficiencies and costs associated with clean power generation.

From Bagzzz:

Matt, This is all great news. According to your calculations, renewables will be more efficient, more stable and less risky than fossil fuels. If your predictions are correct, then the energy companies will be forced through competitive pressure to switch to renewables. I love that plan. The only thing I oppose is for Government to subsidize it in any way.

The fact that government has to subsidize it for it to happen is all the proof we need that renewables are currently less efficient (economically.) Which one is more efficient mechanically is irrelevant in this argument.

I think we agree on much more than you think. I am for recycling. I am for conservation. I am for car pools. I am for insulation. I am for just about anything I can do as an individual to lessen our impact on the planet. The only thing I am against is government taxing, regulating, or subsidizing for this issue. Efficiency is something that free market is much better at determining.

From Myself

My hopes for free markets are in agreement with you, however my experiences have shown me otherwise.
Like other similar concepts (Government or Religion come to mind), the concept itself is great. But the activities can be less than noble.

The problem is that there is no inherent morality to systems like this: Government takes on the morals of the governed and governors, Religion adopts the practices and beliefs of those involved, markets are informed in similar ways.

Were this not the case, then tyranny, abuse of power, hate crimes, discrimination and other would not exist.

I bring all this up to say that the current energy market is hardly level and hardly free. Oil companies, coal companies, refineries, autos, and others who would lose large sums of money, have the market share, AND a vested interest in squashing any advancements. Beyond that they have large, well funded and effective lobby groups in Washington.

Governments have stepped into managing economies before. Sometimes disasterously so, but as the old saying goes “constraint fuels creativity.” Dismantling Standard Oil, opened the market to competition again. The deregulation of banks while some would argue caused the current crises, did create competition once more. The deregulation of utilities, not so much.

But the other issue, is that the market doesn’t reward excellence or even “right.” Beta was superior to VHS, Buckminster Fullers autos were lightyears ahead of anything else, even excellent companies like Mercedes Benz and BMW have succommbed to the negative effects of a free market (check the quality ratings of 90s German autos to 70s and 80s German autos). In the pursuit of profits, the right way to do things loses. Look at Starbucks after it realized how much money was being made, or look at the current financial issues (A few individuals have profited immensely, while the market and everyone else has suffered)

Our founding fathers understood this, and to prevent it from happening in our government, instituted checks and balances. in markets, competition is one check and balance, as are the actions of governments. Taxes, tarifs, regulations, and subsidies.

Let the Debate begin!

You can find Bagzzz most excellent blog here:

As I said above, I don’t agree with every thing written, but it is well written and thought out.

Coal, Oil, Natural Gas Oh My!

We’ve hit on this before, but sometimes it is important to recap.

Coal power plants operate at about a 30% efficiency

Oil, refined to gasoline for your car operates at a 15% efficiency

Natural gas swings between 20-40% efficiencies.

Not bad, but given the amount of pollution; not great. Natural gas wins out of these three, as well it should. I like natural gas, it works great and lends itself to incredibly efficiencies.

Solar panels swing from 15-40% depending

Wind turbines are comparable to solar and others, depending on design and windspeed.

Of course though, we need to look at another factor: Cost of fuel

Oil (from 2006 to today, from the NYSE) swings from $50.00 to over $100.00 a barrel translating anywhere from $2-4$ or more at the pump per gallon.

Natural Gas (From the US Energy Information Administration) has doubled in price in the last five years.

Coal, in just the last five years, has swung wildly from $179.00 up to $741.00 and then back again.

And this means what?

Wild swings in prices for dwindling resources (although our technological advances have extended this, along with a change in some habits) create a severe uncertainty in the market, and the swings will get greater and greater, with the highs getting higher, and the lows not quite as low any more.

Or we could look up. At the sun. Not directly though. That’s dangerous.

The sun will shine for the next few billion years, and the sun as we know powers the wind. Meaning the wind will be blowing for the next few billion years as well.

So here’s how the market will play out, with these supposedly too expensive and inefficient technologies:

Initially high prices. To recoup the initial investment in a new facility. This is no different than when any new plant or transmission equipment is built. See here, a brief from AEP explaining their application to recover costs from following clean air laws.

But then, for the next ten to twenty years, prices will drop. When a plant is updated or a new plant built (with more advanced, more efficient technologies) we’ll see price increases again, but due to inflation they won’t be as expensive. So on a long enough scale, prices will drop to near zero.

But By All Means

Continue to think that the wild, speculator-driven short-term profit markets are the most efficient ways to generate power. Just ignore the data, and cling to your supposed “free markets.”

Valentines Day

If your with someone great. Don’t rub it in.

If you aren’t with someone, don’t worry about it. It’s one day a year, and more often than not, boyfriends are in trouble and couples aren’t happy. So remind yourself of that little fact, eat some more ice cream, and watch another movie

Rebuilding our Cities

My good friend Joe, likes to keep me informed. Which is good, the more information a person has, the better. And when information is sent to me, I don’t have to work as hard.

It’s a win win situation.

Cities as Environmentally Sustainable (part 1)

The article in question can be found here. It is an interesting point to consider, for all our talk about freedom; we’re slaves to our cars. In my hometown of Columbus our mayor came out and said people don’t want to use public transit because they’re elitists. My dad’s response “It takes me two hours by bus to travel 20 minutes by car.”

We talk about being environmentally sustainable, and yet we ignore the whole reason we aren’t environmentally friendly in the first place. Cars. Seriously.


General Motors Co,  is no stranger to controversy. But it extends back from todays current debacle through history.

The one I would like to highlight is the Great American Streetcar Scandal. The gist being that GM deliberately sought to dismantle the trolley system in the US. At the time, circa 1920, 90% of the US used rails as the primary mode of transportation. So GM bought trolley companies and replaced them with bus lines.

Whereas you had cars moving around the transit lines with trolleys having the right of way, we now had buses.  Buses who get stuck in traffic jams, bounce over potholes, are frightening to the middle class, and reprehensible to the upper class. I like mass transit, but I don’t ride buses very often.

Call me what you will, but I do have a moment of pause when I ride the bus. Maybe it’s the crazed man facing the wall talking to himself, or the woman coughing up blood beside me. I don’t know why I get an uneasy feeling on the bus.

With trolleys out of the way though, mass transit quickly fell by the wayside. It was no longer the best way to get around town. And because of that, mass transit today is still second chair.

Urban Sprawl

With the leashing effect of trolleys removed, cities could grow ever larger and more spread out. Compare the development of cities like Columbus, Chicago and elsewhere to their development before they eliminated trolley lines. We can only do so much comparison due to huge advances in technology and society, but personally I believe had cities stayed more compact then the keystone movements in American society would have happened much faster. You can ignore what you can’t see (such as pollution, racism, inequality, injustice etc) and if you can’t run away to a suburb you have to address the problem.

Right now it’s easy to walk over the homeless because the 30 minute drive removes you from that. It’s easy to ignore the effects of pollution because industries are located so far from our homes. Unless you’re poor. Effectively then, urban sprawl has developed a neo-caste system in America. If you don’t believe me, look at a map. Find the highest residential property values, the best schools, and the lowest crime rates. Then find the inverses.

Notice a trend?

(side note, compare the pedestrian deaths per 100,000 in a city like New York to that of Dallas.

Check it yourself:

Streetcar conspiracy – An article written by Bradford Snell on GM’s role in the streetcar demise

Cities Can Save The Earth – the article that started this post.

Here’s the Deal

Cleaner economy,

better standards of living the world over,

developing nations actually develop,

lower costs (the sun won’t stop shining for about 5 billion years, meaning the wind will still blow for that amount of time) due to UNLIMITED FUEL.

And this is a bad thing. Seriously?

It all boils down to this

Do we keep the system we have, or do we try something new?

That is the entire argument about “going green.” Do we stick with what we know or not?

The Current System

With the last hundred years we’ve seen some tremendous advancements. In one century we matched and eclipsed the technological advancements in all of human history. The theory of the exponential curve of technology has been proven true.


We’ve reached a point in all aspects of real life, that the current systems are no longer capable of supporting the needs. Similar to the charity organizations faltering under the needs of the people during the Great Depression, we’re starting to see our systems of economy, power production and delivery, telecommunications, infrastructure and industry begin to falter.

The New System

With any new system there is fear. And because the environmentally sustainable systems are new, they’re untested. Like the Wrights with their airplane, the theories exist and are true, but no one has yet to launch the plane.

The Issue is This

Our current system has become corrupt and irresponsible. Look at our happiness indices, and the historic lows in satisfaction points to the fact that something is wrong. Louis CK said it best “everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy.”

Costs are rising, jobs are being lost, earning power is slipping, income has dropped, work hours are increasing, supplies are running out, prices have skyrocketed. Sound familiar?

It should, the same arguments lobbed against the environmental movement, are the current realities of today. We’re already losing everything, we might as well try something new.

A brief respite

Sorry all, I needed a bit of an internet break these last few days. I’m job hunting, which is a full time job itself, and ten hours a day staring at a computer screen was starting to get to me.

We’ll be back in action starting tomorrow though, no worries!

The Best Explanation

of the global climate change debate I have seen. Seriously.

Easy to understand, well written and thought out.

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