Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Pavements of Summer

Much has been said about using up our non-renewable energy resources, and there is an angry contingent who are quite militant about using solar, wind, geothermal, bio-fuel and ocean since they are "renewable." But read up, and you will find out those technologies do not reasonably hold promise of meeting all our needs, probably ever. Global warming aside for the moment, seems like some combination of a plentiful resource(s), renewable resources, improved power transmission through superconductivity, and reducing our needs (improved living designs? Mass die-off? Civilization collapse? It could happen) is our true future.
A bleak concept, but some studies have been conducted with rats that show that popultion tends to correct itself sooner or later. We know, for example, what happens to deer populations, now that we've damaged their natural predator numbers, if we don't intervene before winter. Disease, famine, higher mortality, lower fertility, all these things can happen quickly and devastatingly. That stress number may be quite high for humans, but certainly, there is a number.
The US is blessed with lots of coal, about 250 years at current use levels; of course that time frame will shrink as we figure out how to sub coal for other sources over time, as well as continuing to grow our populace for demand. A common advertisement likes to tell us there is no hope for "clean coal" energy production.
We already know oil is a dead end, and maybe scarily so.
Nuclear is always an option, with the caveats of indestructable toxins, terror attack risk, and possible WMD proliferation (no matter what you've heard, ANY nuclear reactor can be configured to produce Plutonium).
The various renewable sources will become cheaper, but creating them in the first place carries its own pollution price tag. Exotic elements, production technologies, transportation, all will add to the earth-burden. Perhaps most disappointing, bio-fuel diverts a huge amount of bio-mass from food production.
Architecture solutions include better use of insulation, natural lighting, botanical enhancements (like shade), and so on. The payback for socalled passive improvements is sometimes modest in comparison to the cost of including them.
But something we used to do automatically, but not so much any more, is include sidewalks in our new subdivisions. These, along with bikepaths, will become the pavement of choice when weather is nice and transportion costs become more like last summer than currently. A recent History Channel special on the nature and finite supply of crude oil made a comment that really resonates in our current situation; "to see what our future will look like, we need only look at our past." A future without oil would look like the horse and buggy days, and how many people will that support?
I see a future where the average person does many more daily transportation and maintenance tasks using people-power, and I think we need to start putting in sidewalks and bikepaths NOW!

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