Archive for the ‘Population Growth’ Category

SUGGESTION NUMBER 9: RETHINK THE ELECTRIC CAR

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I’ve been driving an electric car for the past 10 years.  It’s fast and reliable, and it’s very gentle on Mother Earth.  Ten years ago, we electric car owners were considered weird ducks.  Today, everyone is eagerly awaiting the new generation of plug-in hybrids.  Ah, what a difference a decade makes.

When the auto industry began to seriously focus on the prospect of producing electric cars, you can easily trace the path that their thinking took (I call it “auto-think”).  First off, they took one look at lead/acid cars like my Sparky and immediately crossed them off the list of viable options.  A 40 mile maximum range, a 4-hour recharging time, and, for some of them, a 25 m.p.h top speed restriction.  Dead on arrival, right?

Well, not so fast, guys.  To begin with, Sparky can blow the doors off your Toyota.  He’s very, very fast (you other electric car driver know what I’m talking about), and he can cruise the freeway with the best of them.  The only thing he can’t do is drive from Olympia to Seattle (65 miles) without stopping.  Range — -that’s the single reason why the auto industry went looking elsewhere for an answer to its gas problem.

Like every lead/acid driver, I have spent considerable time thinking about the range issue.  How can I get from Olympia to Seattle without stopping (or stopping only for a few minutes — -like for a cup of coffee or something)?  Let’s address the second idea first.

There is a little-known phenomenon in the electric car world called “dump charging”.  It’s used in the electric vehicle racing circuit where a quick charge is needed for the next race.  It is simply a DC to DC charge (one set of batteries simply “dumps” its charge into a depleted set of other batteries).  It takes about 7 minutes to accomplish, and restores the depleted batteries to about 95% of capacity. 

Now let’s assume, for example, that I left Olympia with the morning commute, headed for Seattle.  I’d be looking for a charge along about the time I hit the Tacoma Mall (about 35 miles from my house).  For years now, I have looked over at the Krispy-Kreme outlet at the Mall and thought,  “If only they had a set of batteries over there, I could scarf down a couple lemon-filled donuts while Sparky took a dump.”  What would happen, I have thought, if not only Krispy-Kreme, but Starbucks, and Jack-in-the-Box had DC charging stations all over the place?  I could go anywhere and everywhere in my spiffy little bug.   

But actually, there’s a better way.  Think: bumper cars.

We’ve all ridden in bumper cars at the fair.  What a great way to release all that pent-up aggression.  But did you ever wonder why those cars had antennas sticking out of them?  When I was a kid, I always thought that it was strange — -there weren’t any radios in the bumper cars, and the antennas were always too tall for the ceilings.  It wasn’t until much later that someone explained to me that there was another antenna dragging on the floor under the car, and that that was how the car ran — -that it takes two wires to make their motors run (one from the floor and one in the ceiling). 

Actually, in Seattle, we have busses that operate that same way, only they go around town with their two antennas attached to a pair of overhead electric wires..  Those busses have been crisscrossing the city since long before I was born (1945). 

That all started me thinking:  why don’t they install a couple of electric wires of some sort along the freeway from Olympia to Seattle — -or all the way from Seattle to Portland, for that matter?  Or everywhere the freeway goes.  You could start small — -Tacoma to Seattle, for instance.  Sparky’s batteries can get me from my house to Tacoma.  From there, I’d just hook up and head for Seattle.  It would be great!  As demand increased, you could extend the lines in both directions — -say, even to Canada. 

And here’s the really cool part:  not only would the freeway lines allow Sparky to make it all the way to Seattle, but Sparky’s batteries would get recharged in the process (very quickly if  the power supply were DC).  That means that I could leave my house and hook onto the freeway grid within 35 miles.  I could then drive to Seattle, unhook, and go anywhere within a 35 mile radius without needing a grid — -farther if there were a Krispy-Kreme out there offering a dump charge.  Heck, I could even drive to Arkansas once they extended the grid there. 

Come on, it can’t be all that hard.  I mean, aren’t we going to create some fancy new electric grid anyway?  We don’t have to extend the Sparky grid everywhere right away (though we would over time) — -we could start slow and grow.  And we wouldn’t end up becoming slaves to Bolivia.

Bolivia?  What does that have to do with anything?

Well, guess what, Yankee fans?  Our great auto industry channel-lock thought process is about to switch our present pusher/addict balance of trade from the middle east to a land-locked little country in South America.  It’s all because of something they have and we don’t:

Lithium.

When the auto thinkers decided that the lead/acid range issue was too much of a problem, they started to look for a battery that could give you much more mileage.  That line of thinking leads to just one place: the lithium-ion battery — -you know, that expensive little thing that runs your cell phone and your computer and occasionally catches on fire.  It’s the only battery now available that offers the promise of extended range in an electric car.  One electric car, the Tesla Roadster, claims a 220 miles/charge range.    But that battery pack can set you back a lot of money when it has to be replaced.

But the auto thinkers have struck a compromise:  they’ll get you 40 miles on a smaller lithium battery pack, and then a good ol’ gas engine will kick in and take you the rest of the way.  It’s the logical end product of the auto-thought process.  They’re hoping that you and I will be happy thinking we’re really helping Momma Earth by cutting down on our gas consumption, and at the same time, the auto companies will be able to keep building gasoline engines.  The problem is that the Suadis will just keep pumping it out of the ground because our ever-growing population will rise up and take up the slack.  End result: nothing really changes — -except the climate. 

But what does all this have to do with Bolivia? 

Well, Bolivia happens to be where the lithium is.  And guess what?  Just like the Middle East, the Bolivians don’t like us very much, either.

The sad truth is that most of the world’s lithium is found in just one place, Bolivia.  Kind of sounds like oil all over again, doesn’t it?  To be sure, it can be found in other places (like Tibet — -maybe that’s why the Chinese decided to annex the country and kick out the Dali Lama).  We even have some here at home, but not very much.  You can read about this most vexing question in a recent New York Times article.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/world/americas/03lithium.html?_r=1

My point is this:  we need to rethink this whole electric car thing.  We have an entire infrastructure already pumping out lead/acid batteries — -made by American workers, I might add (did I mention that lead/acid batteries are one of the most re-cycled products around?)  And since they are only planning on getting 40 miles from the lithium pack in the new hybrids, why not settle for the same thing from lead /acid?  

And where do we find the energy source for Sparky’s new freeway grid?  Well, I know of a nuclear power plant about 93 million miles away that can supply our entire planet with an endless flow of truly clean energy (did I mention that it already comes in DC?). 

So, perhaps we should all stop and think this thing through before we rush out and embrace the auto-think solution to our energy problems.    

Sincerely

Richard

The Real Immigration Problem

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I’ve been building a house in Mexico for the past 15 years — -my amateur stab at being an architect. I was there last week and woke up to find a very large grasshopper staring at me from the end of my pillow. It was green from head to toe (or whatever you call those things at the end of those creepy legs) and was about the size of a tootsie roll. In a decade and a half, I had never seen one in the house. That was Monday.

By the end of the week, I had seen plenty of them. First two, then ten, then twenty. It wasn’t that I was being overrun by a biblical horde of locusts, but it was unnerving in its own way. I asked around and found that others were surprised at the sudden alien invasion.

The whole thing got me thinking again about the impact of global warming on the insect world. Are there going to be a bunch more bugs in our future? Is our new, warmer world going to unleash some dreadful population explosion among the 8-leggers, an explosion that has been held in check by good old cold weather?

When I wrote Deathstroke, I introduced insects into the story line to address this serious issue. In Deathstroke, swarms of insects are capable of devastating whole regions of forested terrain. Even a cursory investigation into the issue demonstrates that the coming impact of insect infestation will not be limited to the pages of a novel.

In February of this year, The Independent, a respected British news journal, published the findings of an extensive study performed by Pennsylvania State University on the impact of global warming on insect populations.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/insect-explosion-a-threat-to-food-crops-781016.html

The study focused on the evidence of insect damage to vegetation during the last great era of global climate change, the PETM (the palaeocene-eocene thermal maximum) which took place about 55 million years ago. During that period, as in our present crisis, CO2 levels spiked (they more than tripled in the PETM). The result was a dramatic increase in global temperatures (5 degrees Centigrade). What is significant, is what that did to the world’s insect populations. By examining the insect damage to vegetation found in the fossil record, the Penn State team discovered that insects devoured between 2 to 4 times the amount of vegetation that they had before the temperature spike.

The researchers cite two reasons for this extraordinary increase in damage: 1) the sheer number of insects exploded, and 2) the amount of foliage needed for them to survive increased dramatically.

The second basis provides some sobering consideration. The problem is that when CO2 levels increase, it becomes easier for plants to carry out photosynthesis. Though they produce more foliage, the leaves they produce contain less protein. As a consequence, the insects feeding on them have to eat substantially more plant material in order to survive. The result is defoliation on a massive scale brought about by more insects having to consume more food. Beyond the issue of increasing swarms of insects which is the focus of this notation, perhaps we ourselves should consider the implications of a diminishing protein component in our own food supply.

Beyond the issue of more bugs eating more plants, there is an additional finding that should be raising alarms in the temperate zones: insect migration. Ellen Currano, head of the Penn State team put it succinctly: “We think that the warming allowed insect species from the tropics…to migrate north”.

The implications for mankind are obvious: our population is exploding placing heavy demands upon our agriculture to support it. But increasing levels of CO2 are going to reduce the protein in our food supply. Just about the time we come to grips with that nightmare, there are going to be trillions of hungry new visitors to our plush growing fields. To be certain, no 700 mile fence line is going to stop that onslaught of alien immigrants.

Perhaps it is appropriate to leave this section with a phrase from the remake of the movie, The Fly:

“Be afraid…be very afraid!”

SUGGESTION NO. 3: THE CHILDREN’S FOREST

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

The first time I visited Buchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, I came in by boat. There’s a little path that leads up from the bay, and, for whatever reason, boaters get in free. But what struck me more than the cost of admission, was a certain tree at the top of the path — -a giant Sequoia. The plaque at the base of the tree identified its planting as some time in the 1960’s. I remember looking up in astonishment — -it was huge! I was in college when they planted it as a sapling, but it was already bigger than any Douglas Fir or Western Hemlock I had ever seen (outside of the giants in the Olympic Rain Forest where they are 300 years old or more). Clearly, a giant redwood from northern California does very well on the Washington/B.C. coastal zone.

Many times since then I have wondered just how tall that tree would grow to be if everyone left it alone until it died of old age. Sequoias can live for thousands of years. It was years later, after I became conscious of my carbon footprint, that I started to wonder just how many Sequoias could recapture all the carbon I had burned over my lifetime if they were left alone for the next two millennium. Would one do it? Or two? Or ten?

That started me thinking. Why don’t we all start planting trees to recapture all the carbon we are burning over the course of our lives? In my part of the planet, we could plant Sequoias — -they grow fast and capture carbon at warp speed. The beauty of it all is that long after my ashes are feeding some other plant, my Sequoias would just keep plodding along, sucking in all the carbon I had spewed out over a lifetime, exhaling pure oxygen in its place. Who knows, perhaps in a thousand years or so someone might put a plaque on my tiny forest that says, “Richard Kelley’s carbon has been recovered”. Obviously, if I planted a thousand trees, it might only take a century or so to erase my debt.

That all started me thinking more: What if every child in school were to plant a Sequoia each year from kindergarten through high school…or an elm, or an oak, or whatever grows in their part of the country? And what if nobody were allowed to touch any of those trees…ever. Eventually, a mighty “Children’s Forest” would begin to grow across the land. Slowly, over time, we would begin to replace the vast forests that once grew before we showed up with our saws. Now obviously, someone is going to have to pay for the land — -I suggest that government might be a candidate here. But better than that, why not have the children themselves invest in their forest? I can see bake sales and Saturday car washes and bottle drives (do they still have bottle drives?). I mean, how much does it cost to buy enough land to plant a tree?

I might suggest that the kids consider buying land in the Amazon basin. There’s lots of it there that hasn’t got any trees right now, and I’m told the land is pretty cheap in those places.

I do foresee a problem. As the trees grow over time, saliva will eventually start dripping from the tip of chain saws. This will require legislation to protect the kids’ trees. In our state, that might prove easy — -plant Sequoias and pass legislation making it illegal to cut, transport, process, or sell or buy them in any manner. Sequoias don’t grow naturally in the Northwest, and a logging truck moving down I-5 with a load of redwoods would stick out like a sore thumb. Perhaps the same is true with a Banyun tree in Nebraska. So, by planting non-indigenous trees (yet trees that are guaranteed to thrive), the chain saw lust can be curbed if not eliminated. A healthy jail sentence and fine might add to the protection of the trees.

A children’s forest doesn’t necessarily have to be in some isolated stretch of land. I can foresee urban children’s forest with trees strategically planted to provide shade to buildings over time, reducing the need for air conditioning in the hot summer months (kill two birds with one stone, ya see). And urban forests are kind of hard to cut down and haul away without being seen.

So imagine little Sally standing at the base of a giant redwood, peering upward at the branches spreading out hundreds of feet above her. “My great, great grandpa planted that tree ,” she might say to Tommy, before the two turn to run after their classmates, their Sequoia seedlings grasped firmly in one hand and a planting trowel in the other.

Richard

SUGGESTION NO. 2: TEACH THE CHILDREN

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

A decade or so ago, my best friend, Rick, won Washington State’s Teacher of the Year. He was being recognized for his pioneering work in the field of computer science. He had constructed an elaborate computer learning center for his school district. What was unique about the center was that it wasn’t designed to teach children how to use computers — -it was created for the express purpose of teaching teachers how to teach the children to use computers. It may seem strange in today’s world, but when Rick embarked on his computer center, we were all trying to acquaint ourselves with that strange voodoo world called dos. Rick was one the first to recognize that teachers have to learn a subject before they can be expected to teach it to kids.

A similar reality exists today in the world of renewable energy. Our political candidates have just spent the past two years declaring that our country has to free itself from imported oil and that we need to convert the nation to operate on non-fossil sources of energy. The knowledge on just how this is going to be accomplished is apparently believed to exist out there somewhere, and that all that is needed is a for government to push a magic button and it will all start to happen (the push of the button is to accomplished with copious quantities of cash, of course).

The truth of the matter is that a global transition to a non-fossil reality is going to be an extraordinary undertaking. And it’s not going to be done overnight — -it’s going to take generations to accomplish. My question is this: is there really any concerted effort under way to teach renewable energy to the generations moving their way through our public school systems? More importantly, how many teachers are there out there that know the difference between a gallium arsenide solar cell and one made of amorphous silicon, and why the distinction is important. Do they know the difference between thermal and electric solarized energy, and what part of the spectrum produces each? Even more basic: can they quantify the energy savings of insulation based upon its R-value?

Are you starting to see the problem? If we are to have any hope of truly freeing ourselves from the toxic grip of fossil fuel, that means that we are going to have to educate ourselves on a massive scale. It means that we are going to have to teach our kids, and before that happens, we have to teach our teachers first.

And so my Suggestion Number 2 to the powers that be is this: Establish a meaningful nationwide program to teach teachers about renewable energy. This includes how to insulate homes, how to recognize energy-efficient appliances, how to install solar collectors (thermal everywhere, and electric where appropriate). Grade school teachers need to send their legions of children back into their homes looking for lights to turn out in a quest for gold stars on some flashy certificate. We need to teach our kids to think in terms of energy conservation using positive reinforcement to instill these and other values in them.

Let us recognize early on that the quest for a non-fossil world is nothing short of an arduous marathon. By the time it is accomplished, today’s kindergarteners will likely be drawing social security.

Richard

Cancer

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

My wife has cancer. It started in her breast two years ago and progressed to her brain last year. It is terminal.

I inject this personal matter into the Deathstroke blog because it has taught me something about myself, about all of us: no one wants to hear bad news, particularly really bad news.

Quite soon after Judy’s initial diagnosis was made, well-meaning friends and family would call the house on a regular basis to see how she was doing. Each call would send an electric jolt through me as time and again I would be called upon to describe the details of her health and treatment, and of course, her prognosis. People don’t realize that your inner being wants to free itself from the realities of an ominous event — -to pretend if only for the here and now that things are going to go on as they always have. Reality asserts itself often enough — -in the slurred word, the stumbled step, in the letters “MRI” that daily approach on the wall calendar.

I realize that I have come to a position that, consciously or subconsciously, I drive the truth of what is coming from my active thoughts. I know that Judy has done this to a far greater extent than I. To be sure, there are moments of tears, even anguish when it all pours in, but for the most part the terrible reality of what is coming lies just beyond some invisible door that we have erected in our separate minds. I know that the day will soon come when the door will open, never to be closed again. But that day is not today. Judy and I can still live in the world that was, if only for just another day.

I raise all of this because I have come to realize that, as a species, we are doing on a global level what Judy and I am doing on a personal level — -we are consciously blocking out the reality of the most compelling truth in the history of mankind: that the world we live in has cancer.

By now, the symptoms are well known, and growing in number and intensity: the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is rising dramatically; the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps are melting; the Great Barrier Reef will be dead by mid-century; Glacier National Park will soon have no glaciers; the honey bees are dying, the rain forests are disappearing, and the snows of Kilimanjaro will soon exist only in fiction. The list goes on. Our planet has cancer, and, like my beloved wife, I fear that it, too, is terminal.

I ask you: How are we reacting to this information? If we were told that an asteroid was going to strike the planet on June 11, 2011, we would be marshalling all of the resources of the planet to avert the threat, or to make certain that as many people as possible would survive it. Yet a catastrophe of equal magnitude is approaching. It comes for all of us — -for our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, our friends, even our beloved dogs and cats. I created Deathstroke to focus firmly on this horrendous truth. Yet, by and large, we ignore it. As a species, we have closed an invisible door so that we can go on believing that life as we know it will continue without interruption.

But the big difference between the invisible door Judy and I live behind and the one our world is living behind is that Judy’s cancer cannot be stopped. It is a certainty.

By contrast, the prognosis for the world is as yet uncertain. The scientists and others who have raised awareness of the climate crisis say that we can stop the coming disaster if we act decisively. But let me ask you this: Do you see us taking any decisive action on a global scale? Have we done anything meaningful to reduce mankind’s carbon footprint, let alone our individual ones? Or have we collectively closed that invisible door and picked up the remote to change from the Science Channel to American Idol?

No one wants to hear bad news. But some bad news needs to be heard, loud and clear. That is why I wrote Deathstroke — -to plant a stake firmly in the ground on the other side of those who say the crisis can be avoided. I am trying to say as forcefully as I possibly can, that if you don’t open that door and start acting quickly, you are going to inherit a planetary Deathstroke that cannot be reversed.

I start and end Deathstroke with the ominous phrase: “The Gorgoth is real. It comes for all of us.” It was, and it remains, a warning. It’s the bad news we can no longer afford to ignore.

Richard

Defining Moment in History

Monday, October 6th, 2008

“A defining moment in history”. We have all heard that phrase linked to some event, usually a major one.

December 7th, 1941, November 22, 1963, 9/11.

While the world went about its day-to-day routine, a major, critical defining moment came and went, virtually unnoticed by the media in the U.S., barely noticed in the rest of the world. May 1, 2008 was truly a date that provided definition.

On that date, Shell Oil Company announced that it was pulling out of the world’s largest wind generating project, the London Array, to pursue “more profitable” endeavors — -arguably, the black gold rush now taking place in northern Canada where the “tar sands” of Manitoba have become economically feasible in the new world of $100+/barrel oil.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/02/renewableenergy.royaldutchshell

The sands represent the world’s second largest oil field (second only to Saudi Arabia), and Shell will want its share of the gold. The wind farm was only “marginally profitable”, Shell declared as it threw the project under the bus. The withdrawal of its $1.3 billion share, roughly one third of the project cost, jeopardizes the entire project, leaving its other participants to scramble to fill the giant financial hole left by Shell.
Lost in the tiny headline was the fact that Shell’s contribution represented only a fraction of the profit it had announced just two days earlier: $8 billion dollars had been generated in three months, the largest return in company history.

The London Array was to have been the largest wind field ever constructed. It would have produced enough electricity to power one quarter of London’s homes. And, of course, all that power would have been generated without the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Shell’s decision to abandon its share of the undertaking throws a brilliant spotlight onto a decision that mankind must make: just what is our future source of energy going to be? May 1, 2008 is a day that brings exceptional clarity to bear on that decision — -it is a Day of Definition.

Mankind has arrived at a true fork in the road. For the past 200 years, humanity has travelled a path based exclusively on carbon — -first coal, then oil. We have prospered beyond expectation because of this. But in the late 1970’s, we began to come to the realization that carbon might be toxic to the Earth’s atmosphere. As far back as 1896, it had been realized that a buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere could result in an increase in the world’s temperature. A scientist named G.S.Calendar tried raise public consciousness about the matter in the 30’s, but the whole issue went largely unnoticed until the environmental movement of the 70’s began to take a fresh look at the potential for disaster inherent in the atmospheric data. Those numbers, coupled with ominous data streaming in from the Venus probes (showing the disasterous effects of a runaway greenhouse), created a growing sense of alarm that man’s use of carbon could have a profound impact on the planet’s climate. Finally, in 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its findings, confirming that global warming was real, and that man’s use of carbon lay at the heart of it.
Enter the point of this discussion: the central issue presented by Shell’s withdrawal from the Array is one of criteria: upon what criteria should our future energy decisions be made? Shell’s decision to abandon the Array demonstrates that Shell considers the sole decision criteria to be one of “profitability” — -that it placed the Array in one pan of the scale and oil in the other. The scale promptly tipped in favor of carbon. Hence, Shell has packed its London bags and headed for Manitoba.
But the decision criteria can no longer be “what path is going to lead to the greatest return on investment?” Mankind stands at a perilous crossroad. We can turn to the left and continue to burn carbon, because it is cheaper, because we have a lot of investment in carbon-burning infrastructure, and, well, life can go on as it always has — -just pull up to the gas station and fill’er up.

Or we can make the right turn: bite the bullet and begin a global transition to a non-carbon reality. It’s not that it’s going to be some drastic, tighten-your-belt descent into a horse-and buggy world — -far from it. I have been driving an electric car for ten years now and have found it to be quite reliable and satisfactory http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_lSxhTatUU. “Sparky” is a bit of a throw-back in the world of convenience — -it has all of the creature comforts of a ‘75 Volkswagen, but I am sure that Detroit can come up with a state-of-the-art version of Sparky if they put their mind to it (GM’s Chevy “Volt” holds significant promise in this arena).

But I return to the central issue of this discussion. What is the decision criteria that we, as a species, are to use in determining which fork in the road should take for our future? It can no longer be simply one of profit. That mind set has led us to the cliff. It is time for all of us to demand that a finger be placed on the scale of that mode of thinking — -that we demand that the equation include the true cost of burning carbon. No one has ever required that the cost of cleaning up after carbon (global warming) be added to the up-front cost of a gallon of gas or a ton of coal. If it were, even the “profit” scale would tilt away from coal and oil.

We need to demand that our collective decision-makers, whether government or private industry, take the right fork in the road. We need to demand that the basis for making a decision as to which direction to go not be based upon profitability but upon the common good of future generations.

Shell’s decision to withdraw from the London Array provides us with a true “defining moment in history”. It provides a pair of glasses from which we can see into one of the most basic considerations facing mankind: is our future to be based solely upon the bottom line?
Post Note 1: It has been announced that German-based E.ON and Danish-based Dong Energy have agreed to take up Shell’s 1/3 interest. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/worlds-largest-offshore-wind-farm-london-array-back-on.php

Post Note 2: My local paper has just reported that on October 1, Pfizer Inc., one of the world’s largest drug companies, has announced that it is “shifting its research focus to diseases that have a high potential for big profits” http://www.theolympian.com/business/story/602879.html. The Shell Oil decision process is not restricted to energy. Perhaps we should all pray that if we contract a serious disease, that it not be an obscure one. There just ain’t no money in it.

 

Don’t Make Global Warming a Partisan Issue

Monday, October 6th, 2008

     I was very surprised and distressed at something that I saw on television last Thursday following the Biden/Palin Debate.  One of the networks showed an audience of Palin supporters watching the debate.  The clip registered their reactions to various moments in the debate — -they would cheer when Sarah “stuck it” to Biden, and boo when the opposite happened.  But what shocked and dismayed me was their reaction to the issue of global warming.  When Palin suggested that it was not man-made, the group errupted in cheers.  That’s when I realized that it has become an “us versus them” issue in the political arena — -another ping pong ball in a basket of ping pong balls that includes gay marriage, offshore drilling, health care and taxes.

     Listen, friends, we cannot allow this important issue to become politicised — -to be just another “Democrats versus Republicans” issue.  It is far too important.  For the good of our nation, and for the good of the planet, it must become the undertaking of a bi-partisan approach, an undertaking that first and foremost agrees that global warming is taking place, and then JOINTLY procedes to take action to deal with it.  We cannot afford to lose a minute because of partisan wrangling, and finger-pointing.  It is a time for all of us to come together, not pull apart.   Save the eye-gouging for issues of great pitch and moment — -lapel pins, for example.

Sincerely,

Richard

HOLY OLE! I’M DRINKING ELECTRIC TOILET WATER!

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

Several years ago, my brother-in-law, Jim, mentioned a peculiar discovery he had made in a house he had just bought.He was doing his business when he noticed that his toilet was plugged into an outlet.Upon further examination, he discovered that the wires led to a heating element in the tank.Someone had installed this special toilet in order to prevent the water from freezing.

Now that may be all good and well if Jim lived near the arctic circle, you know, Fairbanks, or Nome, or one of those places.But we live in Western Washington where it gets below freezing maybe five days a year.It’s only hit zero once in my entire life, and that was in 1950 — -(it left an indelible impression on me because all of the kids went to see the remnants of Bobby Fowler’s tongue stuck to the shinny pole in the playground).

But the point of all of this is that someone, for some reason, decided to install and electric-heated toilet in Olympia, Washington.For years, the little robot chugged happily along, heating water that didn’t need to be heated.

Some time later, I came to realize that this was a very useful image — -a device that uses electricity to perform a function that absolutely did not need to be performed. An Electric Toilet! The essence of the concept of wasted energy!

That got me started thinking.Do I have any electric toilets in my house?Of course not.What do you think I am, stupid?

Then, a little later, I grabbed my battery-powered 24V mega electric drill and headed for the front screen door to tighten a screw.It didn’t work because the battery had gone dead.But no problema!I keep a spare plugged in for just such an emergency.I pulled the fully charged battery out of the charger and dropped the dead one back in its place. That’s when I felt the new battery — -it was warm.But I hadn’t used it in six months.Do you mean to tell me that it just keeps on charging even when it’s fully charged!?

That’s when it hit me, Holy Ole, Patron Saint of Norway! I own an electric toilet!

Then I looked over at the other chargers lined up in a neat row:the Sawsall, the Mansfield Swivel-Top-Do-Two-Things-at-Once Drill (not sold in any stores!), and my Duwalt everything kit.Four electric toilets all neatly plugged into a surge-protector strip with its own bright red L.E.D. lighting up the corner of the work bench like a Yule tree.And to think, it all started with a loose screw I could have just tightened with one of those old…what were those things called?

With some trepidation, I began to walk around the house with a new pair of glasses on — -what was that dreadful movie where some guy put on a pair of sun glasses and suddenly he could see that there were aliens everywhere masquerading as humans?Well, there were electric toilets everywhere!The electric knife was plugged into the surge strip next to the coffee maker with its little twinkle light and clock.I never use that clock, because the one on the stove is easier to read, or the one above the sink, or the one built into the fridge.I looked down at my watch—aha!Saved by the bell!My watch is a Sieko kinetic — -it winds itself with this little weight that swings around each time I blow my nose.(Actually, I was crushed to find out later that there’s a battery in there somewhere.)

I didn’t dare go up to the computer room.That jungle of wires all leads to surge strips — -a bunch of ‘em.Despondent, I slinked off to the couch and picked up the remote to the plasma screen and turned on the news.I think Al Gore was getting his Nobel Prize that night, but I didn’t pay any attention.I had just learned I was living in a toilet!

Since that night, I have seen electric toilets everywhere.Our entire way of life is filled with them.I’m not going to list all of the dozens I have discovered in my own house.I think I will leave this site open for whoever reads this to add their own toilets to the list.

THE ELECTRIC TOILET LIST

I will leave this section with the latest alien to show up in my glasses.

We keep a six-pack of bottled water in the car.If we’re thirsty or need to take a pill or something, you just grab one.“Crack!”We’ve all heard the plastic cap break open.Guzzle, guzzle, guzzle!Ahhh!

Then it dawned on me.Why am I drinking water from a plastic bottle!?When did we decide that our filtered tap water wasn’t getting it done.Somehow, almost all of us have accepted the proposition that it makes some kind of sense to have someone on the other side of the planet take their tap water, run it through a filter, shove it into a carbonized plastic bottle using an electric powered bottling machine, load it onto a pallet which is picked up by a gas-spewing forklift and dropped into a gas-spewing semi, shipped to a waiting gas-spewing ship in a harbor, where its carried half way around the world to have the process repeated until it reaches the shelf of my neighborhood Safeway.

UGHHH!

I’M DRINKING ELECTRIC TOILET WATER!

 

The truth is that it doesn’t make sense.In a very real sense, it’s nearly a crime.We use carbon to make plastic bottles, to bottle up water, and ship it all over the world to places where people have their own very acceptable drinking water.It only makes sense to an economic system that reduces the matter to a single question: “Can I make money doing it?”Obviously, that question is answered in the affirmative or else the water wouldn’t be on the grocery shelf.But that equation should and must be subjected to a carbon veto.And so should many other products that spew carbon dioxide into the air just to perform a function that doesn’t really need to be performed.

It is part of what we need to change as a species.We have wandered down a carbon brick road until the very existence of all life on this planet is in peril.We need to see the electric toilets for what they are, and we need to accept the responsibility not to use them any more.

I have to say, the best turkey I ever ate was the one my Grandpa cut with a hand-sharpened knife that sub-freezing January day in 1950.