Friday, March 27, 2015

Sustainable Energy = National Security

During one particularly warm January, back in 2007, I sent in this letter to the editor of the Washington Post calling for the returning Congress to get to work on global warming, invest in renewable and alternate energy sources, and develop real conservation strategies. And I also mentioned it would help "reduce our dependence on despot-controlled oil."

Now, eight years later, the Middle East is essentially in state of complete war: Saudia Arabia and Iran are close to direct conflict over Yemen, and we have gotten sucked into competing and conflicting interests. For example, we are supporting Iranian backed militias against ISES and supporting Saudia Arabia against Iranian backed militias in Yemen. We are in, what I think is called in political science circles, a pickle.

Beyond the human toll from this war, beyond the despicable evils being carried out by ISIS, our national interests, because of our need for a steady and predictable supply of oil, are at risk. I can't help but wonder what would be our condition now had we invested the trillions of dollar we spent on war on solar and wind power, reliable battery technology, and a modernized electric grid. I wonder what would be our condition now if we had re-programmed those trillions of dollars we spent on war and rather on modernizing our transportation fleet to run on electric powered motors with a massively decentralized system of conventional, and non-conventional micro-generation sources (think roof top solar and backyard wind). And what if instead of fracking natural gas like their was no tomorrow, and then send it overseas to India and China, we could slow that down, keep it here at home, and make doubly and triply sure what we are doing is safe. This then becomes a game changer.

With a comprehensive, secure, and predictable supply of energy, we would no longer depend on the Middle East (or Nigeria, Venezuela  and a couple others). Without the threat of losing access to Iranian oil we could negotiate with them differently with the goal of being rid of they nuclear capability. Maybe we would not feel so compelled to protect Saudi Arabia in the same way we do now, and we could take a wholly different approach to containing ISES since we wouldn't be worried about them taking over oil fields in Kurdistan. I'm not an expert on all the factions, tribal relationships, lingering colonial affects, and so on, that conspire to create the tinder box that is the Middle East, but our reliance on their oil for our standard of living and economic might limits our options. I like to have options.

Our country isn't perfect, but that doesn't mean it isn't often times amazing. Our "experiment" with democracy continues with fits and starts, we gradually inch, tentatively, towards a true universal justice for all, and the spirit of discovery and innovation run through our DNA like no where else allowing us to be leaders pretty much in whatever we set our minds to. I firmly believe that.

For reasons that I can't quite understand, energy policy has become a liberal vs. conservative thing. Liberals staunchly argue for more alternative, non-carbon polluting energy and conservatives staunchly argue that such a policy will cost too much money, jobs, and hurt the economy. How can we get past this? It seems that National Security, an issue that Republican/Conservatives like to run with, could be greatly enhanced through a comprehensive policy of energy independence that would include wind, solar, and better technology across the board. The investments would create jobs, reduce our dependance for overseas oil, and allow money we spend on military to be spent on other programs, or returned through lower taxes. If Republicans are concerned about decreasing the military budget, how about this: Put the DoD in charge of re-tooling the infrastructure. We've declared wars on drugs and other things, why not this? The military-industrial-complex may already be tooled up sufficiently to build out the solar and wind generating capability we would need.

I know my liberal friends will not like the idea, perhaps, but why not? So come on Republicans, step up to the plate!And it seems, with our current state of technology, it's naive for Democrats/Liberals to think retooling our energy infrastructure overnight is possible. Some transitional approach seems obvious that must include natural gas, nuclear, and even some coal (hopefully not for long). Fracking? I don't like it and I have protested against here in my state of Maryland and in DC to prevent a Fracked Gas processing plant on the Chesapeake Bay (Cove Point). But, if a politician could create the argument that, while not ideal, we could use our own natural resources and keep them here in the U.S. (not ship it overseas like they want to do with Cove Point), we can reduce our dependance on despot controlled oil, I think I'd get on board. So come on Democrats, where can we find areas of compromise towards a greater good?

We Americans like to win. Sometimes at all cost. But we also do know how to compromise. Or did. Some of you may recall your High School history and The Great Compromise which got us our Constitution, and the Compromise of 1850 which, though ill fated in the end, was a desperate attempt by good-willed people doing what they could to prevent a Civil War. Neither side liked all of it, but both sides saw the obvious benefit of easing sectional tension.

So now what? The stakes are too high to allow the petty and dysfunctional, cow-towing to monied interests group of (mostly) men and women we call Congress to continue as it is. Yeah, I know some of you are still unconvinced by the science, but global warming is here and pretty well understood. We may not have every detail, but we have enough. Shoot, we still don't quite understand how gravity really works, but we certainly don't deny it.

But so what if it is or isn't real? Even if it turns out the science isn't exactly right, its undeniable that our non-renewable resources are that: Non-renewable. They will run out. They are running out. The easy to get to crude bubbling up from the ground in Texas is long gone. We now have to drill it from the Arctic or deep in the Gulf of Mexico. We don't do that because its easy. We do it because that is what's left. Technology has allowed new sources to be exploited, like tight oil and tar sands in the upper midwest and Canada, but that stuff is expensive and dirty. It's like ordering pork loin and getting scrapple. It's what is left. So just forget global warming for a minute and think out this: We will run out oil. Maybe not tomorrow, but we will. And since we don't know exactly when, do you want to wait until we know for sure?  And now add in this: Much of the oil we depend on comes from a chaotic part of the world - one that appears to be on the verge of implosion. Do we want to keep doing business over there? It just no longer makes sense. If you were an investor would you want to invest in that part of the world? It no longer seems even remotely in our best interest.

We are Americans, Goddamit, and we can do better than this!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dry wall lemonade

This morning I woke up about 6:15am. That's about normal, though I didn't get to bed until almost midnight. March Madness, of course, and Lori is out of town and we chatted late. I got up and peed then crawled back into the covers to get more sleep, but couldn't. After about 30 minute of debating whether to get up or not I got up, put on my sweats and sweatshirt and sweat socks. Normal attire for when I first wake up to head to my office and try writing. I don't sweat when I write - it's just comfortable. I flip open my laptop and hear a soft tinkle sound, like water running, somewhere. I follow the sound to the kitchen and that's when I remember: In my multi-tasking sensibility last night (dishes, laundry, dogs, cats, kids) I set the dog dish on the kitchen counter, angled the filtered water tap, turned it on, and forgot it.

When we renovated our 1940's cape cod house a couple years ago we installed an under counter water filter system. There is something about this particular unit and the water flows very slowly. Very, very slowly. Slow enough that impatience can get the best of us, especially when filling a large container and our dog water dish, while not too large is large enough. Lori and I have both set the dog dish on the counter, angled the tap, set it and forgotten it. Usually the other of us stumbles upon it and turns it off. Water will dribbled some over the lip and into the sink and some onto the counter, spreading out, along the back edge and under the toaster and microwave. I would venture that the absolute longest one of us has ever forgotten it is maybe 30 minutes. Maybe.

This time? About 8 hours is my guess.

Damn! Dammit. Godammit!

Of course my first thought was actually: Godammit Lori! If she hadn't been out of town, she'd have filled up the water bowl, not me, and none of this would have happened. Seriously!

Then my second thought was. Shit, there is water on the counter, and some on the floor, but not as much as I would have thought from 8 hours of constantly running water, even if half made it safely into the sink. I took a deep breath and went into the basement. Water dripping from a recessed light fixture is a bad sign. And then I could see the bulging drywall tape outlining the seams in the basement ceiling. Not good.

Several gallons of water had dripped and spread out on the floor. Part of an area rug was soaked, but fortunately no major damage to anything else. But the ceiling? I knew there was water up there and knew it had to come out. Leaving it leads to mold and crumbly drywall. Dammit! I fetched a utility knife and tentatively cut a hole. Then I pulled down a chunk of soggy drywall and a steady trickle of water ran down my extended arm. There is nothing like wet drywall. They call it drywall, because its dry. It's not supposed to be wet. Then a larger hole I could poke my head through to see along the floor joists. Ugh. Water was pooling in spots nearly the width of the basement. So I went to it and after about 30 minutes of battlefield surgery I had several gaping holes in my basement ceiling a couple piles of demolition debris and a head full of wet drywall dust.

At some point in the midst of this, my anger and frustration (with myself this time) shifted. Besides the drywall and some insulation, the damage seems manageable. This part of the basement is where my son practices with his band and we have a fair amount of musical gear. Some ours, some not. None of it was affected. It's also where I store my camera and video gear for Sister Eden and thankfully it was untouched. And then I thought, with the audio stuff going on in this part of our basement, maybe we could have some lemonade from this lemon. I've always thought of putting in some acoustic dampening tiles. Maybe now is the time.

And now I'm wondering what other parts of the house, or maybe my life, I can cut holes into!