Technorama-lama-ding-dong | Seventh Generation
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Author: the Inkslinger

At this point, I think you really have to bet on technology. By which I mean how we’re going to deal with the climate crisis. It’s not at all clear to me that we (by which I mean humanity) are going to summon the will and the courage and the passion to engage in the kind of behavioral constraints needed to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050, which is pretty much what the science guys tell us we have to do to in order to avert what I’ll politely refer to as a bit of planetary unpleasantness.

Certainly personal behavior is going to be a key part of the equation and certainly even simple changes in the decisions we make and the way we live can and will have an important impact, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to be enough. The way the world is set up now, for example, I’m fairly sure I can’t drive my car 80% less than I do now, which is already relatively rarely. And I don’t see the kind of cultural and infrastructure changes coming anytime soon that would allow me to do it. So I’m figuring I’ve got to count on technology, on clever humans with opposable thumbs and big brains to imagine, invent, create, and use tricks of the material world to give me the equivalent of driving 80% less without my actually having to do it.

Which brings us to today’s edition of what’s going down around town (and by town I mean this big village called Earth). Because while I’ve been sitting here not driving, clever humans have been busy working on encouraging things…

Let’s start in Vegas (that’s what she said…), where the annual rite of technological gluttony known as the Consumer Electronics Show got underway Sunday. Rabid techno-fetishists like me know that the CES is where manufacturers debut the things that rabid techno-fetishists like me will spend the coming year lusting mightily for. (“That thing has how many pixels?!!”) This year the big word on the floor is “green.” About time because along with my love of gizmology comes a slice of non-renewable materials, power consumption and non-recyclability big enough to prevent me from indulging. Now, however, electronics makers are finally responding to consumer pressures and injecting some sustainability into their stuff. It’s just a drop in the bucket so far, but every little bit helps, and we can all be optimistic that this presages a more serious trend. Even the CES itself has gotten a green makeover this year, which is nice evidence that the message is penetrating. Please can I get that big screen TV I’ve been dreaming about since I was about 12?

Green techno-types know that incandescent light bulbs are a lousy way to light the world, that compact fluorescents are better, but that LEDs would be best because they use laughably little energy to create quite a bit of light. You don’t see LED bulbs on store shelves because adapting the technology for consumer lighting use has been an expensive proposition. Now a Scottish team has figured out a way to overcome one of the main obstacles. I don’t really understand how exactly. Something about holes and nano-things, but the upshot is the advance could put super-efficient LED bulbs in our lamps and fixtures that would make CFLs look like insatiable energy gobblers.

This is a doubly good thing because fear of CFLs is apparently growing. The British Department of Energy has warned consumers to flee the room and don the hazmat gear when one breaks because there’s mercury inside. And advocates in England are saying that some people with light-sensitive skin conditions are having those conditions aggravated by exposure to the light CFLs create. Strange. Two points: 1) yes there’s mercury in CFLs and yes we need to be careful, but people broke fluorescent tubes for years without mass panics so why not replace discouraging alarmist warnings with calm advice and simple precautionary common sense. 2) Light is light. If the light from CFLs is making some sick folks sicker, can’t we just figure out how to filter or alter its qualities to remove those wavelengths (or lack thereof) causing the trouble? Do we have to keep incandescents in production (as advocates suggest), which will greatly slow the rate of much-needed adoption of this technology? Hmmmm…

The new issue of Rachel’s Democracy and Health News has a great collection of stories about new solar technologies with the real potential to launch the solar revolution we’ve been waiting for for what seems like forever. Great stuff. There’s a good article on wind power, too. (Fossil fuels are just so 20th century…) Read it all.

Finally, did you know that drywall, freakin’ drywall for pete’s sake, accounts for a full 1% of America’s energy consumption and 25 billion (yeah, that’s a “b”) pounds of carbon dioxide emissions? How completely weird is that? No longer, though. EcoRock is here. Zero-emissions. Priced the same as premium drywall. Works like a charm, apparently. Just goes to show you that we aren’t going to solve the climate thing with one big move (though a few of those would certainly help) but in a thousand thousand smaller ways, everybody taking care of a tiny slice of the emissions pie with a new idea or action. Looks like we’ve got the drywall thing licked. 1% down. 99 to go…