Sunday, August 18, 2013

Passion - the flavorless and contagious substance that may very well change our world.

Sometimes I feel destined for greatness, but then I realize that I’m too lazy to do anything about it. Which is ironic, since out of anyone in history searching for answers, I’m the most likely to find them. Because I have an iPhone, and because of Google. But no, 50% of the time I’m 100% likely to go back to looking at cat pictures on the internet or figure out which cool filters to use on that picture of my breakfast I just took. And this may very well be the existential crisis of my generation. 
Before I go on to the slightly more motivational stuff - a bit of a disclaimer. Speaking about groups of people often results in observation being misconstrued as judgement. I’m speaking from a macro-sociological vantage point (looking at an entire generation’s behaviors) and attempting to understand the recent observable trend of laziness in myself and my peers by breaking it down into it’s constituent parts. Call it a practice in using methods of analytic philosophy in the context of social philosophy. In another way, these are just observations turned conclusions caused by my own insight, research, and personal experience [all those hours spent watching Family Guy have to count for something].
I’m part of a generation where the last flame of necessity for passion is almost quenched by the world and what it has to offer. More and more I see people my age [and sadly at any age] at a standstill in life. Motionless. Content in their mediocrity. Happily indulging in what the world has to offer with no sense of moderation or wisdom to know when to stop. And somewhere in there we’ve lost our passion for life. I’m a firm believer in the masses being of the same essence as the great people we remember from history. 
By passion I mean that deep, almost incomprehensible inner desire or will that humanity has to be excellent. In The Republic,Plato divides the soul into constituent parts – the nous (“reason”), thumos (“passion”), and eros (“desire”). In another one of his works, the Phaedrus, he depicts the “reason” or nous as a charioteer controlling two horses – the passion and desire - as a allegory of humanity’s long battle of reason against it’s own broken nature. Regardless of what you believe about the “soul”, I’m not trying to talk particularities about it- I only mention this to bring attention to the fact that in some way or another, the reality of “passion” is an attribute of our identity as human beings. This doesn’t have to be a moral thing either, it supersedes ethics – passion is a driving force for both good and evil. Hitler was a passionate person. Think about that.
It’s one of those few things that can’t really be taught to people. Try to convince someone to be passionate about something. Anything. I have a friend who is a musician. He speaks of music and plays music so passionately that it almost makes me jealous, even if I have no real inclination to do the same. And even if I did have a desire to play music as he does, it would be inauthentic – as I wouldn’t be playing music as an intimate creative expression that comes from deep inside- but more likely because I want to be that guy all the girls sit around when he pulls out a guitar and starts playing Yellow by Coldplay. Yeah, that guy. Please don’t be that guy – it makes it hard for simpletons like me. What am I supposed to do, talk her into liking me?
Passion can’t be taught and willpower can’t be created, but it’s something that gets under your skin. Because passionate people have something to live for. That type of fullness in life is something desirable to every human being.
And it doesn’t have to be something grandiose, sometimes it’s as simple as just being a really awesome human being at whatever point in life you are. We have a tendency to see greatness and passion manifested by those at the front lines or on the front page - the scientists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, revolutionary politicians, the famous musicians, artists  and writers.
But what does this have to do with energy and sustainability? And what does this have to do with you and with me? 
You see, passion is the flavorless and contagious substance that can infect only human beings. There are people in this world who understand their minute, individual role in the bigger picture. They get that small decisions can have big consequences. This isn't so much a passion to create as it is to cultivate what already exists - a beautiful planet full of living, breathing, creating, and unique people. I believe we are all called to this type of passion. It doesn't start with much - spend some time reading around this blog and our main site here, and you may very well change the world. 

Balancing Sustainability with Reducing Energy and Economic Poverty

In developing nations there is a desperate need for energy to sustain life, educate and advance the nation. For most of these nations burning coal to provide power is crucial to survival. Recently, president Obama has decided to no longer fund projects in the developing world that will rely on coal fueled power generation with the exception of nations in extraordinary circumstances where they have no other way to generate power. The world bank has also followed suit and embraced the new focus on sustainability.

This is a deathblow for most countries in the developing world and while it’s a great choice for the environment it’s a bad choice for the ability of these nations to sustain the lives of their people.  For those of us in the developed world these things are the basics of life. Therein lies the problem, what is sustainability really about? Sustaining the lives of humans or maintaining the balance of nature so that future generations have livable earth? There is not really a right answer. But here’s what’s being left out, sacrifice. More specifically, who can afford it? It’s not the developing nations, they are literally drowning in their poverty, it’s us, the developed nations. We can afford it. The United States has the ability and the innovation to create alternatives while the developing world does not. So why isn’t Mr. Obama saying that we will no longer burn coal to produce electricity in this country?  That is the question we need to start asking ourselves as well as our government.  

To read more about this topic please follow this link:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Columbia River Treaty Expires

The United States’ long-standing treaty with Canada over Columbia River usage rights ends next year. The treaty, called “The Columbia River Treaty” was enacted in 1964 to help the US and Canada share the benefits of the Columbia River. However, much has changed in environmental terms and not for the good. The two countries have the opportunity to ratify the treaty and in the process continue to supply carbon free power to the entire northwest region.  Along with the opportunity to ratify the treaty is the opportunity not to renew, which wouldn’t take effect until 10 years after the official termination of the treaty. It all makes for an interesting interaction between the two nations who are in vastly different economic circumstances than they were almost 50 years ago.

Ecologically, there as some major issues, when the Grande Coolie Dam was originally built under the original treaty Canada lost all of its Coho, Chinook, Burbot, Steelhead and sturgeon fish. For many Canadians this is a depressing and sobering side effect of the treaty although the energy benefits of the treaty were highly lucrative. Canada originally received in 1964 a $275 million dollar payment up front along with rights to 50% of the energy produced by the dams that the US built on Columbia. Even still Canadian interests would like their salmon runs restored as a part of any new negotiations. To read more on this topic click on the link provided below:

India Looks to Solve Energy Poverty Through Solar Means

One of the issues with renewable energy sources is their deployability in developing nations. Unfortunately, most of the issue comes down to cost, it’s simply not cheap and without significant investment from foreign investors or interests the creation these types renewable and sustainable power-producing facilities is simply not possible. In many situations developing nations turn to fossil fuels for energy production. This is not an ideal solution for the environment or for the people of those nations but it is an economically a viable one and it is very quick. India, like many developing nations is experiencing problems providing enough power and have also had the option to turn to coal to power for electricity generation. However, India, even though under pressure to power its newly burgeoning economy is turning to solar power instead.

The reason for India's choice of solar is due in large part to the fact that this year India has been experiencing an increase in blackouts although they’ve been an issue for years. In 2012 over 620 million people were affected by blackouts. Interestingly, the states in India that are experiencing the worst blackouts and most frequent blackouts are some of the most conducive to solar energy solutions (see map below):

The idea is to install solar power generation facilities in these states to combat the issue of blackouts and spur on continued economic growth. India's choice of solar to solve their power issue could pave the way for other developing nations to follow suit. To learn more please go to: 

Cost of Solar Energy Lower Than Nuclear

Times in energy productivity have been changing it has recently been announced that solar power is for the first time in history, cheaper than nuclear energy per kilowatt hour(Scott, C.) a study conducted by Duke University announced.
This tug of war between the environmentally safe and friendly solar power to it’s cheaper and infinitely more dangerous competitor nuclear energy has finally gone the way of the sun.
However, not all of the problems are solved nuclear is still capable of producing more energy in terms of volume. Also there are a lot of subsidies involved with producing solar energy. Still researchers say even when all of the subsidies are removed nuclear will still be cheaper within a decade, which is fantastic news for environmentalists everywhere.  

Still the argument persists that solar energy is not on it’s on enough to power the future due to its reliance on the sun. Essentially, the sun is only putting out energy 10 hours a day, scientists a researchers have to come up with a plan make up for the other 14 hours a day where the sun is not shining  or there is rain or cloud cover to make the technology truly sustainable. I know it seems simple but when compared with the nuclear alternative’s 24 hour 365 days a year ability to generate life sustaining power, it’s easy to see why so many countries have chosen to rely on it instead of solar, even though its inherently dangerous and a potential environmental nightmare. In reality most researchers think that solar is a great option to use in concert with some other staple of energy or a combination of more sustainable sources (wind, hydro, thermal, etc.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

How Should We Measure Energy Poverty?

Rural Bangladesh End Use HH Energy Per Capita Per Month
by Income Decile.  Source:  Rural Energy Survey 2005

Energy poverty can be a hard thing to define. Is it the same as income poverty? Or is it based on access to energy, not the actual amount of energy used? Energy for Development states four different was of defining energy poverty: 

-          “Minimum amount of physical energy necessary for basic needs such as cooking and lighting
-          “Type and amount of energy that is used for those at the poverty line”
-          “Households that spend more than  a certain percent of their expenditure on energy”
-          “The income point below which energy use and or expenditures remains the same, implying this is the bare minimum energy needs” 

All of these explanations seem to be somewhat viable with visible pros and cons. However, who’s to say which is right and which is wrong? Most of the time energy poverty is explained as little or no access to energy for means of cooking, lighting, and heating. This is an adequate explanation but also leaves a lot to be interpreted. That is where these explanations come in. Energy poverty is more than not having access; it is not having adequate amounts. With this explanation, poor families in the United States could be considered to be experiencing energy poverty. Without the means to heat or light a house, one could be considered energy poor. The world runs on money, but shouldn’t everyone be entitled to basic needs? The following video shows the effects a cold home on children due to insufficient fuel.

The main focus of energy poverty are developing countries but people need to realize there are others, closer to home that are afflicted with the same problem. 

Read more about Energy for Development here

And visit National Energy Action to learn more.