My Little Eco Rant…

“Change!” It’s incredibly cliché and overused. When people say the word, it creates more questions than answers. From campaign slogans to kitty litter box instructions, that simple word creates an array of mental images. But, I’m going to say it anyway – We have to change.

The traditional concept of the “American Way” as established in the 20th century (bigger, faster, fatter, cheaper, etc.) is clearly and undeniably unsustainable. I realize that telling people they need to change the way they see reality isn’t exactly a winning campaign strategy for an aspiring politician, but it has to start at some point.

The world’s oil supply has been on the decline for decades and climate change has been accelerating, wreaking havoc in the form of crazier weather and more intense storms. The Earth itself is at a tipping point and yet most of the world’s leaders are more concerned with drilling for more of a dwindling resource (it’s called “fossil” fuels for a reason) than investing in and improving renewable, sustainable sources of energy.

America is the richest nation on the planet and leads the world in natural resource consumption…and we only account for five percent of the global population. We produce incredible amounts of waste and pollution, which is to be expected from a developed society like ours. However, the fact that other nations around the world are striving to become like us should be a motivation for us to set an example.

Faster, sleeker, sexier cars are fun…but do they really improve one’s life? Buying everything in bulk may be economical, but it isn’t always the best option. Cheaper, hormone-filled foods treated with large amounts of chemicals may be convenient and delicious, but they have disastrous health implications for the body and the planet.

Higher profits and expansion are key to any successful business, but it shouldn’t be the goal of life. Capitalism creates superior products and innovations, but it can also create massive amounts of poverty, pollution and waste. In short, it is not the cure-all for every ailment.

I have nothing against technological innovation or progress; I’ve always been a geek, fascinated with new technologies and the promise of a better tomorrow as depicted in pop culture hits like Star Trek. I am incredibly thankful that I live in a prosperous country like the United States. I love my country and am optimistic about her future…even if her priorities are frequently out of whack.

Things like improving the efficiency of solar power technology and increasing incentives for green technology and renewable energy sources should be some of our top priorities as a species. Governments need to pledge to follow international treaties that treat climate change for what it is: a global crisis that affects everyone.

I know this kind of “rant” may simply be seen as a stupid, tree-hugging, hippie, pink0-commie plea for change, or something…and I don’t care. Shrug away. Laugh it off. Call me young and naive. Continue living in ignorance. I care about the future of this planet. I’m not trying to boost my own ego…to the contrary – Long after I’m gone, I want humanity to be thriving and continually improving. I can’t, in good conscience, focus solely on my own life and ambitions and ignore the consequences of contemporary policies.

Simply closing one’s eyes doesn’t make the rest of the world temporarily disappear. Get real and do something. Live your life with the knowledge that your decisions have consequences. Vote for candidates who are committed to humanity’s betterment and survival. Stay up to date on scientific advances and updates. Realize that while you may live in a sovereign nation, you share a planet with billions of other people and millions of other species. Change. 😉

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My Two Cents: GOP In Desperate Need of Reinvention

Maybe the GOP needs to self-destruct and implode from its current craziness to rebuild itself.

After all, it is very telling of the party that Rick “Hates Gays” Santorum and Mitt “Soul-less” Romney are the top choices in the Iowa Caucus.

This is was the Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Ford, the Party of emancipation, conservation, infrastructure and equality. Now it’s the Party of candidates that deny evolution, climate change and civil rights to an entire group of people based on fundamentalist religion. Basically, the modern GOP rejects reality.

I wonder where the Republican Party will be in 10 years, after the Tea Party extremism and the homophobia and anti-intellectualism of the religious-right wing of the party have hopefully faded into distant, painful memories. How will the Party recover from such an amnesia of its roots? Only time, and votes, will tell…

Revitalizing California (And The Rest Of The Nation) Via High-Speed Rail

In 2009, President Obama announced a plan to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within the next 25 years with funding from federal, state and industrial sources. To accomplish this plan, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) created the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (HSIPR) to revitalize and update America’s railways. The program focuses on three key objectives (direct from the FRA’s website):

  1. Building new high-speed rail corridors that expand and fundamentally improve passenger transportation in the geographic regions they serve.
  2. Upgrading existing intercity passenger rail corridors to improve reliability, speed, and frequency of existing services; and
  3. Laying the groundwork for future high-speed rail services through corridor and state planning efforts.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Obama in 2009, gave $8 billion to railway revitalization efforts. Since then, an additional $2.1 billion has been added to HSIPR, making the program’s total funding $10.1 billion.

One of the many projects HSIPR is investing in is the California High-Speed Rail project, an 800-mile-long route through the heart of the largest US state. HSIPR added a $300 million investment to the $9.95 billion funded by Proposition 1A, passed by CA voters in 2008. It will be the nation’s first 220-mph high-speed rail system and allow commuters and tourists to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours (it currently takes around eight hours via one reeeally long drive). Passengers will be able to travel the amazing system beginning in 2020 and once it’s completed, it will be possible to travel from Sacramento to San Diego by train.

Is high-speed rail expensive? Definitely. To revitalize and upgrade the nation’s railroads, billions of dollars are needed. Current estimates for the California High-Speed Rail project put the cost at around $100 billion. Despite the high cost, high-speed rail investment is most definitely worth it. In the short-term, projects like the one in California put 600,000 people to work constructing the rail line itself. In the long-term, commuting times between cities hundreds of miles apart are shortened (by hours), almost half a million people have jobs working for the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), existing routes are updated and improved, travel across the state – whether for business or pleasure – is clean and efficient, and goods and services can move quickly across great distances. Oh, and the fact that we’re in a bad economy is all the more reason to invest in improving the channels through which our economy operates.

Several nations around the globe have invested in high-speed rail and the results have been positive. Economies are stronger and the world is a little smaller and cleaner. California and the rest of the United States are going in the right direction by revitalizing their national railroad systems, laying the groundwork for a prosperous century.

*As a California resident, I think it’s amazing that my state is once again leading the way in innovation. I cannot wait to travel across the state in such a state-of-the-art, fast train. 🙂

The Big Picture: The CA High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2009 Business Plan

California High-Speed Rail: A Visual Tour

American High-Speed Rail System Plan

The Future Is Now

In 1969, the first email was sent. In 2009, over 90 trillion were sent. Billions of people communicate with each other instantaneously around the globe. Entire music, movie and television show libraries can fit in one’s pocket and can be wirelessly, instantly transferred to a device/computer. Computer power doubles roughly every two years. School-aged children are learning amazing things in the classroom…with iPads. Countless communications satellites orbit the Earth and space probes traverse the farthest reaches of the Solar System, paving the way for future missions.

The word “revolution” doesn’t even come close to describing how amazing and mind-blowing technological progress has been and continues to be.

This IS the future. We are living it. It’s come by quietly and with a bang.

 

Blast Off….On A Cable

In a previous post, “Our Energy Future: Solar Power,” I mentioned a mini-series the Discovery Channel aired in 2007 called 2057, in which physicists and futurists discussed current developments that will possibly mold the next 50 years of human civilization. Aside from some bland acting, it was very informative. 😉

In the episode 2057: The World, a space elevator was discussed. If you think that is what it sounds like…you’re right. An elevator cable (made of an extremely strong material) is descended from a space station in orbit around the planet to a station on the surface of the Earth. The promise: space travel becomes so affordable = space tourism and exploration is possible for the average person.

Watch:

Our Energy Future: Solar Power

In 2007, the Discovery Channel aired a three-part special called 2057 , in which futurists and scientists theorized about how life would change and improve over the next 50 years.

One of the parts of the special, titled 2057: The World, explored how humanity would obtain energy to fuel our civilization. The episode followed a fictitious story line where astronauts aboard a space station were trying to develop solar panels that were much more efficient than today’s panels.

Modern solar panels are only 14-18% efficient because the material (silicon) used only absorbs a fraction of the power of sunlight. Current prototypes in developement are expected to raise the efficiency to nearly 40%. However, to compete with the power derived from fossil fuels, solar power efficiency has to be at least 50%.

Thankfully, in the Netherlands, scientists are working on creating an entirely new, super-efficient material for solar power. The promise: 80% efficiency. Say goodbye to the old days of dirty oil and coal.

Here’s a clip of the episode.

If you would like to continue watching the rest of the episode (to see what happens next!), simply select the “Watch on YouTube” icon on the bottom right of the clip. From YouTube you can select the other “parts” of the episode.