Archive for the 'Environment' category

Apple’s new iMacs

August 7, 2007 11:49 pm

It’s almost a sacrilege to admit it for someone working with traditional PCs for a living, but I’m just blown away by the new stuff Apple announced today. Their marriage of sleek, elegant hardware, fabulous software and web services just screams and screams “smart” at me. Now that I think about it, I’ve been blown away at almost every single announcement within the last three or four years.

But.

Aluminum?

Yes, it’s recyclable. And it’s highly desired by recyclers.

You know why?

Because it’s one of the most energy-wasting metals to extract from the ore. The more recycled aluminum you can get your hands on, the more money you can make.

And now they make the entire iMac shell out of the stuff? Ugh.

So Steve touts the recycling aspect in his presentation, making everyone think “Wow, Apple is doing a great thing. Great for the environment.”

They’re not doing a great thing. And it’s not great for the environment.

But of course they don’t tell you that.

See my previous post for more details on how much energy goes into making aluminum, illustrated by soda cans.

Now, this is about the only bad thing I have to say about the new stuff that came out of the buildings down the street today. Everything else sounds and looks fantastic. One of these days I’ll have to break down and get one of these JesusMachines.

A truly brilliant description of cloud formation

August 4, 2007 2:59 pm

Eric Lippert paints such vivid pictures of cloud formation, I just had to link to his two part miniseries:

Talking About The Weather, Part One

Talking About The Weather, Part Two

I’ll have to go back and read these one more time. Fascinating.

The enemy of progress on environmental issues

April 15, 2007 7:39 pm

I was surprised at a headline in the newspaper the other day: California (or was it just the San Francisco Bay Area) is officially in a drought this year. Strange, when just last year there was more than enough water to go around. We are being asked to save 10% of our usual water consumption this year.

One way to accomplish this is installing low-flow shower heads and installing drip irrigation systems instead of the sprinkler systems that are so ubiquitous around here. That got me thinking about how we can contribute to saving 10% of our water consumption. We already have low-flow shower heads installed. So the only thing to do extra there is turning off the water while soaping up, which should be doable.

But what about the watering system? We’re renting the house we live in, like so many people here in this hyper-priced area. We could ask our landlord to upgrade the system, but why should he? There’s not really anything in it for him. We pay the water bill, not he. It would only cause hassles. And cost him money. You can imagine how this plays out for other areas where it would be a good idea to improve the house to lessen your impact on the environment. Double-paned windows, attic and wall insulation, light fixtures that allow for energy efficient lighting to be installed (our house has the first two already, luckily). Usually there is no reason whatsoever for someone to make these improvements to a rental house.

This line of reasoning extends to a lot of other areas as well. Think about what we consider a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (and global warming) – cars. There are millions and millions of cars on the streets that spew out tons and tons of carbon-dioxide, but work just fine, thank you. Ours does (so far, knock on wood.) There is no incentive for people to suddenly sell their old car and buy a new one. And imagine what would happen if everyone wanted to do that at the same time, owing to some miracle. Due to the enormous supply of cars, the price you could get for your old car would plummet. That would make it even less attractive, even if everyone had a change of consciousness suddenly.

All if this leads me to believe that one of the large problems that has to be solved politically to work on environmental issues is how to deal with the “installed base” (to use a software development term.) I have no idea how to do that without using taxation. It’s not like you can just push down an update over the Internet. And I know very well that talking about taxes in the U.S. is almost the same as committing political suicide. So if you are concerned about issues like this and have some bright ideas that don’t involve taxes, let’s hear them!

Is money the only effective behavior modification tool on a societal level?

April 4, 2007 9:26 am

It used to be that we were all inextricably connected to the planet and each other. We lived in small villages or other little communities, got our sustenance from farming or gathering, and bartered with each other. The baker would trade bread for horseshoes. The doctor would trade consultations for eggs. The farmer would trade grains for plows. Everyone took as much as they needed to live their lives. Manual and animal labor limited the amount of resources we could harvest. We had nowhere to put our waste, but nearby our communities, so we knew how to use and re-use things to their utmost potential.

Today, we have no idea how our actions impact the environment or society around us and far away. Machines powered by fossil fuels enable us to extract as many natural resources as we want, crave or desire from the planet. Industrial processes turn those resources into “stuff” for us to buy and use, and often use up and throw away. And machines transport our waste away from our communities.

Most of us are completely disconnected from the natural world by using money to buy stuff. All we know is that this widget or that gadget costs X.

We don’t know how much energy was used in making it. We don’t know what raw materials went into it. We don’t know how the raw materials were transported. We don’t know how production affected the environment. We don’t know how much the people working on it were paid, and whether that was a fair payment. We don’t know how discarding it will impact the environment.  

We don’t know anything except the price. And very often the people making the gadget externalize lots of costs. Especially the costs of throwing it away and how that contributes to slowly making our planet a pigsty for us to slowly suffocate in our own waste. Along with all other living beings. Everything we use and throw away still stays on the planet. It may not be in our neighborhood because it gets transported “away”, but it goes somewhere. We don’t know exactly where. We don’t know exactly how.

Since money is all we know, money seems to be the only answer to modifying behavior. That means that if a society wants to influence the way its members behave, the only way to do that is through taxation. If buying gas for your car causes the atmosphere to heat up, tax it some more to make people think of other ways of getting around. If buying a computer will cause toxic chemicals to leak into our water supplies once it’s discarded, tax it some more so people will think of other ways of accomplishing what they think they need a computer for. And use the taxes to support responsible re-use and final disposal, to support research into ways to design products with re-use in mind, to support mindsets that encourage living sustainably and lightly on the earth.

I know that lots of people bristle at the idea of taxes. It just seems to me that we as a society don’t understand anything but money, so we need to use monetary means to get to societal ends. The biggest of which is our obligation to future generations of the human species to enjoy life as we enjoy it right now.