Monthly Archives: November 2009

Science, Society and Politics

I found this a very pertinent article by Polly Toynbee:

Bad politicians are slave to public opinion. Good ones try to change it

Her mention of the Alan Johnson & David Nutt clash is just what I said to friends when discussing it:

‘ Johnson could have told a truth about both science and politics: “This drug research is accurate, but people fear softening the law sends the wrong message. I intend to talk about it openly. Politics is about listening and talking to people. When the facts are more widely understood, we will review drug classifications.” ‘

Polly gives a few other examples of scientific evidence being ignored in the long term.

eco-friendly messages

This article shows just how far we have to go:

Top 10 green living myths

 It is correct that people may become complacent just because they use eco-products and eco-machines, and buy local, but these may not be all they seem. We don’t want to put people off making improvements because it seems too complicated to know what is best and this seems an argument for proper research with clear recommendations for major effective changes. David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air makes similar points.

There is a temptation for manufacturers of good products to make eco/sustainable claims that are only partially true in order to enhance sales.

Loft Insulation

The loft insulation in my house is old and thin between-joist fibre-glass. However, I did put boards over most of it so that the space could be used as a store. I need to work out U values for various possibilities.

2010/04/06. I thought that I would make a start by logging the temperatures in the loft and in a room below and I have some temperature loggers from Signatrol that I hope to set up for a few weeks to collect temperatures. I will also regularly check the room ceiling temperature with an IR thermometer that I got from Maplin.

I am investigating using reflective insulation, though I read that the manufacturers have exaggerated the effectiveness of the products. I will try to make some theoretical estimates of effectiveness before deciding how to go.

Solid Wall Insulation

I am researching external insulation for solid walls (that part of my house has).
The Energy Saving trust has a leaflet of advice (but from 13/06/2006): Practical refurbishment of solid-walled houses (CE184)

Here is a useful summary:

One firm that I may get a quotation from is: Westville Insulation

As it will be costly I am not rushing but trying to get as much information and understanding as possible before going ahead. I think there may be grants for this soon.

Although the house is detached, because of other extensions and abutments the solid wall area that needs covering on four sides totals about 90 m2. The typical temperature difference between the two sides of the wall measured with an IR thermometer is about 10 C, which leads to a power loss of about 2 KW through the walls. There is also about 18 m2 of double glazing in this area. As the different family members have different circadian rhythms the heating may be on for 18 hours a day, so as well as comfort in the solid wall areas there will be significant cost & emissions savings.

What can I contribute?

It seems to me that there is a big battle on ‘global warming’ and a lot of energy and time can go into commenting and explaining. I am not best placed to do that, but I should put my money where my mouth is. There is no argument for me on this issue for a long time yet I have not done as much as I could personally. How can I expect people who are sceptical or little informed to make changes? I intend to research insulation and heating solutions for my own house and invest in those solutions that I can cope with. I hope to help by example. The investigations and any implementation details and problems will appear on pages here over the next year. First I am looking into solid-wall insulation and loft insulation.

The UEA CRU Affair

The emails published from the email theft from UEA has not altered my view of global warming. What is fascinating is a few all-too-human slips and annoyances that appeared in some of the mails have been the real storm in the teacup. Why are some people so desperate to discredit the science that shows global warming? What big vested interest in denial (not just scepticism) has paid some gang to do the hack job? I thought this fair comment from the UEA team:

Climatic Research Unit update – November 24, 3.30pm

Utility Solar Installation

My view is that solar electric power is the most important item to develop. Although there is a good argument for diversity in the base energy source, solar really is the source of it all. Nuclear and geothermal are not immediate products of solar energy, but were in the distant past. I thought this article useful for showing us the possible and the cost:

New Jersey Utility Approved to Install 80MW of Solar for $515M

This scheme is using many photovoltaic panels atop power supply poles as well as in some places on he ground. As can be seen the installation cost is $6.5 per Watt. That Watt is supplied every second the sun is shining so that upfront cost of $6.5 will provide maybe 5,000 kWh over a year; this is not any new technology it tacks onto existing infrastructure.

The Vertical Farm

In Scientific American, November 2009, I found more creative thinking about our environmental problems. The article is The Rise of Vertical Farms. The author, Dickerson Despommier (a professor at Columbia University), has a web site detailing the plan, The Vertical Farm Project – Agriculture for the 21st Century and Beyond

The plan as suggested is to grow food within cities on brown field sites. These could be 30 stories high. City waste water would provide the water, the energy would come from whatever renewable was most locally suitable, supply of the produce would be local, the growing season would be all year long, the plants would be protected from many diseases and weather conditions just by being shielded from the outer environment. A lot of conventional agricultural land could be left to recover and regenerate; absorbing some of the CO2 we need less of in the atmosphere.

Desert and other arid regions could also become food producing areas. I found this a very attractive vision. As the author says, there are many matters to work out, and as I think repeatedly, let’s start small experiments now. The problem that I foresee that I did not notice mentioned is the evolution of plant diseases within these environments. As the world human population is expected to rise to 9.5 billion something new has to be done.

Ammonia is the smarter hydrogen

This is an inspiring possibility: Ammonia is the smarter hydrogen. This is a short article that points to lots of research and development that I have not had time to scan through yet. The main message to me is that there is a lot going on in non-CO2 energy development that would not have come to my mind. There are lots of clever people working on the energy problem and that gives up hope.

The Fire Alarm Problem

I found this article and its comments, published today, fascinating: World on course for catastrophic 6° rise, reveal scientists

Here is something to think about: Why Building Occupants Ignore Fire Alarms

The main point that I got from the article about the 6C temperature rise is that CO2 emissions are rising because more energy is being used and that now coal predominates as the source. Also that there is evidence that sinks for CO2 are becoming less absorptive, and there may even be a reversal where a sink becomes a source.

A lot of the commentators are hearing the very loud fire alarm and finding reasons to ignore it. The scientists in the article are arguing for action to prevent that degree of temperature rise and not for more taxes per se. The need is to redirect economic activity (that is human resources not mere money) to develop energy sources other than those that emit CO2. I suspect that China will be at the forefront of this and become very rich rather than be kept poor because of this redirection of effort. I can imagine a future situation where countries that have power stations that emit CO2 will be threatened with military strikes in the way that Israel current threatens Iran about its nuclear fuel reprocessing.