Alternatives to Fossil Fuels: An overview

June 24, 2015
Wind farm in central Montana. Photo SB Davis

Wind farm in central Montana. Photo SB Davis

Recently I discussed the G-7 pledge to decarbonize our economies by 2100. As a follow up let’s talk about energy sources and fuels able to take the place of carbon-based ones like coal, crude oil, and natural gas. Remember we have to find something that will power our automobiles and trucks, heat our homes and power our cities. Whatever it is must be non-polluting, not produce greenhouse gases, be abundant, cheap and easy to produce, transport and store.

Hydrogen:

The best candidate is hydrogen the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen fuel cells are already in use powering vehicles, cars, trucks and buses. There are rumours in the automotive world BMW is planning to introduce a hydrogen powered car in the near future.

The challenge is the ability to produce, transport and store hydrogen safely and cheaply. In the United States the Department of Energy (DOE) has been conducting feasibility studies for many years into the use of hydrogen as a fuel and energy source that could replace fossil fuels. In Canada, and British Columbia in particular, there are buses and cars being operated using hydrogen fuel cells as the power source.

The biggest drawback right now is the lack of infrastructure. There are only a few filling stations dispensing hydrogen for vehicles. Best of all vehicles powered by hydrogen are 100% non-polluting. The by-product is water. However it does take energy to obtain hydrogen.

Nuclear Energy:

Nuclear power generation supplies roughly 20% of the energy needs of the United States today. Energy produced by nuclear means is clean and non-polluting. The major disadvantage is the need for safe, secure long-term storage of the radioactive waste produced.

Solar Power:

Power from our sun has great potential, but technology needs to be developed further to make it a viable source as a replacement. Solar is being used to generate power at many locations around the world. Solar panels are used to heat water and supply power to remote locations.

If all the solar energy the sun bombards our Earth with could be captured it would exceed the world’s energy needs 10,000 times over. It is an inexhaustible supply of free energy, but it has to be captured and stored economically and efficiently.

Wind Power:

Power from the wind is at first glance a viable option, but it is restricted because it is intermittent. The number of wind turbines needed to generate massive amounts of energy is prohibitive. It’s definitely a power source that should be in the mix, but realistically not a great alternative to fossil fuel by itself. The wind turbines are considered unsightly by many and the blades kill many birds.

Others:

Hydro-electric, Tidal and Geo-thermal power are all site-specific meaning they can’t be generated everywhere. Also the sources of these types of power are limited. So although good clean, economic sources of energy their use is restricted to local areas.

I believe over the long-term fossil fuels can be largely replaced, but much work remains to be done. These research and feasibility studies must be continued. In parallel with the use of fossil fuels. Society must prepare for the day when we can decarbonize our economies. Our long term future depends on it. Meanwhile fossil fuels are here to stay. We need to use them wisely and reduce their footprint.


G-7 Pledge: No carbon by the year 2100.

June 13, 2015

white-semi-truckThe G-7 or Group of 7 major industrialized nations at their summit this week pledged to reduce the carbon footprint in their economies, and further to completely remove all carbon by the year 2100 or 85 years from now. The G-7 includes Canada, the United States, European countries like Germany, France and the UK, and Asian powerhouse Japan. Eighty-five years sounds like a long time, but think for a moment what no carbon would mean to our society and our lifestyle expectations.

It means no carbon fuels such as gasoline, diesel or jet fuel allowed. Planes, trains and automobiles will no longer exist in our world unless they were powered by non-carbon fuels. That means no coal, no natural gas and no crude oil in any form. They’re all are carbon-based.

Hydrogen, nuclear, solar or wind power are the potential alternatives. Visualize cars and trucks adorned with sails moving on our highways much like the sailors of old. Perhaps solar panels will be much smaller and more efficient by then and drivers will have vehicles constructed of solar panels top to bottom. When the wind dies we’ll be stranded, becalmed like sailors of old, or if it’s cloudy or when night falls drivers will be unable to go further that day.

Electric cars are also an option but remember the power to charge them is generated now by fossil fuels (carbon). Proliferation of electric powered cars means more power to be generated.

Nuclear power is non-carbon but we’d have to develop compact nuclear reactors to power our vehicles. Would we really want millions of nuclear cores traveling down our highways and byways at high speed. Accidents might result in nuclear explosions or at best meltdowns and radioactive releases to the atmosphere on a routine basis. Massive amounts of nuclear waste would be generated as a byproduct.

Hydrogen is a non-carbon fuel. Best of all it can be sourced from water an abundant resource. Water is H2O, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. Separation is an expensive process today, but could become cheap if there was a demand. The biggest disadvantage to hydrogen is his extreme explosiveness. It is downright dangerous to handle.

boeing-787-dreamliner_100416655_mAirplanes will be drastically smaller and slower powered by solar or wind power. Traveling around the world will take a vast amount of time. Tourism will become localized. Trips to faraway places will be a thing of the past.

Unless a viable non-carbon alternative fuel is discovered between now and 2100, society will be forced to live a slower pace and stick closer to home. The goods we enjoy today that come to us over long distances will no longer be available. As an example fresh fruit and vegetables in the winter will be a thing of the past.

Society will be markedly low-tech. Our high tech society will cease to exist. Carbon based chemicals are a necessary part of our computers and high tech toys and tools. Replacements don’t presently exist for those chemicals derived from carbon.

I’m not a scientist or an inventor, but I have a hard time imagining where the cheap, abundant alternative to carbon-based fuels and chemicals will come from. I’m not saying a complete phase out of carbon-based fuels and chemicals can’t be accomplished, but it’ll take a complete reinvention of our society and its expectations.


Suffer the little children: The Oklahoma City Bombing 20 years later.

April 19, 2015
Firefighterbabyocb

Fireman Chris Fields removing infant Baylee Almon (who later died) from destruction. Photo by Charles H. Porter IV. (smaller size than actual photo to conform to Fair Use) Won the Pulitzer Prize for its impact. Loction of actual photo http://www.pulitzer.org/works/1996-Spot-News-Photography

Just after 9 am on Wednesday April 19, 1995 a massive explosion destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This was a work day and the building was full of office workers just starting their day. The lower level had a daycare centre where employees could leave their children to be looked after while they were at work.

Murrah_Building_-_Aerial.-US Army Corp of Engineers-PublicDoman

Alfred P. Murrah Building after the bombing. Photo by US Army Corps of Engineers.

The bomb killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others. Included in the death toll were 19 children under the age of six. A massive rescue operation took place over the next days to find and help others trapped in the debris of the building.

The explosion destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a 16-block radius. Glass was shattered in 258 other buildings and 86 cars were destroyed. An estimated $652 million dollars damage resulted.

The Oklahoma City Bombing was the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. Timothy McVeigh the mastermind behind the terrible crime was captured within 90 minutes. Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger stopped him for driving without a license plate. The officer arrested him for illegal weapons possession. Investigators used forensic evidence to link him to the attack. Terry Nichols, Michael and Lori Fortier were identified and arrested as accomplices.

The bombers rented a large truck from Ryder, packed it full of explosives and parked it in front of the building. The bomb was timed to detonate just after the start of the work day when the maximum number of people would be in the building.

The bombers were tried and convicted in 1997. The Federal government executed McVeigh by lethal injection on June 11, 2001. Terry Nichols received life in prison without parole. The Fortiers testified against McVeigh and Nichols. Michael got 12 years in prison with Lori receiving immunity for her testimony.

Today the Oklahoma City Memorial sits on the site and annual remembrance services are held on the day. The memorial consists of a chair for each victim. There are 19 small chairs representing the children.

Reading about this event and seeing the pictures I know that evil exists. The victims in this bombing weren’t soldiers, but office workers and children. Innocents going about their everyday routines. Tragically this day they never returned home to their families and friends. The shockwave of the blast still echoes today 20 years later.


Presidential Oddities: “Natural born Citizen” what does it mean exactly?

April 3, 2015

seal-presidential-colorThe Constitution of the United States (Article II, Section I) outlines minimum qualifications a person must meet to be eligible to serve as the President of the United States. The Constitution states that to be President a person must,

  • Be at least thirty-five years of age
  • Have at least fourteen years of residency in the United States
  • Be a natural born citizen.

Over the years the first two have never been an issue. The last condition of being a “natural born Citizen” has several times been contentious.

It’s all in how the clause in the Constitution is interpreted. Some think it means born within the borders of the United States. The Constitution did not define “natural born Citizen”, and the Supreme Court has never ruled on its meaning. The vagueness has been used for political purposes by many opponents of the candidates.

Taken literally it would mean no one born outside the borders of the United States could be president. Scholars of the Constitution do not believe this to be the true intent. Most believe natural born extends to anyone born to U.S. citizens no matter where the birth occurred. To clarify the clause once and for all recommendations have been made to amend the Constitution.

In the race to the 2016 Presidential Election another example has arisen. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who recently announced his candidacy was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He was born to an American mother and a Cuban father. Under U.S. law he automatically became an American citizen at birth because one of his parents was a citizen. Is this considered natural born? Therein is the ambiguity of the Constitutional clause. Without an amendment or a Supreme Court ruling the parameters of the clause remain uncertain.

Here are some examples of history,

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California was born in Austria to Austrian parents. Because neither parent was an American citizen he was not an American citizen at birth. He attained citizenship by naturalization after he immigrated. It is clear he would not be eligible to be president unless the Constitution was amended to enable it.

Senator John McCain of Arizona was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Both his parents were American citizens and also he was born on an American military base. Some questioned his qualifications when he ran in 2008, but in the end most agreed he met the natural born criteria. In fact in April 2008 the Senate passed a resolution declaring that McCain was a natural born citizen under the Constitution. This may have reassured many, but it had no real legal significance.
McCain Ineligible to be President?

Back in 1964 the natural born issue was raised against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. He was born in Arizona prior to statehood. Arizona at the time was only a territory. Therefore was he natural born? Once again this was never resolved. Had he become president it may have been challenged in the courts.

Once again in 1968 legal actions threatened candidate George Romney, former Governor of Michigan, who was born in Mexico. Although he was born to parents who were both American citizens many arguments against his eligibility were made. His candidacy was unsuccessful and again no court ruling resulted.

During the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Elections so-called “birthers” challenged Barack Obama’s natural born credentials. In his case he was born in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan born father. They even argued that he wasn’t born in Hawaii an American state since 1960, but actually in Kenya. The State of Hawaii produced a copy of his birth certificate.

President Chester Arthur ascended to the Presidency on the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881. His opponents dogged him with the issue of not being a natural born citizen.

He was born October 5, 1829 in Fairfield, Vermont according the family bible held by the U.S. National Archives, but no birth certificate exists. His father was Irish born and emigrated to Lower Canada, present day Quebec in 1818. Arthur’s mother was born in Vermont. They were married in Lower Canada in 1821. They moved to Fairfield in 1828 where Chester was born. The family’s many moves led to accusations Chester Arthur was not a natural born citizen of the United States. Once again these claims were never ruled on or proven.
Illegal President? Chester Alan Arthur.

To clarify and rid American politics of these arguments Sarah Helene Duggin from the Catholic University of America, who is an acknowledged expert on this topic believes the Constitution should be amended. The issue is not going away and is likely to arise again in the future.

What if someone is elected or becomes President and someone files in court to have them removed from office because of the natural born clause. If this filing is ruled legitimate and proceeds then what happens until the ruling is made? Does the person still continue be president or are they removed until a ruling is made? What if the ruling goes against the sitting president? As you can see confusion and potential gridlock may result. This is the reason most Constitutional scholars such as Ms Duggin believe the solution is an amendment.


Presidential Oddities: James Madison the 4th President 1809 – 1817.

March 28, 2015

All American Presidents have some kind of oddity associated with them or their administration. The 4th President of the United States, James Madison was no exception.

James_Madiso-WhiteHouseHistAssn-PublicDomain-Dec31_1815

President James Madison-WhiteHouseHistoricalAssn-PublicDomain

Madison was President from 1809 to 1817. He was elected twice under the Democratic-Republican banner. By today’s standards that party name alone is an oddity. In that era two main parties contested the Presidency. The Federalists who stood for a strong central government and the Democratic-Republicans who stood for States rights first, and believed the national government must respect those rights.

When he was nominated and ran for President in 1808 his running mate was George Clinton. The oddity was that he was the sitting Vice President. He served under President Thomas Jefferson. He ran for the presidential nomination against Madison, but ended up being nominated by his party as Madison’s vice presidential candidate. This was the first of two times this happened, the other being the re-election of John C. Calhoun in 1828. Madison himself served under Thomas Jefferson, the incumbent president, as his Secretary of State. When Jefferson did not seek a third term, Madison ran for his party’s nomination.

In 1812 Madison was again nominated, but Vice President George Clinton died April 20, 1812. His party’s caucus nominated Governor John Langdon of New Hampshire to be his new running mate. Governor Langdon declined the nomination because of his age, 70 years at the time. A second caucus nominated Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts for vice president and he accepted even though he was relatively old at 68 years. This ticket of Madison-Gerry was elected and inaugurated.

On November 23, 1814 Vice President Gerry fell ill while in the Capitol. He went to his boarding house nearby and died later in the day.

President James Madison is the only President to have two Vice Presidents die in office. During both his terms the Vice Presidency was vacant for some time. There was no provision for filling the vacancy at that time. Over the years the office of Vice President has been vacant many times. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution ratified February 10, 1967 established procedures for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President.

President Madison was the first president to,

  • Have served in the House of Representatives.
  • Requested a Declaration of War from Congress (1812).
  • Be a wartime Commander-in-Chief (War of 1812)
  • Have an Inaugural Ball.
  • Wear long trousers instead of knee breeches.

I find these oddities and what-ifs of history to be fascinating. Stay tuned for more posts. Comments are always appreciated.


Calgary pedestrians: Cross at your own risk.

January 24, 2015

crosswalk signBackground:

In 2014 there were 411 pedestrians injured and 7 pedestrians killed on Calgary streets. This means at least one person per day is hit by a vehicle and injured in Calgary. The city boasts that pedestrian injuries and fatalities have declined over the last several years. I say so what. Any injury or fatality is one too many.

Calgary is not a safe place for pedestrians to be at large. Many factors contribute to this. Calgary is a major city now with a population of about 1.2 million persons. There are many more pedestrians and drivers in the city. Both pedestrians and drivers are at fault.

How are pedestrians protected?

Assuming pedestrians don’t jaywalk and cross at crosswalks or street corners, the law protects them by specifying vehicles must yield the right-of-way to them.

Crosswalks are marked with signs, markings on the pavement, and sometimes flashing lights overhead or next to the crosswalk. Most if not all intersections with traffic lights also have a walk light indicating when it is safe to cross.

The fine for driving through a marked crosswalk while a pedestrian is crossing is $500. You’d think that’d be adequate deterrent for a driver, but unfortunately many don’t stop, or in many cases even slow down. On roads with multi-lanes this is all too common. Some drivers in some lanes stop, but drivers in other lanes keep driving oblivious to why the drivers in the lanes beside them are stopped.

How can pedestrians protect themselves?

Pedestrians can take proactive steps to mitigate some of the danger,
– Indicate to the drivers you want to cross by extending your arm. This is the accepted signal that you are about to enter the crosswalk or intersection.
– Look on-coming drivers directly in the eye ensuring they see you.
– In multi-lane crosswalks be alert for drivers in other lanes as you cross. Make sure they’re stopping too. Don’t assume. Again look directly at them as you cross.
– At night try not to wear dark clothing that decreases your visibility to drivers. Many crosswalks and intersections are not well-lighted.
– Don’t be a distracted pedestrian, don’t talk or text on your cellphone, shut-off the music in those headphones before you cross.

How can drivers ensure pedestrians are protected?

First of all let me make it completely clear – you don’t ever want to hit a pedestrian. Lifelong guilt and remorse along with expensive lawsuits will result.
– Watch for pedestrian crossings
– Slow down when approaching crossings.
– Be alert when you approach crossings for pedestrians about to cross or in the crossings.
– If cars in adjacent lanes are stopped, guess what they’re stopped for a reason. Watch out for that pedestrian.
– At night watch extra closely for pedestrians who may not be as visible as they should be.
– Don’t drive distracted. Get off that cellphone. For goodness sake don’t text and drive. I like music when I drive too, but turn it down in the city.
– Don’t speed.
– Don’t drink and drive.

How can the City of Calgary protect pedestrians?

Here are some suggestions for improvement.
– Markings on the pavement should be in phosphorescent paint to increase visibility for drivers and pedestrians, especially at night.
– Markings on pavement should be re-applied yearly or as required so as to remain visible
– Heavily used crosswalks should have pavement markings and overhead flashing lights.
– Much more police enforcement needs to be done at crosswalks. The statistics reflect this need.
– More education of drivers and pedestrians should be done in the media or through hand-outs. Many pedestrians don’t know the correct and safe procedures for crossing a street. Children get this information through the school system, but adults have either forgotten or never learned the steps. The City of Calgary and Calgary Police Service have brochure available and the link is below.

Finally as one who is a driver and a pedestrian I urge pedestrians, drivers, and the City of Calgary to be proactive. There is a lot of room for improvement in this area. Let’s make it safer for everyone.

Related Links:
Calgary Herald-Hundreds of pedestrians hit and injured on city streets in 2014
http://calgaryherald.com/news/traffic/hundreds-of-pedestrians-hit-and-injured-on-city-streets-in-2014

Calgary Herald – Distracted Pedestrians
http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/pedestrian-awareness-campaign-targeting-distracted-walkers-discussed

Calgary Herald-Pedestrian Strategy to come before city council in 2015
http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/transportation-planning-in-2015-to-focus-on-pedestrians

City of Calgary-Pedestrian safety campaign
http://www.calgary.ca/Transportation/Roads/Pages/Traffic/Traffic-safety-programs/Pedestrian-safety.aspx

City of Calgary and Calgary Police Service brochure
http://www.calgary.ca/Transportation/Roads/Documents/Traffic/Traffic-safety-programs/pedestrian-safety-brochure.pdf


Growing up in the Cold War

December 14, 2014
DSC_0001

The museum in Albuquerque, NM. photo by Steve Davis

During a recent road trip I visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, New Mexico. More about the museum itself in a future post, but the gift shop had some old government publications for sale. I picked up one titled, “Survival Under Atomic Attack”. This is a printed by the Office of Civil Defense, State of California in October 1950. California reprinted it from a federal government brochure.

It is an extremely interesting document from the Cold War era. The government tried to prepare and reassure the populace by telling them it was actually possible to survive an all-out nuclear exchange between the USSR and the United States. Not only that they actually told people that life would go on much as before. Reading this brochure I found it so asinine that I actually laughed out loud at a lot of the contents. I thought I’d share some of the ‘deep thoughts’ found in the booklet.

On the very first page it states,

“YOU CAN SURVIVE,

you can live through an atom bomb raid
and you won’t have to have a Geiger counter,
Protective clothing, or special training in order to do it.

The secrets of survival are:

KNOW THE BOMB’S TRUE DANGERS.

KNOW THE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE

TO ESCAPE THEM.”

Forgive my skepticism but okay folks whatever you say.

Then there is a page titled “Kill the Myths” I found this just absurd. Here it is,

Myth #1 “Atomic Weapons will not destroy the Earth. Not even hydrogen bombs will blow the earth apart or kill us all by radioactivity.”

Yeah right they’ll just kill most humans, animals, and all other life and leave the planet uninhabitable.

Myth #2 “Doubling Bomb Power does not double destruction.”

This is total bullshit. Nuclear weapons would be detonated above their targets causing enormous damage. The governments who control these weapons have done extensive testing and know full well that this statement is an outright lie.

Myth #3 “Radioactivity is not the bombs greatest threat.”

Maybe not over the short-term, but over the long-term it is the greatest threat. It would linger and as proven by studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagaski, do damage for generations. Why do you think those x-ray techs in the dentist’s office run out of the room when they take those shots of your teeth? Why do they drap that lead vest around you and your vital parts? It’s because of the radiation. Granted it’s only in small dosages from x-rays, but nuclear weapons emit massive amounts of radiation when they explode.

Reading this document at this time in our history is an amusing peek into the mindset of those in power during one of the most frightening periods in recent history. As a child who grew up during the Cold War the contents of this document are beyond comical. It shocks me that we actually believed this stuff. I guess it reassured us that we shouldn’t have been scared. Hell no in reality most of us were scared shit-less!

My personal philosophy in the event of an all-out nuclear exchange was simply that I would prefer not to survive thank you. Let others deal with the nuclear winter and fall-out that would affect the Earth for thousands of years. Let others try to live on without law and order. Let others live on without the benefits of modern civilization like drinking water, heat in winter, and food. The dead would be better off, of that I have no doubt.

Reference::

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
Alburquerque, New Mexico
http://www.nuclearmuseum.org


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers