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A New Cheap, Renewable Energy Source?
It'll never happen, and here's why . . .
Posted March 8, 2005 by Michael A. Morrow
It's the holy grail. Everybody says they want it. And some people actually do want it.
However, an awful lot of other people seem to be doing everything in their power to keep it from happening. Usually in the name of "preserving the environment".
What does it mean to have "energy independence". An independent supply of oil? We actually have that. We have potential reserves to make us completely energy independent for the next hundred years. And it has all been placed off limits by environmental activists. Energy independence from oil? Probably not in our lifetime. We have massive quantities of clean-burning coal. They've also been removed from the energy equation by environmentalists. Hydro-electric power? Seems the environmentalists are bent on tearing down every dam in existence. Maybe those shouting loudest about "alternative" energy sources have an ulterior motive - like destroying the engine of commerce in the US. They couldn't do a better job if they tried.
And what about those "alternative" energy sources? You've heard about them. Wind, solar, geo-thermal, and wave-motion are the most common straw-men proposed. If we could just embrace one or all of these alternate energy sources, the planet wouldn't die, there'd be no more war, and we'd all live in harmony forever more.
Unfortunately, even if we could harness one of these alternate energy sources in significant amounts, It wouldn't matter, because it's not about making the energy, it's about our ability to store that energy for future use. And storing energy brings us to an uncomfortable little truism about energy and it's usefulness.
You have to be able to extract the energy from storage in a manner that is both fast, and safe. And the safe part is the problem.
See, there's this little general rocket-scientist-type rule-of-thumb about energy storage devices, and it goes like this:
The more energy a device is capable of storing,
Think about the two most common energy storage devices in use today. Batteries, and automobile gas tanks. On the side of every battery is the warning:
the better bomb it makes.
WARNING: DO NOT DISPOSE OF IN FIRE. MAY EXPLODE OR LEAK AND CAUSE PERSONAL INJURY.
And gas tanks? Everybody knows you don't throw matches at gasoline.
How about some of those other energy storage devices we hear so much about? Oh wait . . . we don't, do we? Because there aren't any practical ones yet.
What's that? Flywheels? Did I hear somebody say FLYWHEELS? Consider for a moment the consequences of a bearing failure in a flywheel. That's right, it's got moving parts when it's at rest ! That sounds real safe. Batteries and gas tanks just sit there when not in use. A flywheel is an instant catastrophe waiting for a single point failure. Whether the bearings are active, or passive, they will eventually fail, and when they do, there's a chance there'll be a flywheel-shaped slice in everything on a straight line for miles, including concrete, wood, and people.
* We're not talking little toy flywheels here people. We're talking REAL flywheels, capable of storing truly useful amounts of energy.
What about those new-fangled "fuel cells" that are being discussed as a substitute for the old battery? That wonderful new technology where oxygen and hydrogen are combined, and the output is electricity and drinkable water?
Remember when the first Space Shuttle exploded? That was an oxygen/hydrogen explosion. Oxygen and hydrogen are two of the most dangerous, powerful substances on the planet.
Think of it this way. Worst case scenario for a car's gas tank: it gets crushed in a big accident, and explodes into flame. A couple of vehicles burn to a crisp, a couple of people die, and it leaves a large black smear on the pavement. Britney Goodhair, the evening news anchor, is appropriately somber when she shows pictures of the disaster. The following morning, traffic flows as usual, the incident is quickly forgotten, and car tires wear the black smear away till eventually you can't see it anymore.
Now how about the worst case scenario for an oxygen/hydrogen fuel cell? Same accident, same couple of vehicles. Only this time, it's oxygen and hydrogen getting intimate in an uncontrolled manner instead of gasoline and air. The two vehicles disappear in a blinding flash, their parts blown into the air and raining down hundreds of yards away. No black smear on the pavement this time, no-sir-eee. No pavement this time. A smoking crater big enough to hold a couple of cars is all that's left, and it in fact does have a couple of cars in it that were unable to stop. Cars in the immediate vicinity have been blown completely off the road, and every car within a 50 yard radius has had it's windows blown out. Many of those cars have driven off the road with incapacitated drivers, and a 20 to 50 car pile-up ensues. The death toll is an order of magnitude higher, and instead of Britney Goodhair somberly reporting a tragic accident, the entire network news teams from all three of the big networks are on-scene, complete with their mobile satellite dishes, every camera they can muster, and their helicopters orbiting overhead transmitting moving footage of the carnage live to their newsrooms. The only good thing about the entire mess is that this particular incident happened before this type vehicle was widely in use, so no other fuel cell-equipped cars were involved.
That's just one practical aspect of fuel cell usage. And it was an accident.
What if some evil nut-case decided that he'd been slighted and wanted to make an impression? Or some terrorist wanted to make a point? Remember;
The more energy a device is capable of storing,
And that's why we will never have a cheap, renewable energy source for the masses. The storage devices would just be too dangerous.
the better bomb it makes.
Tent Caterpillars in Seattle - Part II
Ooooooo! They've put up a sign! ... waitaminute ... caterpillars can read?
Posted May 8, 2004 by Michael A. Morrow
Ooooooooo! They’ve put up a sign! Look out caterpillars! Now you’re in trouble.
Here’s the sign I encountered on my stroll:
Seattle Parks and Recreation
Let’s see: where to start? How about the top.
The Seattle region is experiencing an increase in the population of Western tent caterpillars. Western tent caterpillars are a nuisance pest that creates unsightly nests in trees and shrubs and cause defoliation. These orange and black insects eat a variety of plants including roses, cherries, birches, and native elder trees.
Tent caterpillars have numerous natural enemies. One is a tachinid fly which parasitizes caterpillars by depositing white eggs on the caterpillars’ body, which upon hatching feed on the caterpillar and kill it. While such natural enemies will reduce the number of tent caterpillar, this is a gradual process that may take one to two years to reduce the population to low levels.
As part of our Integrated Pest Management Program, Seattle Parks will use a variety of strategies to suppress this pest. The methods include limited pruning and manual removal tents and caterpillars and selective use of biological controls. These methods will have no effect on the natural enemies and will allow natural control processes to occur.
Questions? Call Xxxx Xxxxxx, Resource Conservation Coordinator, xxx-xxx-xxxx
The Seattle region is experiencing an increase in the population of Western tent caterpillars.
No kidding. Tell us something we don’t know. We thought you might have figured it out last year and done something about it, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Western tent caterpillars are a nuisance pest that creates unsightly nests in trees and shrubs and cause defoliation.
“Unsightly nests”? “defoliation”? The trees that were stripped bare last year are pretty much toast this year even though the caterpillars got started late last summer. THIS year, the caterpillars got an early start in the spring, and more than a few trees are already stripped bare. We haven’t even gotten to summer yet.
These orange and black insects eat a variety of plants including roses, cherries, birches, and native elder trees.
Leave a few varieties out did we? From the
WSU Cooperative Extensions’ site on 'Biology and Control of Tent Caterpillars':
“Their preferred hosts are alder, apple, ash, birch, cherry, cottonwood, willow, fruit trees, and roses. During heavy infestations, the tent caterpillars will migrate and feed on many other plants.”
Seems to have most of the flora covered around here. And that part about “During heavy infestation, the tent caterpillars will migrate and feed on many other plants” pretty much covers the rest.
Tent caterpillars have numerous natural enemies.
NUMEROUS natural enemies? Is THAT why there’s about ten times as many this year as last year?
One is a tachinid fly which parasitizes caterpillars by depositing white eggs on the caterpillars’ body, which upon hatching feed on the caterpillar and kill it.
Hmmmm . . . . . sounds good so far . . . .
. . . . . While such natural enemies will reduce the number of tent caterpillar, this is a gradual process that may take one to two years to reduce the population to low levels.
Starting to sound not so good. But if it only takes one to two years to reduce the population to low levels, maybe we can wait . . . .
Ooops! Looks like we left out a little bit of information again. From the WSU Coop Extension’s article:
“While such natural enemies will reduce the number of tent caterpillars eventually, this process is gradual and may take 2 or more years.”
Two or MORE years? What happened to the “one to two years”? If caterpillars have “numerous natural enemies” shouldn’t you use a slightly better example than something that takes “two or more years”? I mean, really - tell us about the best one, not something so appallingly pathetic that ... (again, from the WSU Coop)
“During that time, the affected trees may suffer such severe damage, that they will not recover.”
Missed that part completely, didn’t we. Of course, I can see why leaving that little bit out might make it easier to slide it by the public. They might demand REAL action. Time for a little more aggressive approach to pest control, don’t you think?
As part of our Integrated Pest Management Program, Seattle Parks will use a variety of strategies to suppress this pest.
Oooooooo! They’ve got an Integrated Pest Management Program! Bar the door Katie!
The methods include limited pruning . . . .
Sawing off the dead bits after the damage is done. THAT’ll show ‘em!
. . . . and manual removal of tents and caterpillars . . . .
Too late. They’ve already hatched. And, they’re already migrating to other trees.
Last year the only person I saw actively removing caterpillar nests was an 80+ year old lady who stood about 5 feet tall. Bless her little heart for making the effort, but she could only reach the very bottom branches of the smallest trees.
. . . . and selective use of biological controls. . . .
Quick! Buy some non-native Tachinid flies and turn ‘em loose!
. . . . These methods will have no effect on the natural enemies . . . .
They’re having no measurable effect on the caterpillars either. Fat lot of good they did last year, too.
. . . . and will allow natural control processes to occur.
There’s nothing more natural than spraying their little butts with insecticide. ‘Course, that would require actually making an effort at “Resource Conservation” now, wouldn’t it? Oh, wait ... you are conserving your re$ource$.
Bottom line. If you can’t take care of the trees, don’t plant ‘em. All you’re doing is encouraging a pest, and making it harder for the rest of us who at least try to be responsible stewards.
Tent Caterpillars in Seattle
Masses of Dead Trees in Seattle by End of Summer!
Posted April 20, 2004 by Michael A.
Last year, the
city of Seattle had an outbreak of Tent Caterpillars. Many citizens called
the city urging them to spray the infested trees immediately before the
infestation spread. Pressure from environmental groups convinced the city
not to nip the problem in the bud, and as a result, large numbers of trees
on city property were completely denuded, and the infestation spread
rapidly to trees on private property. There was a large hue and cry from
the citizenry to fix the problem. The city’s response? They posted a
couple of small signs on a few completely trashed trees saying that it was
best to let natural predators take care of the problem. Late in the
caterpillar season, long after the caterpillars had done all the damage it
was possible for them to do, the city came around and trimmed off some
dead branches from a very small number of trees.
At the time, I
thought to myself “... just wait till next year ...”
It’s now next
year. It’s only April, and I’ve already cut some small caterpillar nests
out of our fruit trees.
I take a daily three mile walk around a
part of Alki Beach, and the number of trees by the walking path that are
infested has now increased to about 100 percent, AND as of today, nearly
all the caterpillars have hatched. Nearly every tree has upwards of 20
nests. The devastation will be unbelievable. Last year the infestation
happened much later in the year. This year, they’re getting an early
start, and private property owners are in for a real battle. Think an
environmentally activist city like Seattle will be proactive and spray now
to prevent an ecological disaster? You do?
I’ve got this vaporware
software company stock offering I think you’d be interested in
Tent Caterpillars in Seattle!