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Environmentalism

Posted by: pudman - Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:53 pm
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Post Environmentalism   Posted on: Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:53 pm
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I do also confess to enjoying the irony of my driving an electric car. I am fairly hostile to most of the environmental movement, finding it generally a modern tribal religion that justifies condemnation and control of others in the name of protecting the environment.


Environmentalism can be a bit extreme, it's true. I, personally, get annoyed with all forms of extremism, as extremism tends to be counterproductive and socially and psychologically limiting. The description "modern tribal religion..." seems silly coming from one who is excellent at justifying technical decisions with rational thought. I freely admit to recycling my plastic/glass/paper at home but now I wonder if I qualify as an "environmentalist" because I do get the warm feeling of altruism when I do so. Derogatory qualifiers don't function as well as more comically pointed terms. My personal favorite is referring to recyclers as "dirty hippies" given that I do, in fact, recycle but bare no other characteristics to a stereotypical hippy.

I'd buy a Tesla if I had the money. All of the other electric cars out there, past, present, and concept, are terrible in many aspects. My patriotism would at least get a kick out of reducing my personal dependence on foreign oil, ignoring the petroleum cost to making the car. And hippies would no longer through stones at me for driving a gas guzzler (ok, it's actually a Civic Si). Wait, do hippies throw stones? Aren't they too weak from their vegan diets?

Well, as long as no one mistakes me for an environmentalist...


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 20, 2008 12:40 pm
There has been a lot of talk about the Tesla this week in the UK. For those of you that want to see it in action, and a review! Watch Top Gear Here

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0 ... _Episode_7

Start viewing at 18mins into the show ;)

Very interesting, I know that Rocketeers.co.uk covered this http://rocketeers.co.uk/?q=node/424

Controversial car it seems!

Enjoy :)
Rob

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Post    Posted on: Sun Dec 21, 2008 11:55 am
Well, it's easy for John to say, living high and dry in Texas (which, by the looks of that Tesla shot, is a barren wasteland already anyway :-)), having enough money to deal with just about anything, and soon having a means to get off-planet. Unfortunately, not all of us are so lucky.

I'm posting this from about six feet above sea level. That is, the keyboard I'm typing on is six feet above Dutch mean sea level. My feet are three feet above sea level, the street outside two and a half, and the water in the canalised river Spaarne fifty yards down the street is a foot or two below. Some five miles upstream is the Haarlemmermeerpolder, containing amongst others Schiphol airport and several tens of thousands of people (it's a bit of a rural area, not very densely populated by Dutch standards), at fifteen feet below sea level.

The reason I don't have to wear a wet suit when I go out at high tide, and that you can land at Schiphol in an ordinary wheeled plane, is that I'm not living on a piece of land, I'm living in a giant machine. Pumping stations, originally wind and steam powered in the 19th century, now electric, allow the ground water level to be adjusted precisely, rivers are continuously dredged to allow shipping to pass through, and sand is deposited on beaches to compensate for erosion.

The software controlling the machine is a set of laws defining amongst others the location of the Dutch coast line (!) and ground water levels throughout the country. The operating system consists of the national infrastructure maintenance organisation and a separate level of the executive branch of government (aside from the national, provincial and municipal levels) just for keeping our feet dry.

As you might have guessed from the above, I'm a software engineer and I love the Dutch landscape, this machine that we've built together. I can definitely relate to John's statement that "civilization is all about beating the environment into forms that suit us better". Or, as the motto of our province of Zeeland puts it, Luctor et Emergo (I struggle and emerge). We have been dragging ourselves out of the sea continuously for more than a century.

But there is a limit to what we can do. Sure, we can build higher flood barriers and more powerful pumps, and add basins to buffer extreme rainfall events upstream in the drainage basin, but at some point we are simply going to run out of room for them. And it's not just about sea levels. Europe has some 250 million people which it can just about feed, but rainfall patterns are changing and temperature variations are getting more extreme. The northern tip of the Sahara desert is now for all practical purposes in the south of Spain, and drinking water has had to be shipped from France already over the summer. More crops are going to fail and food prices are going to rise even more than they already have over the past few years, even without biofuel production.

Yes, smug people are annoying (although they do inspire great South Park episodes :-)), but please don't let your annoyance at these people make you ignore the cracks that are starting to appear in the life support systems of spaceship Earth. We've been depleting its reserves for about a century now, and if we keep going like this it won't be able to support us for much longer. I do believe that with our new captain Obama there is a possibility for change. I hope so. Because I like Germany, and the Germans are generally quite positive about the Dutch, but I don't think they'll appreciate ten million of us asking for food and shelter.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 23, 2008 12:50 pm
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I was thinking of it in terms of relating to a potential customer base of atmospheric and earth scientists who might consider Armadillo's choice of fuel system a plus.


Nowhere in the post did he criticize scientists studying the problem. And I'm sure they wouldn't bias sales of launches based on customer intentions or beliefs.

While referring to those that strongly believe in proactively caring for the environment (at the potential inconvenience of others, as was implied) as in a "tribal religion" is generally silly, one can often interpret the science in the matter in widely different ways. No fault of the science necessarily, simply a result of the scope of the issue. The environment is a vast complicated thing.

I'd say what allows Carmack to do what he does, whether in gaming technology or rocketry, biases him towards the "bend the world to my will" mentality. Good or bad, it's effective for him.


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Post    Posted on: Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:31 pm
Lourens wrote:
The reason I don't have to wear a wet suit when I go out at high tide, and that you can land at Schiphol in an ordinary wheeled plane, is that I'm not living on a piece of land, I'm living in a giant machine. Pumping stations, originally wind and steam powered in the 19th century, now electric, allow the ground water level to be adjusted precisely, rivers are continuously dredged to allow shipping to pass through, and sand is deposited on beaches to compensate for erosion.


And clearly you have not meet the type of environmentalist that John or I have. I have meet some who are horrified at how you have messed with nature and if they had any power they would smash your pumps and blow the dikes to "restore" everything to it nature state!

PS. "People be damn, why warn the scum?" Many of them would not care if you drowned in the process as long as Mother Nature gets the land back.


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Post carbon cost & offsets   Posted on: Thu Dec 25, 2008 5:39 pm
It's a drop in the bucket when framed by the scope of environmental issues in industry in general, but I remember reading that SpaceX buys carbon offsets for it's launches. I think this is an excellent way of demonstrating that the cost of environmental responsibility is easily factored into the costs of the commercial space industry.

Personally, as somewhat of an environmentalist, I sometimes find myself conflicted by the ideas of environmental stewardship (which I consider an extremely worthy goal) and people using their hard-earned money to do some f***ing cool stuff (like participate in commercial space tourism). I think that if space industry can demonstrate that the two are NOT mutually exclusive, it would greatly be to it's collective benefit.

The real issue, taking a devils advocate's position (not to imply that I equate environmentalists with the devil ;-) ) is that appears easy to correlate space tourism with being a fairly 'frivolous' activity and therefore a symptom of a wasteful society. If the environmental costs of space flight, real and assumed, can be built into a successful commercial spaceflight business model---in the form of a small percentile added to operational costs---then much of this criticism can be nullified. This is to compare the the environmental costs of, say, driving a HUMMER instead of a hybrid, in which many believe that the true environmental costs are hidden in the emissions, with payment deferred for some future generation to deal with.

Anyway, I wonder if Armadillo is considering anything similar to SpaceX's carbon offsets in it's commercial space ventures. I would think it is an excellent approach to take, and it seems that the PR would be a good business move as well.

It's an interesting issue and I'd be interested if those planning the new space revolution (SpaceX, Virgin G., Armadillo and others) approached this issue with a unified front.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Dec 26, 2008 5:19 pm
I just read this article http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28390768/ Some folks in the catholic church tried this same thing a several hundred years ago. It was called buying and selling indulgences. It did not go over too well.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 27, 2008 2:20 pm
DanielW wrote:
It was called buying and selling indulgences. It did not go over too well.


Yeah, I like the *idea* of buying carbon offsets but until there's an actual carbon market it seems to be kind of a scam. If I was guaranteed that my purchase of carbon offsets at least physically counterbalanced my true carbon output (by, for example, planting several trees every time I drove to work) then it would be worth it.

In the meantime, carbon offsets are only there to satisfy either the guilty conscience or as a boost to PR. If one doesn't like carbon emissions, they should do the best they can to reduce or eliminate them.

I do enjoy the fact that instead of buying fuel inefficient BMWs and Hummers that the rich can and want to buy an all electric vehicle. Tesla motors can do a lot to dispel the notion that electric vehicles must be underpowered tiny wimp mobiles.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 27, 2008 4:05 pm
pudman wrote:
Quote:
I was thinking of it in terms of relating to a potential customer base of atmospheric and earth scientists who might consider Armadillo's choice of fuel system a plus.


Nowhere in the post did he criticize scientists studying the problem. And I'm sure they wouldn't bias sales of launches based on customer intentions or beliefs.


I didn't mean to suggest that AA would bias launch prices. I was trying to say that certain customers might react negatively to the type of word choice John was using in the AA public forum. I thought this worth mentioning because I don't think John actual believes the things those words will make some people think he believes. The distinction between the behavior of some medium size contingent of naive environmental zealots and "most of the environmental movement" is a huge and very important factual distinction.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Dec 27, 2008 5:40 pm
As I understand it, these carbon offsets truly represent carbon savings, such as wind turbines or other renewable sources used to power something. But I could be misunderstanding things.

Come to think of it it is all fairly vague. That is what it should mean, anyway...


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Post    Posted on: Mon Dec 29, 2008 4:46 pm
Again, I think Pudman touches the more relevant point. Extremism.

No offense to your sensibilities or background, but there is a substantial body of evidence and research into many of the evironmental causes, such as global warming. As for carbon offsets, I find it pretty funny that there is such an emphasis on them as they don't even come close to being the predominant greenhouse gas.

For those of you curious, a greenhouse gas is one that will absorb radiation (sunlight) and in turn emit that light energy in the form of thermal infrared radiation. You never see this, since it doesn't fit the agenda of the extremist environmentalist, but water is the predominant greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. On the low end, it accounts for 70% and on the high end, 95%. Should we have some water offsets? LOL.

I find this all alarmist garbage when we have far more crucial environmental issues at stake. Pesticide runoff is a big one. So is the runoff from chemical fertilizers. Both of those problems have measurable and traceable sources, causes and effects. I certainly like a good and substantial selection of produce at my grocery store, but am willing to admit that some of the practices of commercial farming leave something to be desired.

It all breaks down to extremism and exageration. Cut that out and I'm fully on board. Besides, conservation traces its roots to a different idealogy than the current militant environmentalist do.

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Post    Posted on: Mon Dec 29, 2008 5:06 pm
Earl Colby Pottinger wrote:
And clearly you have not meet the type of environmentalist that John or I have. I have meet some who are horrified at how you have messed with nature and if they had any power they would smash your pumps and blow the dikes to "restore" everything to it nature state!


On the other hand, when confronted with something as frightening and hard to imagine or understand as global climate change and ecological collapse, it seems to be all too easy to ignore all the reasonable voices, point at the lunatics, and dismiss the whole thing. It's much more pleasant than acknowledging the problem and being afraid and/or forced to change your life style.

Unfortunately, sticking your head in the sand isn't going to help any. And fortunately for me, the Dutch government isn't sticking its head in the sand, it's putting the sand to better use defending its citizens from the water. Fortunately for everyone who's interested, Wired just published a nice article on the next upgrade to our geophysical machine.

As for carbon offsets, they're basically an attempt at fixing the problem of cost externalisation (fans of Kim Stanley Robinson will remember Blue Mars and his Science in the Capital trilogy at this point). Right now, the cost of polluting the environment is born by current and future society, not by the polluter. And so a solution that pollutes the environment is often chosen over one that doesn't, because it seems cheaper. Carbon credits make the hidden cost visible, thereby making polluting alternatives less attractive. From an economic point of view it's not necessarily a bad idea.

The problem is, where do these credits come from? Burning coal or oil can ultimately only be compensated by making coal or oil. You have to close the loop somehow. So, to compensate for the oil burned when I step onto an aeroplane, someone will have to plant a forest, have it grow and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, turn it into a peat bog, and wait for perhaps thousands or even millions of years for fossil fuels to form. Given the limited amount of space available and the slowness of the process, the carbon credits would become very expensive indeed!

Of course, that is assuming that we want to keep everything as it is. Another option would be to accept a certain amount of change to our climate and biosphere, and try to mitigate the consequences. Polluters would buy carbon credits from society (represented by governments), add a certain amount of pollution to the environment, and society would then spend the money gained from selling carbon credits on building sea walls and dealing with increased food prices. Of course, there is a limit to what we can possibly do in mitigation, so again in the long term the carbon credits would become unaffordable.

Carbon credits are nice in the short term, because by making them more expensive gradually, we can move our economy over from one that externalises environmental costs away from the polluter to one that won't let you do that. And gradually is nice, because that way we won't bring our whole fragile economic machine to a crashing halt. We need it working if we're going to pay for those levees.

However, the only real long-term solution is to stop using any of the Sun's energy that was stored in the past, and only use the energy that we're getting right now. That means renewables, and probably cutting the amount of energy we use. I'm convinced that it can be done technically. Whether it can be done (in time) politically and socially remains to be seen. Has Homo sapiens overplayed its hand? Has our collective intelligence grown quickly enough to keep up with our technology? We'll see.

Meanwhile, I hope John and co keep on building rockets. We could use some of those space-based solar power stations...


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Post    Posted on: Mon Dec 29, 2008 6:33 pm
**********
QUOTE:
It all breaks down to extremism and exageration. Cut that out and I'm fully on board. Besides, conservation traces its roots to a different idealogy than the current militant environmentalist do.
**********

Since it seems that people are basically talking about the definition of the word "environmentalist", can you post documented examples of this unwarranted extremism, and how you feel it represents mainstream "environmentalism"?

2.71


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 30, 2008 12:21 pm
And that's the crux of the issue. I consider myself an environmentalist. I like wild spaces and when I camp, I try to minimize the "negative" impact of my presence so that the same space is still nice/wild/attractive for the next person that wants to use it. However, I again use a term that offers plenty of room for debate. What constitutes "negative?"

To the extremist (of course, just a detestable opinion of mine), any man made presence constitutes a negative. Or, to be more specific, they appear to have that nice Luddite attitude that any technological man made presence constitutes a negative.

To someone that enjoys rocketry and anything high tech, the militancy of most environmentalists drives me nuts.

Spikes in trees, elf attacks on SUV dealerships and new construction, placing species on the endangered list when it's clearly not endangered (polar bears - steady population growth over last three decades - Canadian study), Earth Firsters - hello, I'm from here too.

Again, seperate the political, ideological component from resource conservation (of all forms including habitat, wilds, and species) and I'm an ardent supporter. Mix in some anti-mankind bent and I oppose it.

What is mainstream to E.L.F. or Earth First? What is mainstream to the tree spikers? Do you mean, what is acceptable environmentalism to the general populace? That's a different thing all together and doesn't necessarily constitute extreme, which was my bitch all along. "General populace acceptable" thinks that driving a Toyota Prius is being environmentally conscious. They, of course, neglect to address the environmentally horendous pollution byproducts of the battery material mining and refining. Check that one out. It's really bad.

Of course, it would be nice to move all of the really bad polluting industries off planet. So, uhh, John. Can you get crackin' on that?

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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 30, 2008 2:41 pm
MarcHopkins wrote:
placing species on the endangered list when it's clearly not endangered (polar bears - steady population growth over last three decades - Canadian study),

This struck me as interesting. I work at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics of the University of Amsterdam, and while I am no ecologist, I've picked up quite a bit of knowledge about determining species abundance.

First, it's very hard to measure the abundance of any species in the best of circumstances. Counting polar bears in the Arctic seems to me to be a very difficult undertaking, especially because they are solitary animals (one paper[1] lists on average 4.1 bears per 1000km^2). As the abstract states, "the available data were insufficient to quantify the precision and accuracy of some population estimates". Wikipedia links to a report[2] reviewing the literature, which seems to be the basis of the IUCN's assessment. A few small isolated populations seem to be increasing in size, but other, larger ones are declining. And there's much that we simply don't know.

Second, it's a bit more subtle than "the endangered species list". The most famous such list is probably the IUCN Red List. It's not a simple list that a species is either on or not however. Species are grouped into categories ranging from "Least Concern" to "Extinct". The polar bear, Ursus maritimus, is classified as "Vulnerable", one of the lighter categories, based on a projected decline in habitat (polar ice melting due to climate change), pollution (polar bears are at the top of the food chain, so all the heavy metals and other toxins end up in them), and an observed decline in population (see above). If you go to the IUCN Red List homepage you can read the entire rationale yourself.

Of course, if I were the oil industry and I wanted to discredit nature conservancy efforts so as to safeguard my access to arctic oil reserves, I could easily pick a study of one of the small populations that is on the increase, take advantage of the fact that the media will oversimplify anything and everything and that most people won't bother to look up the details, and create a nice story of evil conservationists making nonsense claims...

MarcHopkins wrote:
Again, seperate the political, ideological component from resource conservation (of all forms including habitat, wilds, and species) and I'm an ardent supporter. Mix in some anti-mankind bent and I oppose it.


That's what I did above. You're welcome. And, as it turns out, partially wrong. While I think that the other actions you mentioned are pointless and stupid, I'm not sure that they are necessarily anti-humankind. Anti-industry definitely, anti an economic system that is thrashing our environment, but if they were really anti-humankind they'd be shooting people, not vandalising SUVs. Of course, neither action would accomplish anything anyway, except make it easier for this same industry to discredit serious conservancy issues.

MarcHopkins wrote:
"General populace acceptable" thinks that driving a Toyota Prius is being environmentally conscious. They, of course, neglect to address the environmentally horendous pollution byproducts of the battery material mining and refining. Check that one out. It's really bad.

Also, the Prius still emits greenhouse gases, just less than other cars. Also, I'll raise you the Second Congo War. Also various conflicts in the Middle East (arable land, water and oil) and a whole bunch of other past and future resource conflicts.

[1] Distribution and Abundance of Canadian Polar Bear Populations: A Management Perspective, Mitchell Taylor and John Lee, Arctic VO. 48, NO. 2 P. 147-154 (1995)

[2] Status of the Polar Bear in Polar Bears. Compiled and edited by Jon Aars, Nicholas J. Lunn and Andrew E. Derocher Proceedings of the 14th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group 32: pp. 33-55, Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. ISBN 2-8317-0959-8.


Last edited by Lourens on Tue Dec 30, 2008 4:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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