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PoliticalStuff of the environment.


ViridianDesign interesting as a TechnologicalFix for environmental problems?

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Quora Answer : Politics of the United States of America: Who is opposing efforts to save the environment?

Aug 31, 2014


We all have some benefits from modern industrial society that we can't bring ourselves to give up. And we all rationalize to ourselves that in our case, the harm we do doesn't matter.

That's the truth. And the human condition. And we might as well recognise it.

It is NOT, however, a reason to declare "moral equivalence" or to state that because we're all guilty we shouldn't do anything about environmental problems - because of some "he who is without sin" principle. We are all morally flawed but we still have an obligation to try to be good. And we're all destroying the environment but we should still try to do what we can to save it. And to identify and stop those with their hands on the most powerful levers of environmental destruction.

Quora Answer : What more can really be done to stop global warming (except going back to living like cavemen)?

Apr 25, 2019

A massive commitment to switch to renewables, upgrade the electricity distribution grid, reduce the amount of transport we depend on. Etc.

If all the oil and coal disappeared tomorrow humanity wouldn't just lie back and die. It would damned well sort out how to make the alternative work.

And we could decide to commit ourselves to damned well just getting on and figuring out how to make the alternatives work.

It wouldn't be more disruptive than the average war. (Which most countries survive and recover from in 10 to 20 years.) And unlike a war, no-one would die as a result. Long term we'll be saving lives.

If we decided, and really committed ourselves, to start switching off all the coal and oil production and usage starting tomorrow, we'd have finished it and recovered by 2050.

Yes. There'll be inconvenience.

Yes, we can overcome such inconvenience and thrive.

For example, here's what I'd do :

  • figure out the amount of electricity in the grid which is produced by renewables. Let's say it's currently 20%. This is the "Renewable baseline"
  • give people 100% tax rebate for buying home batteries and home solar.
  • put a separate tax on every KwH of electricity consumed over the "renewable baseline". Initially this is simple 2x the price. But make it very clear that over time, it will increase aggressively. And make sure it does. Four times after two years. Eight times after six. Etc.

What this does is create a very strong incentive for people to start to take control of their use of energy. To consume it when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, and to store it for when those things aren't happening. What you want is, through some fairly big sticks and carrots, to drive consumer investment in storage facilities.

Obviously it's still a free market for how people manage their energy use and storage. Do they buy batteries? Switch off the fridge at night and rely on ice made during the day to keep things cool? Switch to different patterns of cooking and eating? That is totally up to them.

Inconvenient? Yes. Insupportable? Not at all. And better for us in the long-run than thinking we can just ignore the problem.

This has to be aggressive. Because in five years we are going to turn off all the coal burning plants.

Electricity outside the renewable hours and not generated by wind and sun is going to be a hell of a lot more expensive by then.

It has to be. Otherwise we'll never wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.

In another ten years, we'll be switching off the natural gas and oil burning plants too. So we better make sure we've built up our renewable generating capacity by then.

We'll be switching to electric cars. Which will be subsidized. But we'll be banning the sale of petrol driven cars and trucks by 2025. And stopping selling gas at "gas stations" by 2030.

Most people by then will realize that it's better to use on-demand Uber-style electric taxis anyway. Most of which will be driverless and you won't think about how they're fuelled. Owning and driving a car is going to be something that only a small minority will do. Much like owning a boat or a private plane.

We might have to strongly encourage people to move back to denser inner cities rather than the suburbs. Or simpler, just make the suburbs denser through infilling them. Change the zoning regulations to allow people to move workplaces back into their residential communities.

Want to turn your house into a restaurant? Or hydroponic smallholding? Or laser-cutting bureau? Or Pilates studio? Yes. We allow that. And more.

Want to knock your house down and build a small block of six apartments? Yes, we'll allow that too.

We want to cut down how much travel people are doing to and from work.

What else?

We're consuming too much stuff. And throwing too much of it away. The easy stuff is easy. Make manufacturers responsible for their products becoming landfill.

For every item over a certain price - let's start at $20 - a manufactured product needs an easily accessible and visible QR code which specifies a unique ID number, and a manufacturers' ID. This is well within our technological capabilities today : the government just has an online server generating unique IDs and anyone who wants one can take it to put on their product.

When this stuff starts to find its way into landfills, you fine the manufacturer who made it 10% of the original price.

What happens? Very soon, manufacturers start having to figure out how to take back their products at the end of life. In fact we're pushing them towards making stuff that doesn't have an official "end of life". Instead the incentive is there for the maker to provide ongoing support and maintenance to keep the product in use as long as possible.

This will shift how manufacturers design, make and recycle their products. They'll want to recapture as many of the materials as possible. Pushing them towards Cradle to Cradle thinking.

More maintenance will mean more things being made and maintained locally which diminishes the amount of stuff being shipped around.

Talking of ships. We still want to move some containers around. We can move to wind and small nuclear engines for container ships. (Much as we have nuclear submarines).

Air travel should be fossil free. We need to cut down air-travel in general. But it's possible to make biofuels for aviation for the reduced amount we'll keep on with. Electric planes are probably not going to work given the weight of batteries.

Trains are both a good and bad idea. What's good is rails. Which are cheaper to maintain than road surfaces. But we can make railways far more flexible with autonomous electric carriages that effectively "packet-switched" around a smart rail network. Imagine going to the local railway station, taking your individual carriage a little bit larger than a car, but tall enough to stand up in, and know that you'll get to another city, without further effort in just two or three hours, and be deposited close to your destination.

Much more urban transport can be handled by bike and electric scooter.

We already have unlock-with-your-cellphone-on-demand bike and scooter schemes. These can be extended, possibly with government subsidies. So that in 5 years, they are the major form of urban transport. With just a autonomous electric taxis and delivery vans. (Small packages can be delivered by flying drone)

We can make city transport much more energy efficient with smaller, smarter things buzzing around, and people moving less.

We're cutting down on CO2 emissions. But we need to create another big disincentive. We need a market for tradeable CO2 permits. What little CO2 IS used should be bought from the state at auction and resellable in the carbon market. That allows us to discover a viable price for pollution. (I believe that this money should then be redistributed to people as part of a "UniversalBasicIncome". But that's a separate story)

Of course this is just scratching the surface. But once you start to think about the problem not as "Oh no, we're doomed!". Or "OMG! It's inconceivable that we can do anything about global warming. We'll just have to do nothing"

But instead start to see the problem as "let's brainstorm a long list of all the potential tweaks to our system we can try, to cut down carbon usage without having to live like cavemen. And then see what happens if we apply them all, and see how they cumulatively stack up"

Sure, it will be a hundred small inconveniences and extra costs. A thing you were used to buying last year, may be costs three times that much this year. You don't get to fly six times a year, just once. You use Uber instead of running your own car. You live in an apartment rather than a house with a three acre garden and you cycle ten minutes to work rather than drive 30 mins.

And yet none of this is the end of the world. None of this is "AnarchoPrimitivism" that knocks us back to the stone age. It's just denser, more abstemious modern living.