To achieve solutions to societies current problems, I believe that reliance on individual responsibility and action is more effective than reliance on government policies and programs. Information is the key. When people are aware of possible solutions, they can take action to implement them in their daily lives and occupations.
Once new ideas spread, and in some cases new technologies are implemented, the solutions largely take care of themselves by self-interested people taking action.
Transportation and energy are perhaps the easiest problems to solve. There is really no need to use oil or coal for energy or transportation; far better choices exist. Three clear, practical choices exist, and an additional possibility is worth further exploration.
The most obvious but most often overlooked solution is energy conservation. Homes can be retrofitted to be better insulated and use passive solar for space heating, and solar hot water. Usually these improvements pay for themselves fairly quickly. After space heating and cooling, refrigeration is usually the biggest consumption of electricity. More efficient refrigerators are now available, and can substantially reduce electrical consumption.
Alcohol has been around for a very long time, and was the primary fuel for the first cars. BeforeRockefeller destroyed this option, many farmers produced alcohol for their own farm equipment and transportation vehicles. Alcohol can be a locally-produced fuel, and is a renewable resource when the carbohydrates used to make the fuel are produced sustainably. It is sun energy stored by living plants, and processed by simple human technology. It has a carbon-neutral footprint, having zero impact on the CO2 levels of the atmosphere. As carbohydrates used to make alcohol absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and then the carbon is re-released as CO2 when the fuel is burned.
The biggest complaint with alcohol fuel is that it takes away from food production. This is a false argument for at least the following reasons:
- Corn has been used as the primary source for alcohol fuel because there has historically been a surplus of corn in the US. Growing more corn has kept the farmers profitable and has avoided paying farmers NOT to grow, a counterproductive program.
- Corn is a very inefficient source for alcohol fuel. Sugar beets are a much better option, but cattails offer the biggest promise. Cattails can be grown from sewage waste, cleaning up our water supplies while producing the carbohydrates needed to produce alcohol. If every sewage treatment plant in the US were converted to use cattails, a large portion of our fuel needs could be produced essentially for free.
- There are also many other crops that can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, that can be successfully used to produce alcohol. Permaculture methods can be applied to grow compatible “plant guilds” to increase yields. An example is the use of mesquite, prickly pear cactus, and buffalo gourds in combination to produce multiple carbohydrate-rich crops in desert areas.
Alcohol can also be used for heating homes, especially for homes currently using heating oil. Current industrial and office heating could also be converted.
As the demand for oil goes to zero, wars to protect oil fields in foreign lands would no longer have any economic justification. Fighting for our freedom to burn as much gasoline as we like to would be a thing of the past. The cost of alcohol production, when done properly, would be significantly less than the cost of gasoline.
Many cars produced today are flex fuel, meaning they can burn any ratio of alcohol/gasoline. Those that are not flex fuel can be retrofitted for a few hundred dollars.
When alcohol becomes the fuel of choice, flex fuel cars would become the de-facto standard.
Evacuated Tube Transportation Technology
Evacuated Tube Transportation (ETT) is a new transportation technology which can be implemented mostly with off-the shelf components. It promises a 98% reduction in energy usage compared to current transportation methods. The 2% of energy it does use could come from wind, solar, and/or alcohol fuel using fuel cells. But it gets better: the evacuated tube system will be the fastest and the safest transportation system ever implemented.
What is ETT?
ETT consists of a tube, 5 or 6 feet in diameter, emptied of all air, with computer-controlled individual capsules suspended by magnetic levitation (maglev), and accelerated electrically using linear motors. Deceleration will use recapturing technology which will recycle most of the energy used by the acceleration. Regional travel, analogous to current metro mass-transit systems will achieve 300MPH. Since the system uses individual capsules and not trains, it is an on-demand system which would not require pre-scheduling or significant wait time. Longer distance travel will achieve 4000MPH, making commuting between LA and New York feasible, with a one-way trip time of approximately 45 minutes. The high speeds are achievable by totally frictionless travel. Air resistance and rolling resistance has been totally eliminated, creating a contained environment similar to outer space.
The capsules will also be designed to accommodate pallets of freight and will revolutionize shipping of most commodities, being enormously cheaper and faster than any current form of transportation.
ETT has the potential to obsolete air travel, rail, and most automobiles and trucks, and provide inexpensive, fast transportation to the entire planet. It also has the potential to revitalize our economy, providing jobs in manufacturing and construction of the system, and reducing the cost of doing business both in transportation of people and commodities. Some of the manufacturing base left in the country could be re-purposed to build the capsules, vacuum pumps, and other components of the system.
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors
I’ll be honest: nuclear power scares me, and especially after the Japan incident I want nothing to do with existing nuclear power plants. However, looking a little into thorium reactors has changed my perspective. We must keep an open, but skeptical mind when exploring new technologies.
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) promise the possibility of much cleaner nuclear power plants that have nearly zero risk of containment problems. One of the main reasons thorium reactors have not been used is that they don’t produce weapons-grade radioactive byproducts. In fact, they have the potential to “burn up” all the radioactive waste from existing power plants, which would essentially become a free source of fuel until it is used up. Of the radioactive waste left, most is safe within 10 years, and the remainder is safe after 300 years, compared to 10,000 years or more from existing nuclear waste. LFTR promises to be a peace-friendly and environmentally friendly solution.
Because of the design of a LFTR, any malfunction would automatically shut the system down safely. More research needs to be done to prove these claims, especially the closed-system turbines in the proposed power plant designs, but they are definitely worth pursuing, as the payoff could be enormous.