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The domino affect.

I meant to write this earlier, but like a lot of things in my life, they end up getting put off.

As I biked to work in the freezing temperatures, a thought about environmentalism struck me.  There is a lot of emphasis on green jobs or “green collar jobs” and I think that’s good, but I think we are missing the economic big picture, and I’m hoping the current economic crisis will get people thinking about this. We are running out of fossil fuels. I’m not going to spend any time debunking these, but let’s assume for a moment that global warming is either not happening, not man-made, won’t cause any problems or, finally, that even if not man-made, there’s no way our highly technological society could fix it.  Even if these for things are true, we are still running out of fossil fuels.  When the gas tank is empty, what’s going to happen? Chaos.  That is, unless we are prepared.  Let’s think about this.  What will be the first jobs to go?  Well, assuming there isn’t a ridiculous spike in oil prices (which of course there would be), gas station attendants.  Whatever you think about them, how many people do Exxon, BP, etc employ?  The most obvious others are the airline industry, shipping industry, the auto-industry and people that work on roads.  Let’s be serious though.  There’s no way anything will work except those that live in urban settings close to food supplies or that have horses.  In a way, it would be the return to glory for cities like St. Louis and Detroit, since shipping could go through them.  Places like Phoenix and Las Vegas would simply cease to exist (and probably should).

What can we do? We can stop flying and start riding trains.  Delta, AA and co should really get into that industry.

“Respected transportation economists Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl reported that electrified high-speed trains traveling on their own right of way are about 9 times more energy-efficient per passenger mile than private automobiles or domestic jet travel (and hence emit about one-ninth as much pollution as air and auto).” – http://www.midwesthsr.org/fact/index.html

Now, it’s true that given the crappy state of affairs right now trains are not super-efficient.  Passengers are low and we aren’t using high-speed trains.  Look, I’ve been on trains in Denmark and Sweden.  Trains work.

There’s a ton of research that has gone into making jet travel efficient and I’m not saying they haven’t done their homework, but air travel has a fight against gravity that trains only have when going up hill.  One of the things I don’t know is what the most efficient travel speed for a plane is, but they have to maintain pretty high speeds not to go crashing into the ground and with cars there’s an efficiency point and once you  go over that travel is pretty inefficient.  I assume there’s a similar graph for jets, but unlike a car that *can* go 5 mph, jets don’t have that option.

Now, there is something to be said for using the space we have up there.  I’m not opposed to the idea of jet travel, and for things like getting across oceans, it’s pretty much needed, but a train from Madison to Chicago would be much better than the current situation, as would a train from Chicago to Louisville.  I use those examples because I know there are no trains, much less high speed trains.  Depending on how you get there the distance between Stockholm and Malmo is 613 km or 645 km and there’s a high speed train that runs between them.  In comparison, it’s 296 miles (476 km) from Chicago to Louisville and 434 miles (698 km) from Madison to Louisville.  Thus, at least the Swedes think it’s a good distance for the high speed train.  Brenda and I enjoyed taking the train from Malmo to Stockholm.
I’ve wandered a bit from the title of the post, so let’s bring it back.  Here’s a quote from earlier “Let’s be serious though.  There’s no way anything will work except those that live in urban settings close to food supplies or that have horses.” Kids will not be able to get to school, products will not be able to get to market.  People will not be able to heat their homes.  Society as we know it would collapse.

One last point. Skeptics will say there’s still oil out there, and they are certain right.  However, it takes millions of years of pressure to create fossil fuels.  There’s a reason it is called fossil fuel.  Unless we extract at the pace it’s created, it *will* run out.  It’s 2nd grade math (or whenever kids learn to multiply negative numbers).  Sure, we had millions of years bought for us and we could be 100 years out…and that number grows as things get more efficient but once the well runs dry, we won’t be able to build the facilities to create solar panels, much less the solar panels themselves.  Even if we built like we did in the old days, how did we run the computers for precision and where the plans are drawn?  Yeah, some of this stuff could be done pre-industrial revolution style, but we’re talking best-case scenario months to make the switch and by that time society will be in chaos.

Another interesting short thought to leave you with.  While we’re talking about a 19th century mode of transportation, maybe some of our solutions should/could come from steam punk.  Coal is still fossil fuel, but trees are a renewable resource.  If you can get over cutting them down (most of us can, though we need to regrow them, of course), they may be our savior in more ways than just taking carbon out of the air.


Some thoughts on college sports

This was going to be a note on Google Reader, but it got pretty long, so I’ll put it here.  Normally I talk about technology, but since education is such an important part of technology policy (in both directions), I thought it was worthy of a blog entry.

Below is my response to Charlie Weis and Randy Edsall Shed Some Tears on the Football Field

Though there will probably never be a day I cheer for my alma mater over the team of my birth, UK Wildcats, or the team of my childhood, Alabama Crimson Tide, at least in their respective dominant sports of basketball and American football, one thing I have always been proud of Chapel Hill is it’s fantastic academic standards.  Now, I don’t know how that applies to athletics, and I’d like to point out that both UK and Bama have some highly rated programs (for instance, Bama law is ranked higher than UNC law), but I think a lot of students (particularly those that have gone beyond undergraduate studies) probably struggle with this.  In fact, I have been a critic of Butch Davis’ contract, even though I have been a critic of Calipari or Saban’s larger contracts.  My parents (who both have Bama degrees, two in my father’s case), don’t seem to mind too much either. Unless the NCAA enacts some sort of salary cap, I don’t see things changing.  I don’t think that’s a bad idea though.  Certain people coach for the love of the game and love of the students/school.  Roy Williams is one of those people, I think. Butch Davis, Nick Saban and John Calipari have all shown by going to the NFL and NBA that that is not why they coach.  And, don’t even get me started about the treasonous Rick Pitino.