L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

31 October 2006 Blog Home : October 2006 : Permalink

A Stern Panglossian

Lots of hoopla about the Stern review - best critiqued I think by Tim W here - and hoopla well described by the other Tim here. Here is my really really simple take on the whole issue. Technology is already solving the problem so the only thing to do is to modify tax rates to help this process along. Oh and if you really think that oil consumption is the major cause then you could do far worse than invade Iran or some other scummy oil producer and cause major prices rises in the cost of a barrel of oil.

I should note that Steven Den Beste's old essay on Biofuels and some of his other related discussions are probably still true, however I believe he partially missed the point in terms of oil dependancy. I believe that a significant reduction in greenhouse gasses and fossil fuel usage is possible but that there will be no single "magic bullet" to solve all the probelms nor will there be  a "change over date" anymore than there was a single solution of day day when the world decided to switch over from steam trains or telegrams.

I'll note a few trends.

Firstly despite the growth in electronic gizmos the power consumption of said gizmos is falling. This is partly because it seems to be easier to reduce power consumption than increase battery capacity - and the recent Sony exploding battery mess is a great example of why there are challenges to the latter. Reduced power consumption also means less heat and that is something that we really like when carrying out portable gizmos around. One really simple trend is the development of LCD and other related display technologies. In simple power terms an LCD display uses about 50% less power than a CRT and hence replacing the latter with the former, something that is happening more and more as the prices of the LCDs drop, makes a big difference in power consumption. Similarly a move from incandescent lighting to flourescent and now white LEDs as a light source as the prices of the latter drop makes an enormous saving.

Secondly the price of local alternative power generation is also falling. Small scale solar (and wind) generation is becoming much more affordable as the price of solar cells etc. drop and their efficiencies rise. This doesn't mean that all power will move to solar but it does mean that solar becomes highly attractive for a number of applications such as airconditioning (the correlation between days when solar power canbe used and when airconditioning is desired is very high) and the recharging of remote emergency/intermittent use equipment - combined with the lower power of lighting this means that road signs, emergency phones, emergency lighting systems can be powered completely off grid - indeed in France a trip down any autoroute in the south of the country will show that this is precisely what is happening.

Thirdly, and directly related to the availability of gizmos and the cost of oil, the ability and acceptability of working remotely is increasing thus reducing the amount of travel required (not to mention the reduction in paper and postal usage thanks to email). Shifting electrons is a low producer of pollution compared to shifting physical matter so the more we work (and conduct our leisure activities) electronically the less pollution we create.

I could no doubt go on, but I think it is worth simply repeating the point above, capitalism and the development of new technology is capable of reducing emissions and will do so as long as there is an incentive for waste (of energy or resources) to be reduced.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin