FRIDAY, FEB 5, 2016

Science Matters

Blogs claiming that science matters do not



                owlTUCSON (A-P) — I received an email from the David Suzuki Foundation linking to a new blog post to which some response seemed needed. I tried to post a perhaps too long comment under the article the email was promoting as I didn't see an alternative. The staff was the intended readers and I assumed my message to them would not be posted as most Suzuki fans likely don't want to hear criticism. The comment was not allowed, some error or another. After some searching I found a Foundation message form that looked like the form used for article comments, but it worked. The points made were ignored by the likely one person who started to read them and who didn't pass any part on to other staff.

So, am I a Suzuki fanboy? I've read at least some of his 50+ books, looked over all the Science Matters blog articles going back to 2006—reading those that seemed like they might be of interest given that I'm not Canadian; have shared links beyond counting, quoted him at length; written one article (Finis: The Nature of Things) featuring him; dreamed of a day when I might be in his presence and ask him to sign my copy of From Naked Ape to Superspecies; searched in vain to acquire all episodes of "A Planet for the Taking..." So, am I? Well, yes. Does being a fanboy mean I'll assume that if he says it, it must be true? Well, no.

I received an email one morning and before getting out of bed I reactively blogged:

So the ball can be dropped. I received an email this morning titled: "More free energy than we could ever use," It was from the David Suzuki Foundation with a link to his Science Matters blog.


The article is called "Solar: A brilliant way to get energy." So far, so good as "way to get some energy" could reasonably be assumed to be implied. The next line is: "By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington." Reading the article suggests that it was written by Hanington and maybe read by David, and that David is going senile, had a bad day, or really isn't thinking well about solar. The article has many links to substantiate minor claims, but "More free energy than we could ever use" is jaw droppingly illiterate on multiple levels bordering on drug-induced Solar Proponent growther fantasy.

"Free" and "More...than" may sell well to enthusiastic consumers, but really? The phrase is not used in the article, but it is consilient with the overall tone of the oversold offering. I'm guessing David didn't see the email subject line, but perhaps he has been oversold on solar by staffers assuming he knowingly allowed his name to be associated with the infomercial.

The article sounds like it was written by a Big Solar ad writer with perhaps some effort by a staff member to make it sound sciency. It's a feel-good article for us eco-minions to consume. Still, science does matter and if you don't think so "you can fuck off". Blogs called "Science Matters" can drop the reality ball, however. Solar does matter and if you don't think so, consider how much (from zero to off the scale) PV matters based on evidence and reason that may or may not feel good.

As usual, every word in the article is impeccably true, evidence-based, right up to: "Unlike fossil fuels, or uranium-dependent nuclear power, the energy source is free, inexhaustible and non-polluting, with no troublesome byproducts like radioisotopes or carbon dioxide." Free in that no one pays for photons, but that is a banal claim. Water, coal, oil, air...are also free for the taking, just more limited. Photons have current users so they too are limited. They may be "inexhaustible" in that they keep coming, apart from clouds and the night sky getting in the way, but real cost/wealth/power is measured in energy, specifically embodied energy (emergy) required to create PV systems including all the mining, transport, manufacturing,.... and replacement of panels and every other part...., inverters, storage systems, and on to the energy cost of creating technologically educated enough humans to service the system and supply them, their families and pets with everything. Solar is currently created by a fossil fuel-based extractive economy. How much coal is needed to make 100 watts of solar panel and ship it to North America? A reasonable guess is 1-4 tons, and coal and friends are not inexhaustible, non-polluting and have byproducts. Nowhere is solar PV made by solar PV, and if it can be it won't be cheap/common/unlimited.

That solar PV (as distinct from photons) isn't "free" and could never produce more "than we could ever use" is left as an exercise for the student. Hint: think of a Dyson sphere as it nears completion and ask, "And then what?" Oh, well, we'll just have to go to other stars to use their solar and when the Milky Way blinks out because all stars are surrounded by Dyson spheres, then no problem...as it is galaxies all the way down....cue endless rationalization for a time before reality intrudes.

Canadians need to consider whether the solar energy system they have (forests and agricultural fields) should be replaced by PV so they can have "more free energy than we could ever use." If only current roads and roofs are covered, then consider that the emergy yield ratio may well not be any higher than limited harvesting of biomass and burning it to generate "some" electricity. That's "SOME" as in maybe just enough to keep information technology going. Let's see, 5 million Canadians before electrification/cars, gas stations, central coal/oil/gas power/heating...., 35 million now consuming how many times more resources per capita? Figure 10x per capita or 35x10/5 = 70 times more consumption....and the population will be ?? million in 22nd century (factor in 200 years of environmental and resource degradation) compared to the 19th century? What is the non-fossil fueled carrying capacity of the Canadian expanse? Inquiring minds want to know. Overselling Canadians on solar and being oversold will not always feel good—a reality-based message that is unsellable today.

I am SolTech Designs and am wildly pro solar, claiming that solar is what currently makes life on Earth possible and if a limited amount of solar can be diverted from its primary work of keeping our life-support system functioning to allow PV electric to support our information technology (forget about driving your 310,000 watt Tesla that can "peel the edges of your face back" when accelerating into futurity with the heater/AC on and stereo blaring), then we'll be doing great. I even claim that having up to maybe 50W of PV for personal use will be deliriously better than riding a solar powered horse (maybe bicycle) while not having an internet connected smartbook to use. Riding a horse or bicycle will greatly reduce our collective activity intolerance and level of road kill, but being more ill-informed than we are now will not have such a good outcome. We are "a most promising species," but only if we continue to evolve memetically in our endeavor to think well and live accordingly.

Of greatest value is information: encoded in the planetary film of DNA (biodiversity valued over the mass extinction we are presiding over) that depends on living organisms to perpetuate it (don't count on cryogentically frozen bits in a lab somewhere) and more recently in our brain-based memes and written languages. Save information, not your way of life. Using solar to allow consumptive life as we know it to continue is irrelevant.

So maybe I'm overselling solar too, but not in a delusional pro-Big Solar way hoping to cash in on subsidies beyond the dreams of avarice or by overselling cheap panels made by cheap coal in China where pollution controls are sometimes thought about as something they might have to eventually consider. Think: transition now, which involves descent.

Would a PV-based (no fossil-fueled subsidies) society/eco-nomy produce more solar power than required to maintain the system? No one knows. Could there be positive net emergy? Maybe. Will it support Business-as-usual forever? We can but hope not. Bottom line: we will go solar (forward to depending on agroecosystems with maybe some PV) but not on the scale of current consumption for 7+ billion humans that fossil provides.

"Every hour, the sun bathes the Earth with enough energy to supply our needs for more than a year. There's no reason we can't harness more of it [PV] to cut back on polluting, climate-altering fossil fuels." Provided you don't use more fossil fuel to do it than PV energy obtained. Good luck with that. Oh, wait, it's about science, not luck.


Note to staff: I'm guessing that because I quoted Richard Dawkins' expletive that I will have violated the standards of the Foundation, and for that reason alone this comment will not be published. Actually I looked for a link to send my comments to the staff, knowing that Suzuk will never see it, and no matter as the staff are the ones who need to consider the possibility that they have been oversold on solar.

If this comment is allowed, perhaps with the Dawkins quote omitted (I hereby give permission to remove it), then the staff has the integrity I expect of them. Not enough links for you? Start here and follow the breadcrumbs.


The staff had no response, perhaps for obvious reasons. It's now official: crank and troll. But wrong?

"It doesn't give me any satisfaction to think that my concerns will be validated by my grandchildren's generation. I would love to be wrong in everything. My grandchildren are my stake in the near future, and it's my great hope that they might one day say, 'Grandpa was part of a great movement that helped to turn things around.'" — David Suzuki


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