We’re into another week, and here we are, just past the summer solstice, officially into the season of Summer. Happy Summer, everyone! I’m not alone in contemplating the time of the year with a bit of reflection relative to the past winter, which was, to put it simply, a bit rough. (I have my own stories, as do many people.)
Now that we’re into the warm part of the year here in the northern hemisphere, if the weather gets up into the seriously hot range somewhere, you can expect to find news reports that inevitably turn to commentary about people finding themselves in situations that are beyond uncomfortable, but dire, even life-threatening, poor unfortunate souls who don’t even have air conditioning! How can people live like this?! This is regarded as normal, being a state of severe emergency if people somewhere are living without air conditioning systems, complete with news items about setting up some kind of emergency air conditioning shelters. Never mind that most of the human race on planet Earth still lives without air conditioning, and even among people here in American society, there are plenty of people old enough to recall life where air conditioning was considered to be a luxury item, with many people living perfectly well without it, and many old enough to remember when it was nonexistent, not so many decades ago.
This gets weird, as people seem to adjust themselves to notions and routines more and more separated from physical reality. I know I’ve been struck by the absurdity of situations such as people having windows of their house seemingly permanently closed, always switching a central climate control system between either “heat” or “cool”, and having the air conditioning cranking away even when it’s the evening and nighttime following a warm day, the sun is down, and the outside air temperature might be down to 65F or even 60F, but the AC system keeps cranking, windows all sealed up, rather than ventilating the place and letting the warm air out and cooler night air through. The fact that this would vent carbon dioxide buildup and let fresh air and new oxygen in is an additional bonus for healthy human life. Added to this, people do this silly practice and then bitch and complain about the amount of electric utility bills following months where they’re continuously running some massive air conditioning system using large amounts of electrical energy.
Look at all that, and suggest that, perhaps, they could maintain some comfort in summer weather by shutting off the air conditioning, and applying a little intelligent management of sunlight and ventilation, and some people will think of this as just downright weird. Of course, part of this is that it’s pretty common for the people in sealed boxes with continuously cranking air conditioning to have little to no understanding of the actual physical reality and processes involved. There are apparently loads of people not having any understanding that what the system does is apply some clever engineering to just transfer heat energy from one place to another. That requires a substantial input of energy to the system, which, the laws of thermodynamics being what they are, involves a lot more heat energy involved along the way, from heat energy being involved in electrical power generation that burns some sort of fuel, to the dissipation of heat in the system that comes from electrical power.
Somethiing that seems to escape notice of a lot of people is that not only is it not making things cooler to have vast numbers of buildings in an area running air conditioning systems cranking away, simply transferring heat from inside to outside, but the massive amount of electrical energy involved is adding more heat to the environment.
There’s this aspect of people talking about cultural phenomena and talking about things being post-this or post that (like “Post-Modern”). Lately I’ve been thinking if we’re into some weird period of history that you could almost call “Post-Reality”. People spending most of the hours of the days of summer inside their little isolated cocoons of air conditioned boxes (including cars or their personal transportation light trucks) is just one part.
There’s a kind of general characteristic to it that might remind people, anybody paying attention here anyway, about the tale of Thomas Freidman’s bright idea I’ve mentioned a couple of times. That’s the idea he had about what he imagines as a great innovation and progress, creating systems of wind and solar electrical generation systems coupled with some sort of digital controller box that would operate your electric-powered clothes dryer “when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining”. As I’ve said before when mentioning this, it seems to have not occurred to him to use the wind and sun to dry laundry using a much older and simpler technology of the clothesline.
At some point you have to look at some bright ideas and ask if the actual point is getting some task done in the best way possible, or if it’s about something else going on.
It seems pretty evident that for a lot of people, the kind of standard thinking is about consuming, and consuming more, and being consumers consuming or being a player in The Market coaxing consumers to consume more. Plus, if you even step back and look at this objectively somewhere like my little corner on the web here, and, for example, suggest that maybe consuming and consuming until we’re consuming the planet like locusts, somebody will start squawking about something like “you and your radical political blog!”. That really gets us into completely different problems, namely, to keep this short; first, some people think everything is a political subject, and following on from that, as soon as it gets into the realm of politics, it’s essentially into a realm of lunacy, literally wound up in some severe mental illness.
There’s a problem I’ve been noticing for a long time, which I write about fairly often, almost ridiculously often, in some people’s thinking. Get into the general subject of “energy issues”, and we have a set of fixations and silly ideas that end up, unsurprisingly, often being about people’s ideas of political ideology, and split between the kind of “drill, baby, drill!” foolishness, people maintaining delusions that we just have all the hydrocarbon deposit resources we could ever want, or another faction that just vaguely chants “green energy!” and all the varieties of lingo that go with that. The obvious thing about both is that nearly all of it operates on presumptions about consuming energy, and consuming more, and more, and the rest is just arguments about the details of how we’ll just keep it going.
By chance, I just listened a bit to a radio broadcast, and the whole subject was about energy sources and climate change and carbon emissions and global warming. Those problems, the latter items there, are real and extraordinarily pressing issues, but the conversation I caught was essentially a collection of recitation of almost standardized memes and cliches.
There are a couple of major problems with it that should be pretty obvious by now:
One, while the consequences of burning hydrocarbon resources has been bringing us real problems in what it does to the state of health of planet Earth, the conversation there went as it often does about this general subject. It ends up revolving completely about the matter of carbon emissions and climate changes, while completely, and I do mean completely, ignoring the basic and fundamental problem of the diminishing returns of the finite resources involved, and all that means and implies for the future, both near future and longer haul.
Second, there’s the problem I just raised, which is the kind of state of maintaining unquestioned assumptions about human activities just consuming the same amount of energy, and then more.
Turning back to the air conditioning in hot summer, you can just about simplify it down to bipolar arguments about where we’ll obtain massive quantities of energy pumped into systems to keep the interiors of buildings comfortable, whether it’s staying cool and fresh in hot summer, or staying warm and cozy in cold winter. Totally neglected is thinking about getting away from the presumptions and practices of making every building a dumb closed box and pumping massive amounts of energy into systems of heating or cooling.
The Freidman magic clothes drying system is probably (why I have mentioned it several times) a perfect example of people revelling in “solutions” that are embraced by some people because of some combination of fashion, and seeming clever, “innovative”, even “driving economic growth and prosperity”. Never mind that a $5 clothesline might be better than some combination of stuff that adds up to some $100K system, between the power generation equipment and wonder-box digital controllers.
It’s pretty unfortunate, to use just one of many words that might apply to all this, that thinking and talking among people in contemporary America runs into all kinds of wild diversions that veer off from the most basic realistic practical matters. Everything turning into a political argument is one. When people walk around with notions in their heads like an idea that “that green energy stuff” is some kind of political ideology, for example, it’s hard to get anywhere.
Part of the vast array of diversions is just the whole idea of a culture of consumers consuming. You want to do laundry and dry your stuff? Go out and buy, consumers, consume stuff to do that which then consumes vast amounts of energy to do what it does!
Just to get a whiff of a general idea about this general cultural convention, you can go off and examine the giant vast and complicated subject of “healthcare” in the USA, which has obviously been a Big Issue item in recent years, with no real useful progress in making anything better. In that realm, it becomes apparent that way too much of it has little to do with people’s health, as things get sucked into a whirlwind storm of people trying to sell assorted expensive wonderdrug pharmaceuticals and expensive wonder machines for “healthcare”.
Back to the main path here, quickly scooting away from getting bogged down in that other subject, we can see part of the problem with things like the Freidman clothes drying scheme, as just one example case. It’s obvious to anybody reading my notes here over the last few years that I’ve been thinking about “energy issues” for a while now, and there’s one aspect of that complicated subject that has caught my attention often. One of the big problems is that it’s exceedingly hard to get people to even stop and question the idea of mass consumption in terms of energy. You get, as I said, arguments where either people regard the routines of mass consumption of hydrocarbons people call “fossil fuels” as a standard, practically mandatory, aspect of what they regard as modern advanced life, or other people talk vaguely about switching over to green renewable alternative energy and getting off fossil fuels, but it becomes apparent that many of them seem to simply see it all as a process of using vast amounts of energy in all kinds of ways that are now regarded as the norm, a permanent state of affairs, but just switching over to different energy sources. (Again, e.g., the Tom Friedman silly idea.)
I already talked about the Friedman magic green energy digital wonderstuff system idea for drying wet laundry, where he thinks we’ll use the kinetic energy of moving air mass and the radiated energy from the sun to generate electrical energy, and use that to power an electric clothes dryer and the digital electronics controlling it all. Lost there is the simple, and very old, idea of using the energy of wind and sunlight to dry clothes directly. Do that, or even talk about it, and you’ll probably be regarded as some sort of bizarre madman weirdo.
As I’ve said about that before, do that, this strange concept of hanging laundry on a line in a backyard, and in many places, the neighbors will probably wig out, or at least be very puzzled. Hey! Have you seen this? The neighbor has a bunch of clothes and stuff hanging in the back yard! Oh my Gawd! Has anybody called the cops yet? In many places in the US, you’ll find yourself being harrassed by some Homeowner’s Association, likely including harrassment with paperwork from lawyers getting vast piles of money for this, even while millions of people can’t even manage to be paid a decent basic living to do actual useful productive work. The epic might very well include official local government hassle, because of some local ordinances and laws.
There’s a scenario to contemplate, if you still don’t believe that we’re in a time and place in a culture that has gone completely batshit insane.
Given all of the above, it seems obvious to start wondering about how long it will be before I come across somebody’s idea to use wind generation of electricity to power air conditioning systems on a hot day. Never mind the whacky notion of opening the windows and letting a breeze flow through to ventilate the place, which, beyond temperature management, also has the effect of freshening the air inside the building. I suppose there are too many people who see a problem with that in terms of there being nobody consuming anything in that setup.
A few days ago I came across part of an episode of C-Span’s Washington Journal, that had a guest named John Kingston. The subject of the segment was supposed to be about the economic effects of the current chaos and turmoil in Iraq.
It was no surprise to find that virtually all of the chatter was about oil. It was also no surprise to find that in all of the program that I caught (I’m not sure how much I missed), there was nothing in there that really did anything useful in giving any TV viewers a good realistic sense of the situation regarding oil. There was enough there to make it apparent that the whole military empire adventure in Iraq was really all about getting control of the oil remaining underground in Iraq, which should not be a new revelation to anyone.
There is a lot to say about what passed for information and serious discussion there. A lot of that revolves around the viewer calls that came in on what had been a live show (I caught a rerun). One call in particular stuck in my mind, a real facepalm moment, something that had me sitting there going “oh my GAWD”, particularly as God was a central item, in the caller’s mind.
You can follow the link and go check it out yourself if you like. The call in question was from somebody who said they were in Texas, and proceeded to start off with pointless rambling about how their father or grandfather went to work in the oil business in Texas, and never learned to read and write. Make of that what you will, but that stuck in mind with what followed. The caller then proceeded to some vague rambling saying (paraphrasing from memory here) that God blessed us with bounties of oil and natural gas and will continue to bless us with bountiful oil and natural gas if America accepts God and accepts that God is the God of America and… well, I forget it all, exactly. He went on for a while.
I sat there wondering how much of this is around today, here in the US, where people have notions in their head that might start off in some kind of idea like “God will provide” and warps into gradiose narcissistic delusions that somehow, if they just do some sort of swearing a loyalty oath to God that God will perpetually and eternally indulge endless gluttony and greed as they consume the whole planet like locusts and generally ravage the place.