A lot of young hardbodies are going to be very happy in, say, 200 or so years. Several bits of information crossed my desk in the past few days, among them a new scientific report saying ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, melting faster than was projected just 5 years ago, contain enough ice to raise sea levels 25 feet in a couple centuries – enough to move beach front property inland as much as 50 miles.
The good news is I will be able, on a calm moonlit night, to paddle the family canoe to the Rusty Scupper, a really nice restaurant on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where, at a table near the piano, I proposed to my wife.
Unfortunately, we won’t be around to enjoy the moonlit paddle from Gettysburg to the bay.
By the way, among those unhappy with the altered U.S. coastline will be five or six generations of retired people, each of which will have paid big money for beachfront retirement homes, only to see the latest edition of Hurricane Sandy move the seashore a couple hundred yards closer to Pittsburgh.
Water, by its nature, seeks levelness. That means not only will Miami and Boston be under water, but also Acapulco, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, London and a whole bunch of places in between. But, given the billions of dollars last month’s Hurricane Sandy is costing the federal government and the budgeteers of New York City and most of the state of New Jersey, there may be no spendable income left to buy the vacation sites.
Experience indicates, however, the future belongs to the industry that can amass record profits while convincing us consumers we are getting the cheapest energy available. Thus we are able to rationalize keeping warm this winter, and leaving the winter of 2212 to care for itself.
About that, there is good news this week from California, home of the Los Angeles Car Show. It runs Nov. 30–Dec. 9, and early reports are that electric vehicles are among the stars. It turns out, EVs are selling faster than had been projected. Plug-in hybrids are selling faster in their second year on the road than did conventional hybrids in their second year (2001), according to a document published this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The most popular electric-drive vehicle, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, is outselling half of all cars on the market today, the report says, and Model Year 2012 conventional hybrid sales have grown more than four times as fast as the rest of the vehicle market.
In the past year, I’ve noted in this space about the chicken-or-egg technology of electric vehicles. After all, what good is an electric car without a place to charge it, and who would invest in charging stations without owners of battery-operated cars to pay to use them. To answer the call, a $1 million Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection grant to a company called Amerigreen Energy Inc. is resulting in electric vehicle charging stations being installed in several counties, among them Lancaster, Dauphin and Berks.
The grant is part of a nationwide effort to spread the technology across the country; currently about 4,800 charging stations are operating in the U.S. One can hope that as EV sales increase, prices will decrease so more of us can afford to buy them. At the same time, we can expect battery technology to advance, making the electricity storage containers more efficient, and more reusable and longer lived.
Our engineers and car makers must avoid the waste trap into which the nuclear power industry has fallen, rather than wake up one day to begin searching for a mountain under which we can hide piles of spent batteries.
Another report says Pennsylvania is producing 26 percent of the nation’s natural gas. Some of that gas is slated to be burned by two new electricity generating plants proposed to be built on the banks of the Susquehanna River. One plant, near Williamsport, already has been cleared by DEP, and the other, near Towanda, is in the permitting process. The facilities’ builder, Moxie Energy, of Vienna, VA, boasts both will be located close to the source of fuel and close to access to the electricity grid, thus reducing transportation costs. The company also points out the air-cooled generators will use almost no water, making them additionally attractive to anyone concerned with the safety of the Susquehanna River.
The river already is home to three nuclear power plants, each of which requires, depending on its age and technology, approximately 30 million gallons of river water a day, of which about two-thirds disappears from the river in steam. A new nuclear facility at Bell Bend proposes to withdraw about 44 million gallons a day, and return only about 13 million gallons for downstream users.
Bell Bend, currently proposed to begin construction in 5–7 years, may be much longer in reaching reality. Earlier this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission halted licensing of new nuclear power plants until their operators can find someplace safe to store the spent fuel rods.
Meanwhile, the ice caps are melting, sea level is rising, and although two centuries seems a long way off, it is a bit like the end of the runway to a jet plane on takeoff. As the plane gathers speed, it quickly reaches a velocity at which there is not enough runway left to stop.
Converting coal-fired electricity plants to natural gas is a good bandaid – the gas is cleaner than coal and already has slowed greenhouse gas production. But bandaids come off, and slowing GHG production is not the same as stopping it.
And the end of the runway is looking significantly closer than it was just a short time ago.
Photo by winged photography
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