Envirotastic

Abraham Epton

Maybe it's the trance music blaring through my headphones right now, but I feel like showing some love to Gaia.We'll start the paganism with RealClimate, a new blog run by a team of scientists expert in climate change. The first two sentences of their introductory post make the case for themselves far better than I could: Climate science is one of those fields where anyone, regardless of their lack of expertise or understanding, feels qualified to comment on new papers and ongoing controversies. This can be frustrating for scientists like ourselves who see agenda-driven ???commentary??? on the Internet and in the opinion columns of newspapers crowding out careful analysis.Why is this so key? Well, climate change is one of those issues where people who actually study the phenomenon (and therefore know what they're talking about) often find themselves at odds with laypeople who have an amount of influence on public policy matched only by their ignorance of the subject. Evolution is another example. What scientists actually understand, and know to be true, is not what gets reported in the mainstream press, for fear of not sounding "objective". But there is a consensus on at least some key areas, and a site featuring scientists of seemingly unimpeachable credibility (hundreds of referreed articles between them, and most have posts at fairly prestigious institutions, including NASA Goddard, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and several major research universities) seems like a fantastically good idea.We progress to this article in the Houston Chronicle, where it appears that a Texas electric company, Green Mountain Energy, has found a way to offer electricity provided by renewable sources (wind and hydro) that is exactly equal to the "price to beat" of electricity generated by standard fossil-fuel plants. A few caveats: this is partly due to higher-than-normal fossil-fuel prices, and Green Mountain provides some of its electricity by purchasing power from the grid, which is not always produced in an eco-friendly fashion, though they compensate for this by buying credits from green energy producers. For all that, though, this represents a major accomplishment: up until recently, if you wanted to support green industry, you had to pay for the privilege. Along with the success of hybrid cars, however, this news indicates we may soon be reaching a tipping-point, where more and more people buy green simply because it's just as cheap, and works just as well, as any other option. If everyone's buying hybrid cars, and using wind power, we won't need Congress to increase MPG standards.Finally, fusion, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor. The ultimate in clean energy, if achievable, and it appears that the day when the world runs on the same reactions that power the Sun may be nearer at hand. One of the problems with fusion is that it has to occur at extremely high temperatures: the reactor in question is expected to run at about 100 million degrees C (six times hotter than the Sun's core.) The good news: it appears that scientists have a better understanding of how to control the plasma that results when Hydrogen reaches such high temperatures that its electrons disassociate themselves from their atoms. Work on an experimental fusion reactor by a six-"nation" consortium (including the US, Japan, China, Russia, Korea and Europe) is hoped to begin soon. The Holy Grail, in how long?

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