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April 23, 2009

Giant leap

Caution: the views expressed on in this blog are the views of Katie, and not necessarily completely thought out, logical, or rational. They have likely been conceived of within the last hour.

I saw Al Gore speak today; he was at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Richard Blum Center for Developing Economies. He was looking good - despite the red face he got each time the UCB Chancellor him "Our 46th President" (three times, corrected more hilariously each time. "Better to call the vice president the president than vice versa!" Maybe not in this case, Mr. Chancellor; I think that's a soft spot...).

Al was talking about how there is a lot of poverty and income disparity, and how we can't solve our environmental problems until the poverty problems are also solved. Then he let out the worst analogy in the whole climate change - you could see it coming from a mile away. "You know, it was just 48 years ago that Kennedy challenged America to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely, within 10 years. 8 years later, blah blah one small step." So obviously we can solve this climate change problem we have, if we just want it bad enough.

He also pointed out that since the industrial revolution, our society had turned much fossil fuel into much atmospheric carbon dioxide. That's true, but it wasn't what I expected him to say. I thought he was going to say that we'd turned all that fuel into knowledge, infrastructure, civilization, and population. Humans have proven themselves exceptionally capable of that - fossil fuels made the industrial revolution possible, which made the scientific advances of the 20th century and the society we live in possible. It made the moon shot possible. We're great at turning fossil fuel into knowledge and stuff and rearranged molecules.

We are not so practiced at taking knowledge and turning it into stuff. We have a society that can support cities and skyscrapers and salads and big populations, and that society is made of fossil fuel. We've learned a lot, but we have not learned to make stuff from nothing, or from orders of magnitude less than we do now.

Do you understand what I'm trying to say here? The moon shot was a simple matter of taking fossil fuel and turning it into a rocket ship and some mathematical equations that could get it to the moon and back. The energy problem is a matter of learning to make all the things our society can't do without, with very little. That is a problem of incomparable magnitude, and suggesting that it's not is irresponsible, naive, or a plain lie.

Who knows though, the moon shot only took 8 years. Maybe if Al had been prez, we'd have this shit figured out by now.


April 29, 2009

What is a chemical engineer?

Prof. Smit:

A mathematician is a person who can turn caffeine into theorems.

A chemical engineer can make excellent coffee in a swimming pool.

About April 2009

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