Unintended Consequences – risks and rewards of needing energy

Fire is energy

Nearly half the world uses wood for cook and heat, which contributes significantly to deforestation. (Image credit: Freefoto.com)

In this video, Matt Palmer, filmmaker and photographer, raises good points about how we produce our energy and its consequences–intended and otherwise.

Energy is important to everyone and every process on earth. We want energy to power our lives. So, as Robert Bryce, author of Power Hungry, reminds us, “We put energy in a conversion device to make power: a plane, a truck, even ourselves.” [watch “What’s a Watt?“] Power is what we want. Energy converts to power to allow work. (And work is “the transfer of energy from one physical system to another.” – American Heritage Dictionary)

Palmer, in this video, considers the scope of our energy needs, what it would take to re-tool the world to non-fossil fuel based systems, and:

What does it mean to say: “Dirty Oil,” “Clean Energy,” “Renewable,” “Sustainable.”

In the project, he wants to through “Constant critical thinking,” “Challenge the idea that fossil fuels are only bad, and that alternative energies are free and benign and free from resource limits.”

“Unintended Consequences” began as an idea to do a feature film that examines the unintended consequences of different energy sources from oil sands, natural gas, and coal to alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and bio fuels, in order to forge an understanding of the impacts that come from our use of energy. So some of the central conflicts we intend to examine include questions like: how do we or can we reconcile our desire to maintain our standard of living at a time of population growth and increasing energy demand given the finite natural resources available to harness energy and the myriad of unintended consequences (social, political, environmental and economic) that result from our consumption of energy? How can we build a rational, pragmatic and optimistic framework from which to bring man, energy, environment, and technology into harmony?…The goal of the “Unintended Consequences Documentary Project” is to challenge all sides in the global energy debate from energy companies to environmental organizations to consumers to think critically about what we think we know, our assumptions, our biases, and our emotional connections to the issue. – Matt Palmer producer of the Unintended Consequences Documentary Project



Does he mean what he says he wants? So far, few people willingly do the math of alternative energy sources. However, the salt crystal lamp in the background gives me pause because they are complete quackery (according to one site I visited their salt crystal lamps “neutralize the positive ions generated by electrical devices,” thus “give your body the same relaxed feeling you experience when enjoying a day at the beach.”). It’s possibly nothing but a gift from his wife.

In corresponding with Matt Palmer, I recommended two books: Matt Ridley’s, The Rational Optimist and Robert Bryce’s, Power Hungry. He wrote that The Rational Optimist was next on his list. If he could interview Ridley and Bryce, that would be good.

Ridley know numbers, plus he can convey ideas simply. In the foreword of his book he writes, “I find that my disagreement is mostly with reactionaries of all political colours: blue ones who dislike cultural change, red ones who dislike economic change and green ones who dislike technological change…(H)uman progress has, on balance, been a good thing…(The world) is richer, healthier, and kinder too, as much because of commerce as despite it.”

You see, the more we trade goods and services, the more we trade ideas as well. Those ideas “have sex” he says. Like DNA recombining to make unique individuals, bits of ideas cross-fertilize with others to make better ways of doing things. “In a nutshell,” Ridley says, “the most sustainable thing we can do, and the best for the planet, is to accelerate technological change and economic growth.” For instance, changing from using animals to using machines, which need power, for farming freed up 30 percent more land, since machines don’t need pasture. Using petroleum to produce nitrogen fertilizers also freed up land, since with fertilization we require less land to be as productive. That freed land then could be used to grow more food or fiber or returned to its natural state.

Which do you think is better: fossil fuel or alternative energy sources? Why?

Post to Twitter

Wood Energy?

Interesting 60-Second Science about how the “Old Energy Source Wood Be New Alternative.” The money quote:

“If chopping down forests for fuel doesn’t sound like the greenest solution to our energy needs, the scientists note that we’d have to figure out how to manage our woodsheds sustainably, to avoid slashing and burning our way to a toasty home and a bare Earth. But trees are renewable. They’re cheaper than fossil fuels. And they provide more shade than offshore windmills.”


Post to Twitter