Monday, September 10, 2012

A Powerful Proposition

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to watch an amazing video of a lecture given by Dr. Daniel Nocera. It's an hour and 18 minutes long, but it is totally worth it because there is real hope for mankind in that video. What is it about? It's about new technology that allows us to capture solar energy and store it for future use.

I read about Nocera's work a couple of years ago. He and his team have done some pioneering work in the field of artificial photosynthesis. Notice that the work is government funded. Why didn't the private sector come up with this first? Maybe they were too busy thinking about maximizing profits before humanity.

Here are the basics:
  • Use a light activated catalyst to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.
  • Capture the hydrogen and store it for use later.
  • Burn the hydrogen to power the home.
  • Use the hydrogen to fuel a car or use power generated by burning the hydrogen to charge the car.
Imagine a world where every home has a power source independent of the power company. Imagine an economy independent of the hydrocarbon fuels we now use. Now imagine that all of the infrastructure we used to use to distribute power as electricity and fuel is no longer needed. Artificial photosynthesis would free up giant chunks of the economy dedicated to distributing oil, gas and coal. It would also free up all the money, time and effort spent designing nuclear power plants and passing commission reviews of each plant. The health benefits of such change would be enormous.

The jaw grows slack just considering even some of the possibilities. The only new tech is the catalyst - everything else is off-the-shelf parts. Artificial photosynthesis decentralizes energy production. Imagine what happens to political power when energy production is distributed by the sun.

The math presented in the video is pretty simple. We burn about 12.8 TW of power today - every day. the sun delivers 1000 TW to the earth. On land, we get about 800 TW. By 2050, we will need another 28 TW to keep humanity humming. We won't be able to build power plants fast enough to keep up. But we can fit up homes with this system to scale out billions of little power plants that run off the sun. 

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have shown very much interest in clean energy. This is especially true of the Republicans. Perhaps they forgot about Richard Nixon. Maybe they want to. While the Democrats have shown some interest in clean energy, even some lip service, I don't see them talking about a game changer like artificial photosynthesis that has been around for two whole years. Maybe they're not ready to talk about it yet.

If I were running the Green Party, *this* would be my new platform: Personal Power for everyone is attainable through artificial photosynthesis. If the Democrats and Republicans won't touch this, the Green Party will be happy to take over.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Freedom of Religion

I've been thinking about religious freedom. The success of this nation depends on religious freedom. In almost every other country where people are not free to practice the religion of their choice, even not to practice at all, we find a certain homogeneity, a demand for purity and uniformity of thought among all. This lack of pluralism limits the views that can be considered in political discourse and discourages expression of dissenting views.

So it is with a heavy heart that I find that the Republicans, that Grand Ol' Party, have been promoting the idea that the United States is a Christian nation. The platform of the Texas Republican Party offers a good example. I find it hard to believe that the matter is even a subject of debate when the Constitution is so clear in the First Amendment on its face. Their words leave little doubt as to what they mean to say.

The passage, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is important enough to be the opening clause of the First Amendment. Yet, platforms of the various state chapters of the Republican Party make it clear that not only do they believe that this country is a Christian nation, they want to tear down the wall that separates church and state. That is really scary.

I wonder if they have considered the ramifications of what would happen to this country if they managed to make the United States in their vision of a Christian country. What about everyone else?

Many of the founders of this country were Christian, to be sure, but they came here to escape the religious tyranny of the King of England. They came here to practice their religion as they understood it to be. They found what works for them and stuck with it. Though many of them were Christian, some devout, they all knew the danger of a state established religion.

We have modern day examples of the danger of state sponsored religion. One need only look to Iran to see the ultimate conclusion: complete and total subjugation of women, dissent is either completely absent or hidden, and anyone who is not actively practicing the state sponsored religion is cast in a second, lower class. Is that what the Republicans are preaching? That is my impression. 

I don't want to see a state sponsored religion in these United States and I hope I never do. I do want a diversity of religions, which we now have. For it is only through human exploration of spirituality in all of its forms that we arrive at a state of mind better known as peace.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Would you like your regulation to be public or private?

I have to wonder what the GOP is talking about when they go on and on about reducing regulation. For example, during the prohibition years, there was no effective way to regulate the alcohol industry since it all went dark. Because there was no 3rd-party referee to handle grievances, the competitors resorted to gangland violence. Legalizing the business and taxing it brought it into the light and made it easier to regulate as well as providing relief for innocent bystanders. Are they suggesting that we return to a prohibition-era economic environment that is "free of government regulation"?

I'm not aware of any GOP politician that has acknowledged that when you remove government regulation, private law and regulation come into play (if you've seen one do that, let me know). Consider for a moment the recent ruling from the Supreme Court that permits corporations to eliminate the right to class action lawsuits in their terms and conditions for use of their services. That ruling has emboldened corporations to introduce their own forms of regulations. This is particularly evident among cellular phone companies with their data caps, sharing plans, and customer data sharing arrangements. Net Neutrality? Totally neutered.

In this context, I have to ask, which source of regulation does the GOP prefer, government regulation or private regulation? Either one can become quite onerous if we let them. The difference is that I can vote out the guys in government who set policy. I can't do that with corporations. In corporations, the members of the board of directors make decisions that set policy. Even if I own stock, I don't really get a say in their decision making process. Worse, corporations are a creature of government, below everything and everyone else. At least they should be.

Several Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rulings have turned our relationships with corporations upside down. The first ruling came in 1890 when the SCOTUS recognized corporations as persons. Second, the SCOTUS has ruled that corporations can make unlimited political contributions without disclosure because money is speech. The third came with a SCOTUS ruling preempting a state law that prohibited the exclusion of class action suits in contracts. Don't even get me started on patents.

The GOP lacks complete sincerity and honesty if they continue to omit private regulation in debates of public policy on the subject of regulation. I wonder if they will ever bring it up.