Monday, February 23, 2009

The politics of energy consumption

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I am not a greenie by any means. I don't think we should sacrifice human lives or wants for the environment, or the habitat of some obscure species until a personal value proposition can be made for saving such 'values'. If they can be made, then I think it should be a personal commitment, and not the role of government (alas taxpayers) to finance. I am still a little skeptical about greenhouse gas theory, partly because of the dubious rationalisations I have seen made by scientists over the years. There is one piece of evidence that scares me though - and that is the rising global concentrations of methane gas concentrations. One reason why this scares me is because around the world we are extracting methane from coal seams. Unlike conventional gas reservoirs, coal seam gas extraction occurs at depths of just 200-600m, not several kilometres down. The implication is that there is greater probability of methane researching the surface through faults and joints as the hydrostatic water pressure falls from the wells. I can't say I know the dynamics of gas migration, but this ought to be considered as a future time bomb issue given that methane is 100x worse as a greenhouse gas than CO2. I am not concerned with the CO2 extracted, but rather the smaller portion that is wasted, that leaks into the atmosphere.
Another issue that concerns me is the fact that:
1. Products are designed to waste energy - the remote control places appliances into sleeper mode, in which I understand a device uses a third of its operating power. This is a huge waste. I don't know if this is true of modern devices. I'd like to know. It seems to be manufacturer policy to encourage convenience, but is that what we need. Why don't we just build a TV with a bar fridge inclined, lest we have to walk to the fridge to get a beer.
2. Lights in office towers in CBDs around the world are left on 24 hours a day. Is this necessary? I'm sure its aesthetically pleasing.
3. Junk mail: I'm in NZ now, and daily I receive hoards of junk mail in my letterbox. This comes to me care of the government. The post office charges advertisers for postmen to place this material in your letterbox. Only a few of us can be bothered reading it. It is not very effective advertising. Its cheap because trees in the Amazon rainforests are cheap. People are too lazy to put 'No junk mail' on their letterbox. This is something you could campaign to your government about. I think its the same problem in every country. Advertisers should not be able to send you unsolicited paid 'junk' mail. Just they use the government.

Its not all bad news. Here are some positive developments:
1. Annual reports: Several years ago I lamented the waste receiving annual reports by snail mail every year for every stock investment, which I never read because I would read them online, or not at all because the information in an annual report is superficial at best, and its 3 months old by the time you receive it. Now you can elect to receive them by email, download them off the internet or receive a mailed copy.
2. Snail mail for bills: For years now I have been lamenting the slow pace at which utilities and banks have moved to online billing. The banks have been very slow in this respect, but faster than other enterprises. I travel, and live in foreign countries, so its nice to be able to receive my bills by email. I also want to retain a paperless office. We are slowly moving in that direction. My bank has all statements online now EXCEPT my Mastercard statements.
3. Online trading: Its now far easier to buy products online 2nd hand which you would otherwise have bought new. We are setting up a house in NZ, and we purchase most of our home contents online for 1/3-1/2 price. Its good to find a use for other people's rubbish, and it saves a lot. We bought 500 bricks for just $10 on one occasion, a canoe, and some furniture. Auctions, recycling depots and charitable organisations offer even cheaper products.

I am not against businesses advertising. I am against unsolicited junk and WASTAGE. I do love and appreciate our natural environment. Fortunately I am living in a clean, green environment in NZ, but interestingly here they are more neglectful than anywhere. My country town does not recycle at door. You have to use recycling depots. At least there is an option.

Change is very slow in the world. But the message is slowly leaking out.
Andrew Sheldon

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