Using CO2 to Light our Streets!

I’ll be the first to tell you – I despise street lamps. Please don’t babysit me! I want to see the stars at night! But then comes along a concept I love. Futuristic. Sci-Fi. Visually stunning. The kind of thinking we need more of (of which we need more?). If we have street lamps, let them look and work like this! I Stumbled Upon this page just now, and I love it:

Carbon dioxide comes from seemingly everywhere. It is emitted from the exhaust pipes of vehicles, the generation of electricity, and even the exhale of every living creature on the planet.

It’s not all evil, however. Without CO2, plants would not generate oxygen for us to breathe.

Borrowing a page from plant-life’s book, Peter Horvath, a Hungarian Designer, has come up with the BioLamp street lamp concept.

FutureTech says,

“The Biolamp consists of a liquid, alga combined with water that transforms CO2 into O2­. This street lamp called Biolamp is also completed with a pump for sucking the smog.”

Here’s a visual representation, which I really like. Natural, earthy, organic; no more metal light posts!

Cool. Just cool.

How Do New Technologies Emerge?

I’m thinking generally about the war on coal and the subsequent loss of generating capacity and what to do about it, and I’m trying to wrap my brain around the evolution of technology, and by what means and in what environments new technologies are most likely to emerge and replace existing technologies. Do we know how this happens in the real world? Is the creation and development of new technologies generally an organic event, or a planned event, or all happenstance?

We are feeding tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to renewable tech. Why are we doing this? I mean beyond the desire to replace carbon-based energy with clean renewable energy. I get that part. But what experience, what example, what pattern of tech creation are we trying to emulate?

Has anyone studied or written on this subject? You would think that with all the examples of technological advancements in the United States, many of which are recent and significant, that we would have a good grasp of the political, consumer, social, and financial environments from which most new technologies emerge and develop and become adopted. We could identify and nurture that pro-growth environment for the technologies that are really important to us as a society. Look at examples like computer chips and computing power, which is growing at an exponential rate. How did this happen? What about communications? High yield crops? Pharmaceutical advances?

I’d appreciate any advice, book references, literature, what have you, that can describe to me the model we should be following on renewable energy development and adoption. I really want to know.

Coffee in Traffic

Have you ever noticed how loud traffic is? I mean residential traffic, downtown traffic, commuter traffic. Highway traffic is loud, but I don’t care at that point. Once on the highway I’m driving to a destination, and at 75 mph I’m rarely focused on the natural environment around me. But I was just sitting outside a coffee shop on the downtown mainstreet, and I was struck by how loud the traffic was. So loud that I couldn’t imagine what it would have sounded like without the cars driving by: would I hear conversations from across the street? The breeze tossing a bit of litter? The footfalls of people walking past? Do you imagine things like this?

Did you know that our friends at EPA deem noise a pollutant? I agree with them. The seeking and achieving of solitude is difficult in the absence of natural quiet. Unfortunately, there is little natural quiet left in our world. One must travel far into the depths of wild areas or remote lands to find it. Even then, the quiet may be broken by the occassional airplane travelling 30,000 feet above you. Sound travels fantastic distances, so remoteness is no guarantee of quiet. I worked once on a project that recorded acoustic samples in a remote park setting, and we were astonished at the levels of sounds coming from vehicles, specifically off-road vehicles like ATVs. We found that nearly 5 miles from the nearest road we could still detect the sounds of traffic. The National Park Service now studies natural soundscapes as part of its mission, and works to preserve natural quiet in national parks when possible.

It’s not something I bemoan, this loss of quiet. But I am aware of it. I think we take for granted the things we have as much as the things we have lost, like quiet, and darkness, and unobstructed views (powerlines anyone?). What is it that we are missing? What else are we missing that we have long forgotten? It all seems a silly, trivial thing to worry about with all the bigger problems in the world. But that doesn’ t mean we shouldn’t be aware, cognizant, of the loss.

The Technology Trap

Have you heard the term “technology trap?” I have been drafting an essay on the all-electric vehicle (EV), and one argument I make is that the EV is a technology trap, by which I mean that due to human behavior we are prone to rely on modern technology and future technology to solve the problems that we are creating and experiencing today, which allows us to avoid the need to change attitudes, ethics, and behavior.

I wanted to tighten up my definition of technology trap and so today I googled the term. I was surprised to learn that either I have misunderstood the term, or that there are several competing definitions. The first several google pages led me to links that offered a definition of technology trap similar to this one provided by Culture Change:

In the natural world, Darwinian natural selection would weed out tendencies for an organism to be destructive of itself and its habitat. But the technological way of life has uncoupled human behavior from natural selection pressures. The harms that result when we use destructive technologies are dispersed in space and time and are difficult to detect. The air pollution and petroleum depletion caused by driving a car don’t immediately feed back to the driver and make her question her use of her car, just as a drink from a plastic bottle of spring water flown in daily from the South Pacific gives no clues about the many harms caused by the bottled water industry. Our present-focused brains just don’t get the harmful consequences of our technological activities.

I found several similar descriptions of the technology trap, by which the author(s) mean that modern technology can be harmful, particularly when combined with human traits such as error, greed, and malevolence, and yet we tend to blindly adopt technology without the forethought or awareness of the dangers it may pose. These definions do not represent what I think of when I use the term technology trap.

Interestingly, I found the following definition on a WordPress blog called The Way Things Break:

The technology trap is, as I like to put it: “Delay, delay, delay. Why? Because technology, technology, technology.” It is the push- be it cynically, to undermine meaningful action in the present for political and industry profit, or well-intentioned, wishful thinking- to do little or nothing in the short term to mitigate climate change and hope for technological salvation in the future.

Now, this writer hits it exactly when he (or she, I couldn’t locate an author description) describes a technology trap as ‘technological salvation’. Perfect.

The technology trap is ever present in environmental issues. From our belief that a new form of solar/wind/geothermal technology is right around the corner that will eliminate the need for coal and end global climate change, or that we will create the perfect long-life, low-impact EV battery that will end our reliance on oil, the belief persists that if we just wait long enough and invest heavily enough, we can avoid making any uncomfortable or difficult decisions about how we live today. Given the alternative, I am happy to live in a society where we are so optimistic, forward looking, innovative and hopeful. These are traits for long-term survival, and I would not change them. But as a society we need to recognize this trait and understand that we have a strong tendency to fall into the technology trap.