Monday, September 28, 2009

Global dimming?

How ironic that Josiah Franklin wanted his son Benjamin, the future discoverer of electricity, to follow Josiah's own trade of soap and candle maker, removing his son from school for that purpose when Ben was just ten years of age. As a child, fascinated by the Founding Fathers, I sometimes regretted that I had not lived in the 18th century, but as someone born in the 20th century, I am too used to the conveniences of bright light. A Christmas Eve candlelight service is all very well, but imagine having that kind and degree of light as one's sole illumination all the time. This scene from Kubrick's 1975 film Barry Lyndon gets the look about right. I can understand how Dr. Johnson had to sit so close to his candle for reading that he would singe his wig; what seems nearly incredible is the idea of men and women of that day reading and playing cards by the hour without going nearly blind.

I thought of that when I read the following from Amy Myers Jaffe of The Economist, quoted in the current issue of The Week:

To replace the global energy produced today by fossil fuels, we would need to build 6,020 new nuclear plants across the globe, or to produce 133 times the combined solar, wind, and geothermal energy currently harvested. Barring such a “monumental” transformation, we’re stuck with oil—or with “walking.”

Or candles. The problem is that it takes many candles to equal the illumination of a single bulb, and candles emit more carbon.

It gets worse, and more ironic. The same issue of The Week quotes The New York Times as saying that

To satisfy the exploding worldwide electricity demand caused by flat-screen TVs, game consoles, personal computers, and other gadgets, nations will have to build the equivalent of 560 coal-fired power plants, or 230 nuclear plants, over the next two decades. The average American now owns 25 electronic products.

I read once that if the whole world enjoyed the American standard of living, it would take the resources of three planet earths to support such consumption. Now imagine the world going dark for the sake of the Xbox, Twitter, and flat screen TVs!

And speaking of differences between the 18th century and our own, if an educated man of that day could be resurrected in ours and read the following, which opened an auto review that I read this evening, I think he would quickly ask to be reentombed:

Retirees love Cadillac’s flagship DTS, and the CTS goes up against sporty European rivals, but the SRX is taking on the Lexus RX 350 in the crossover SUV market.

© Michael Huggins, 2009. All rights reserved.

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