January 4, 2010

Finally - A Green Idea I Can Get Behind

In light of the current cold snap around the world and the Global Warming hoax being exposed by scandal, it would seem that putting effort into alternative energy sources like wind and solar are an expensive option that the U.S. can not afford. This is especially true given not just the expense but the unknown payoff window being anywhere from 10 to 50 years out (or even more based on this timeline). Then there's the fact that the main reason behind it - man made global warming - is unproven and becoming increasingly dubious.

That is not to say that taking care of our environment is a bad thing. For example managing our waste is a good idea - recycling is good, polluting is bad. Common sense cuts both ways though.

Environmentalists have argued that a contributing factor to global warming is deforestation. Of course it doesn't exist on the level they claim. Nevertheless, I think there's a possible symmetry between science, business and environmentalists in at least one area. Water.

The world's most coveted commodity (besides gold) is oil. But there is something more valuable to human life and it's water. Vast areas of Africa, Australia and even North America are inhospitable deserts. Just think if they could be turned into irrigated farmland or forests. They could be used to feed the hungry, and suck up all that carbon dioxide evil humans (and cars) breath out. Never mind the fact that it would be meddling with the planet's environment on a scale that cars never have.

For the rest of us capitalists, think of the possible financial boon - extra crops to sell, new sources of lumber to sell and water and water technology to sell. Water technology?

That's where I believe our environmental efforts should be focused - on devising a technology that can remove salt from sea water. Desalination. The potential is staggering. The economic and societal benefits would be - well big at least. Perhaps even vast.

Of course cheap, economical desalination is not a new idea. But it hasn't been achieved yet. Then again neither has cheap, efficient solar or wind power. In either case it could take another 50 years to achieve. That's a lot of expensive effort and no guaranteed payout in either choice of effort.

In 50 years, global warming or not - what will be more important, solar power or water? No one knows. But what is known is that efforts at clean technology already have started. They have already been primed with government money. They should be allowed to stand or fall on their own merits. In any case there are alternatives to coal and oil already - natural gas and nuclear power are proven technologies that could be leveraged if solar and wind power take 100 years to become a real option. There are ways to get by without solar power. As an aside, the global warming hoax is a meaningless factor in this argument. The only reason I would support any alternative to oil is the dependence on foreign, especially hostile, suppliers. But I would only support reasonable options - not fanciful unproven ones.

Water on the other hand, I can get behind. Water has always been a fundamental human need, and frequently in human history a scarce resource. Desalination would prove a boon for the burgeoning southwest, and it's already pressed water supply. It would all for crops where non have existed. It could feed the growing domestic and international population - for a profit. It addresses a real world and domestic need, not an immeasurable and fictitious one. The science is simpler and based on more knowns than unknowns. At this point it is more about reducing cost (innovation) than about net new invention. There are indications we're already making headway.  It's not going to take 50 years. And the payoff, will be real.

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