"without the hot air"

Freakonomics Sequel Gets Climate Change Wrong

The Freakonomics guys have apparently either really dropped the ball when it comes to understanding science, or they're willfully ignoring it. Either way, I'm pretty disappointed.

The sequel's contrarian take on climate change--and the bad science it's steeped in--have been analyzed in exquisite detail by everybody from Paul Krugman, Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong, to the Union of Concerned Scientists, to various climate scientists spread hither and non about the Web.

That's a lot of links, but they're there so you can go back and read page-by-page breakdowns of the mistakes and inaccuracies, by experts, if you want. I think that's important, because I know at least some of you are going to assume that any criticism of this book and its contents is all about some violation of pseudo-religious orthodoxy. I want you to be able to go see that this is about science. If you just want a quick summary, though, read on... Read the rest

Rubber snake harvests wave energy

Seen in the video above is Anaconda, a new system for harvesting energy from the ocean's waves. The 8-meter long, water-filled rubber "snake" is a prototype of a 200 meter version that the developers, Atkins Global, hopes will generate the energy required to power 1000 homes. The device is currently under testing in Gosport, UK and Checkmate Seaenergy hopes to bring it to market by 2014. I was surprised to learn that one of the big challenges to harvesting tidal wave energy is that the mechanical devices don't tend to last long because they get so abused by the ocean.

From New Scientist:

(As the Anaconda moves, it forms "bulge waves") similar to those that pass through the human circulatory system and can be felt as the pulse in the wrist and neck, says Rod Rainey of Atkins Global, co-inventor of the Anaconda. When each bulge wave reaches the end of the snake it keeps a turbine spinning to generate electricity.

The snake is made from a rubber-based material similar to that used to make dracones – flexible containers that are filled with diesel or water and towed behind ships for quick and cheap transportation.

Other than the turbine, Anaconda has no moving parts and unlike other wave power devices it needs only one tether to the ocean floor. That lowers construction costs and reduces the need for maintenance – an expensive undertaking in offshore settings where corrosion and accessibility are problems, explains Rainey.

"Sea 'snake' generates electricity with every wave"

Previously: Garage researcher "burns" saltwater - Boing Boing Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air: the Freakonomics of ... Read the rest

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air: the Freakonomics of conservation, climate and energy

David JC MacKay's Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air may be the best technical book about the environment that I've ever read. In fact, if I have any complaint about this book, it's in how it's presented, with its austere cover and spartan title, I assumed it would be a somewhat dry look at energy, climate, conservation and so on.

It's not. This is to energy and climate what Freakonomics is to economics: an accessible, meaty, by-the-numbers look at the physics and practicalities of energy. MacKay, a Cambridge Physics prof, approaches the subject of carbon and sustainability with a scientific, numeric eye. First, in a section called "Numbers, not adjectives," he looks at all the energy and carbon inputs and outputs in Britain and the rest of the world: this is how many kWh of energy are needed to power all of Britain's vehicles. This is how many kWh you would get if you covered the entire British shore with windmills, or wave-farms. This is Britain's geothermal potential. Here's how much carbon vegetarianism offsets. Here's how much carbon unplugging your idle appliances saves (0.25%, making the campaign to switch off energy vampires into a largely pointless exercise -- as MacKay says, "If everyone does a little bit, we'll get a little bit done"). This is the carbon-footprint of all of Britain's imports, gadgets, office towers, and so on.

Using a charming, educational style that teaches how to think about this kind of number, how to estimate with it, and what it means, MacKay explains these concepts beautifully, with accompanying charts that make them vivid and clear, and with exhaustive endnotes that are as interesting as the text they refer to (probably the best use of end-notes I've encountered in technical writing -- they act like hyperlinks, giving good background on the subjects that the reader wants to find out more about while allowing the main text to move forward without getting bogged down by details). Read the rest

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