Monday, May 16, 2005


Going Green With Nukes: Part Two

I guess I'm more influential than I expected. On Thursday (see below) I posted an article about how Environmentalists should consider supporting nuclear energy as a sound way to achieve environmental, economic, and national security goals. I guess my blog got some traction because it shook the New York Times into action. On Sunday, they put together this front-page article titled "Old Foes Soften to New Reactors" that discusses the political dynamics of shifting alliances around nuclear energy. Here's an interesting quote:

"Several of the nation's most prominent environmentalists have gone public with the message that nuclear power, long taboo among environmental advocates, should be reconsidered as a remedy for global warming."

It's clear to me, anyway, that wind, solar, hydro, biomass and efficiency will all be important and useful, but won't be enough to satisfy the world's electricity needs. Nuclear will be enough.

Separately, I attended a speech with President Clinton on Saturday night where he discussed the many millions of people (mostly children) who die each year in Africa from diarrhea and other diseases directly linked to dirty water. Building plants to clean the water would be a great step forward for improving the human condition, but requires electricity. And, I think the last thing we want to do is build a bunch of dirty power plants in pristine Africa. Why not build some nuclear power capabilities in Africa to improve the access to clean water and save lives?

[Updated 5/16/05 9:39 p.m. PT] The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) also must have read my blog, because their magazine Mechanical Engineering just came to my mailbox today with the their Washington Window column titled "A Comeback for Nuclear Power?".

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Going Green With Nukes

I am often amazed in political debates how stubborn and one-sided different political groups can be, especially on the topic of energy and the environment. It is my observation that for the most part:

  1. Rebublicans refuse to admit that environmental impact is the prime consequence of our energy consumption, and
  2. Democrats refuse to admit that cheap energy is the prime mover of our economy.

Will Republicans ever face up to the environmental realities of our energy consumption? It's not clear. But, the good news is that Democrats in recent years have began to realize the importance of access to affordable energy as a part of the broader progressive agenda (e.g. if you're concerned about human rights in developing countries, then cheap energy is a key component because it enables road construction, schools, hospitals, etc.), and have consequently softened their stance by demanding both cheap and clean energy.

But despite this shift by environmentalists towards accomodating the importance of energy, one barrier still exists: accepting nuclear power as a viable source of clean, cheap power.

As an engineer, the benefits of nuclear power are obvious to me, some of which I list here:

  1. Nuclear power emits no air pollution
  2. Nuclear power requires very little raw material, and therefore less mining
  3. Nuclear power frees us from the iron-grip of MidEast dictators who hate us and use the money we send them to attack us
  4. The greatest deposits of nuclear raw materials in the world are in Australia, which is an ally and a freedom-loving Democracy

Air pollution is our top environmental problem because of its role in causing global climate change and human health problems such as lung disease, asthma, etc., and so it is very thrilling to have a solution (e.g. nuclear power) ready to implement. But, amazingly enough, the same activists who should love nuclear energy because of its relatively small environmental footprint have instead done everything they can to prevent its widspread implementation in the U.S.

Meanwhile, France, Japan and the UK have developed a reliance on nuclear power for a great portion of their electicity, all without environmental incident or loss of valuable radioactive materials to terrorists. So it can be done.

If we really care about the environment and promoting human rights worldwide, then it's time to go green with nukes and say goodbye to the hydrocarbon economy and all the poisons it brings in terms of environmental damage and compromised national security.

Oh, and I'm not the only environmentalist who thinks this way: Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and a long-time environmental leader says the same thing in this article.

Monday, May 09, 2005


The Religious/Republican Assault on Science and Education

Two weeks ago I attended the Science and Technology Policy Forum hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). For those of you who don’t know, the AAAS was founded in 1848 and has been publishing its flagship journal Science since 1880 (look in volume 1 of this journal for an article by the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell).

Several hundred of us were in attendance at the Forum and listened to a riveting panel about the Religious (and Republican) war on science that is gaining steam nationwide. The panelists at the time made reference to some upcoming staged debate designed to criticize evolution that would occur in Kansas, and I had no idea what they were talking about. But of course that debate has taken place and is now all over the news. (for example, here)

Some education administrators in Kansas want evolution out of the classroom, and put on a staged fake debate to consider different educational guidelines. This ridiculous event reminds many people of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial because it pretends that somehow evolutionary biology and religion are mutually exclusive, which of course is simply not the case: just because the scientific method doesn’t include God doesn’t mean that it rejects God. But, for some reason many religious groups are going around the country saying otherwise.

Because religious groups have consistently failed to convince judges that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the classroom, they created their own scientific theory called Intelligent Design that they are promoting as an alternative explanation on the origins of life. (Note: the premise of Intelligent Design is that watches are complex, have many parts and were created by a watchmaker; humans are also complex and therefore like the watch that was created by a watchmaker, they must have their own maker.)

Let us not kid ourselves, Intelligent Design is fake science. It has no data, controlled experiments, or peer-reviewed journal articles to back up its claims. By, comparison, evolution has more than 100,000 different peer-reviewed scientific articles corroborating its validity.

Let us be clear: these faux-debates and their high-profile events really are not about evolution--they're about injecting Christian orthodoxy into our schools, curricula, and government. It seems to me Christianity might be a natural fit in our homes, neighborhoods and Churches, but it does NOT belong in a classroom dedicated to the scientific method, or in the governmental bodies that run those classrooms.

If you think that I’m reaching by claiming that this assault on science is partly religious and partly Republican, then please do some web searches on "Senator Santorum" and "evolution" to see how this Republican Senator from Pennsylvania amended federal education legislation to meddle with how teachers instruct students on evolution. Even Republican political commentator Ann Coulter is publicly claiming that evolution has been disproved.

WTF? When was evolution disproved?

Let the religious folks convince the nation that we don’t need science or rational thought anymore and then we’ll be no different than the days of Salem witchcraft trials or the modern-day Taliban. That’s not a thought I cherish.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Our crude energy policy

This blog will address the issues of energy and environment frequently because these are issue areas that intersect significantly with scientific reasoning. These are also the areas in politics where facts are at best negotiable and at worst simply fabricated.

While worldwide supply problems of oil are causing economic, geopolitical and military problems worldwide, President Bush is ignoring our addiction to oil, instead coming up with an energy bill that simply calls for more drilling, rather than incentives for conservation, new energy sources, or improved efficiencies. That makes sense, because new energy sources or conservation don't make his friends, family and political donors rich.

Our entire energy policy comes down to this: pump more Saudi crude and increase profits for George Bush’s petrochemical buddies.

Step 1) Ask the Saudis to raise output (Note: they already agreed to raise output, but it made no difference. Maybe it’s time to admit their oil fields are drying out).

Step 2) Write a sham energy bill by, for and of the lobbyists

This energy bill is ridiculous. Even though petrochemical corporate profits are at record highs (in the tens of billions of dollars annually), tax breaks are offered for more fossil fuel industries. Conservation and clean energy sources are given short shrift in favor of feeding our addiction to oil even further. Instead of pumping oil in Alaska, we could instead raise the fuel efficiency requirements for automobile fleets by 1 mpg. Instead of sending hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to dictators who hate us, and then spending hundreds of billions of dollars to militarily intervene with those dictators, we could raise our fuel efficiency requirements by 8 mpg.

Instead of plotting a path to energy independence, the energy bill reads more like someone's Last Will & Testament saying who gets what.

Time to buy a hybrid. I bought the Ford Escape Hybrid, which I love, but of course many others love the Toyota Prius.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Let's Hear it for the Congressional Physicists

I want to give a hollaback, mad props and two shout-outs to the only two Congressmen I know of who have advanced degrees in the sciences: Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ). Let's hear it for them! (Am I missing anyone?)

Of course, I find it pathetic that our Congressional Body makes decisions on hundreds of billions of dollars annually related to the scientific and technical fields, but we only have two elected officials who have first-hand experiences in the sciences at graduate school levels or higher. Maybe that's how our federal budgets get themselves into the preposterous situation of spending billions of dollars on a missile shield that makes high-dollar GOP donors wealthy but from a tecnical standpoint is infeasible and impractical, while underfunding other critical areas such as education investments in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Know any scientists or engineers who we can get to run for Congress?

Sunday, April 24, 2005


Martian Rover Discovers Congress

According to some very exciting recent news reports, the rover Spirit recorded images on April 15 and 18 giving evidence of dust devils on the surface of Mars. Though it was known that the thin atmosphere on Mars is capable of generating large windstorms, the micro-events of dust devils is pretty exciting.

Although, on second thought, when people tell me that elaborate scientific instrumentation, which took many years and many dollars to build, has discovered a bunch of hot, windy air in a portion of the universe devoid of intelligent life, I feel like we could have accomplished the same thing for a whole lot cheaper just by sending a grad student with a lab notebook to observe Congress in action.

Friday, April 22, 2005


Welcome to the Science Blog!

Welcome to my new blog: The Science Blog! Where science and politics meet...

I will be offering links, snippets and commentary on the intersection of politics and science. Ever wonder how many of our elected members of Congress have a scientific background? Curious as to why our government makes such screwy decisions about matters relevant to science? Looking for guidance? Then tune in!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?