Thursday, April 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Per Capita Davis: The pace of change

JohnMott-SmithW

By
From page A4 | February 06, 2014 | Leave Comment

The term “early adopter” doesn’t apply to me, not by a long shot. I am slow to pick up on new technology, and more than a little choosy when I do adopt a change, gadget or gizmo. My organizing principle has been that I don’t want to be a grandpa who can’t understand or help with what his grandchildren are talking about or doing.

Recently, I’ve had an encouraging thought about the ridicule (perhaps too strong a word; “chiding” or “kidding” might be closer to the mark) that comes with occupying this slow-to-adopt approach to technology. Although I probably peaked at being able to program a VCR, don’t participate on Twitter or Facebook, or even know the names of some of the more recent technology fads, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the pace of these changes.

Sure, I’m slipping behind, but slowly. But what impresses me is that the pace of change is increasing, and those younger than I will no doubt be, by age 30 or 40, more hopelessly behind than I am at age 65. This is a thought that makes me smile.

The smile disappears, however, when the subject changes from technology to climate change. Two recent scientific articles make me more than a little uneasy.

The first article calls into question the prediction that if we, as a planet, can just keep global temperature from increasing no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and carbon dioxide levels below 450 parts per million in the atmosphere we should be able to avoid the really terrible consequences of global warming. The terms have been out of the public discussion of late but recent information indicates that we may be closer to “tipping points” than we had thought, and the “feedback mechanisms” that can result in uncontrolled carbon increases in the atmosphere may be underway right now.

The result, if true, is that the pace of change in planetary living conditions may be accelerating.

So, what’s happening faster than previously predicted? What feedback mechanisms are accelerating these changes? The article names several, some more subtle than others, but there are two really big ones.

One, there appears to be more permafrost than scientists previously thought, containing about twice the carbon as is currently in the atmosphere, and it is warming and releasing methane faster than any of the models predicted.

Two, ice around the globe, from the Arctic and Greenland to the Antarctic, is melting faster than anticipated. Addition of fresh water into the northern seas can disrupt the ocean currents that control climate for a large portion of the Earth, Also, land masses or ocean surfaces that were covered with white ice that reflected sunlight become heat-absorbing darker surfaces of land or water, causing melting to accelerate.

The second article documents the time involved in transitioning from one fuel source to another: wood to coal, coal to oil and oil to natural gas. It turns out that wood to coal and coal to oil took 50 to 60 years for the new fuel to go from a minor source of energy to a dominant position in overall fuel use. The article indicates that the current transition from oil to natural gas in taking longer, though recent events have accelerated the change.

The bad news, according to this article, is that renewables produced less than 10 percent of the energy used in the United States in 2011 and most of that was from “traditional” renewables such as hydroelectric plants. So-called “new renewables” such as solar and wind produced less than 4 percent. Moreover, the “old” renewables such as hydro are more or less maxed out, so growth will have to come from the “new” sources.

Further, on a global scale, investments in coal and oil as fuel sources has created an infrastructure that is unlikely to be abandoned, with the article citing an estimated $20 trillion in sunk costs in coal mines, oil wells, pipelines, refineries, filling stations, etc. China alone is estimated to have invested a half-trillion dollars in coal-fired power plants since 2000.

The article argues a couple of key points. First, that a realistic assessment of a pathway to an energy future based on renewables should recognize that it will take at least 50 years to make this transition and it will require advances in energy storing technologies in order to rely on intermittent wind and solar as baseline suppliers, along with a much more decentralized infrastructure of producers (rooftops, community scale, etc.) and transmission capability to protect against mass outages.

Second, that the most important short-term strategy is to increase the efficiency with which we currently use energy so that efforts to build renewable sources are not always chasing an increasing level of demand.

I would add to that. We need a change of pace to quicken development of energy policies and market mechanisms that fosters a pace of change in energy technology that more closely mirrors that which is happening with our digital lives. Now that’s something we can share with our grandchildren.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. His neighbors refer to him as “Old Man Mott-Smith,” a moniker he is quite proud of. This column is published on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to johnmottsmith@comcast.net

John Mott-Smith

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

4-H members get ready for Spring Show

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Will city move forward on public power review?

By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

 
 
2 pursuits, 2 arrests keep Woodland officers busy

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

 
Obama to Russia: More sanctions are ‘teed up’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
 
Youth sports in focus on radio program

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Rummage sale will benefit preschool

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Concert benefits South Korea exchange

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Conference puts focus on Arab studies

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Central Park Gardens to host Volunteer Orientation Day

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Volkssporting Club plans North Davis walks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Hotel/conference center info meeting set

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Davis honors ‘green’ citizens

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Water rate assistance bill advances

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Program explores STEM careers for girls

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Embroiderers plan a hands-on project

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
MOMS Club plans open house

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

 
Cycle de Mayo benefits Center for Families

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

Author to read ‘The Cat Who Chose to Dream’

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A12

 
.

Forum

Things are turning sour

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

 
Ortiz is the right choice for Yolo

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

 
The high cost of employment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

High-five to Union Bank

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Broken sprinklers waste water

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Three more administrators?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Neustadt has experience for the job

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Here’s a plan to save big on employee costs

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6, 3 Comments

 
Davis is fair, thoughtful

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

.

Sports

DHS boys shuffle the deck to beat Cards

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
DHS/Franklin II is a close loss for Devil softballers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

DHS tracksters sweep another DVC meet

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Another DVC blowout for DHS girls soccer

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1, 2 Comments | Gallery

Young reinvents his game to help Aggies improve on the diamond

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Baseball roundup: Giants slam Rockies in the 11th

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
UCD roundup: Aggies lose a softball game at Pacific

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

Jahn jumps to Sacramento Republic FC

By Evan Ream | From Page: B8

 
.

Features

.

Arts

 
Emerson, Da Vinci to present ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

Winters Plein Air Festival begins Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
 
Bach Soloists wrap up season on April 28

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A11

Congressional art competition open to high school students

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6