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Thursday, November 06, 2008
 Hot, Flat, and Crowded 
Currently reading Thomas Friedman's latest book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. It's an excellent summary of the environmental consequences we face if we don't change the way we live. The subtitle sums up the thesis: Why We Need a Green Revolution - And How it Can Renew America. As a society we now recognize that we need to reduce our carbon emissions to slow global warming. Many of us want to contribute to the solution, but most of our actions, such as changing light bulbs and lowering the thermostat temperature in winter, will have a very small impact. We need a true green revolution, and no revolutions are won without major, disruptive changes.

A major change that needs to happen is how we generate and distribute electricity. We need a smart grid, the can receive feedback from our homes and our appliances. When electricity is cheaper, we would know that and could make more efficient use of the electricity grid. The grid is designed so that there is rarely a chance that it will be overloaded, so there is a great deal of extra capacity that is only used during peak loads. If the grid were smarter, those peaks would be smaller and less capacity would be needed.

We should also be able to feed the grid with any power we generate locally, from solar cells or the wind or from excess car battery loads. This can only happen if it is in the best interest of the power companies to create a smart grid and reduce their capacity. Now they make profits by selling as much energy as possible. They need incentives to encourage conservation and local energy generation, and only the government can create those incentives.

Obama understands this. He recently read Hot, Flat, and Crowded. He wants to help create the smart grid.

One way to accomplish the above is to understand the true costs of generating electricity, manufacturing goods, using gas for power cars, etc. Currently the huge negative impacts of these processes is not accounted for, the "negative externalities". I wrote about this concept in a post about the book Garbage Land, and again when discussing an article entitled My Dot-Green Future. Someone has to pay for these effects, and the sooner we factor them into the costs of goods and services, the better off we will be. We will then understand the long term benefits of alternative energy sources, bicycling, and other green practices. With a new president who understands this, there might be hope for us after all.

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