Thursday, April 28, 2011

PIMBY (Please--in my back yard!)

Today's lecture in Bis2A is about the carbon cycle--how living things are responsible for taking in carbon dioxide and converting it to wood and flesh and ultimately fossil fuel; and how living things are responsible for taking wood and flesh and fossil fuel and converting it back into carbon dioxide.

I opened up the newspaper of record this morning and found an article about irate New Jerseyans, upset that their utility company had put unsightly solar panels on their telephone poles. I have to admit that I was a bit annoyed at the Jerseyans, much as I am annoyed at students who don't balance their equations. Hopefully, most of my students know that there's no free lunch: if you want to reduce carbon dioxide to biomass, then you need to oxidize something else and also put some energy in. As I tell my students, the second law of thermodynamics always wins. The solar panels in Jersey are reminding us of the same thing--and apparently, that reminder is upsetting.

If we want to solve some significant problems, I think we need more such reminders. When I get in a car, I make a point of telling myself that wanting to drive somewhere is the same thing as wanting more carbon dioxide in the air. I still drive, but a bit less. This blog post accounts for somewhere between .5 and 7 grams of carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere--so, perhaps I should visualize a smallish lump of coal being burned, and also a small amount of a removed mountaintop and an acidified stream.

Or, perhaps, I could visualize something nicer. Unlike the folks in Jersey, I'd love to visualize a solar cell, but I don't have that option. However, I don't have to say that by wanting this blog, I want more atmospheric carbon dioxide. Our house is part of SMUD's "Greenergy" program, so a chunk of our power comes from the giant wind turbines I can see in the Sacramento delta.

But there is still no free lunch--by wanting this blog, I want a higher number of dead bats and migratory birds. The second law of thermodynamics always wins.

No comments:

Post a Comment