6.8.08

TRANSCENDING POLITICS. It's been picked up by Paul Soglin and Charlie Sykes and Laura McKenna (is that the first time those three merit mention in the same post?)


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In the clip, Ms Hilton offers the substantive suggestion that additional oil development in the United States, along with continued research and development in solar and wind power, will produce "energy independence." Probably not, but independence (whether from imported energy or from imported bananas, to use an old metaphor) is not the main goal. Getting the incentives right in the face of exhaustible resources is. In that vein, let me address this Ramirez cartoon from Investor's Business Daily, which was posted without elaboration at Marquette Warrior.


The cartoon is supposed to suggest that development of wind and solar power is a step backwards. So it might be, if the incentives are wrong. There are, however, incentives, quite evident in the maritime record, to make more effective use of wind power.

It is true that in the Age of Sail, becalmed ships (which would have the mizzen, mizzen-top, and spanker set before going to oars) would sometimes be towed by crews rowing the ship's boats, or by kedging, if the water is shallow enough. It's also true that the galleon evolved from the galley, lending some versimilitude to the cartoon image (although a proper galleon would have a forecastle). But the galleon is not the last word in sail technology. In commerce, the Yankee Clipper halved the crossing times (there is a famous painting of Cutty Sark, a British Yankee Clipper, overtaking an early steamship) and for fun there is nothing more thrilling than a Laser or a racing scow. There was, also, an incentive to develop other forms of propulsion for ships (even the Yankee Clipper might be subject to the doldrums or unable to evade a typhoon and the Lasers and scow sailors prudently repair to the clubroom when there's a derecho on the radar screen) which, when acted on, checked further development of sailing technology. That does not, however, rule out further improvements in sailing technology. Such improvements, unfortunately, are unlikely to be commercially feasible except at permanently higher prices for current fuels, prices at which the development of harder-to-get-to sources will be commercially feasible.

Other technologies also have the potential for evolution. I'll probably have more to say about railroad electrification in the near future, but since we're focusing on retro technologies, consider this advanced technology steam locomotive (which was a serious proposal during one of the earlier periods of expensive oil).

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