Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Think Globally, Act Stupidly

Here's that rarest of birds, a reasonably detached scientific estimate -- numbers! Lots of them! -- of various things people think they can do to help solve the global energy crisis. Turn off your appliances? Forget it: Skip one hot bath a week and you can leave your TV on for months.

It also looks at some of the possible models for one nation (Britain, in this case) to work toward "sustainability," eco-friendliness, and energy independence (not always all possible at once). And at what they'd look like. The model most glamorous to the severest friends of Gaia turns out to be the most brutal to her:

It’s worth noting that in earlier analysis, [Professor David J.C.] MacKay [of the Cambridge University Department of Physics] suggested that pumped storage on this scale would be very hard to achieve using existing lakes and lochs. In actuality, vast amounts of seawater would probably get pumped up and down mountains and cliffs routinely to bridge the huge demand swings of a mostly-electric Britain and the massive variations in a mostly-wind powered grid.

MacKay made no effort to cost plan G, but he offers maps and figures indicating the staggering scale of the engineering. Britain would be literally covered with — and girdled by — massive wind farms, tidal barriers and wave barrages, and every sizeable body of water in the land would rise and fall to the strange new tides of the national grid. We would have literally rebuilt the British Isles as a single mighty renewable generator, pouring concrete and erecting steel on a scale so far matched only by human habitation — industrialising the land and sea in a way that would make intensive agribusiness look like a wildlife refuge. And still we’d be importing power.

That’s the reality of the Greenpeace plan for the UK, in hard numbers. You can see why MacKay is worried about their response.

Bonus points for using "sizeable."