Friday, September 26, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
1. A huge amount of fossil-fuel generated and electric energy is spent to heat and light buildings. Careful design, retrofitting of existing buildings, and siting of new buildings can reduce this by at least 90%. The use of incident solar energy - sunlight and heat is enormously effective. The big win here is what are called "hybrid" techniques, where active systems that use small amounts of energy are used to control passive systems to store and and direct large amounts of solar and geothermal energy. Daylighting and heating techniques are widely known; one that is less so is the geothermal heat pump, which is a highly-efficient cooling technique. There are houses in Maine that use entirely solar heat; there are houses in Louisiana that use geothermal heat-pumps for cooling. Clever design can reduce building energy use enormously, and many of these technologies save money, even at low energy prices. Links: Overview at Worldchanging. Brown and DeKay, Sun, Wind, and Light an excellent practical guide to passive techniques. California Energy Commission on geothermal heat pump technology. US Department of Energy on photovoltaics.
4. Urban multi-modal transit. The amount of space required by the heavy use of automobiles is itself a huge cost, both in land and the energy required to develop it. Broadly, when there are enough people to use the systems, rail is both more efficient and much cheaper than buses. In local transportation, however, there are many uses where rail doesn't make a lot of sense--there's no energy advantage over an automobile with a family. Buses have the advantage of not needing dedicated rights-of-way, but are uncomfortable and more expensive to operate than rail systems. If a bus line is operating for more than 10 years, it makes sense to replace it with a streetcar.
So...are we hearing about these from the Democrats? Sadly, not very much. But Al Gore's been talking about them for over 15 years!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Sunday, September 7, 2008
"Change". OK, good. The problem is, the rest of the platform is bollocks. (All right, maybe 75% of it is bollocks.) There's no economic quick-fix for manufacturing; the USA is not going to build a modern manufacturing base in four years, not even in eight. It also probably requires a national health-care system. There's no such thing as clean coal and carbon sequestration is a very questionable idea. Even if the engines were 100% efficient and clean as a whistle, an automobile-based transportation system would still be inefficient and an ecological problem. And so on, and on. We've got to have something real, or at least be willing to seek something real. We can't win anyone's heart by being corrupt--the Republicans have the corner on that market.
In our favor: progressives don't have to be saints. People want something better. Give them a little hope they can believe in, and they'll grab on and start leading us. Isn't that what Obama has been saying all along? But we have to give them something, and we have to be willing to be led. Oh, the parties are not the same; that's false, and the counsel of despair. Even before Palin came on the scene, Obama and McCain stood for different things. But the parties are, in different ways, both part of the problem. The parties aren't willing to be led.
In different words, this is a criticism that has been heard before: the parties are unresponsive to the voters. Which most thinking people already know. There's hope out there, there's things we can do. There's even people who know what those things are and can articulate them. But if the party leadership is busy protecting the auto industry, the insurance companies, the oil industry, MBNA, the radical-right christians, the god-knows-what that broken John McCain will listen to, then they can't listen to us, or do the things we need to do.
Progressives need to pull Obama along. Sarah Palin is going to do the feet-to-the-fire job, better, probably, than any progressive can. She has already forced him to come out firmly pro-choice. So I think progressives need to advocate and hold out an alternative, one that can win. It might be our moment--let's try to seize it.
First, of course, wealthy lobbyists. The great unreported story of the Democratic National Convention, says the estimable Jane Hamsher at firedoglake.com, is "the unhealthy relationship between Democratic politicians and their bigwig donors." Obama flirts with wealth and power, most notably with his selection of Biden as his running mate. McCain's connection with wealth are substantial; he married it, after all. Palin's connections with Big Oil are even more dramatic; if Obama flirts with wealth and power, and McCain has married it, Palin, despite her claimed Christianity, has had a long affair with them. But she seems to have married power, and fanaticism.
Second, the primary run of Hilary Clinton, McCain's pick of Palin and her popularity, show that women, more than any single group, have brought the Presidential candidates. Welcome to the 21st century. And--some women support Palin? If she has her way, it will be back to the times when everyone knew some young woman who had died from a failed abortion, some woman whose heart was broken by bearing a child and giving it up for adoption, or some woman or man who was forced into a bad marriage by an unexpected pregnancy! I suppose it is no different than tough working men supporting Republicans who have consistently sold them out, but it is heartbreaking to see anyway.
Third, progressive beginners. These are the young (and not so young) Obama supporters who support Obama's "change," even though they're not sure what it means. They don't want perpetual war, they want health care, they are environmentalists. I believe this group also includes some of the young Republicans who are thrilled by Sarah Palin. I think this group is much more likely to get what it wants from an Obama administration than a McCain (or Palin) administration, but it's not likely to get all of what it wants, because the conservatives are too strong. The Democrats aren't very happy with this group, as witness the choice of Biden for Obama's running mate, but they will probably have to make some concessions to them.
Fourth is reactionaries. "Give me back the Berlin wall / give me Stalin and St Paul / I've seen the future, brother: / it is murder."* This group wants change, but the change they want is a return to the real or imagined past. Obama, by not pinning down his "change", has attracted some of these voters, and through rhetorical prowess may even have persuaded some of them that there is hope, but by and large these are Republicans.
Fifth, still, are religious authoritarians. These bring the Republicans, and the Republicans have chosen Palin to lead their part of the dance.
So, to recap, we have:
3. Progressive beginners
5. Religious authoritarians
How does this play out? First, the pervasive influence of great wealth in US government is not going away soon (duh). Second, the influence of women is bipartisan. But in the areas where the pols have some latitude, it seems the Democrats are going to be influenced by progressive beginners and old feminists, and the Republicans by reactionaries and religious authoritarians.