Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Category: Energy

Carl Sagan’s thoughts on Voyager 1’s Image

Carl Sagan’s thoughts on Voyager 1’s Image

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

– Carl Sagan, 1994



Poignant glacier calving filmed in Greenland

Poignant glacier calving filmed in Greenland

This exceptional footage challenges its viewers with a trying blend of striking beauty and tragic meaning. This violent destruction perhaps paints more vividly than ever before the extreme danger of our collective actions and yet it is hard not to also revel in its utterly awe-striking beauty.


TED talk: Peter Ward: Earth’s Mass Extinction

TED talk: Peter Ward: Earth’s Mass Extinction

Peter Ward presents the findings of a study that makes for an example to fledgling scientific investigations. The study has followed evidence relentlessly until, at its fruition, a near-complete picture of the area has been painted. This is sometimes accomplished by many different groups working over many decades, but in this case the specific issue demands quickly nothing but complete and irrefutable evidence, an issue at the centre of a denial that is prevalent almost throughout our species – the denial of the rapid destruction of our planet.


TED talk: Kirk Sorensen: Thorium, an alternative nuclear fuel

TED talk: Kirk Sorensen: Thorium, an alternative nuclear fuel

The energy problem that humans face, how we can meet our energy needs in a sustainable way, can only be considered a political, or human issue, being that the solutions we need are even today ready and waiting. The way we currently produce the vast majority of our energy is harming the planet in ways hugely alarming to those who have taken the time to educate themselves on the delicate planetary systems that are being so emphatically abused or over-strained.

To the extent that I am familiar with the convictions of those considered the most informed on this topic (the planetary boundary scientists amongst others), it seems that the best solution for our energy production system would comprise a base-load provided by nuclear power, augmented with renewable solutions to cover varying demands above that.

Many of the myths surrounding nuclear power are put to rest in Mark Lynas’ excellent book The God Species that I reviewed in an earlier post ( One statistic that stands out is that all the so-feared nuclear waste that France has produced in the last quarter of a century, lies under the floor in a single room, emitting no radiation to the outside world. When considering that the alternative, fossil fuel derived energy, may be driving  us to extinction, the ‘dangers’ of nuclear power are shown to be the surreptitious influences of powerful people, or simply uninformed hysteria. Those who have stood to lose out from the acceptance of nuclear energy, fossil fuel tycoons with political influence as hard to believe as their solipsism, have lobbied against it since its arrival. This has extended beyond the influence of media conjecture alone, to the falsification of scientific reports (hardly an extraordinary thing when you cast a discerning eye to the practices of the pharmaceutical industry, just to start).

In this very interesting TED talk Kirk Sorenson shines light on some of the recent advancements in nuclear power technology that further its attractiveness still. He also gives yet more tantalising insight into the innovative brilliance that seems to have littered every project NASA has devoted a department to.



The cost of travel

Traveling by train requires a similar amount of energy per distance as that required of a bicycle, per person. The typical measure of transport efficiency is energy per unit distance; per passenger. This is usually expressed as Mega Joules per passenger kilometre (MJ/passenger-km). As a very rough guide walking might take around 0.78 MJ/passenger-km. Cycling slowly, at around 16 km/h, say, would require 0.11 MJ/passenger-km – let’s assume the determined commuter will be demanding double that. Working to those assumptions; locomotion by train, in fact for freight as well as for people, has remarkably high efficiency. The average train might require somewhere below 0.6 MJ/passenger-km, and newer trains are quite exceptionally efficient: When full, the trains in Basel require 0.085 MJ/passenger-km. The East Japanese Railway manages 0.35.

Simply for a little perspective the average car might demand two or three MJ/passenger-km; passenger aircraft around 1.4 MJ/passenger-km. No satisfaction can be taken, however, from the lower values of any of the modes of transport mentioned here because, whether fossil fuel or largely non-nuclear derived electricity, the source of energy is just as harmful for each… except arguably the humble bicycle, of course. Just to mention in passing, as if you couldn’t guess yourself, helicopters are among the least efficient.

Presidential Debates

We saw, in the second debate between Romney and Obama, a rather distressing scene, I thought. There are some very rare exceptions in politics of individuals who will risk their own success to do what they think is right. Mandela carries the flag for such people, and you have to strain your eyes to find more than you can count on one hand, to say the least. None such individual was present on this occasion, let me say first.

To think that any politician has motivations beyond his or her party’s popularity, with relation to their chances of obtaining or retaining power, is I think hugely naive in democratic governments. Other motivations may lie in corrupt obligations too, which I must mention for completeness. Politicians even sometimes afford us an insight into the rationalisation some of them must justify their breaches of ethics with; that you must ‘play the game to have a chance to make a difference’. The only thing more absurd than that notion, which fails to address how bankrupt a system that requires such practice must be, is that people readily accept it.

Obama and Romney, debating to bolster their chances of assuming a leading position of the largest economy in the world, exchanged over who would be able to provide cheaper fossil fuels under their leadership. I almost couldn’t believe what I was watching; although I could, and could only scold myself for being surprised at all.


25% of the body’s metabolism takes place in the brain, in humans. That means 25% of the energy we use is used by our brains. Primates follow as the next closest using around 10% of their energy in their brains.