Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Sunshine Revolution

“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is do you, Mr. Jones?”
— Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”

History is “just one damn thing after another,” according to philosopher Jerry Fodor. This may be true, but it doesn’t stop us from trying to make some sense of each “damn thing.” There are some principles of history we may glean from events. One of these principles is that open information access — sunshine — is increasingly becoming a force for change.

Change is generally incremental. Yet there are certain times and events that can fairly be highlighted as transformational rather than incremental. The recent events in North Africa and the Middle East are transformational.

It is risky to attempt macro-level analysis this close in time to these events, but it is possible to identify key trends and make some qualified conclusions about what has happened and what is likely to continue happening. I was initially very suspicious of breathless accounts of Facebook and Twitter being key to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt because they seemed so self-serving to us in the United States who created these social media tools. However, as I’ve learned more, it seems that these early accounts were not entirely inaccurate.

Read the rest at Noozhawk.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spain and Portugal lead the way on renewables

Source: New York Times.

Rapid energy transformation at the national level is possible. Transformation is also necessary if we are to mitigate the impacts of climate change and peak oil. The kind of transformation we need in the U.S. has been demonstrated vividly by an increasing number of nations shifting rapidly to a renewable energy economy. Spain and Portugal are currently the most powerful examples of this transformation.

Spain has grown from using just two percent wind and solar power to almost 20 percent in a decade. Figure 1 demonstrates this growth at the same time as Spain’s electricity consumption grew rapidly – by 50 percent – from 2000 to 2008, only to drop equally rapidly from recession and price-induced conservation since 2008.

Spain now enjoys about 35 percent total renewables, when we include large hydroelectric, with the rest of its power coming from natural gas, coal and nuclear. Moreover, Spain is a good comparison to California because its population and climate are very similar to ours.

Read the rest here.

Sex, Psyche and Evolution: Absent-Minded Science, Part V

“The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” Charles Darwin

Most people now realize that sexual attraction is in the mind, even though we often forget this insight in practice. The growth of phone sex and online sex is testament to the ability of imagination to titillate as much or more than actual human contact. And the presence of pornography in all cultures throughout history is an ongoing reminder that people can be turned on by the strangest things and certainly don’t need a live human being for this purpose.

There is a much deeper principle at work here, however; one that is highly relevant to this series of essays on “absent-minded science” (which is what I call the modern habit in a number of different fields of expelling mind from legitimate scientific explanations). Sex is central to human existence and other animals. But its centrality extends far beyond the animal world. This is the key theme of this fifth installment of this series.

Why is sex so central to our lives? The facile answer is that it’s because we need sex to reproduce. But this is only partly true. Many species reproduce without sex, including some complex vertebrates like lizards and fish. So why do we have sex? No one really knows the answer to this question, but there are many theories. I won’t delve much into why our species reproduces sexually; rather, I’m going to delve into what sex is, as a general principle, and the role of sex in evolution.

Read the rest here or here.