Insomnia Log

This is what keeps me awake at night???

Who needs sleep? (well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep? (tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep? (be happy with what you’re getting,
There’s a guy who’s been awake since the second world war)

-- words and music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson

Location: Boulder, Colorado, United States

Everything you need to know about me can be found in my posts

Friday, March 28, 2008

Climate Change Causes Civilization (and vice versa)

Here's an interesting coincidence that I haven't seen anybody else write about. I'd love to see a scientific paper explore this topic.

Humans evolved about 200,000 years ago in Africa. For most of that time, we lived a hunter-gather lifestyle. Oh, there were fits and starts at agriculture, but nothing really "took". And then, about 10,000 years ago or so, we figured it out. We domesticated wheat and barley and other grains, and then we started herding cattle, wheat, and goats. What was it that sparked/allowed this remarkable transition?

Well, when humans first evolved, the earth was in the middle of an ice age. Average temperatures were ten or fifteen degrees colder than today. It was tough surviving. As glaciers advanced and receded, people had to keep moving to follow the food. Climate change was the norm. About 125,000 years ago or so, earth emerged from the ice age, and temperatures shot up (over about 10,000 years) to about 10 degrees or so warmer than today. Ice melted, seas rose, and life was tough for a whole new set of reasons. It wasn't until about 100,000 years ago that the global temperature settled down to something temperate, but that didn't last long (in the grand scheme of things) before we sank into a new ice age. That ice age continued until about 15,000 years ago. Temperatures rose until about 10,000 years ago.

That's when the magic happened. About 10,000 years ago, the earth warmed up to about the same temperature it is today. And then, until today, it has stayed within about a degree of that temperature. There have been localized warmer and cooler periods, but nothing like what the species had previously experienced. Ice and sea levels have stayed fairly constant. And people have gotten around to creating civilization. Not only did the temperate conditions allow us to fine tune agriculture, the relative stability of the climate has allowed us to focus on things like building cities that require free time and staying in one place for longer periods of time.

That's where we sit today. Human civilization has evolved for the current climate conditions. A few degrees up or down may not seem like much, but look how perfect things had to get before people were able to get their act together. And now, average global temperatures are at the high side of anything we've seen for 10,000, years and likely higher than anything for the past 100,000 years. And they are headed higher.

Civilization was created and has only existed during this current stable climate period. Does that mean civilization will end when the climate changes? Probably not, because we're a whole lot smarter than we were ten millennia ago. But that doesn't mean there won't be huge impacts.

So, next time someone tries to convince you that a rise of a couple degrees is not significant, tell them that human civilization wouldn't exist if temperatures had risen a couple degrees a few thousand years ago.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Lots of Little Carbons

As someone who writes frequently about climate change, energy, and the environment, it's only fair that I hold myself to the same standards I propose for everyone else.

One of the biggest contributions made directly by individuals to greenhouse gas emissions in our society is from energy use within the home. Here in Boulder, we recently voted to tax ourselves on energy usage and to use the income to fight global warming. One of the items this income is being spent on is home energy audits. We decided this was a good idea for our household, and recently had an audit.

The audit cost us $150 after the subsidy (which was $125). The energy auditor came to our house on a recent morning and spent about two hours performing the various tests and measurements, and going over the results with us. They also provided us with a written report a few days later.

What did we find?
  • We heat our house and water and cook with natural gas. Our gas usage is significantly below average.
    • Our house is very well sealed (actually it is tighter than recommended).
    • We installed excellent windows throughout our house when we first moved in.
    • We installed a very high-efficiency furnace a couple years ago.
  • However, there is room for improvement
    • Our attic insulation is very hodgepodge, good in some places, completely missing in others. Redoing the insulation would give us a good savings.
    • Our water heater is nearing its end of life. The next step would be to go with a tankless heater instead of a standard tank. This would be a significant investment, and the payback would be several years.
  • Our electricity use is significantly higher than average.
    • Cutting our usage down to average would save us the cost of the audit in the first year.
    • We've already done some of the easy stuff, like replacing light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.
    • There is a pretty high base draw even when we aren't doing anything.
    • We have three home offices (we both work from home, plus our home computer). That's three computers, printers, phones, etc., that are always drawing power. Turning them off at least at night, or using hibernate mode, should help significantly. Of course, the several minutes each time you turn off and back on one of these computers is a significant trade-off, and we'll have to see where that ends up.
    • The equipment in our home gym is plugged in and drawing power even when we're not using it. We installed a power strip, plugged everything into the strip, and now we leave everything unpowered except when we're using it.
    • The entertainment system in our home gym was drawing power all the time even when not in use. We plugged everything but the cable box into a power strip and turned that off as well. Now when you are going to work out you just flip on two power strips and you are ready to go.
    • The entertainment system in our family room is also constantly powered. That will take a bit more work. We unplugged the VCR (duh!) and the broken DVD player. The cable box and TiVo need constant power, but the rest should be able to live on a power strip with a bit of rewiring. However, that probably won't be as clean, as I think the amplifier gets a bit confused when it loses and regains power.
With everything we've done to decrease our environmental impact in every aspect of our life, it is pretty embarrassing that our electricity usage is actually higher than average. So, I would say we are pretty motivated to fix that.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Most Dangerous Car on the Road

Are you ready for this? The most dangerous car on the road is the Toyota Prius. It seems that this car is just too good for its own good.

That's right, I was almost run down by a Prius the other day. I was out for a run on a quiet street in my neighborhood. I happen to run there fairly often because there is no through traffic, there are no cross streets, and there is a hill of just the right length and slope on each loop about just under half a mile.

This particular day, I was running easy on the flat section getting ready to make the turn and start my next climb. I saw some motion and heard something about as loud as a bicycle. A woman was backing out of her driveway, and clearly did not see me coming. Fortunately I saw her and cruised to the other side of the street to pass.

Was I ever really in danger? No, not really. And when she pulled up next to me at the corner, the driver rolled down her window and apologized. I, of course, told her that her car was too quiet. That was it, she went on her way and I went on mine.

But is that the solution, to make the Prius noisier? Certainly some blind people are convinced that is the solution. They are pushing for laws to force a minimum sound level from vehicles. To me, that would be like a law stating that all good, law-abiding citizens have to have gas -- nobody is allowed to be perfect.

In the case of the hybrid, the lack of air pollution would be made up for with noise pollution. Just like ring tones, hybrid drivers would get to download their favorite personal sound tracks. If I had a hybrid (which I don't, but that's a topic for another day), I'd program it to emit a sound like my car stereo was turned way up with the bass level set to 10. Of course, if you were inside my car, you'd hear nothing but Boulder's own Music For Yoga radio show, but nearby pedestrians wouldn't have to know that.

The real solution, of course, is to (gasp) pay attention. Pedestrians, cyclists, and runners need to be vigilant, of course. But drivers of these cars need to be even more careful than drivers of their noisy, stinky competitors on the road.

In fact, the Colorado State Legislature is currently debating a bill, HB 08-1104, that would have increased the minimum fine had that woman hit me from $10 to $100. That's right, in our state today, if a driver causes an injury or death due to failure to yield the right of way, the penalty is just $10-$300, with no more than 90 days in jail. With the proposed change, the fine could have gone as high a $1,000, with up to a year in jail. However, the opponents are active, and have successfully watered down the bill to have a fine of just $400, to require two offenses before the "big" misdemeanor penalties set in, and to have the law expire in three years, when I guess they hope the Republicans will once again own the state house. That's right, the fact that someone can be charged with a misdemeanor offense after being at fault for running someone over twice seems too dangerous to keep on the books for more than three years!

As I understand it, the biggest opponents to this bill are truckers, who fear losing their jobs. I'm not sure I follow their argument, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that truck drivers who are at fault for hitting cyclist and motorcyclists would be more likely to lose their licenses. Makes me cry. If you cannot pay attention and drive safely, whether you drive a semi, a Prius, or a bicycle, you should not be on the road.

End of story.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Welcome to Pharma Springs

Hi, my name is Mike, your guide here at Pharma Springs, and I'd like to point out some of the highlights of our resort. I know that you came here because of what you heard about our healing waters. I'm pleased to tell you today that our waters match those from the finest urban water treatment plants.

First up, if you have any low-level pains, take a dip in the relieving waters of our Ibuprofen Inlet. If the thought of unknown levels of multitudinous drugs in your tap water gives you a big headache, you'll find that a dip here will cure more pains in the neck that even a big drink from the tap in the City of Brotherly Love.

Worried about that infectious-looking fella who jumped in just before you? No worries. A follow-up cleanse at Antibiotic Bay will cure what ails you even before you know it hit you. And, as a bonus, you get a free souvenir basket filled with mutant, resistant bacteria. I guarantee you, you won't get such a gift on your next trip to Tucson.

Too much stress on the old ticker? The old angina doesn't stand a chance once you jump into the Nitrate Natatorium. Plus, our drugs are premetabolized, to give your own body a break in having to deal with them in the "raw" form. You'll remember how good you felt on your last trip to Jersey.

In the mood to experiment with your gender identity? In a nod to our friends in San Francisco, we present Hormone Harbor. Pick your side -- Estrogen Estuary or Testosterone Tide Pool. If fish that swim downstream of our cities can change gender, so can you!

Or maybe you just want to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame (or perhaps testify at a Senate hearing). If you do, go no further than Steroid Stream. No trip to Nebraska to drink the water downstream from a feedlot will be necessary. We can't guarantee a trip to the Olympics, but (wink) our treatments don't require any injections into the buttocks!

Is all of this making you freak out a bit? Jump right into Level-Headed Lake, where the anti-anxiety drugs (better than Southern Cal) will even out the highs and lows caused by excessive dips in our other pools.

Pick the pool of your choice. We promise that you will come out healthier than when you went in, and that we will cure diseases you didn't even know you had (or that you didn't have before coming here).

We are pleased that you chose Pharma Springs for your healing visit. We know you have a choice of any major metropolitan water supply to meet your unintended pharmaceutical needs, and are proud that our water contains ALL of the waste drugs that you could possibly want.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Walking the Walk

A few weeks ago, I suggested that people find ways to add more walking into their lives. Well, great minds think alike.

A group of parents in south Boulder has started a "walking school bus" named the "Darley Dart", which takes children to Bear Creek Elementary once a week. They plan to add two more routes this spring.

Yes, anybody can do it. The parents in this case got a Safe Routes to School grant to help them get it going. And now, their are fewer cars on the streets, the kids are getting exercise and having more fun, the parents are spending more quality time with the kids. Is there anything not to like about this idea (other than the fact that more people aren't doing it)?

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