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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Waste not
October 25, 2011 - 7:19pm

With a modicum of success, I've started explaining the need for investment in renewable energy (primarily solar and wind) to undergraduate students as a matter of eliminating waste.

In the past, I've tried selling the fact that renewable energy is sustainable over generations while what we consider our traditional (fossil) sources of energy simply aren't.  But the gorilla dust that the fossil fuels industries have been throwing for the past twenty years is having its intended distractive effect, and while students aren't particularly happy finding themselves advocates of behaviors I call unsustainable, they often shift their feet, look guilty, and just wait for me to shut up.

The "eliminate waste" tack is making a stronger first impression, and you know what your mother said about first impressions.  What waste?  The waste of energy that's readily available, but which we regularly fail to take advantage of.  And the waste of tremendously valuable organic molecules (think petroleum) that scientists can make into more amazing materials and pharmaceuticals every day, but that we're burning up to little long-term benefit.

How much available energy do we waste in the US?  By one quick estimate, we waste almost 900 times as much as we use.  The USA uses about 95 exajoules every year, while perhaps 84,000 exajoules hit our land mass in the same period.  I don't beat the students over the head with those specific numbers -- the "900 times" stat generally does the trick.

And then, once I've got their attention . . .


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