After my last post about being more than an accidental activist, I’ve done a bit more research. I hoped to receive some feedback about specific organizations I should work with. Unfortunately, my goal was not achieved. That’s cool though… I wasn’t asking because I couldn’t find enough organizations. I asked because there are 9 zillion organizations and I was just hoping to narrow things down a smidge.
So… Research commenced! Things were learned. Misconceptions were deconcepted. Coffee was consumed. As expected, I found more awesome sounding organizations than I could ever hope to support. I’m still in research phase and open to suggestions, but I do want to mention three organizations that excited me. But first, an explanation of why they excite me by way of a confession….
I am obsessed with electric propulsion. I am enamored with electricity. My biggest complaint as a five year old was that there were never enough batteries to power the Lego motor that was crucial in animating my creations. After receiving a stiff shock from an improperly grounded appliance, I was tempted to touch it again to feel the electrons force my muscles to vibrate at 60Hz. The electronics class I took in college was the first and only class in which I got 100% on every assignment (my memory may be making that one up, but it feels right).
Electric Boats Cure Cancer
Fast-forward to my entree into sailing. Oh the wind tickling the tiny hairs on your ear. Oh the stupid grin when the bow smashes through a wave sending a chilling salty spray across your face and down your neck. Oh the sound of a 28hp diesel engine drowning out all sanity and the smell of burning dinosaur juice filling the nostrils! Wait… What!? I didn’t sign up for this.
It is a fact that I did not sell most of my earthly possessions, sacrifice a fully appointed kitchen and discard my daily commute to inhale toxic fumes. If I wanted that, I’d shill for Budweiser and zip around paved ovals at 200+ mph. Don’t expect me to be okay with voluntarily mixing smoke with my indulgence of nature. Uh uh cupcake!
As you’ll no doubt understand by now, the first time I heard the combination of ‘electric’ and ‘propulsion’ in the context of sailing was a tingly moment. The only way I can imagine it being any sexier is if it was “electric jet propulsion”. A boy can dream. A boy can dream. Of course, my next step was to consult the oracle of Google and see if this was real. Sure enough, electric propulsion for sailboats is entirely possible. There are multiple companies producing the tidbits and the technologies to make it happen.
Imagine my shock when I tried to open discussions on the matter with other sailors and was met with a wall of resistance. Imagine my eyes rolling when the reasons against it were ‘impractical’, and ‘unfeasible ‘. Imagine my wrinkling brow when diesel engines were hinted at being an important part of the sailing tradition. Um… Methinks otherwise. The other argument tends to be that, “you have to have something when there’s no wind”. Yes, if you have to get back to the office after the weekend is over, that is a problem. However, the assumption that that’s everyone’s goal is wrong. The assumption that engines are the only solution is wrong as well.
Let’s see… The first singlehanded circumnavigation of the world was started in 1895 and completed in 1898 by Joshua Slocum. For how many millenia had humans been taking to the seas prior to that? Rudolph Diesel completed the world’s first working diesel engine in 1897. My guess is that he didn’t track Captain Slocum down somewhere off the coast of Africa and install this creation on the Spray so the end of his voyage would be practical and feasible.
Diesel engines on boats are a mere blip (blight) on the sailing tradition. Yes, I am downplaying their contribution, but don’t try to tell me they’re a requirement. Engines on boats solved a huge problem… How to get in and out of ports. However, this question is influenced by the addition of engine technology. Ports were constructed in such a way that unpowered entry was easier prior to their widespread use.
I’ll save the rest of the argument for another day. The point is that I’m sold on electric propulsion before we even start discussions about climate change, marine species collapse, and omnipresent human toxins. It’s from within that context that I’m heavily influenced.
Carbon Footprints Are Too Mystical
The first bit of excitement I palpably experienced was my discovery of Saul Griffith’s talk “Climate Change Recalculated” (he also has a short, but not as directly related TED talk “Saul Griffith’s kites tap wind energy“). The paraphrased point is this: Rather than attempting to discuss ethereal concepts like carbon footprints and megatons of CO2, let’s talk about electrical power in terms of Watts.
This concept is pretty intuitive. I can picture a 60W lightbulb or a microwave oven pretty easily. Can you picture a ton of carbon dioxide? Can you wrap your mind around a ton of air in relation to all of the air in the earth’s atmosphere? Since that’s beyond the perception of any of us, let’s have a conversation about things to which we can all relate.
Since most of our carbon emissions come from energy production release, it makes every bit of sense to re-frame the conversation in terms of Watts. Framing the discussion specifically in terms of energy also opens up dialog for discussing issues such as international relations and security in terms of energy dependence. Combining both concern for climate and national security unites (at least on a conceptual level) political factions that typically don’t have any common ground. I’ve had conversations attempting to bring people’s minds closer through this line of argument. It’s still hard for some people to admit agreement, but I’ve gotten to the point where intellectual consensus was reached despite the absence of a kumbaya moment.
Lest you think I’m completely devoid of prior rational inquiry, I’ve long been a believer in talking about climate change in terms of energy. However, I’d never had external confirmation of a movement. I’d certainly never articulated it as well and as thoroughly. For me, this was an important Step 1. Validation of my suspicions and a tightly woven foundation that’s inherently compatible with my project. I have seen the light (I hope you’re not waiting for a joke about it’s equivalent power draw).
The Science Is Only Hard If You Refuse to Look at It.
Saul’s talk also directly lead me to 350.org. I had seen their logo floating around everywhere, but the logo and number gave me absolutely no insight into what it was talking about. It’s one of those unfortunate things where you have to know a little about the science behind it before the impact is unleashed. So, despite the global warming deniers’ silly notions, I’ll give you the science. It’s about fifth grade level stuff, so break out your thinking caps…
350 refers to a 350ppm concentration of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in relation in the earth’s atmosphere (air). Carbon dioxide is a known insulator. CO2 levels correlate to global temperature in a shockingly consistent way as evidenced by the chart below.
As you can see, 350ppm is higher than any of the historical data. However, it is the goal we’re shooting for. That already sounds a little scary. However, we’re currently already at 390ppm… literally off the chart. Expanding awareness and action in order to achieve that goal is what 350.org is all about. I’m a proponent. Incidentally, Saul’s talk gives specific engineering examples of how we can realistically hit that number. It’s not easy, but it’s reasonable and doable.
It’s All About the Ocean.
The third component in my initial round of excitement is Oceana.org. Oceana expands the range of issues by narrowing the focus to ocean related concerns. This obviously hits close to home when your home is a boat. It also hits close to home if you like seafood or recognize that much of the world’s food supply is derived from the sea. Therefore, any decrease in ocean food supplies results in increased competition for other food sources.
The relationship between CO2 and the ocean becomes direct when you discover that much of the carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans. This may sound like a good thing, but increases in ocean carbon result in acidification. For some reason, the creatures of the ocean don’t like living in acid. Shocking, I know!
There are several distinct issues undertaken by Oceana. One of the things that interests me the most is that these issues imply myriad other issues and connect with as many others. If you eat seafood, you’d make me super happy by downloading and internalizing their Ocean Friendly Seafood Guide.
So that’s what I’ve been discovering and contemplating lately. Please leave a comment or suggestion. If you don’t have anything in mind at the moment, I officially challenge you to a power usage face-off. That’s right… there was a gauntlet and I threw it down. Here is an adorable pie chart with my numbers at WattzOn.com. There’s a link on the top that allows you to start your own personal power use assessment. Toward the right, there’s a link to get started if you want to challenge me head to head. It would be awesome if we all posted our numbers from that below.
More to come on all of the above…