Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

So today is Earth Day, I thought I would reflect on what this day means to me, and how I got to where I am. I credit 3 "life changing" moments that got me to where I am.

Although I grew up doing much hiking, camping, and canoeing, I entered college hoping to be an aerospace engineer, with thoughts of designing and flying aircraft. Due to a collection of bad experiences (not bad grades) after one term I decided engineering was not right for me. For spring break that first year, I went to Yosemite NP. It was an amazing place to be with snow, ice falls, and clear skies. I remember being in my tent, looking out at the stars, and hearing the cascade of falling water and the occaisional crash of large boulders weathering from the cliffs. I was amazed by the beauty of it all, wrote some (really bad) poetry and decided to become  a biology major as that was the closest I could come to environmental science at my University. I had never taken a biology class before (not even in HS) and soon found myself in with mostly premed students learning about the natural world. I enjoyed biology, but was not inspired to become a biologist.

Second was a literature class I took as junior. It was a co-curricular class that looked at science and environmentalism in literature. We read John Muir (which I liked), A Sand County Almanac (which I didn't like), Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams (which I admit was to dry for me to finish reading), Bill McKibbon The End of Nature (which I loved) and Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire. Although I enjoyed the whole it was the whole class and the discussions which it brought about, it was Desert Solitaire which inspired me. The humor kept me interested (and got me to read Abbey's Road Take the Other and the classic The Monkey Wrench Gang). Abbey's books became more relevant to me when I moved to Utah a few years later and got to experience those desolate, fragile environments on my own. Through his writings I learned to appreciate not only the beauty of the Yosemites, but also the allure of desolate deserts.

The last event was reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. I don't even remember why I picked up this book, but I remember reading it and muttering "how can we be so stupid" at least once every couple of pages. Cadillac Desert got me interested in water and the importance of it to society. I was intrigued by how we (ab)use this precious resource, always expecting that increases in technology will solve our problems. The issues of water resource use and allocation got me interested in geology and from there I got my Masters Degree.

The issue of technology always allowing us to keep moving forward versus the real limits of resources is something I try and teach in my classes. Although I no longer teach an environmental science class I incorporate the realities of limited resources into my lecture plans when I can. In my mind issues from Climate Change to Food Production all boil down to an assumption that resources last forever, and that in the minds of humans forever is only 100s of years. As a geologist the concept of geologic time is an important one, and my goal as a teacher is to get my students to appreciate a longer view of things. The sun will keep on shining for another 5 billion years it would be nice to preserve a little of that time for our ancestors. 


Monday, April 12, 2010

Solarize Pendleton

Last Thursday, I went to a workshop on solar energy. Kudos to our rural cowboy town for putting together a great program to give residents incentives to put in solar energy, the goal is to get 100 residents to put solar panels on their roofs and become the most solarized small town in America. I don't know if they will get 100, but judging from the interest at the workshop it could be close.

I had been looking at solar panels for a while, we get lots of sunshine in the summer (like July through Novemeber) and we have a nice SW facing roof. But I had always been intimidated by the costs, knowing if it really would "pay off", and the costs. The program addresses at least two of the issues, providing resources to help with the learning curve and assistance with the costs (by getting a city wide deal from a contractor) and maximizing all the incentives out there. My only real complaint so far is that most of the cost offsets come as tax credits over the next 4 years. That still means an initial capital outlay that is fairly big, but by the end of those 4 years we should break even, and a 4-5 year payback for alternative energy is pretty amazing.

So we had the contractor come out and look at our house, we have 93% solar resource and with a 2kw system should be able to generate over 2000 kwatts a year. We are also looking at solar hot water even though that is not part of the City incentive program. We still have to see if the costs work out, and how to generate the sizable upfront capital to do this, but I am excited about the possibility, and will take video of the electric meter spinning backwards if it goes that far.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring Break

So on a trip to Seattle over Spring Break, my hope was to get some nice  pictures of the Cascade volcanoes to share. On the day with nice weather we went skiing at Snoqualamie Pass and as is typical of me I forgot my camera. On the days that we were in places that normally have good views of the volcanoes (Mt. Rainier or Mt. Adams) the weather was lousy.

But I figured if I am going to do an occaisonal blog, I better do something. So instead of breathtaking photos of volcanoes, you get the picture of a troll.
According to the well of knowledge known as Wikipedia. Trolls are members of a race of fearsome creatures from Norse mythology that often live underground in hills or caves (or according to nursury ryhmes under bridges). See hills, caves there is a link to Geology.