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Back Off Sometimes

November 19, 2012

On the other side of Kenosha Pass, there’s a stretch with two lanes
where climbing vehicles can pass each other. On a recent day, they
were all trying to do just that.

A plug of traffic coming the other way was bumper to bumper, side by
side, all large pickups and SUVs lurching back and forth trying to
pass—as impressive as a NASCAR race.

I could clearly see what only vaguely occurs to me when I’m in traffic
myself. If each of them (except the first one) had simply backed off
and got in line, they all would have arrived at the top within a
minute of each other, relaxed and with more fuel in the tank, to boot.

I do back off sometimes, but typically it’s when I’m behind a vehicle
spewing fumes or gravel. Backing off is safer and barely slower.

But the bubble of apparent reality that follows us around is very
small, and when we’re in it, it’s easy to think, “I have to get around
this guy!”

How funny this looks from outside the bubble, though.

You can have a similar experience with a new book: “Energy for Future
Presidents” by Richard Muller. Physicist Muller would be the guy
standing on Kenosha Pass watching the race to the top, scratching his
chin, and saying, “Hmm.”

The subtitle is “The Science Behind the Headlines.” Three sections
make up most of the book: energy catastrophes, the energy landscape,
and alternative energy. They tie together.

For example, after the meltdown at Fukushima, Japan began shutting
down all its nuclear reactors. However, the power will be made up with
fossil fuels, replacing a “clean” energy source with one that adds
greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Is nuclear power safe and clean? What other alternatives are there?

How bad is the Fukushima disaster? Why be upset about radiation
exposure less than what the average Denver resident experiences, given
that Denver has below-average cancer rates?

Is polar ice melting from global warming or from darkening by soot so
it melts the way our own snow has in recent years for being darkened
by red dust?

Although cheap oil is disappearing, there is plenty of fossil fuel
left in the earth; can we survive its use? What are the physics and
economics of alternative energies?

The best effect? “Energy productivity,” or conservation, and we could
do an awful lot of that. The satellite photo of the U.S. at night
comes to mind. All that light shining up does us no good on the
ground.

The book is full of fascinating numbers and comparisons, as well as
sound reasoning and clear writing. So, it’s pretty darn good. You may
not like all that it says, but the data and arguments are laid out,
awaiting rebuttal.

Muller’s narrative is addressed to “you,” a future president. He takes
the position of an advisor saying here are the facts, the numbers, the
analysis, and this is what you must understand to make informed
decisions.

Those decisions will be made in the shadow of political, social,
economic, and military concerns. We all know the feeling of seeing the
obvious choice be ignored in Washington.

Much of Muller’s analysis you’ve not seen reported in the popular
media. Is Muller “right”? He’s clear and convincing, and you can find
all his sources of data.

Even with this knowledge, though, governing doesn’t become easier.
There has to be at least a small part of Gov. Romney that feels a bit
lucky right now.

I recommend this book not just for future presidents but for future
citizens, as well.

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One Comment
  1. I very much enjoyed your Mon, Nov 12 column in the Mail, Jeff. I’m quite familiar with the passing area you describe on Kenosha Pass. Always a watchable ‘event’, Titan battling Avalanche or Escalade wheel-to-wheel with Infiniti QX56. Somewhat sobering when one thinks of the 50 or 60+ passengers that once rode past the same hillside and creek down below, behind a coal-powered locomotive, considering the comparable amounts of ‘fossil fuel energy’ expended, but hey, that’s ‘Progress’.
    I am intrigued by your review of ‘Energy For Future Presidents’ by Richard Muller and will gratefully await my turn at reserving this new book. Thanks for another excellent column!

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