Climate change and the precautionary principle

GA, all.

On 2013-06-03, at 3:35 PM, [one of my associates]  wrote:

… that is the precautionary principle.   doesn`t it apply to climate change?  especially since most carbon-abatement techniques cost nothing.  use white roof-tiles.  don’t extend the planned life of coal-fired power plants.  eat less meat. (a friend just earned her PhD for calculating that a vegetarian diet would reduce carbon emissions to sustainable levels).


My response:


A very good point, and 100% correct as long as not taken to extremes, as must be said about a lot of good things.  See the bottom paragraph.
We (this family) identified a long list long ago of such actions and inactions, including a few that are contrary to the conventional wisdom (even among engineers).  
Example:  There is a superstition (even among some engineers) that it is cheaper to leave a house temperature steady at occupancy setting than to raise it and lower it in accord with occupancy.
Fact:  watts lost from a body with surface area “S” = W, and W = CST, where (T (should be ∂T) is the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors, and C is all the things you can’t do anything about short-term, e.g. wind, shade, house colour, etc. (We planted trees  and vines 55 years ago, which are paying off richly now.)  So: in any day, hour, or minute that you can reduce ∂T, you can save money and reduce carbon dioxide generation.  
“But,” screech the warm-mongers, “The furnace works lots harder to bring the temperature back up … ”  Yes, Virginia, but all it’s doing is what it would have been doing anyway by kicking in every 15-30 minutes to maintain a high temperature; and between times you’re’ saving money in buckets.  
Reciprocally, save money in the hot weather by turning the a/c off when out of the house.
In industry, my people, under my technical and admin direction, developed “Vapotherm”™, a high-vacuum method of drying out the huge green power transformers you see in the fields outside the city.  Westinghouse saved $Ms, raised quality enormously, and reduced coal consumption (to make steam) by 100s of tons per year.  
And so on.
BTW,  my above method used in this house saved a tested and measured  20% in fuel and 12% in electrical energy.  In W, I experimented off-line and tested  three different methods of drying out before settling on one of them, which wasn’t the one I thought for sure would be the winner.  I.e. I confirmed the results (a word most educators won’t use) before adopting the dryout method and also after I’d tested the household method.  
Perhaps you can see why I have so little patience with ed. systems that hate tests and won’t even use the word “results” in any of their Statements of Purpose.
I didn’t know it at the time, but while saving money for W or my family I was also reducing carbon generation.  But I did know I was eliminating one of Hamilton’s smoke plumes and making the workforce more comfortable (can you imagine working around a huge steel and copper thing sitting there at 200 deg. F when the ambient is 90 already?)  Quality, economy, and pollution reduction can almost always be made to go hand in hand. 
Back to your point:  the precautionary principle should always be balanced against the question:  What else could we do with the money?  If it costs $7B to put a wind machine on every hilltop in Ontario, what could we be doing with $7B that would be more advantageous to our people?  Water and sewerage to every citizen, including natives on reserves?  Massive investment in converting Education to the FInnish model?  Increasing GO capacity and electrifying  it?  “The precautionary principle” cannot stand on its own; we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.


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