Environmental Warriors

In my last post, I wrote about the hidden implications of the reconciliation tax proposal. Since then, I’ve seen another series of implications of things discussed: environmental implications. In particular, a new argument as to why both Bitcoin and Porn are bad: they use too much electricity.

Stay with me, this is complicated.

For Bitcoin, new coins are created by solving complex math problems. With the high value of bitcoin, everyone wants to mine. But, according to Wired, that could be a significant draw on the electrical infrastructure:

In a report last week, the cryptocurrency website Digiconomics said that worldwide bitcoin mining was using more electricity than Serbia. The country. Writing for Grist, Eric Holthaus calculated that by July 2019, the Bitcoin peer-to-peer network—remember BitTorrent? Like that—would require more electricity than all of the United States. And by November of 2020, it’d use more electricity than the entire world does today.

All this for a currency that doesn’t really exist. Making paper money costs a lot less.

As for Porn: We have moved from a world where people bought DVDs or videocassettes and watched at home, or in shared spaces like theatres, to individual consumption over streaming networks for free. And that, my friends, may not be good for the environment (who cares about morals, or the actors):

Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that’s about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix’s efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.

and later in the article:

For Ensmenger, this epitomizes the problem with the digital economy, where so many of the costs are outsourced or hidden that consumers believe everything is free. Most sites offer their free videos by selling advertising to companies that track consumer behavior, and these cookies require a considerable amount of energy. More importantly, consumers don’t have to think about the significant environmental costs of constructing and destructing electrical products, such as screens, servers, and hard drives.

This is actually pretty interesting: costs being hidden from the consumers and shifted onto someone else (in this case, likely taxpayers and ratepayers who build the power plants).

Now broaden the picture: “cutting the cord”, as we know, doesn’t reduce costs. It just means you write more checks, and possibly even more if net neutrality goes away. But there is also the cost of all those streaming servers and the cost of the bandwidth, and who will end up paying for it?

As historians like to say, “It’s complicated”. Much more complicated than you likely thought.


Saturday News Chum Stew, If Your Pipes Can Take It

Observation StewAfter my wonderful plumbing experience yesterday, my mind cannot make sense — or find a theme — in this collection of news articles. I’ll leave it to you to find the theme, or determine whether these items need to be tossed into the garbage disposal and washed away. Let’s just hope they don’t clog your pipes…



News Chum: Dr. Demento Returns, Incandescent Light Bulbs, Vanity License Plates

Well, the feeding frenzy resulting from Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin has calmed down a bit, and a few interesting pieces of lunchtime news chum have surfaced:

  • From the “Pico and Sepulveda” Department: Gary Lycan (who has an excellent radio column in the OC Register) is reporting that Dr. Demento is returning to the airwaves as part of a July 10 tribute to KMET — The Mighty Met — on KSWD 100.3 FM (there was also a July 4 tribute on KLOS 95.5). The good Dr. will be on at 7pm “playing all the songs that became famous on my show at KMET like ‘Fish Heads’, ‘Another One Rides the Bus’, and ‘Pico and Sepulveda.” No word yet whether he’ll be followed by “Flo and Eddie”.

    The Mighty Met was a radio staple during my high school and early college days. Although I wasn’t into the music they played at the time, I did listen regularly to Dr. Demento and I still remember Flo and Eddie to this day (explanation: right after Dr. D was the Flo and Eddie By The Fireside show). When they became “The Wave” and went to lukewarm jazz, Los Angeles lost one of its best music stations.

    (An interesting side note in the article: Merrill Shindler, restaurant critic, is returning to KABC with a new “Feed Your Face” program, 4-7 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays.)

  • From the “A Bright Idea Department: The NY Times has an interesting article on a new breed of incandescent light bulbs — bulbs that have been engineered to be significantly more energy efficient and to meet new efficiency requirements. This is good news for those of us with dimmer switches (CFLs don’t work well with dimmers), as well as those sensitive to the CFL “flicker”.
  • From the “Blue Plate Special” Department: The SF Chronicle has an interesting article about the Golden Gate Special Interest Plates, and how they might not be getting enough subscribers to be made. In general, sales of vanity plates dropped about 20% in 2008 from the year before. But vanity plates are still popular, with the “Kids” plate and the “Whale Tale” plate taking the 1st and 2nd sales position. I have a kids plate, in order to get the ♥ symbol, permitting me to say ♥CAHWYS. Alas, the UCLA plate is the least popular.

Is the SC AQMD Next?

Today’s Sacramento Bee has a story about how the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District wants to have Sacramentians (or whatever those folks call themselves) be banned from burning wood in their fireplace on certain days of the year. The concern is the particulates in the wood smoke, which are known to be dangerous to the lungs. Banning the burning of things is not new. In 1957, Los Angeles banned backyard incinerators to reduce air pollution. But fireplaces? There’s more smoke put in the air by brush fires. Why not ban those?

Overkill, thy acronym be AQMD.


We Bring Good Things (and problems with Good Things) To Light

According to a number of sources, Australia has indicated that they will ban incandescent light bulbs in three years in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, becoming the first country to do away with this technology. They will mandate use of Compact Fluorescents. California has also been exploring this change. Supposedly, Australia will still permit halogen bulbs and a few other applications.

This whole movement bothers me, for there are so many applications where compact florescents just will not work. I just can’t see how compact florescents will work in dimmer switches, or situations where unfrosted bulbs are required. They can’t work in high-heat applications (ovens), and possibily refrigerators. Due to their ballasts, they can’t work in quick-on-off situations, such as blinking theatre marques. The ballasts also prevent their use in certain small bulb applications, such as candelabra bulbs. I don’t see how compact florescents can be used for simulated flames. They also don’t give out the right color light in all situations. There are also environmental concerns with their disposal, as the interior coating contains mercury.

Update: Apparently, there are dimmable compact florescent bulbs, but they still have some problems. But they can’t be used in a recessed fixture, and some have trouble with timers. Specific CF bulbs are also required for cold applications or DC applications.

Thus, I see lots of problems with this legislative direction. As a homeowner, it concerns me. What am I going to do with all my dimmer switch applications? Ceiling fans with built-in dimmer switches? Perhaps I can afford to replace some of them. Many can’t.

I think someone needs to think this out thoroughly. Perhaps someone will have a better idea.


I’m Just A Bill … Sitting on a Sacramento Hill: Prepaying UC Tuition & Florescent Lightbulbs

[And now, some lunchtime observations…]

The San Jose Mercury News has two articles of interest today regarding proposed bills from state Assemblycritters. Note that you can get the bill numbers from this official list of bills submitted.

  • The first, to be proposed by Assemblyman Jim Beall, relates to university tuition. Specifically, it will create a state-run savings program that would allow parents to pre-pay their children’s tuition, locking in rates no matter the dips in the investment market or spikes in tuition. This bill, AB 152, also known as the California Prepaid Tuition Program, would allow parents, grandparents or others to purchase financial units over time based on the then-current tuition cost at the University of California, plus some administrative costs. Each year’s tuition would cost 100 financial units. If students attend a school that charges less than a UC campus, such as the California State University system, a community college or career and technical education school, and the amount of prepaid tuition exceeds the amount of tuition charged at that school, the student will be allowed to use the leftover money for college-related expenses, such as books. If students attend a school that charges more than a UC campus, such as a private institution, the student can transfer the prepaid tuition to the more expensive school, and pay for the difference out of pocket. If a student doesn’t attend college, the prepaid tuition can be transferred to a sibling. The financial units cannot be “bought, sold, bartered, or otherwise exchanged for goods and services by either the beneficiary or the purchaser,” according to the measure.

    This differs from the existing Scholarshare program is that it is more than a savings plan: it is guaranteed tuition. In other words, under Scholarshare, one invests funds in an account specifically designated for college use. The hope is that by the time your child reaches college age, the funds have grown to cover tuition. Of course, if you make bad investment choices, you lose. Under AB 152, you are not investing–you are purchasing the tuition and the state is making the investment choices and taking the risk. I think it is a great idea. I’ll note that a total of 18 states operate plans similar to that proposed in AB 152, and none has run into serious financial problems.

    I encourage support of this proposal.

  • The second, proposed by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, would make California the first state to ban sales of incandescent light bulbs by 2012. In their place, Californians would have to purchase more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps. This one doesn’t appear to have been introduced yet, although there are rumors it is called the “How Many Legislators Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb Act.”

    Personally, I think this is a bad idea. Much as I believe in the use of florescent light bulbs where possible, there are some significant problems. They can’t be used in all applications, for they still can’t be made small enough to be effective as small flame shaped bulbs, or where clear bulbs are required. They cannot be used in dimmer switch applications. They have disposal problems with respect to mercury and other chemicals. Until these are addressed, I think it is wrong to mandate their use. If this bill was to encourage their use through tax credits or rebates on purchases, it would be much, much better.