Tag Archives: pollution

Hyppo and Critter: The Great Wall of Smog

Hyppo and Critter

The Motorbike Sonic Boom

Click for Source: Vishweshwar Saran Singh Deo (Flickr)

It was a hot day and I was out for a ride in the car. It was the kind of hot that made people wish they could die and hurry on to Hell so they could cool off a bit. Since my A/C was broken (like always) I had all of my windows rolled down. Suddenly an infant rolled by with a binky in his mouth.

Um. Wait one. Scratch that. Let me try that again.

Suddenly a grown man rode by on his motorcycle. And when I say “rode by” I mean that he whizzed by (illegally) so close that the cute little pink tassels hanging from his “ape hanger” handlebars literally dug ruts in my paint.

Ape hangers. Has there ever been another vehicle part in the history of time so aptly named? Methinks not. I love it when products describe their owners so accurately.

Meanwhile, since my windows were rolled down, my ears were in for a real treat.


Nice onomatopoeia, eh?

A Boeing 747 taking off from inside my pants wouldn’t have been as loud. (But a lot more fun.) The sound waves from this dude’s audio wake slapped me in the face, driving my head back and into my car. With blood leaking from my ears and my ears ringing from a mild concussion, I paused a moment to ponder the psychology involved in this sort of event.
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Smog is car poop


Look away. Cartoon cars don't do this.

Cars 2 is billed as a movie where cartoon car characters save the world. I found myself wondering, “How will they do that, exactly?”

Scratch that. Actually I don’t give a shit. Whatever. I have to admit, it sounds like exactly the wrong message at exactly the wrong time.

Is your planet being killed by pollution? No worries, mate! All you need is more of the #1 thing that caused it – cars! And we got ’em incoming, full throttle. Here they come to save the day! *cough* *cough*

Bah! There’s gotta be some irony there. “I’ll save you by killing you!” If that’s the aim of the movie, then I for one say, “Job well done!”

Ever curious, I decided to do a little research into the characters in this movie. Here are my findings.

Lightning McQueen – A “generic” NASCAR with design influenced from the Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper. According to NASCAR their race cars can get about 4.2 miles per gallon. (Source.)

Mater – A tow truck inspired by a 1951 International Harvester but Mater looks more like a 1955-1957 Chevrolet or GMC. I can’t find fuel economy data but I’m guessing it was about 5 to 10 mpg.

Finn McMissile – Inspired by James Bond’s 1964 Aston Martin DB5. This one had a whopping 14.6 mpg.

Holley Shiftwell – Unknown vehicle type but she looks a lot like another race car to me. We’ll just go ahead and call this one 4.2 mpg, too.

Rod “Torque” Redline – a tough-as-nails Detroit muscle car. That’s a bit too ambiguous to nail down fuel economy but I’m guessing that isn’t was “muscle cars” are known for.

And now, at last, the plot of Cars 2 can be leaked. Remember, you heard it here first! Start your engines!

It is a dark time for the rebellion. The Empire, powered by a new Death Star (semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit) named “BP” is consuming the planetary fuel reserves at an alarming rate. Fuel that is desperately needed by our heroes for life and death stuff like winning the first-ever race to determine who is the world’s fastest car.

Darn it, wouldn’t you know that to win that race their gonna need fuel – and lots of it!

The gang speeds off to enlist the help of Emmit “Doc” Brown who has replaced Doc Hudson who has dimmed his high beams for the last time and is now parked in that great wrecking yard in the sky.

Doc Brown introduces Dicky DeLorean, a cocky stainless steel farm boy who’s the fastest ship in the fleet, and possesses doors that, when opened, allow him to fly and kill womprats just like he did at Beggar’s Canyon back home.

It’s a race against time to get the fuel they need to save the planet from, well, from cars. Just like them. Will they be able to stop the hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, sulfur oxide, and volatile organic compounds that belch from their very own exhaust pipes before they run out of fuel and save the planet and make the atmosphere safe to breath again?

Fasten your seat belts! It’s the carbon-based thrill ride of the year!

Goodness gracious, great galls of gyre!

The five major ocean gyres

For some reason, “G” was a real bitch. Oh sure, I considered writing about Greta Garbo. I considered “guillotine” but that word will figure quite prominently in “S” so it will have to wait.

I had a couple of other fleeting ideas, but they were not able to attach themselves to functional brain cells, so they are gone. For good. Maybe the title of this post should have been “Gone for Good.” Oh well.

Now it’s less than 90 minutes before I have to go to work and I’m staring at a blank form on my “new post” page. Arrrgh!

So there I was in bed, unable to sleep, so of course I was thinking, “What will I do for the ‘G’ post? Is ‘gyre’ even a word? If I played it in Scrabble I bet I’d get challenged!”

I knew I’d heard the word before. The internet provided the answer:

A gyre in oceanography is any large system of rotating ocean currents, particularly those involved with large wind movements. Gyres are caused by the Coriolis Effect; planetary vorticity along with horizontal and vertical friction, which determine the circulation patterns from the wind curl (torque). The term gyre can be used to refer to any type of vortex in the air or the sea, even one that is man-made, but it is most commonly used in oceanography, to refer to the major ocean systems. (Wikipedia.)

Oh yes! Now I remember. Isn’t that interesting? Eh, no? Perhaps we can add a little human drama that makes it more compelling.

Scientists retrieved myriad plastic bottles, many with an assortment of inhabitants.

The northern Pacific Ocean is the location of the North Pacific Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres. Besides that interesting factoid, it has another, more remarkable characteristic. It is also home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Estimated to cover an area approx. twice the size of Texas, The Patch is the site of an unusually intense collection of man-made marine debris.

The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.

It is estimated that the source of pollution which ends up in The Patch comes from land-based and ship-based sources. For example, “a typical 3,000 passenger cruise ship produces over eight tons of solid waste weekly, a major amount of which ends up in the patch, as most of the waste is organic.” Also, pollutants from the west coast of the United States can reach The Patch in about six years while pollution from the east coast of Asia can take one year or less.

A piece of plastic floating at the surface carries a crab, algae and masses of flying fish eggs.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels known of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photodegradation in the neustonic layer of water. Unlike debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.

As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms which reside near the ocean’s surface. Plastic waste thus enters the food chain through its concentration in the neuston.

Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs and derivatives of polystyrene.

And, in a bit of planetary karma:

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, and their young, including sea turtles and the Black-footed Albatross. Besides the particles’ danger to wildlife, the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs. Aside from toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish. Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals. Marine plastics also facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems.

Pollution from The Patch is estimated to impact at least 267 species worldwide.


This is my “G” post for the April 2011 “A to Z Blogging Challenge.”

Energetic energy extrapolations

Energy is that which makes us go. It’s fuel that makes our vehicles move, and electrical power that heats and cools our homes. And it’s electricity that powers industry and business.

By now, most Americans have heard statistics like the United States is 5 percent of the world’s population but responsible for 25% of global energy consumption. So I was little surprised to learn that the U.S. is 7th in “energy consumption per capita” behind Canada and a number of small countries. Even so, the U.S. is still the world’s largest consumer of energy.

Where does our energy come from? Approx. 40% from petroleum, 23% from coal, 23% from natural gas, 8.4% from nuclear power, and 7.3% from renewable, which includes mainly hydroelectric dams but also wind power, geothermal and solar.

US Energy Consumption Graph. Fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, and natural gas) represent about 86 percent of the total.

Energy always seems to come with a price. It’s like a wish that comes true but carries a curse. Petroleum pollutes our atmosphere and cities. Coal mining is dangerous and also causes pollution. Natural gas is advertised as “cleaner” but it still adds to global carbon emissions. Nuclear power is high risk and produces toxic waste products. Even hydroelectric power has its problems like ecosystem damage, other environmental effects and risk. (They can fail.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about energy recently due to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the hubris of us humans.

Japan is a country located in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” which is an area where large numbers of volcanic activity and earthquakes occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. Japan, in particular, is situated on the meeting point of two major tectonic plates. The Pacific Plate is moving westward against the younger and less dense Philippines Plate. Over time the Pacific Plate is pushing under the Philippines Plate. As we all know, the activity between tectonic plates is occasionally experienced by humans in the form of earthquakes.

U.S. Energy Consumption By Energy Resource 1635-2000 (in Quadrillion Btu)

Einstein said famously that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In our history we have accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Yet we still tell ourselves, “Yes, we can do this. We know what we’re doing.” We’re really good at failing to learn the lessons of history.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we think of those incidents as “accidents.” Perhaps our mindsets would be slightly different if we thought of them as “inevitables.”

I like to think of it like this. Imagine that the nuclear power industry is a home you want to build. But the only land you can afford is in a 100-year flood plain. Wikipedia says, “a 100-year flood has approximately a 63.4% chance of occurring in any 100-year period.” It could happen the year after you build your dream home. Or in a hundred years. Or in two hundred years or longer. The point being, it’s a random probability.

You took that land, of course, because, all other factors being equal, it was cheaper than land that wasn’t in a flood plain. In other words, you accepted the risk. We humans seem to lack the ability to effectively gauge or even imagine what isn’t right in front of our faces. If the dream home is built and then gets washed away next year, guess who will be crying crocodile tears about it? Too bad, so sad. Talk to the hand!

The nuclear power industry is a home built on a 100-year flood plain.

Worse, the nuclear reactors built in Japan were supposed to be the best of the best. They were supposedly engineered and constructed to the highest earthquake and disaster standards in the world. It turns out, though, that they didn’t even represent the best we humans could do. Reports are now saying that the reactors needed “upgrades” and stuff.

In other words, they were only built to withstand, perhaps, 80 percent of what might conceivably happen. And that’s perfectly analogous to a 100-year flood plain. So it’s no big surprise what happened. Most likely, it was inevitable.

And, I have a question. It might be a stupid one and expose that I know diddly squat about this entire topic. I’m willing to risk that ridicule because I want to know. Nuclear reactors contain fuel and water is used to control the heat, etc. So my question is this: After the earthquake, were the reactors still in operation? Was the fuel still in there doing its fuel type of stuff? So water and power were still needed to manage coolant to control the process?

Were the reactors shut down and the nuclear fuel completely removed as a safety precaution right after the earthquake so there would be absolutely no possibility of the reactors going out of control and overheating?

Were these types of tough decisions authorized to be made by personnel actually on site at the reactors? Or did “shut down” decisions have to come from elsewhere, which might have been a bit difficult and complicated right after a big earthquake? Were there procedures for shutdown and proactively be safe? You know, just in case something like a tsunami might follow? (It’s been known to happen.)

I have absolutely no idea. But I can imagine it would have been a big decision. Should we turn off the grid and affect millions of people? What if we’re wrong? How do we balance that against an unknown “if” that may or may not happen?

I’d be very curious to know.

This post is too long. I’ll probably have to continue it in a part 2. “To be continued.” Heh. Here are some final quickie thoughts.

Coal? I once saw a movie that claimed every time you flip on a light switch you blow up a mountain. I actually think about that when I turn on the lights.

Then I heard about the mayor of small town (pop. 200) in Texas that was surrounded by 18 natural gas wells. The company that profited from the wells assured the mayor that everything was safe. But the mayor’s kids had constant nose bleeds, and not just little dribbles. They were gushers. I heard him on The Story, a radio program on NPR. The mayor loved his town and fought the good fight, but eventually choose to move out of town to protect the health of his family. That was the right decision. The safety of his family had to come first. Along the way he fought the company and got little help from the state of Texas.

When it comes to energy, all I hear about is how we need, more, more, and more. Projections for energy use in the U.S. in the future show that demand will be going up. But what if less was more? What if the most powerful weapon we ever had (conservation) was already within our grasp? What if we figured out new ways to get by with less? Of course, we live in a culture where fuel economy in vehicles has barely moved a blip since the time the combustion engine was invented. This sort of approach seems to be of little interest to us.

We need energy. We crave energy. We demand energy. Our very lives and almost everything single thing we do depends on energy. But at the same time, energy production is one of the most destructive things that we humans can ever do.

How will we ever reconcile this? Is it even possible?

In part two I’ll try to answer the big question, “What if we found a limitless and perfectly safe form of energy?”

This is my “E” post for the April 2011 “A to Z Blogging Challenge.”