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My Number One Planet…How ‘Bout You?

Happy Earth Day! I’m thankful someone about 50 years back had the foresight to begin a special day to think about and pay attention to this wonderful planet we call our own.

In Earth Day news, I was pleased to read that a team of researchers this winter were able to find, and get some photos of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Louisiana. I’ve mentioned them before, perhaps the most iconic of American birds, a giant woodpecker of the Southern deep woods and swamps that many are for some reason eager to write off as extinct. So even though their findings made news as far afield as British newspapers, it will likely not change people’s minds if they inexplicably want the bird to be gone. There are a series of odd paradoxes and errors in logic applied to the secretive bird. For instance, people who manage to get a poor quality photo or video of one (the bird was long hunted by both Natives and settlers and is thus remarkably shy around people) get written off because the pictures are deemed “not good enough” or “inconclusive.” Come up with a decent photo of one, as happened one time in the ’70s, and the same experts say the photo is too good and thus must be staged or fake. Anyway, without belaboring the point, let’s say that optimists among us are pleased that there’s still more evidence that the “ghost bird” still flies….adding to the 40+ records, several photographic, detailed by naturalist/author Christopher Haney in the first decade of the 2000s alone in areas as far flung as southernmost Illinois and coastal North Carolina.

Undertaking a serious search for a bird like that takes money, which brings me to my main Earth Day theme. Last night somehow our family got talking about Elon Musk, which generated some strong opinions pro and con. Personally, I admire his curiosity and ambition but question many of his choices. Especially his fixation on Mars. The Space X guy keeps firing rockets up, many just going a few miles then falling back down, and is full-speed ahead on getting to Mars. He even hopes to be able to build a city there by 2050. To which, again, I ask “why?”

A brief science tutorial. The average temperature on the Red Planet is anything but red hot – about -80 F in fact. And while there is an atmosphere, it’s nothing like ours. It contains only 1% oxygen (Earth’s atmosphere is about 21%) . So you’d better take along some woolly socks and maybe a few air tanks if you want to go space truckin’. Obviously, any habitation there would require huge domes with oxygen (presumably rocketed in from here) piped in and some form of climate control… not to mention water tankered in from… well, your kitchen taps. There’s no water there they we know of either.

Musk casually throws around figures into the trillions of dollars required to build a permanent settlement there. But I thought, let’s get back closer to the imaginable and look a the cost of just one manned flight getting there and back home safely. NASA put the cost of that at just under $3 billion. Three billion to fly for months or years, get out , maybe knock a golf ball a few feet, say something like it’s another small step for man… then hightail back to our little blue ball in space.

Now, if it’s NASA that comes from the pockets of you and me. If Elon does it, it comes from his own deep pockets (which of course have been funded by our consumer choices.) Still, whoever funds it, doesn’t it seem just a bit wrong to spend so much for so little?

To put it in context, here are a few things that could be done with $3 b down here. For instance, take the Amazon. Not the warehouse that sends you books on how to straighten your hair and shiny hair curlers, but the big old rainforest in South America. It’s deforestation is having serious effects on the climate of the southern Hemisphere, adding to extinctions of many species of plants and animals and ultimately creates farmland that’s only usable for a couple of years due to overall lack of nutrients in the soil – which quickly bakes anyway. Bloomberg magazine estimates it costs, on average under $1000 to buy an acre of actual rainforest there. Some United Nations agencies suggest it might be up to $2000. If we split the difference and guess $1500, that means you could buy a full square mile of jungle (640 acres) for just shy of a million. For the cost of one Mars flight, you could save about 3000 square miles. For two flights, you could buy an area of forest as big as Connecticut and have money left over to pay for security and game wardens, or maybe pay the Natives who try in vain to have sustainable farms on the land. Brazil might be encouraging its use for lumber right now, but do we think they’d turn down an offer of several hundred billion dollars up front to turn a good chunk of the Amazon into a natural reserve? I don’t.

Or, we could tackle the problem of “greenhouse heating” and our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Obviously, energy is a big and complex problem lacking easy solutions, but let’s just imagine how much of a difference wider use of solar power could make. In areas well-suited to it – particularly fast-growing Sun Belt locales like Texas and Arizona – a substantial amount of the electricity consumed could come from “Mr. Sol”. Getting definitive stats on the costs of that are tricky, but averages suggest it would take about 24 normal solar panels on the roof of one 1500 sq. foot house in such areas to provide enough electricity to run it completely. Typical prices to have those installed, are about $15 000 per house. A bit expensive, but a long-term investment that eventually pays for itself. Well, that $3 billion could get about 200 000 houses off the conventional grid and self-sustaining. Not an answer to all the problems, but enough to make most of El Paso, or Austin no longer dependent on oil or gas… and create a ton of jobs in the process. Those panels don’t float themselves up to the roofs or get hooked up. Every Mars flight could be Tucson, or part of Phoenix, or San Bernadino going “green” instead.

Or let’s think smaller still, and more hands-on. Trees add oxygen to our atmosphere, prevent erosion and flooding and of course, are home to beneficial birds. Not to mention cute squirrels. How about a giant tree-planting campaign. Reforest some of the abandoned farms in the Midwest and New England, fill in some empty lots in run-down cities, give each school child a tree for wherever they want it. Little oak saplings cost about 89 cents each and are ideal shade trees and food sources for wildlife. Rounding up to a dollar each, that could be about three billion trees for the cost of the rocket flight. Even if we cut that in half, and added in some extra soil and paid some out-of-work people to put them in the ground if volunteers were in short supply, a billion and a half trees would be growing.

Well that’s a lot of acorns and a lot of forest in the making. Assuming we plant them about ten feet apart, you’d need something like 500 per acre. Three billion dollars? That’s about two million acres growing, or about 3000 square miles. An area bigger than Delaware going green for every Mars shot.

That’s just a start. I’m sure many of you could come up with equally inventive and beneficial ways to put that money to use. Personally, I’d admire Mr. Musk a lot more if he used his creative noodle to come up with ways to help our one and only planet rather than think about how we, as a species can move and despoil another one.

20 Replies to “My Number One Planet…How ‘Bout You?”

  1. All good ideas, but you know humans. Humans will be the death of us all, and there is nothing that will interrupt that trajectory. I just read in MI, one of the 3 nuclear power plants was planning on shutting down in 2018 but was convinced to keep operating even with low/no profits. Now our governor is trying to tap into “nuclear power plant subsidies” to keep it operating as we are so far behind in developing sustainable alternatives. She calls nuclear power “emissions free” and preferable to coal. Forget about the radioactive water, tailings, storage costs of spent fuel, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. To me, it’s rather a – I think ‘sophie’s choice’ is the term – I don’t like either option. I grew up in an almost unique situation living right between two of the world’s largest nuclear plants (presumably for cost reasons, both put rather close to Toronto on the eastern side of the metro area of six million people!) . they were good neighbors, mostly, put in some parkland adjacent to the plants and when operational were cheap. But they cost hundreds of millions or billions to build, and the older one took frequent expensive overhauls (during which time it was offline) to keep running. Spills were supposedly very rare and very small, but the big problem of course is the risk of a BIG problem… rare but catastrophic if it happens. Ask Chernobyl or Japan. Coal plants of course are inherently dirty and add to air pollution, carbon buildup and despoil the areas the coal is extracted from. If I HAD to choose, I’d pick nuclear plants for areas like Ontario or Michigan where large earthquakes seem unlikely, but probably opt for coal in California and other quake-prone areas. BUT there has to be a better third option, doesn’t there?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, that’s new info about you living between the two plants. I wonder where they shipped their tailings, hot water, spent fuel rods, etc? One thing I loved about The Simpsons TV series was how they depicted nuclear power plants. No thanks. MI is surrounded by too much fresh water to risk a meltdown, sorry.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. yeah, it was rather crazy in some ways… Pickering and Darlington are two of the biggest nuclear plants on the continent if not the world and both are basically on the outskirts of the country’s biggest city.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What gets me is the cost of doing the right thing. I would LOVE to go solar and all of that…but have you priced it? Anything that is green…costs too much green. Prices should be where it’s encouraging to do it…not discouraging. Take electric cars…$36,000…come on…I would proudly own one if they were reasonable.
    It comes down to…He who has the gold makes the choices.

    I have to say…the guy does think differently than most rich people. NASA just stopped doing anything but I do see your point…but it goes back to what I was originally talking about…make it affordable and more people would use solar energy at home and drive electric cars.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. I think the biggest problem now for electric vehicles is the infrastructure… they’ll never catch on in a big way if people have to recharge the car at home, nor if it takes hours to do. Once they build charging stations into gas stations (which I guess they’re starting to do) and find quicker ways to charge, I think they’ll be full speed ahead. Locally, I’m starting to see quite a few Chevy Volts at last…their rollout was BIG in my hometown many years ago, but I saw all of about two on the road and they got horrendous reviews for performance. But I expect they’ve become a lot better through a decade or more refinement.
      the neighbour here just put solar panels on every S-facing area of roof on his house – he has an almost U-shaped one (an odd L-design with attached garage making the “U”) so that’s a lot of footage. I don’t really know the guy or else I’d ask him how much it cost. To me, it should be mandatory than new homes (and commercial businesses in most cases) being built now in areas like these should have solar built in. Get it done up front. But , yep, you hit the conundrum – they’re not more popular because it’s expensive and it will stay expensive until it becomes way more popular and there’s more mass-manufacturing and installation of them I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That would help if new ones were built with solar. The cars are crazy expensive also in some cases.
        I’m just not a person that is going to spend $30 grand for a car. I don’t mind the charging at home… even slowly because you would get home from work and plug it in… done by the next day.

        Our preacher has one and he does like the fast charging stations that he goes to.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t know what they go for these days, but $30k I guess wouldn’t be too out of line compared to other sedans, let alone pickups…prices are crazy. but they could have gone up to way more than that- those Volts were priced like luxury Caddys when they first came out.
        I suppose the ideal would be if you could afford it, have a small electric like those Nissans (Leaf?) for short commutes to work or go shopping, and something bigger and gas or hybrid for longer trips. If I won a good amount on the lotto, then I might consider a new car, and personally I’d go for an efficient car or possibly a hybrid one…but hope that about five years down the road, an electric would be best choice to replace it with.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yea I guess that is it Dave…That is why I stopped buying new cars….and the fact that the last two new ones I bought were lemons… but the most I ever paid was 18 grand for a Mini….I will never do it again.
        Oh if I won money…yea I would have one no doubt…I’m waiting for the used ones to go down in price. I just can’t pay with a good conscious 30 – 40 grand for a car.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. it does seem crazy doesn’t it? Seems to me even my Dad, when he worked for GM, didn’t get brand new ones… I think his big Olds that was his pride for years was a ‘company car’… would be used by execs I guess for a few months and few thousand miles then re-sold for a good deal less.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. My buddy was trying to convince me to get a 70s or 80s car…mechanics HATE the new ones. There is no room to work on them…at all. When you have to lift the engine to take out an alternator… that is a stupid design.

        I do get used ones.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I think it was an alternator my brother-in-law had to change recently on a pickup he has, same thing… the actual replacing of it was easy but getting to it was a nightmare, had to have it up on jacks , take off the front tires, take all kinds of things off the engine….I wonder if they design them that way to deter people from trying to do it themselves?

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I think they do design them like that. They do try to squeeze everything in a small space…I’ll take a bigger car if it means it’s easier to work on.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. My preacher has one… I’ll ask him but I know most of the problems are the batteries…which cost around 5 grand

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I’ve heard that is a big drawback, since the batteries don’t have an infinite running life. But I wonder if there are still routine parts like the fan belts, rad etc, and they’re basically the same but just powered by electricity, or an entirely different motor design?

        Liked by 1 person

      10. I will ask him about that. I think it’s different but I will ask…I bet it doesn’t have a radiator….I wouldn’t think so right?

        Liked by 1 person

      11. that would be my assumption , but I don’t know. It would seem to me that an electric motor should probably be simpler and have less moving parts, but I’m no engineer!

        Liked by 1 person

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