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Friday, October 31, 2014         

Facts of the Matter

Don't wait until tomorrow to read this column. If the Mayan calendar is correct, the world will end at 1:11 p.m. today, Hawaii time.

There are many different opinions about what is meant by "sustainable fishery."

Shale is the most abundant sedimentary rock and not particularly exciting to look at, but its looks belie its importance.

One of the greatest failures of the new physics of the 20th century was its failure to reconcile quantum theory with general relativity.

America's infrastructure is crumbling. The condition of highways, tunnels, dams and levees is so serious that it has long caused engineers to sound the alarm, mostly in vain.

A Discover magazine poll reported that 65 percent of those surveyed thought that nearly all of the health care they received is based on scientific evidence.

The Oct. 26, 2007, edition of the New York Post carried the headline "Superbug Strikes in City." It was not a horror movie.

Despite the push for clean energy to wean us from petroleum, the nation's carbon addiction is unlikely to end by the middle of this century. Natural gas is poised to become the standard bearer for fossil fuels in the near future.

Currently 126 temporary facilities scattered across 39 states are keeping 71,862 tons of nuclear waste in cooling ponds and in storage buildings near nuclear reactors.

Here are a few tidbits and figures compiled from various sources that I hope will put the world energy supply and demand balance in perspective.

One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, the equivalent of burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.

Sunspots represent magnetic activity on the surface and interior of the sun and have a cycle that averages 11 years. The 2008 minimum was the lowest in a century. As a result, solar flares were almost nonexistent, and solar extreme ultraviolet radiation was at low ebb.

Throughout history things that people could not understand were attributed to God. One by one this "God of the Gaps" eroded as science explained phenomena in the context of natural laws. The laws of nature are, at the most fundamental level, subsets of the laws of physics.

Hydrogen is touted as the clean-burning fuel of the future for automobiles to replace petroleum.

After the storms that passed through the Hawaiian Islands in the weeks before Christmas, most people have now heard of the "Pineapple Express" and the heavy rain and snowfall it caused in California.

I don't know the exact number of rock walls on Oahu and doubt that anyone does, but there must be hundreds of miles lining the valley walls.

There are many technical difficulties to overcome but there is little doubt that some form of lithium battery will power electric cars of the next few decades.

Lithium ion batteries are the hottest thing in portable energy. Their high energy density, as well as their ability to hold a charge and withstand many recharge cycles, have led to their use in many applications where light weight and long life are important.

Mineral resources are nonrenewable. They are both finite and irreplaceable, and they are diminishing.

"Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."
-- Kenneth Boulding
Economist and co-founder of general systems theory

Americans spend nearly $15 billion yearly on herbal supplements despite clinical studies that show that many of the most popular ones such as ginkgo biloba, echinacea and St. John's wort do not live up to their claims.

Discovery of an asteroid only 150 feet across less than 4 million miles from Earth by a University of Hawaii telescope is a significant event, considering the violent origin and history of the solar system when impacts and collisions formed and cratered the planets.

The sun is the source of all life and almost all energy on Earth, and we live within its extended atmosphere, protected only somewhat against its variable and harmful output of streams of high-energy particles and radiation by a weak magnetic field and our own thin atmosphere.

We believe that the Earth revolves around the sun, though few of us could prove it. It is impossible to prove to someone who does not understand Kepler's laws or who does not have the background to work with Newton's law of gravitation, yet we "believe" it.

Everybody has a brain and nobody knows how it works, although neuroscience researchers are finding some surprising aspects about how we think.

Since April 172 million gallons, or 4 million barrels, of crude petroleum has discharged into the Gulf of Mexico, causing unheard-of damage to the gulf and coastal environments in the largest oil spill ever recorded.

Sometimes people ask me whether I believe in global warming, while others have said that they thought my column indicates that I do.

The sun is the source and sustainer of life, but it can also be the great disrupter of the infrastructure of modern society.

It took three great ideas and an entrepreneurial genius to redefine cities and the way people live and work in them.


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