Thursday, September 20, 2018

Poetic economics

I've noticed the rise of a certain kind of proposal that makes little sense in terms of efficiency he, and resource utilization, but which makes a great deal of what we might call aesthetic sense.

Take, for instance, the plan that got a great deal of traction a few years ago for charging batteries in the Third World with special high-tech soccer balls which converted kinetic energy into electricity. It was unsurprisingly a complete disaster, a needlessly complicated and expensive "solution" to a problem that was better solved through a number of other well established approaches. It offered no discernible advantages and many serious drawbacks.

It did, however, have an unquestionable appeal. The image of children playing and at the same time using cutting-edge technology to power their way into 21st century media access felt like something bright and forward-looking. The fact that it made no practical sense didn't matter; it made aesthetic sense.

Likewise, this much discussed proposal to convert sequestered carbon into fuel has an unquestionable poetic symmetry about it, not only solving the tremendous environmental problems caused by burning fossil fuels, but actually going full circle and using that unwanted carbon as a replacement for those fuels. From a practical standpoint, though, it is difficult to see the rationale for using the considerable energy required to extract the carbon from carbon dioxide and the hydrogen from water (don't know much about physics but I'm pretty sure the laws of thermodynamics kick in somewhere here) all so we can take the carbon and change it back into atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Even if we can't find some other use for it (like this), we can always bury the carbon, in effect putting it back where it was before it caused the damage. From an environmental sense, it makes more sense to bury it than to burn it, but that doesn't make for nearly as good a story.

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