on July 2nd, 2008

Dear Colleagues

1. This past month's persistent spike in oil prices and the horrendous damage fossil fuels are currently wreaking on both our environment and pockets and in the longer term, the economy, has prompted this today. We have depended on fossil fuels for over 200 years now and any change appears impossible. The green message, which includes simply using less energy, whilst appealing, is not workable without considerable damage to our economies. Inadvertently and as a result of various crises, we have been forced, at times, to cut back on our energy use; the power crisis in South Africa and gas pipeline explosion in Western Australia, are two examples. These have both resulted in forced reductions in energy usage and have had (and continue to have) an enormous impact on the local economies – particularly in terms of the loss of income to companies and consequently to jobs.

Strategies to conserve and utilise energy efficiently have much to offer and make perfect sense. You only need look around your home at your VCR/PC and assorted appliances chewing power at some ghastly hour of the morning when everyone is in bed! The dollar tally of this wastage would be a good few hundred dollars a year (or more). I was also struck by the world's consumption of power - 15 Terawatts (presumably "everything" from cars to electricity) translating into a business of $6 trillion per year - enough to attract many 'greedy capitalists' the world over!

I believe oil supplies are still available - the current spike in oil (and gas) is driven by factors other than a geological shortage (at this stage) and when traditional oil (out of holes in the ground) runs out, there is a plethora of tar sands and liquefied coal. But there is certainly no doubt that we are entering a new phase with the energy economy.

It seems evident that there are four differences between this crisis and the earlier ones.
• Demand for energy has jumped, in part due to the growth in China and India
• Over the past 30 years, technology has actually produced some marvellous advances in wind/solar technologies and high tech batteries.
• Investors (and presumably the "chancers") have jumped on board initiating massive projects in wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy (posing other challenges to the environment, inevitably…..and a little cynically).
• We have solid scientific evidence of the damage that carbon dioxide is doing to our environment and there is an urgency to fix it. (Whether this race to alternative energy will stop the concentration of CO2 from reaching dangerous levels is debatable. But we have no alternative but to go for it.)

So what can we do about it:
• Investigate alternative energy sources with the full knowledge that we have entered a new era with no going back
• Promote solar/wind and bio fuels at every feasible opportunity
• Encourage governments throughout the world to tax carbon usage (even though China and India will laugh at us initially)
• Encourage competition between the suppliers of alternative energy to bring prices down
• Focus on looking after our environment in our designs
And no matter how small we think all our endeavours are in fixing the problems here, I think Socrates hit the nail on the head when he remarked:

Better to do a little well, than a great deal badly.

2. I am awaiting permission from the authors before publishing a number of really good pieces on mentoring - hopefully this week, in time for next week's newsletter. We have also identified some more really great videos that are available in a complimentary form - thanks to you all for your suggestions - I will post these in the next few days.

yours in engineering learning


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