‘Physics for future presidents’
March 29, 2012
“Had Obama read this book he would never have invested in Solyndra.” -Vexatius Sinusitus
It’s astounding to me how many elected officials know so little about so much. Thinking they are surrounding themselves with experts they, themselves, don’t know enough to recognize when they are being given a royal snow job.
Look, academic advisers are seeking more government grants so that they can perhaps win a Nobel prize while business advisers (big campaign contributors) are looking for quid pro quo, quite often in the form of government-backed loans for highly speculative ventures, such as Solyndra and a dozen other energy losers. In short, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, whose life experiences were quite varied, our recent presidents and Congress persons were and are poorly educated for leading our nation in today’s technology environment. Degrees in political science and law aren’t worth dung.
Anyway, the title of today’s column is also the title of a great book that was published in 2008, and written by a physicist, Dr. Richard A. Muller, who teaches at Cal-Berkeley. (You know, in Gomorrah, across the bay from Sodom.) This book covers everything – in layman’s language – that every citizen should know about how the irrefutable laws of physics apply to our energy problems. And for presidents of the U.S., future or present, to not read this book is inexcusable.
There is too much self-serving misinformation out there concerning energy, what is achievable and what isn’t, and about global warming, that needs clarification, not just by theoreticians but by somebody who thoroughly understands the physical limits, the absolutes beyond which no one travels … This book does that. And believe it or not, it is 100 percent apolitical. This man bows to no ideology. He lays the facts out there just as they are and only almighty God could change them.
The following is a small sample of what he calls “Key Energy Surprises”: 1) Gasoline delivers 15 times the energy of an equal weight of TNT. 2) Coal is 20 times cheaper than gasoline, for the same energy. 3) A square mile of sunlight at midday could provide a gigawatt of electric power – the same as a large coal, electric or nuclear power plant. 4) A square yard of sunlight delivers about a horsepower when it hits the ground. 5) Gasoline has 1,000 times as much energy as an equal weight of flashlight batteries and 100 times as much as an equal weight of computer batteries. 6) Liquid hydrogen, the key fuel for a future “hydrogen economy,” has 4.5 times less energy per gallon than gasoline. 7) Energy from nonrechargeable batteries costs about 10,000 times as much as from a wall plug. 8) Average solar cells are only between 10 and 15 percent efficient. The best effort so far has achieved 41 percent efficiency at a manufacturing cost of $65 per square inch.
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Of course, there is much more. He spends a whole chapter debunking nukes. He leaves no stone unturned in analyzing the pluses and minuses of nuke power. He also is emphatic about the safety of the latest nuke generating plants. (The new German pebble reactors are absolutely 100 percent fail-proof.)
He thoroughly covers nuclear weapons, radioactive damage and radioactive decay. He devotes chapters to nuclear waste, laser fusion, cold fusion, space and satellites, spying with invisible light, global warming, climate, the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide and ancient climate, conservation, population bomb, biofuels, new technologies, clean coal, wind and more.
As I read the book, I was always looking for clues that would betray Dr. Muller’s personal prejudices or preferences, but I wasn’t able to pin anything down. This, of course, is the beauty of physics as compared with other scientific disciplines. We engineers are always fudging a little bit here or there to get our stuff to work, but with physics there are no compromises, which is probably enough to discourage politicians from reading this book. They hate absolutes.
Once again, let me emphasize that this book is in layman’s language, a monumental feat. Why should you (I’ve already read it) continue to be fooled by self-serving data supplied by unscrupulous people with personal agendas?
• Bob Thomas is a retired high-tech industrialist who later served on the Carson City School Board, the state welfare board, the airport authority and as a state assemblyman. Visit his website, http://www.worldclassentrepreneur.com.