I have friends who are Hippie Earth Mother types. They tend to have in common a reflexive hate for non-hippie things, such as guns, nuclear power, genetically modified foods and gasoline engines. It’s always something. Many of my programming geek friends have in common a reflexive love of Unix or a hatred of anything Microsoft.
To me, people with reflexive hates — or loves — just seem to beg for teasing, an education that certainty is dangerous, and that it’s good to not take things too seriously. (The education comes from repeatedly whacking someone’s sensitive spot and ducking, so it’s risky work.) Hot buttons one can’t be teased about lead to ugly territory: hurt feelings, broken jaws, bombs. I think it’s important to tease the deadly serious, is what I’m saying.
So I tease my Hippie Earth Mother friends that gasoline is solar power!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an aging hippie myself, and I lean strongly towards the Hippie Earth Mother type! I almost married one — would have married her, she’s the one that got away! And I would have been ever so much happier (and still married) if the one I did marry had a bit of H.E.M. in her.
But I just can’t resist teasing. I think it’s good to be reminded — forcibly if necessary — that life is complicated and doesn’t fit on bumper stickers (or even in blog posts).
For that matter, in a younger life I chased a red-headed H.E.M. for seven years before I realized I was being strung along. (Yes, I can be terribly slow sometimes. Or maybe it’s that the flame of hope burns bright in me.)
There are really only four sources of energy (or five, or three, or maybe three-and-a-half, depending on how you count it). Two (or one, or maybe one-and-a-half) are all but untapped, and one scares the hell out of most people. Three (or whatever) account for only a tiny fraction of the energy we use.
The last source provides the lion’s share of our energy, and that last source is solar (by which I mean solar power in the usual sense plus wind power and plus fossil fuels).
The first three (or whatever — I’ll stop trying to number them) are geothermal, tidal and radiation. I hedge on the number, because geothermal is so closely related to radiation (the Earth’s heat comes from radioactive decay). And while the process is quite different between the two, ultimately both involve using heat to generate electricity.
[The USA generates 0.3% of its power with geothermal, and that amounts to 29% of global production. The leader in self-production is the Philippines, which generates a whopping 27% of its power with geothermal (18% of global production). Tidal power worldwide is a small fraction of geothermal (about 600 megawatts installed capacity versus nearly 11,000 for geothermal.) The two together account for maybe 4% of the world’s electricity. Nuclear power accounts for about 13%.]
The big difference with radiation is that we have to deal directly with the radioactive material. That — rightfully — scares the pants off a lot of people. (For the record, I’m pro nuclear power in theory, but opposed to it practically because of human and corporate greed and corner-cutting. Nuclear power would be great for humanity if it weren’t for human nature.)
Finally there is solar. A vast amount of energy hits the earth every day. (More energy from the sun hits the Earth in an hour than we consume in an entire year!) We harvest a tiny fraction of it directly by capturing and using sunlight in solar power (in the usual sense of the phrase). Some of it we capture through the wind; weather is caused by the sun and the rotation of the earth, so wind power is based on both solar and gravity.
Gasoline is nothing more than solar energy stored a very long time ago. Oil is one heck of a long-lived battery. Actually, there is also some gravitational energy in oil. The weight of the earth over the organic deposits drove the oil-making process. (Incidentally: Oil is not dinosaurs, as some believe. There is some degree of former animals in oil, but it’s mostly ancient plant matter.)
So when you burn gas, you’re just releasing sunlight!
Or so I like to tease my H.E.M. friends. “Dudes! (Where’s my car?) My gas engine is, like totally, solar power, man!”
But when you come right down to it, the sun works largely because of the gravity compressing all that nuclear fuel, so all solar power is ultimately gravity power. That seems to boil it down to gravity (solar, wind, tidal) and radiation (which includes geothermal).
Except that the nuclear elements were all made during supernova explosions, which takes us back to solar, but which really takes us back to gravity. In addition to the physics that governs particles, gravity is the driving force of the universe ever since the Big Bang. It brought together galaxies, and it drives the creation of stars.
So, bottom line, all energy is from gravity and its effect on matter.
As my Hippie Earth Mother friends would say, “That’s real heavy, man!”