Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday Hope Blogging

Both Peak Energy and Triple Pundit argued this week that Bush's promotion of alternative energy may represent a tipping point, regardless of whether or not he's sincere. As Monkeygrinder put it:

I must say that for as much as I feel the United States President to be an illegitimate ignoramus blunderhead, he has managed to raise the exposure of energy more in one hour than all the peak blogs did in the last atmosphere where it is OK to start thinking about alternative energy is a huge positive in the United States.
I think that's probably true. Cognitive barriers are often a bigger obstacle to change than technological ones. And even a wildly unpopular, pathologically dishonest president has a tremendous amount of power to legitimate the terms of national debate.

With that in mind, I'm pleased to report that researchers at the University of Texas have invented a new type of membrane that should lower the cost of hydrogen production for fuel cells, and may make current petroleum refining less expensive.
A rubbery material that can purify hydrogen efficiently in its most usable form for fuel cells and oil refining has been developed by a chemical engineering group at The University of Texas at Austin...The membrane differs structurally and functionally from previous options, with a key advantage being its ability to permit hydrogen to remain compressed at high pressure. A compressed form of the light-weight gas is needed to process fossil fuels and for it to serve as a readily replaceable fuel for fuel cells.
Meanwhile, Mexico is taking dramatic steps to improve its air quality:
Mexico has launched an ambitious plan to drastically cut fuel emissions and improve air quality, the environment secretary said Tuesday....The restrictions on sulfur emissions and small particles will go into effect in July and will be gradually expanded each year until 2009, Luege said. He said that the limits are among "the strictest in the world."
And while we're on the subject of air quality, a federal judge has ruled that Christie Todd Whitman will not be granted immunity against a class-action lawsuit brought by residents of NYC:
"No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to lower Manhattan, while knowing that such return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws," the judge said.
Personal accountability for those entrusted with the public's amazing concept! The other day, I was ranting against conscience clauses that would allow doctors and pharmacists to refuse medical treatment to patients they felt were morally unworthy. These people like to refer to themselves as "conscientious objectors," without noticing the distinction between saying "I refuse to kill those people" and "I refuse to heal those people." An article in the British Medical Journal rejects this self-aggrandizing nonsense:
If people are not prepared to offer legally permitted, efficient, and beneficial care to a patient because it conflicts with their values, they should not be doctors....Public servants must act in the public interest, not their own.
Precisely right, and it's nice to see the BMJ taking such an uncompromising stance on this issue, which I believe will ultimately be a huge loser for fundamentalist radicals.

Speaking of healthcare, WorldChanging has an interesting feature on telemedicine, which gives poor and rural areas remote access to first-world diagnostic and treatment expertise. They note that the European Space Agency recently held a workshop on the role of satellites in telemedicine, with an eye to the creation of a "pan-African e-network for telemedicine." For a detailed description of telemedicine, click here.

Last, Quiet American has about 25 hours of field recordings from Vietnam available for your listening pleasure. My favorite tracks so far are "Ominous gurgling from the faucet in room 402" and "Hmong women playing a duet on leaves." If you need something to look at while you're listening, try Soil Maps of Asia.

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