Sunday, February 24, 2013

Never Mind the Plastic Problem

See my previous post about the problem of plastic polluting the oceans.
This post here, is a never mind disclaimer to that post.   Stay with me while I try to explain my reasoning.
Sure, plastic is a problem, but then so is everything else.  How about acidification of the oceans?  Seems like when it comes to degradation of the environment we have lots of contenders and the average lay person non-scientist doesn't know what to do because just about everything we do potentially messes up the environment.  I am surprised that nobody is doing rankings of which of the many environmental affronts is the worst.
Actually, it seems that people are using the market to decide.  The invisible hand will tell us which environmental affront is the worst based on which environmental group's video on youtube gets the most clicks, or whose kickstarter anti environmental affront revelation project gets the most donations.
Anyway, barring those kinds of metrics, I am here to tell you to stop worrying about plastic.  Sure, plastic is bad, but plastic is also a handy thing to have. And in spite of all the problems that plastics create when tossed in the ocean,  there are worse threats to the survival of the bio-crust on our planet.
Of late, I am reading that potentially the greatest threat to the bio-crust is anthropogenic heating of our atmosphere. For those of you that haven't seen that adjective before, anthropogenic is a non-gender specific replacement for man-made. Once we get the earth hot enough, that increase in temperature will trigger all sorts of other processes that will guarantee that the earth will continue to get warmer without us doing anything further to help with the process.  It's kind of like starting a fire, for a while there you have to mess around with the wood to get it to burn.  You have to stick kindling under the logs and newspapers and stuff like that to get the logs burning, but once you get them going, they will keep burning on their own without any help from us.  It's the same with heating up the planet.  We had to burn lots of carbon to put enough carbon dioxide in the air to heat the earth up to the point where it could keep getting hotter on its own, but now we're almost there or maybe we're even there.

Permafrost in Siberia is melting and releasing methane into the air.  Methane is also bubbling up off the ocean floor off the coast of Siberia.  Methane is even better than carbon dioxide in keeping the heat in.  It's like going to Home depot and buying six inch thick insulation for the attic instead of just putting in the two inch stuff.  House is gonna be warm now.
Anyway, if this business about runaway heating is true, then we don't really have to worry about plastic in the ocean because getting cooked in our own juices will be way worse than having ocean critters eating little bits of plastic and dying and leaving the oceans fish-less.
Looked at from the human standpoint, not having any fish to eat will be the least of our problems in a massively overheated world.
Not my job here to give advice on how to stop global over heating.  Dmitry Orlov over at the cluborlov website advocates praying for a meteor to hit us and put an end to the oil burning that is generating all the extra carbon dioxide.  I personally advocate just using less of everything, but I see where that will never become popular for people to do on a voluntary basis, so maybe the ability of prayer to enlist the help of a higher power is not a bad way to go.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our Plastic World

I saw a link to this video on Facebook the other day.

Far as I can tell, it's a promo for a kickstarter project to raise money to make a movie about how bad plastic is when you toss it in the ocean.  OK, plastic is bad.
No, those aren't colored rocks, that's plastic on that beach.
The solution to the plastic problem is simple. Stop pumping oil out of the ground.  No oil, no plastic.  Of course that would impact lifestyles that people have become accustomed to.  What can you give the kids for their birthdays that isn't made out of plastic?  What sort of clothes can you get that aren't made out of plastic?
Some day when we no longer make plastic, we will have to go down to the beach to get our plastic, like a five gallon bucket or a beach ball or a pair of flip flops.  Sorry, they don't wash up in pairs.  You might have to mix colors.  With luck, you might find a right and a left in your size.
Walk into any sporting goods or outdoor store and the smell alone will tell you that you have stepped into a plastic goods emporium outgassing massive quantities of plastic fumes.  I am surprised that the state of California doesn't require stores to put warning labels on their doors to warn customers that the air inside these places is toxic.
One of the grander REI plastics emporiums.  Looks like they set this one up in an abandoned cathedral.
The irony of it all is that the people who shop in places like REI are lovers of the outdoors and generally lead healthy lifestyles, that is of course except when they go into an REI store and breathe the air there.
Sally Jewell, REI CEO sporting some REI plastic products.
Oh, & I just read that Sally Jewell, CEO of REI has just been nominated by Mr. Obama to become Secretary of the Interior.  So how does this bode for the elimination of plastic from the environment?  Not well, I imagine since plastic is REI's number one money making product.  If you took all the plastic out of an REI store, what would be left?  Not picking on REI here in particular.  It's not any worse than any other store, it's just that the irony is deeper.
Anyway, not participating in the plastic culture is next to impossible since everything made today contains plastic, at the very least in its packaging.
Is that a plastic gyre?  No it's thousands of plastic kayaks come together for a photo op. 
And then there's myself.  I use plastic string to lash my kayaks together,  and then I cover them with a plastic skin and then I seal the skin with a plastic coating.  I could do like Svend Ulstrup, a kayak builder and teacher in Denmark who only uses non-plastic materials in his kayaks.  I used to be like him, but like the convenience of plastic. It doesn't rot as fast as natural materials.  You have to let it sit out in the sun for two years to get it to start breaking down. Still, people love plastic because it's shiny when it's new but I'll stop using it if I can convince people that shiny isn't everything.
But if someone wants to come and picket my shop and make a movie about how I am polluting the ocean, I'd be willing to stop, and I would also stop wearing polyester fleece clothing even though it's warm and fuzzy.  Yes, every time I run the fleece through the washer, thousands of little polyester hairs break off the thing and go down the drain during the rinse cycle and from there on to the waste processing center in West Oakland and from there into San Francisco Bay and from there with the next outgoing tide through the Golden Gate and into the Pacific.  And from there, into the digestive system of all sorts of marine creatures who have no idea why they are feeling bloated even though they're hungry. 
I'm starting to talk myself out of wearing polyester fleece.  How about you?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Curious Seal

One of the things I noticed when kayaking is that seals will occasionally pop their heads out of the water to see what I am doing. Humans must be as interesting to them as they are to us.  Seals will even follow me for some distance, alternately swimming under water and stopping to look me over. 
I also noticed that frequently a seal will pop up in the same area.  I don't know if it is the same seal every time or whether this particular area is favored by seals.  The thing is that I never see more than one seal, just one at a time at this particular place when I kayak through this area.  And this has happened for a few years now.  Time to go to the internet to see how long seals live.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Why We Blog

I think of blogging as a form of drawing attention to oneself.  But who exactly is paying attention to the blogger?  Is the attention that we get the right kind of attention, or is all attention good?
I checked last month's stats on my own site and fully a third of the hits were on my post on the frilled lizard boat.  Now I don't know where these hits come from, but I suspect that somewhere out there are school children who are doing a report on frilled lizards and stumbling onto my blog pages.  They are most likely disappointed by the results, but they will at least walk away with a nice photo of a frilled lizard.  But they won't really care about what I have to say about kayaks and kayak paddles and water.  So then, my real audience, the people I am addressing in my imagination is really much smaller than I imagine.  But still, large numbers are good for the ego and I can pretend that the people who search for frilled lizards really do care about what I have to say. 

Ventilation/Air Subduction & other reasons why paddles don't work as well as they should

One of my readers recently informed me that what I called air subduction already has a name in the field of boating, namely, ventilation.  OK, there we go, the internet once again comes to the rescue and dissipates darkness by spreading light, at least in the linguistic domain.
The original post, the one just before this was all about ventilation diminishing the efficiency of paddles.  Ventilation, the sucking of air down the back side of a paddle blade is a problem but can be fixed by appropriate modification of one's paddling technique.
But the problem, fundamentally of getting the best bang for one's paddling buck is that there are too many variables to the deployment of a paddle by a human and inadequate means for measuring input energy vs. forward propulsion, the two key numbers one needs to measure efficiency.
I thought the problem was more or less insoluble.  But perhaps it isn't.  Quite coincidentally while launching my kayak to do some paddle testing, I fell into conversation with a painter who has been commissioned to do paintings of some of the America's Cup boats. He told me that the boats have a person on board whose title is tactician and he advises the helmsman, the person who actually controls the boat.  The tactician sits at a computer which gets constant inputs from a variety of sensors and then suggests ways to wring additional performance out of the boat.
That's all I know, but I suppose that as software and sensors get more sophisticated, some of that learning paid for by sailing syndicates might also be used to increase the efficiency of lowly kayak paddlers.  I haven't done any serious research on the topic, but who knows, paddle design might be advanced from art to science, assuming of course that someone cares enough to spend the money to do the research.