Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now

Just a couple of days ago, there was a report of an analysis of green technology production. It turns out China is in the lead, Germany is next, Spain is high up there, and the United States is one of the lowest. In fact, investment from the United States in green technology is higher in China- I think twice as high in China- than it is in the United States and Europe combined. These are real social pathologies, exacerbated by the latest election, but just one aspect of where policy is going totally in the wrong direction. There are significant alternatives, and if they’re not pursued there could be real disaster. It might not be too far off.

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Potent potato power

Energy is on my radar these days. Really! Now biogalvanic cells have an appeal all their own, and this is a note for future reference.

Chemistry: Potent potato power : Nature : Nature Publishing Group: “Schoolchildren are routinely shown how to convert potatoes into makeshift batteries using copper and zinc electrodes. Haim Rabinowitch at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and his colleagues now report a way to rev up the power output: by boiling the potatoes first.

Boiled or electroporated Solanum tuberosum produced a voltage up to ten times higher than raw potatoes. The authors calculate that energy production from these potatoes is five- to fiftyfold cheaper than commonly used batteries and can produce light, through LEDs (light-emitting diodes, pictured), more cheaply than kerosene lamps. Potatoes could thus provide an inexpensive way to power low-energy appliances.

The authors suggest that rupturing tissue membranes by boiling or electroporation alters the properties of the tissue sandwiched between the electrodes such that it enhances the energy-generating capabilities of the biological power cell.”

Now, who said that you can not have your cake and eat it too? I mean, potato! No… I think I am getting my metaphors all screwed up!

I started laughing when I first read the headline, then the blurb on Nature and finally gave the initial scientific report a cursive reading, and in my view this kind of energy generation needs some well deserved attention. Imagine that you can recharge a mobile communication device using a few boiled potatoes and a few bits of copper wire… If you can not easily store energy, then if you can at least generate it easily, unforeseen widespread applications may just pop out everywhere.



I am seriously concerned about the use of science and a bit confused by all that is called science these days. While in good old days, God was being invoked in the constitution, today we defer to science and pray to it to solve all our problems. Law, the rules of the game on earth, is no exception. We make the rules, we bend the rules, we change the rules, and evolution happens. At the end of the day, the universe does not care about man’s laws.

Question: Is science replacing God in terms of what humans believe in?

I would like to think that I am making a contribution to evidence based policy, but often I find myself turning in circles and coming to the conclusion that humans are truly not very intelligent and that the only intelligence that there is to hope for comes from collective action and that collective action involves thinking and acting collectively in a multilateral system designed to balance power. There is only one problem with this whole idea, and that is, like with previous conflicts, humans rarely understand each other. Climate change is a conflict. Actually, several conflicts. There is the conflicts of haves (energy, food, water, money, power) and the have-nots (no energy, no food, no money, no water and discovering power). Conflict is easy to understand, and it boils down to one party having something the other wants. Information and knowledge are not helping, and at the end of the day, policy decisions are made on what those making the decisions believe in, sometimes evidence and facts are involved. Sometimes this belief is in science, sometimes in God, or the right thing to do. Some believe in ideals, and on occasions some believe is on the promise of a bribe. Agnostics believe that there is no God, or that there is no evidence for such, and thus too, they believe in a negative list.

Question: What necessary and sufficient features and relationships must a multilateral system designed to balance power have?

It is also not as if I were the only person without answers. The most powerful and influential people are not doing much better. For instance, just last evening addressing the nation (and the world) from the Oval Office US President Barack Obama, clearly stated that the best of science and technology was not prepared to deal with the catastrophe caused by the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico. Knowing the causes of the failure is not going to do much about cleaning up the mess, it might however help in learning a few tough lessons. Better regulations are indeed needed, but above all we need to think how we harvest energy. With all due respect, I can not listen to the words “God bless America” without an attack of cynicism. God has just blessed America, it has brought environmental consequences to its front yard, the gulf of Mexico, deal with it!

Fossil fuels are not going the way of fossils, they are being burned, spilled and consumed. I do wonder if there will be a conservationist movement one day wanting to bring back the romantic age of burning hydrocarbons in combustion engines?

The realization that the fact of consuming fossil fuels after their extraction from the earth is in itself an act of geo-engineering is perhaps as comforting a thought as waking up the morning after a big party, naked with a stranger in your bed, and not remembering what all happened between you and the stranger. This has so far been our approach to energy production. That is, when it comes to energy production we have just not given much of a thought of what the consequences might be, but that is not even the worst part. The fact is that we were intoxicated when we hopped on that path. Furthermore, once evidence started to manifest itself that that there were some ill-effects, the powers that be, went into denial and as long as the bottom line and corporate greed aligned, there was no point is asking too many questions. Humans have an uncanny capability to shortsightedness.

In a way the climate change is a no brainer: The climate will change, there will be losers and there will be winners. The climate has changed before, there is a precedence for climate change. What is new about this one is that we brought it onto ourselves. Now you know it, you are living in the Anthropocene.

My opinion is that we are living in the dark ages. Enlightenment is a quaint utopia that feeds the egos of the delusional mammals rapt by their own fascinations and oblivious to the environment and the universe in which they exist. In all, humans and their complexity, have evolved to a point that creates one crisis after the next.

Energy is the next frontier. It is not go West, it is not go East… Look up at the starry sky, and wonder where all of it is coming from. My advice: make friends with a cosmologist, go to lunch with a physicist, and love a chemist.