What I'm Reading (Dec. 2)

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The built environment can heat and cool us, human error, debunking the latke, and who is really anti-nuclear power?

Air conditioning has made it possible for us to live year-round in some very hot and humid places. It has also made it possible to shut out outdoor air pollutants and fresh air in the time of COVID. So there is, at least to me, no doubt that the built environment can change our lives. Can it change how we heat and cool our cities?

“Architects all over the world have demonstrated the usefulness of buildings which are heated and cooled by design rather than by fossil fuel energy. What has received much less attention, however, is the possibility of applying this approach to entire urban neighbourhoods and cities.

Designing a single, often free-standing, passive solar house is quite different from planning a densely populated city where each building is heated and cooled using only natural energy sources. And yet, if we want passive solar design to be more than just a curiosity, this is exactly what we need. Modern research, which combines ancient knowledge with fast computing techniques, shows that passive solar cities are a realistic option, allowing for surprisingly high population densities.”

Can urban planning help us to reduce our energy needs? From Low-Tech Magazine, The Solar Envelope: How to Heat and Cool Cities without Fossil Fuels

I have written on several occasions on the coming fully automated car and liability. The history of liability for the accidents of autonomous vehicles can be found in the records of air crashes – airplanes are the most autonomous vehicles we use. Autonomous systems are rarely held liable; it is nearly always blamed on human error. Others now are sharing my concerns.

“… in the United States, the responsibility for road safety largely falls on the individual sitting behind the wheel, or riding a bike, or crossing the street. American transportation departments, law-enforcement agencies, and news outlets frequently maintain that most crashes—indeed, 94 percent of them, according to the most widely circulated statistic—are solely due to human error. Blaming the bad decisions of road users implies that nobody else could have prevented them. That enables car companies to deflect attention from their decisions to add heft and height to the SUVs and trucks that make up an ever-larger portion of vehicle sales, and it allows traffic engineers to escape scrutiny for dangerous street designs.”

From The Atlantic, The Deadly Myth That Human Error Causes Most Car Crashes

And The Atlantic, you will forgive the pun, serves up another interesting article. This week is Hanukkah, the celebration of the miracle of the oil. The lowly potato pancake, the latke, has been the holiday equivalent of the Christmas cookie over the last few decades – found everywhere in many forms.

“Each year, Jews throughout the United States mark the holiday by frying grated potatoes in olive oil, savoring a treat that is, as Nathan put it, “traditional, nostalgic, and crispy.”

Or, at least, crispy. Because there’s nothing traditional about the contemporary American latke. Virtually every element of it is a lie. Delicious? Yes. Traditional? Not in the slightest.”

It is time to debunk the latke. From The Atlantic, Everything You Know About Latkes Is Wrong

“In the popular imagination, the central character in the decades-long campaign against nuclear energy is a hippy with a No Nukes sign. This caricature has served both nuclear advocates, who use it to characterize opponents of nuclear energy as hair-shirt wearing opponents of progress, and many “very serious” skeptics of nuclear energy, who use it to accuse nuclear advocates of being “hippy-punching nuclear bros” while simultaneously distancing themselves from the extreme claims and wild exaggerations that the “according to Hoyle” anti-nuclear movement has long trafficked in.

In reality, the true face of the anti-nuclear movement today is a highly credentialed progressive policy wonk, a lawyer, or, academic, or journalist, who often claims not to be opposed to nuclear energy at all. The problem with nuclear energy, in this rendition, is not the risk of a “china syndrome” style meltdown, it’s that nuclear power plants are just too darn expensive to build.”

Nuclear energy can replace fossil fuels, and there are solutions to the spent fuel that do not require storage. From The Breakthrough Institute via the blog What Could Go Right? The True Face of the Anti-Nuclear Movement