Electricity and Hurricanes

by Laura on August 29, 2011

in Issues

Writing a trilogy—writing anything—that has to do with climate change implies research. Lots of it. In my journey to become as fully informed as possible, I had my eyes opened on things that I’ve never understood before.

Did You Know?
For example, did you know that if you have a plugged-in lamp over your shoulder illuminating the screen as you read, it is being powered by electricity generated this very moment? As in, right now, something, somewhere, most likely coal, is being burned to heat up water to create steam to turn a mechanism with magnets to generate an electrical charge that then flows through the line going past your house? The moment you flick that switch, that particular circuit is completed, allowing the power to get to your lamp or refrigerator or garage door or whathaveyou.

It happens right then, because we can’t store the damn stuff. Batteries are highly inefficient still, in that they have to be huge to store much, they take a ton of energy to manufacture, they use toxic materials, and then they are difficult to dispose of. I used to think that dams across rivers were mostly about regulating water, but it turns out they’re really a high-falutin’ way to store electricity, in that the water can be flowed through the dam in a way that turns magnetized turbines that then generate electricity. The dam allows its masters to regulate the flow to meet demand (you and me flicking switches) on a moment to moment basis.

All this causes a bunch of other things to happen. Dams (e.g., the Hoover, the Aswan in Egypt) create massive lakes of stored water. The easiest dams to build have been in areas that have great weather; i.e., they’re hot. Meaning desert. Meaning lots of sun. Meaning evaporation. So not only is the natural flow of the river truncated, but a lot of the water that would have flowed across the land watering the ground is evaporating into the atmosphere. So: More moisture in the air (not to mention a ruined river).

…Plus Heat…
Then we have the other electricity generator: burning coal. Which releases carbon dioxide. Which is a greenhouse gas, meaning it traps the sun’s heat close to the Earth’s surface rather than allowing it to dissipate back into space. This warming encourages all the water on the Earth to both heat up and evaporate more, putting more of it into the atmosphere and making it more available to feed storms.

…Plus Wind…
So we have warmer air and more water. Now add the wind. The human race has adapted to a certain amount of water being thrown at us in certain seasons, be it heavy rains, blizzards, typhoons, hurricanes. But now there’s more water up there to be thrown, and there’s hotter air throwing it around. As this cycle continues, we can expect storms to be bigger, stronger, and beyond our current ability to adapt.

…Equals Trouble.
What does this have to do with us and our light switches? Sure, more efficient tools would be good, renewable energy would be good, developing better storage would be good. But until then, as long as we’re burning coal, it would also be good to see the connection between whatever hurricane is in the news and our own flicking of that switch. And maybe choosing, once in a while, to power down.



...tom... September 3, 2011 at 11:18 am

. . . I would share more of my thoughts …but I must “power down” right now.


. . . …:globalwarmingsmiliemoment:…


Robyn Bradley August 29, 2011 at 11:12 am

Quite apt after yesterday! Definitely makes me think.

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