Sunday, May 22, 2011

A podcast on climate, energy and food - Saeed Ahmed guest post

I am very happy and proud to present you another guest post by Saeed Ahmed. Saeed is a psychiatrist, a Pakistani by origin who lives and works in the US, where he has also received his professional training. He is a very thorough podcast listener, taking on themes and building wide playlists around them. Or he takes on podcast university courses and carefully goes through the whole series.

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Despite the fact that food and energy are probably the two most important "things" (after air and water) for us to live, a remarkably small number of available academic podcasts have focused on these. Classes on environment may mention or perhaps spend a few lectures on these, but in general these don't get a comprehensive treatment. Furthermore it is shocking how few non-academic podcasts are devoted to these topics, although you'll find science podcasts will cover these sporadically.

It may be of some interest to podcast listeners to check out BIBC 140: "Introduction to Biofuels" by Stephen Mayfield, currently offered from UCSD (feed). As with other UCSD podcasts, if you are interested in this, get it now, before it might disappear (although I hope it is one of the one's they retain, and both the material and delivery is excellent.

Everyone has heard of global warming by now (despite the best efforts of Fox News), but how many people realize that this is the century when many things we take for granted will start to run out? Peak oil in the US occured in the 1970s, and worldwide peak oil is probably occurring now (there is some dispute about this, because for a variety of reasons, oil-producing countries and companies are not very transparent about the reserves they control). But peak oil isn't all we have to worry about; there is peak coal, and peak gas, and peak phosporus. Peak phosphorus? Turns out it is may become one of the rate limiters in food production. Food and fuel are more tied together than ever before. The reason food is comparatively cheap is because of fossil fuel. Locovores may be on to something, despite what some pundits say, who discount the transportation element, which is going to become much more expensive. On the flip side, renewables aren't cost-effective yet. But things are improving. Storage, intermittency, and grid issues limit growth here. At some point in the not to distant future, they will catch up economically.

Mayfield covers these topics and their interrelationships systematically and comprehensively, occasionally with the help of other lecturers. It seems to, given where we are in the early part of the 21st century, we may all benefit from learning about this material (even if much of it is very scary). In addition, I believe that after listening to these lectures, many items in the news and market trends become much more comprehensible, and often faulty analyses by medial talking-heads become more apparent.
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