Engineers: Be Subversive To Be Green

The caterers for the volunteer workforce behind the summer’s MCH hacker camp in the Netherlands served all-vegan food. This wasn’t the bean sprouts and lentils that maybe some of the more meat-eating readers might imagine when confronted with vegan food, nor was it a half-as-good array of substitutes with leathery soy hamburgers and rubbery fake cheese smelling suspiciously of feet.

Instead it was a well-crafted, interesting, and tasty menu that was something to look forward to after several hours driving a vanload of handwashing sinks. It was in one of their meals that I found food for thought when driving a week later past the huge Garzweiler open-cast lignite mine on my way through Germany to Luxembourg’s Haxogreen as part of my European hacker camp summer tour.

The meal was deep-fried soy protein strips and the mine is probably one of Western Europe’s dirtiest and most problematic CO2 sources in a country that likes to imagine itself as environmentally friendly, so where in this unlikely connection did I find a pairing?

Finding The Point Of It All With The Aid Of A Vegan Breakfast

Looking into the gigantic pit at Garzweiler, while the earth grapples with environmental difficulties all around, it’s easy to pack up and go home. After all where’s the point in saving a few tons of CO2 when the German power industry is belching the stuff away like it’s 1972? But we’re hardware hackers, and we spend out time idly thinking of solutions rather than glumly accepting the futility of trying.

Which brings me back to that meal. Deep-fried soy protein strips don’t sound very appetising, but if I told you they’d given it just the right combination of fattiness, salt, and crispiness to make the perfect bacon replacement then maybe you’d at least understand why it made an impression.

Have you ever tried vegan fake bacon? It’s underwhelming, to say the least. Pink rubber strips with a suspiciously uniform consistency and a vaguely baconish flavour, they’re an expensive way to remind you of what you’re missing. Meanwhile the MCH caterers had nailed what makes bacon so bacony, by not trying to make bacon at all and devlivering something that very explicitly wasn’t being represented as bacon. On my MCH breakfast plate I had the perfect metaphor for how to approach green projects as a hacker, even if it took me a week to understand it.

Whether it’s fair or not, it’s safe to say there’s a long-held perception among consumers that the eco-version of a product is never going to be as good as the real thing. LED light bulbs and cyclonic vacuum cleaners may be triumphs of 21st century technology, but as anyone who has used some of the cheaper organic-solvent-free paints will tell you, sometimes eco-freindly substitutes are a mediocre substitute.

The lesson that came to me as the autobahn wound its way for miles round that huge hole in the ground was this: that just as with so many commercial attempts at plant-based food we are doomed to make a poor substitute if our solutions only seek to replicate what went before. Instead as hardware hackers, when faced with an environmental challenge we should seek to subvert what went before rather than simply make a bad job of copying it.

Ask Why, Don’t Simply Go Along With It

It’s easy to say that as a call to action, but how about an example? Oddly, while the LED light was cited as a triumph of an eco-friendly product, it serves to highlight a perfect case of clinging to an older technology. While an LED is a low voltage device, the LED lights most of us use are high voltage devices designed to replicate a filament lamp invented powered by a high-voltage AC mains supply, both of which were 19th-century inventions.

As a result our LED lights have a bunch of electronics to bring the mains voltage down to LED voltage, all of which serves only to waste power and to shorten the lifetime of the device. Why do we still use 19th century power distribution within our houses to run low voltage equipment? Finding an alternative that wastes less energy is what I’d call subverting what went before, rather than simply adapting the new to be compatible.

Driving past Garzweiler made a deep impression on me, one that persists more than a month later. I come from a place where lignite wasn’t mined and which has mostly shut its coal-fired power stations, so to be brought face to face with something which should by rights have ended decades ago was a shock. My voice is not enough to see it closed, but as an engineer I can turn my mind to ways to make its energy unnecessary. I hope you can too.

Garzweiler panorama: Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0.

153 thoughts on “Engineers: Be Subversive To Be Green

  1. In 1981, I had a vegetarian hotdog that came in a can. It seemed a little too real. But I stopped eating meat 2 years before.

    It took about ten years before I tried such things, not because I.missed them, but a burger or dog in a bun has its own appeal.

    But back then, it wasn’t mostly about meat substitutes. I couldn’t stand meat,gave it up as soon as I felt I had the power.

    We ate our beans and rice, tried tofu, tempeh and seitan. Ate nuts, which pu on pounds but are a good source of protein

    It’s more recently, as people feel an obligation to give up meat, that there’s a lot more meat substitutes. So they can move without giving up”meat”

    1. We need to focus mroe on the big emissions sources, not on tinkering round the edges with minimal quantities of CO2 caused by lifestyle choices. Lignite should NOT still be burnt in Germany (they should have been sensible and not panicked after Fukushima, afterall you don’t get tsunamis in central Europe), and as they show n sign of fixing that we’ll open declare we have no desire for vegan virture-signal foods when the environmental impact of chicken and pork are negligible compared to the harms that all manner of countries are perpetrating by using fossil fuels for their powergrids. A capitalist knows to focus on the big gains, so replacing fossil fuel powerplants with nuclear and renewables, getting hydrogen infrastructure to replace petrol pumps and getting steel and concrete manufactured in ways which don’t pump out vast quantities of CO2 byproducts from their reactionsmust be the priority. Lifestyle change based “CO2 savings” are diminishing returns of insignficant value but massive cost to quality of life.

      1. All you have to do is make it attractive in the market place – without government subsidies and penalties which signal to everyone that your project is fraudulent or unworthy.

          1. Not really true, in many nations you can’t actually come close to providing the nutritional requirements for a vegan diet, as humans are just not able to eat or good at processing all the plants, and the plants that do grow there don’t have x/y/z. Where a diet containing sufficient meat is substantially easier – your livestock can forage and eat in all the places crops can’t be grown and harvested quite happily.

            What clearly can’t be supported is the USA style 90tons of cow and cheese in every meal type meat diet for the whole population. (No its not only a US problem, I expect I too eat too much of it)

  2. So this brings up an interesting thought exercise. I have a product I’m writing code for that controls the pressure of a hydraulic cylinder. Nominally it’s just controlling a proportional relief valve that sets the pressure the cylinder operates at. Thanks to some other valves in the system it is possible to operate the cylinder in more of a bang-bang operation where the proportional relief is used to raise or lower the pressure in the cylinder and then another valve deactivates to trap that pressure for the majority of time.

    The downside to a method like this is cylinder pressure may not be able to adjust near as often or maintain a desired setpoint as well, but it would save a little waste in the form of hydraulic oil heating as there is a constant displacement pump in the system that will always be moving oil no matter what the cylinder pressure. So if it spends 90% of the time at an idle pressure of 100-200 psi and 10% of the time around 800-1200 psi there is some energy loss that can be mitigated.

    On an individual machine basis this is saving, at best, a couple horsepower on a machine that is usually operating in the low 100s. For an individual customer it’s completely inconsequential in terms of savings.

    Over several thousand machines retailed this does add up to some fair fuel savings on a global scale. Is it worth the code complexity and potential loss in core performance? From a business case sense the answer is a resounding no, but in an ethical sense it’s subject to opinion.

    1. Frequency drive powered motors driving hydraulic pumps are _old_ technology now.
      Pressure on demand is economic (power saved covers the extra cost).
      Maybe marginal at piddling power levels.
      Only a couple of HP shouldn’t even require hydraulics though, in that case servos (broadly defined) are economic.
      They’ve had all electric small injection molding machines for at least a decade now. Good ones, all brands.

      1. Variable Frequency Drives may not be as efficient as one might think. The energy consumed to drive the SCR’s can be an additional 10% of the energy consumed by the motor.

        Looking at the system’s duty cycle is important.

        Conversely, there are the wear and tear issues of running a system at 100% even with a bypass.

      2. This is on mobile equipment so such luxuries are not offered. The most efficient option would be to use a pressure compensated pump, but the monetary cost is too high. On the same vein, a servo or linear actuator is too expensive and insufficient force for anything off the shelf (~5000 lbf). Not to mention we’re talking about 250 watts of available electrical power at the most.

        Long story short, hands are tied as to the parts being used.

  3. A lot of people wouldn’t know a subversive idea if it slapped them in the face.

    The industrial world is running low enough on a few bottleneck resources that it’s starting to affect future projections. The people in charge of knowing this know this, and they’re trying to manage a controlled glide into pre-modern living conditions for most people who have become accustomed to much more than their ancestors have had. Trying to finesse a way to let hundreds of millions of people down without it coming back to them and literally losing their heads. People in charge must do this, or they will not survive.

    What we’re seeing is austerity marketing. Trying to make the austerity empowering, heroic. No, believe it or not, the mega-industrialists did not suddenly change their mind and decide that they wanted to save the world instead of bending it over and having their way with it. Keep in mind that for every action, there is a good reason and then there is the real reason.

    Oh, and giant mega-farms of hyper-genegineered soy and rapeseed and such combined with factories processing it into peasant sludge are NOT more eco-friendly than small-scale diverse hybrid farming and animal husbandry. It simply makes them more money, and it gets rid of kulak competitors at the same time. That’s why they want it. They do not want to protect your environment. They do not like you. Quite the opposite.

    1. As a recent NYT article points out, the challenge is how to create a 19th-century carbon footprint without backsliding into a 19th-century standard of living. Yeah, the article’s thumbnail photo isn’t ideal. Uruguayans don’t get around by horse, except on a ranch.
      Carbon footprint per person:
      25 tons, US. It’s a figure that eclipses the global median by a factor of five
      20 tons, Canada & Australia
      15 tons, D, NO, NL (Fossil fuel electricity)
      9 tons, DK, F, UK (nukes)
      ~4.5 tons, global median
      2 tons, India, the Philippines (poor ass)
      ~0 tons, AF, CAF (destitute)
      2 tons per median person is the goal to hold temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C.
      US carbon output
      25% electric generation, decarbonize
      27% transportation sector, electrify
      24% industrial production, regulate
      24% household, smaller cuts, replacing gas heat with electric heat pumps, building efficiencies and banning hydrofluorocarbons.
      By 2050, these steps might reduce our emissions to 12.5 tons, so we’ve got to figure out how to do better.
      What’s a current model we can look towards?
      4.5 tons, UY, sits at about the global median per person, while maintaining a global middle class lifestyle for more than half the population. A major part of that was a move from petroleum-based to renewable power, a critical move for them even without climate change, given the problems that commodity-based economies have dealing with the prices for their stuff vs. the cost of running on fossil fueled power plants.

      1. 2050 is a ludicrous goal. It is an 80 year project. And to really work it needs to be market driven, not regulated. If anything ever showed why the market is better it is the current behavior of States with leadership that don’t give a damn about any of it.

        The ultimate unpredictability of climate science is the human factor. There are no equations or models for that.

        At this time I conclude that “subversive” engineering is more likely to cause loss of trust. Engineers need to be looking for things that are better in cost/productivity/usefulness that carbon releasing tech. And it truly needs to be better without subsidies and regulations else it fails when and where the rule of law fails.

        Maybe some portion of the community should work on low carbon ways to build Moroccan style housing in Scandinavian, Siberia, and Northern Canada? Because controlling the climate isn’t going to work.

        1. Based on the climate effects we’ve seen thus far, 80 years ain’t gonna cut it. The heat engine is going to do what it’s going to do based on inputs. If we can make meaningful reductions in our share of the inputs, the climate effects are going to suck, but we’ll live with in. If we can’t, it’s really going to suck, and major changes are going to get forced on humanity no matter what the politics or market effects. As an Aussie Mother Nature might say: FIOFO.

        2. What market force drives a company to produce less CO2? Executives live and die by short term profits. Why should there be no subsidies on green energy when there are already billions of dollars in subsidies going to oil? And how do you think pollution can ever be kept under control without regulation? Here in the US, before regulation we had rivers so polluted they caught fire and Lake Erie, the 13th largest lake on Earth by surface area was considered to be dead. Have you heard the saying about what happens when one doesn’t learn from history?

      2. “a recent NYT article points out, the challenge is how to create a 19th-century carbon footprint without backsliding into a 19th-century standard of living”

        Yeah, that will be a problem…

        and while the West puts itself at a competitive disadvantage by “going green” with more expensive energy while becoming more dependent on “green” products from China:

    2. Firstly, LEDs are not a high or low voltage powered device. They are a current controlled device with a forward voltage required for significant current to flow through them.

      Secondly, there is no big push for new nuclear plants in the US. There is a push to ban non-electric powered heat sources, hot water sources and vehicles.

      My conclusion from that is in the future, the peasants wont be buying the now expensive conveniences we have. Those conveniences will be for the rich and well connected. The peasants will get to dial up an uber when travel is needed or use public transportation. The peasants will not be in control of their thermostats, washing machines, ovens, etc. You will own nothing — and be happy — or else.

      The energy demand is being driven towards a supply (electricity) that is not being increased accordingly. The outcome is predictable.

      1. Well said! After all “everyone knows” that CO2 will destroy us all, right? Not so fast. Politicians and journalists are the major purveyors of the doomsday scenarios. If you actually look at the temperature, sea level, forest fire, and hurricane data from about 1900 you’ll see no trend. Predictions of events that don’t happen are based on faulty analysis, and (dare I say it?) incorrect science.

        We are being led to believe that austerity is a virtue while the rich and well-connected (including politicians and their applauders) have no such intentions. This is a false narrative. We’ve cleaned up obvious pollution and our air and water are cleaner than ever. As Michael Crichton pointed out, all those organizations that were created and made a lot of money to advocate for pollution reduction were successful and instead of enjoying the victory and disbanding looked for the next lucrative scare. Eventually global warming (rebranded incorrectly as climate change) became that vehicle.

        On an ostensibly technical site people should be looking at actual data because the more we learn the more we find climate alarmism to be wrong.

        1. Except our water as a whole globally has never been more polluted, the oceans have great big floating garbage patches for instance, heck in places the supposedly clean ready to drink tapwater turns out to be flammable… The at risk of extinction species list seems to shrink only with extinctions and be growing at a rather prodigious rate.

          The data you question shows some pretty damn clear trends, and as we have developed sufficient measuring tools for long enough to know for sure the effects seen isn’t just variablity in the Sun etc, exactly how badly we have screwed up is still a somewhat open question. But that we have done so can only be denied by those ignoring data that doesn’t say what they want it to…

          How hypocritical those at the top are being and what it might mean for the way the bulk of the population is living in the future is certainly worthy of debate, and in the world of democracies they should be kept in check by the Government or the people that government supposedly serves. But there is a difference between austerity and efficiency.

    3. “More than three-quarters (77%) of global soy is fed to livestock for meat and dairy production. Most of the rest is used for biofuels, industry or vegetable oils. Just 7% of soy is used directly for human food products such as tofu, soy milk, edamame beans, and tempeh. The idea that foods often promoted as substitutes for meat and dairy – such as tofu and soy milk – are driving deforestation is a common misconception.”

      Transitioning from eating animals to healthy plant based eating can massively reduce the land and energy used for soy and similar crops, make food production more small scale, rewild huge areas of land and forest and still provice an abundance of nutritious food for everyone. Win-win-win-win.

      1. I am very curious where this land will come from that will be “rewilded” (interesting term)? If you want to shift towards small scale food production, you have to account for the massive efficiency losses that come along with that. There is a reason that farming universities have helped create the technology that has industrialized farming. It is because you can get alot more of a crop for a given area of land. Additionally, not everywhere has good growing conditions and/or soil, you have to add those inefficiencies, along with increased areas for boundaries between all these small scale things, and on and on the inefficiencies add up. I am not saying there should not be more locally grown food, of course there should, but it’s not a magical win win win win like you stated in your fantasy.

        And the last point I will make is that it will never ever ever happen that humans stop eating meat. Hopefully we get some sort of delicious version of a vat grown meat like from sci fi, because of the pollution and horrors of commercial meat production, but you have to live in reality. That reality is that meat isn’t going anywhere. I mostly agree with you but when I hear you say you want to take my meat my automatic response is “from my cold dead hands” sorry

        1. Of the four wins I see small scale crop production as a nice to have, useful only to the extent that it has net beneficial side effects. I brought it up in the reply because the other comment tried to pit “mega” soy against small scale meat, whereas in reality most mega soy is feed for superdupermega intense factory farming, the source of almost all meat. My point is that *if* they want less mega soy *then* the only feasible big plan is to shift to plant based foods.

          Rewilding, long term reforestation is one example, is possible because meat production wastes so much more land (gracing and feed crops) than a wide range of plant based foods. As Our World In Data puts it “If everyone shifted to a plant-based diet we would reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. This large reduction of agricultural land use would be possible thanks to a reduction in land used for grazing and a smaller need for land to grow crops.”

          As for stopping eating meat well lots of humans already have. Last month a friend’s 65 year old parents chose to start eating plant based going forward. They joked that they sure didn’t see that coming even three years ago and found the shift much easier than they had imagined. Open ended discussion and taking a hard look on meat production brought them there. For example do you agree with these two statements? 1. The state should stop using taxed money to net subsidize meat and dairy production the way it currently does in the US and many other countries? 2. Meat industry should pay the full cost of all their externalities, such as water overuse, large CO2 and methane emissions, environmental damage from “pig manure lagoons”, antibiotics that increase the risk of global pandemics from resistant bacteria, pandemic risks from yet new zoonotics virus strains like the bird flue or covid (those risks increse with the number of animals raised and with the confined conditions) and more. Those two changes alone would result in the price of meat increasing at least 4 times according to some research estimates. Plant based foods have much fewer and smaller such externalities so can be very price competitive. Then there is also the question of the harm to the animals. It is economically impossible to produce meat at current prices, or anything near them, without production so intensive that animals routinely suffer and endure harms in every link of the production chain – breeding, captivity, transportation and slaughter. Yet pigs for example are very similar to dogs in how they have a range emotions, social capacity, curiousity and can easily be scared or harmed in so many ways if not given care and treated with compassion, which requires patience and seeing the individual. But there’s no time for that – pigs in factory farms are production units. Factory farm PR people say they “care” yet the average pig gets 15 seconds (!) of veterinary attention over their lifetime. Imagine a person taking so little care of a dog! I bet you already have compassion for animals and react with fury when you see dogs being neglected and mistreated. The question to ask is what happens if you apply that compassion fairly and consistently to pigs?

          1. You have identified a huge problem, the ludicrous amount of land and other inputs we feed to animals.

            There is another solution that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Cows are designed (by deity or evolution) to move in large migratory herds that eat grass. The science of Managed Intensive Grazing says that we can raise more beef with far less inputs while sequestering carbon and improving soil health if we move back to that model for beef production.

          2. I’m 62, and haven’t eaten animals since 1979, 43 years ago.

            It’s at least fifty years since vegetarianism was part of the counterculture. Fifty years ago a key book was Francis Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet”, which was based on the premise that animals were not efficient food sources, and vegetarianism was needed to feed the starving hoards.

            So we’ve gone from food coops to for profit natural food stores to having most of what you need at grocery stores. And not just fake meat. Diet has changed, even if not everyone stopped eating meat.

          3. I’ve got six carrots painted on my BBQ. The two with halos on them were Vegans.

            People I’ve turned back from the darkside. Pork is delicious!

            Just as with Mormons, if they shut the F up, I won’t try to convert them. But they can’t. So they get to discuss the Rosetta stone and proof that Smith lied/the nature of omnivores teeth and digestion.

          4. The problem with all of this has never really been what you are eating but how it was produced – being a healthy vegan without being a (hopefully unknowingly) participant in mass jungle slash and burns* and not needing 1000’s of airmiles on your weekly diet is very nearly impossible. I know a fair bit about the local edible plants here and I don’t know of nearly enough plants to provide the full range of human requirements in a way we can digest…

            Not that I’m giving many meat farming practices a pass here either, but meat does have the advantage of being easily digestible source of just about everything a human needs and can’t easily get from plants, that can come from nextdoor. And eating herbivore has the advantage that they can digest plants we can’t. So you can raise animals in areas you can’t farm.

            *Worth noting many ingredients even in a meaty dish can also be sourced in such a way, and its depressingly common in the microwave meal type things..

          5. Thanks y’all for reading and replying. The Hackaday comments system doesn’t allow further nested comments, probably a wise design. I’ll tag on some final thoughts here in case anyone of you scrolls down.

            @Elizabeth G: Glad we agree there’s a big problem. Some hope for MIG but it seems unsupported by the accumulated science, see
            New studies and methods may come but meanwhile maybe we can agree that meat/dairy subsidies should be dropped (they distort the market) and that all externalities I listed earlier should be baked into the price of meat? Anyway, if you and everyone else starting today drop factory farmed meat in favor of *either* plant based foods *or* plant based plus strictly MIG meat (if verifiably available to purchase) then that would be a huge and good change I think. I’d be thrilled if MIG optimistic people joined efforts and rallies against factory farming too.

            @Michael Black: You’re quite a bit ahead of me :-) Lots of respect for people who blazed the trail on plant based eating and helped make it so easy today.

            @Foldi-One: Re: “jungle slash and burns”
            “Beef, soy and palm oil are responsible for 60% of tropical deforestation” , “most of global soybean production is used as feed for livestock, or biofuels”
            Re: “airmiles”
            “Very little of global food is transported by air”
            “You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local”
            So the root concerns you voiced paired with the facts from OWID pull toward plant based eating. Facts leading us to unexpected places can be a bumpy ride but we’re better off enjoying it.

          6. @tinkermore The problem with stats like that is what would everyone be eating directly if they didn’t feed it through livestock first, its still slash’n’burn providing the goods in the most backwards way possible to make a quick profit… That slash and burn is a more universal problem, which I do point out briefly can’t be denied but the livestock don’t NEED that specific supplement transported around the world – you can raise livestock just fine without, its just not the economically cheapest/most profitable way to do so. Where a vegan (currently in many nations anyway) can’t actually go without as the slash and burn crops tend to be about the only mass scale agricultural sources of dietary essentials in a human digestible way – they want to live they eat slash and burn related produce as choice in the matter is often zero…

            Which brings us back once again to it being the HOW of production over the WHAT you eat being more important. I don’t dispute at all that there are many complications and meat should be very often the worse choice ecologically but its far from cut and dried. As for instance the wild roaming herds style of livestock that get no supplemental help have a massively better footprint (and likely is required to maintain the local ecosystem, while creating better meat) than the ones being fed soy from slash and burn somewhere over the horizon to bulk up faster for more profit. And between those extremes you get get many farming methods that turn largely impossible or unproductive for farming land into some portion of the livestock feed requirements.

          7. @Foldi-One glad you found my non-nested comment.

            > a vegan (currently in many nations anyway) can’t actually go without as the slash and burn crops tend to be about the only mass scale agricultural sources of dietary essentials

            That seems incorrect. For example I’ve travelled widely in Europe and here are some of the sources of readily available plant based proteins: mushrooms/mycelium, seitan (wheat based), oats, lupin, hemp, green/gray peas. Available as burger patties, mince, “meatfreeballs” and so on from many different producers. Most I’ve seen are sourced inside Europe, plenty also have various ecological certifications for the plant sources used. In addition there’s of course also many kinds of lentils and beans grown in european countries.

            > you can raise livestock just fine without, its just not the economically cheapest/most profitable way to do so

            If current subsidies are removed and externalities priced in meat costs may increase 4 times (see previous comment). Add on top of that the extra costs you now at now and profitability seems unlikely, outside small luxury niches. I predict many more people would choose plant based alternatives in that situation.

          8. @tinkermore
            There is alot more to a complete healthy diet that having some protein content… You can certainly if you are currently healthy live well for some time with a deficient in x diet, but to stay healthy long term is entirely different. So a low meat mostly vegan diet is likely the optimal solution.

            Then there is even more to actually being able to grow sources of all that stuff in human digestible forms locally, sustainably and affordably. Can you find stuff that claims to be 100% ecologically sound absolutely, some of it even will be*. But as the horse meat scandal not all that long ago shows what the label claims and the truth can be rather different things with the final product producer having no real idea where the middle men got the goods, and sometimes it just doesn’t even try to tell you at all – its got artificial vitamin boosts, but where we got ’em we won’t say…

            I won’t say a completely vegan diet can’t be done ecologically sound way, it might even be possible above the arctic circle to do so and be better than the reindeer herders, but its far far more complex than vegan good, meat bad.

            * and genuine 100% provably carbon neutral ecologically sound sourced stuff will likely cost twice as much as even venison from the required population control shoots (seriously the price on the stuff that really isn’t stuffed with cheap filler is huge)…

          9. @Foldi-One Aha, then I misinterpreted the bit about slash and burn, sorry. I assumed you there meant protein since soy was a topic further upthread. I agree there’s more than protein but then I’m curious what non-protein foodstuffs you do think are both essential to healthy plant based eating and require slash and burn production? Examples?

            As for above the arctic circle that seems to be 0.1% or less of global population and I know too little about life there (what proportion of the average person’s food there is currently non-locally sourced for example?) to say anything so I’ll humbly grant a “except those living above the arctic circle” clause to everything I’ve said here. I’ll limit my focus even more to say this: When it comes to food provisioning for a least 90 % of people in Europe, North America, Australia, Japan and some other countries my impression of the evidence is that plant based is overall better in terms of energy use, water use, waste, land use, ecosystem impact, antibiotics preservation and pandemic risk reduction. It’s also better in terms of cost if subsidies and externalities are appropriately accounted for. Then there’s the problem of routine harm and suffering to animals in the currently standard, high speed, intense meat/dairy production. I take all that as strong points for plant based. Do you agree? If we see eye to eye there then I’d be very happy.

          10. @tinkermore
            I can’t entirely agree, but neither do I majorly disagree. The problem of what grows well and where to grow it to provide the full scope of human dietary requirements in a ecological sound and stable way is far more complex that you seem to believe.

            The slash’n’burn sourced stuff in a vegan diet is largely going to be because its cheap, though in many places just getting all the protien requirements (not in volume but in variety) can be very challenging – as what grows and how easily it can be farmed/harvested really doesn’t help there – not all sources contain the ‘full’ protein…

            Also Soy is so often the one food that generally gets fortified with the many vitiamin and mineral are rather hard to absorb from plants for humans stuff, which currently rather forces slash’n’burn sources as its cheap enough the companies can actually manage to sell it after doing the ‘value-add’ of putting in all the stuff humans require and *should* get from eating meat by design… And of course you have to actually factor in how those bits are created in a vegan way, which is yet another web of complexities.

            Ultimately meat free to me makes no sense, as those pesky herbivores are so well adapted to eating stuff we can’t – livestock and population control culling of animals from places that are lousy for farming are an obvious way to provide good food from low quality land, and as we are by adapted to get some of our dietary needs eating them… But that doesn’t mean I think current farming practices etc are sane either.

          11. Thanks for continuing the discussion.

            > The slash’n’burn sourced stuff in a vegan diet is largely going to be because its cheap […]

            That claim seems different from the one I thought you were making earlier. If there’s environmental impact largely caused by producers cutting corners to lower costs then there’s a clear solution: environmental regulations and pricing in externalities. But I still wish you’d give some specific example, that would make it much easier to dig into the details.

            > in many places just getting all the protien requirements (not in volume but in variety) can be very challenging

            What places? What variety specifically is challenging? Are you talking about situations outside of the 90 % of people in the countries I referred to in my last comment?

            > Soy is so often the one food that generally gets fortified with the many vitiamin and mineral are rather hard to absorb from plants for humans stuff, which currently rather forces slash’n’burn sources as its cheap enough the companies can actually manage to sell it after doing the ‘value-add’

            The other plant proteins I mentioned on the european market are commonly fortified, plant milks too, not just soy and they’re not sourced from slash and burn. Fortifications are a very small percentage of the overall product so not a big cost and I doubt there are any hard limits on non-animal sourcing for any of them today. But I’m open to reading if you know of a study that shows otherwise.

            Keep in mind here also my general point from earlier (and the linked Our World In Data pages) that a transition away from meat would free up enourmous amounts of productive agricultural land currently devoted to animal feed crops because a lot of feed input is used for every unit of output, We’d get enough land to produce plant based foods less intensively and more sustainably and still provide more than enough food for everyone and *still* leave a lot of land for (re)forestation – that’s the opposite of slash and burn.

            > But that doesn’t mean I think current farming practices etc are sane either.

            That’s an important point of agreement between us. I hope you put that value into practice by choosing plant based when the only other option available is factory farmed animal products. For the 90% of people I talked about earlier that is the real choice they face in lots of everyday situations. In addition there’s also need for more people to join and voice strong support for campaigns to remove meat subsidies and to price in externalities.

  4. Were the volunteers warned ahead of time?

    If so, fine, you do you.
    If not, they should walk (drive off in blown American big block V8 powered land yachts, roosting gravel on the hippies).

    Herbivores are as bad a Mormons about preaching.

    Also. Author should at least understand the first thing about electric power before talking about low voltage power distribution and efficiency. Clearly no clue. Expected from the greenies, but not from HackaDay.

    The author is an Engineer? What kind? Shenanigans! Job title or education?

    1. Yeah I was about to say… Have fun building a 5VDC power grid. But I assume they meant having a central, efficient converter on premises stepping down the grid and distributing it instead of a separate converter inside every bulb, which would make a bit more sense but would require so many resources to retrofit everything that it might never pay off.

      1. Just that small and efficient DC/DC are now very affordable. So that centralised and efficient converter would still be less efficient because we don’t want to step up the cable thickness (consuming valuable copper) to avoid cable losses.

      2. The addition of a 2nd set of wiring in homes, and the losses even over those relatively short distances, would likely make that worse than just using existing good quality mains-powered LED bulbs.

        Perhaps pick something like existing GU10 / MR16 bulb fittings that run from 12v and where a decent and long-lived power supply can be part of the fitting or installation… but even then, is that any better than a reasonable quality LED bulb + its small pack of electronics?

        Big Clive has the right idea, opening bulbs & snipping current-setting resistors to drop the wattage but massively extend lifespan.

          1. Nikola Tesla. Pointed out how inefficient Edison’s low voltage DC was.

            Wanted to develop wireless electricity transmission. Small problem with billing though now we have computers?

          2. Tesla’s wireless power transmission _didn’t_work_ because Maxwell’s equations. Ionosphere conductor just didn’t work at all, RF was inverse squared law borked.

            Hate to pop your bubble.

            Did you even pass e-fields/antenna design? You should have gotten enough to understand issue in physics, freshman year.

            Sometimes you’re Dunning, sometimes you’re Kruger. You shouldn’t comment about this subject, you are ‘flat earther’.

    2. hack-a-day is becoming too “woke” for my tastes. were supposed to be coming up with our own solutions to problems. to think for ourselves rather than parrot the solutions that conform to the party line. that’s supposed to be the core philosophy of the hacker/maker community.

      it also amuses me how everyone flocks to these international conferences, burning all kinds of resources on travel, then pat themselves on the back for eating a vegan meal that nobody on a budget could afford. if you really cared about the environment, you would have used video conferencing.

      1. “hack-a-day is becoming too “woke” for my tastes.”

        counterpoint: Under Elliot’s helm it has allowed some comments that would have been
        deleted previously.

    3. How to say you’ve never been to a European hacker camp without saying you’ve never been to a European hacker camp.

      I’ve written about low voltage DC power here in the past. Yes it’s no good for long distance distribution. In your house though, it could have a place.

      Jenny List, b.Eng, 1993

  5. Some Germans ideas are beyond crazy.

    We (not me) build the prototype pebble-bed reactor “AVR reactor” (Pebble-bed reactors seem to have a strange cult like follower fan base.) [1] It failed. Big. REALLY BIG. Currently estimates are that alone tearing it down will cost more than €. And we build another one. Guess what, failed even bigger.

    So, now for the crazy: the energy delivered by the AVR should be used for coal gasification [2]. Because, well, North Rhine-Westphalia was the King of bituminous coal industry in Germany. In 1969 (AVR went hot that year) the decline of the coal industry was expected, exploitation going heavily down and totally folded in 2018. But gasification! Bright future for NRW!

    So we (not me) had an earth killing industry (coal) and tried to invented a not working new earth killing industry (PBR) to make the other industry survive. Crazy.

    Anyone knows how much it would cost to build and run a solar panel plant? Just a single factory constantly producing panels from sand and aluminium (etc etc) day in, day out? Just for fun, anyone has numbers?

    (AVR history is a good read. As usual with nuclear stuff in Germany it is full with lying scumbag industry leaders, mishandling nuclear waste and losing all control over costs.)


  6. I agree with the thought, though when considering DC home electronics it is not so easy to move away from standards built into existing structures (especially the older ones that were never designed with services and upgrades in mind), and I’m not sure we should in general anyway.

    Your computer might be a DC device, but it draws maybe 4KW if its high end and/or loaded with storage, you can’t sanely transmit enough power to deal with that sort of draw in the normal DC voltage ranges as a “ring main” replacement – you start getting into need separate dedicated cable runs and breakers for any high draw device or cables that are so stupidly thick you can’t afford them… Lighting as a separate circuit could be done sanely I think, the existing standards for AC lighting wiring is probably sufficiently overspec for a direct conversion into a DC LED light circuit, with how low watter LED bulbs are, so transitions couldn’t be simpler, just buy the right bulbs and fit that one giant transformer engineered to last ‘forever’ per circuit near the existing breaker.

    1. If you think copper is getting scarce and expensive now, just wait until every structure on earth has to be wired to handle the amperage of everything running on low voltage DC while keeping up with the wattage of the larger appliances. Or else two separate circuits, one high AC and the other low DC.

      The Achilles heel of the green movement is a chronic and habitual failure to think things through to conclusion. Solar panels don’t last and contain a bunch of ultra-rare materials. Wind power also doesn’t last and causes all kinds of unintended consequences. The upkeep costs must be figured in. There’s not enough resources to EVER build the batteries required for most of the all-electric ecosystem. They don’t care. They’re making heaps of money off of status signaling and NGO political patronage, and the concern for the environment is only a veneer. A PR stunt. The cynicism is disgusting. At least a lot more people are starting to figure out the con game behind faux-“environmentalism” and maybe soon we’ll be able to pursue nature conservationalism for real.

      1. I mostly agree,
        However solar I would argue with you over, as it really doesn’t (have to) contain anything meaningfully rare at all and the endurance of a panel is huge, even panels from the earliest days when degradation was bad still work badly today if they avoided mechanical damage several decades later, and modern panels are likely to functionally outlast the humans that fit them degrading so slowly that you are not going to really notice the degredation in decades, as its so low the degradation is entirely lost in the noise caused by how clean the panel surface is and the general variability of sun intensity at the ground in the real world. It will only really show up in the lab in the shorter term.

        Wind is much more dubious, but right now it does seem way more than worthwhile, as something has to be done about greenhouse gas emissions, and while other avenues also have to be pursued wind is available and cheap.

        Who ever said anything about an all-electric needing batteries, and even if you insist a more electric future does need vast electrical energy storage there are so very many battery techs that need wildly different resources that it is not implausible.

      2. ‘Rare earth elements’ aren’t actually that rare. There’s some thing like 123 MT of REEs. That’s a lot of PV arrays & cell phones.

        You talk about things not lasting but pretend that the same can’t be said about any power plant. Renewables also don’t pollute while generating power. Yes they have end of life problems but so does coal ash and diesel exhaust.

      3. “The Achilles heel of the green movement is a chronic and habitual failure to think things through to conclusion”

        We’re at least thinking it through better than fossil fuel industry proponents whose still overwhelming dominance of the energy industry is driving the world into collapse. We have a choice, either we decarbonise as fast as we can, and it’s a major challenge, or we don’t and we have no future worth speaking of.

        That’s the real conclusion,

        1. The extreme ‘greens’ are entirely nutter –

          Greens: ‘oh we need to decarbonise’

          Gov/Industry: ‘Sure, lets build more nuclear, it’s reliable, green, and affordable while we work on making things more efficient’

          Greens: ‘NOOO we can’t have that, nuclear is evil… rabid chants, shut them down etc’

          Gov: ‘OK fine, we will shut the existing nukes down decades early… Well I guess we shall have to re-open more dirty coal plant and ramp up the strip mining of filthy brown coal then, as you won’t go back to 10th century living and can’t afford other powersource.’

          Or the gluing yourself to trains, by far the most green method of moving people and goods around, forcing everyone traveling to suddenly have to go by the least green methods possible, likely ‘driving’ (read sitting in a massive impromptu traffic jam for hours) a 2 ton box around with just them in it…

          The actually viable choices for progress towards a more ecologically sound future are almost never what the rabid and vocal greenies of the ‘green movement’ want… They somehow want to be able to wear and eat cheap imported good so they never have to see the industrial buildings, drive to their protests, have lots of reliable heat and electric in their homes without power stations – in short consume rather a large amount of resources on demand all while demanding changes that means somehow getting everyone to live in a lower tech way than they themselves will choose!

          Which is one of things that made Greta such a great person to happen to gain the media spotlight… When invited to events across the world, and at pretty short notice so the expectation has to be they would fly, they instead found a sailing boat – actually living at least in part the lifestyle changes they preach rather than being nothing but loud mouthed hypocrites, who by their own actions frequently make the world directly LESS green. The ‘Green movement’ needs more figureheads like that, and a rational agenda that will actually make progress. But too many times when ‘greens’ have got what they demand, because its a stupid demand that will never actually work big picture things get directly worse for it…

          There are not all that many fossil fuel proponents let really – but when the opposition is so often disappointingly demonstrably disconnected from reality it doesn’t take many, and folks that would like to be greener have nobody speaking any sense to vote for/ seek guidance from…

          1. As I understand it there were no crew members expected on that tiny little boat – it was certainly small enough to sail single handedly, as folks do…

            And even if it was just some theater, its still a far better demonstration than most ‘greens’ that get media attention, rather proving you don’t have to fly and burn fossil fuels to get across the ocean, even at short notice. Inspirational activity showing something is possible, over purely hypocritical making of noise and poorly thought out demands and protests.

          2. The problem is, the boat should have to sail across the Atlantic for a hundred years before it becomes better than flying in terms of CO2 output per passenger crossing – because the boat cost something too, millions actually, and money spent in the economy becomes CO2 outputs.

            The fact that it’s “wind powered” is just smoke and mirrors. The fact that the boat exists at all is the result of spending many many barrels of oil equivalent in energy, and not just for the materials but all the labor and upkeep as well.

          3. > Inspirational activity showing something is possible

            What do you mean by “possible”? What exactly is?

            Rich people going across the ocean on an expensive boat, which would not be available without the existence of fossil fuels, nor would they be rich enough to access it. Greta’s stunt as a “possible solution” was “let them eat cake”.

          4. It wasn’t a stupidly expensive luxury boat, from the images shown its a tiny sailing boat of the sort a great many people could afford – the type of thing just big enough some folk choose to live on them as a boat like that can be bought for much much less than the deposit required to get on the housing market…

            And as the boat may well have already been 50+ years old*, and isn’t exactly difficult or costly to maintain compared to the jumbo jet… Yes comparing something that can carry maybe 3 people to something carrying hundreds has its flaws, but the point being made stands, as you can build larger wind powered ships if you like. Infact it was done for centuries before the petrochemical industry was a thing, so such boats absolutely can exist…

            Also the truly rich people never, ever, take their boat across the ocean themselves – too slow, too rough, too much like working, that is for the peasant they employ… What they do is fly to the tropical getaway they wanted and meet their own boat there….

            *fairly sure this one was rather new, but comparable boats have been made for a long long time and many old ones are still on the water.

          5. Foldi.

            Sailboats consume sails like powerboats consume fuel. They aren’t generally cheaper.

            Rule of thumb for both is 10% of _original_ purchase price/year in maintenance. Then add fuel and sails.

            I’m pretty sure you understand wrong about no crew pushed off by the tarded girl.

            Most empty bunks on ocean crossing boats are filled by sail bums answering classified adds for crew. Solo crossings are dick measuring.

          6. Sails are consumables yes, but as I know boat owners that still use very very old sails its not exactly a given they can’t last, just care for them properly and make them well in the first place… No denying boats are potentially very expensive maintenance hogs, seawater is like that, but that is true for all boats, and also true of aircraft.

            Plus with the current market cheaper isn’t a good measure of the ‘greenness’ anyway – petrochemicals are massively cheaper than the effort involved would suggest they should be thanks to decades of work to make them so, partly by not bothering to clean up after use, so you are not paying for the cleanup. Aviation fuel is especially bad on the cheaper than it should be front. Where sails are a pretty niche market as almost nobody sails, so rather more expensive than the materials and effort would suggest…

    2. “Your computer might be a DC device, but it draws maybe 4KW if its high end and/or loaded with storage”
      How to say you have a mining rig with a dozen GPUs without directly saying you have a mining rig with a dozen GPUs…

      1. I did say maybe and go high end – as your house infrastructure has to be built to handle a reasonable worst case, not the 500w average draw. And no none of my PC are that high, my now dead workstation was the worst offender I’ve ever owned and it tapped out just over 1KW. Also these days that would be a tiny rig with perhaps 6 GPU, as they are such power hogs…

        But seriously just have a pretty normal mid-high end gaming rig the CPU and GPU alone are likely getting up towards 650W in hard use, if you go in for the most modern Intel and Nvidia at the high end certainly even more as the GPU alone can get up to 600 something Watt! Add in monitor, sound system, the massive active cooling requirements etc – all the stuff needed to make it a usable machine and you can easily get to 1KW just for a fairly common basically normal gaming computer.

        Now if its also or actually your home server/streaming rig/workstation/render farm…
        Then its going to be loaded with storage space, probably got DAS stacked up with drives, so likely an extra disk controller or two, perhaps some extra sound and network cards, perhaps some extra GPU, and certainly lots of extra memory (over what gamer actually need anyway) as well. Every HDD adds quite a bit, especially if its a high performance one, and while SSD can be lower draw the high performance ones of those are not lightweight either, and have so much lower capacity you will end up needing more of them!

        All that can easily ramp you up massively while still being a pretty normal end ‘pro’ computer…

        1. This is the kind of reasoning that leads people to buy oversized SUVs and then use it for school runs. We have a great standard for DC delivery, it’s called USB C. Everything from smartphones to laptops to LED lights and even TV sets can be powered with it. You want to game with 1 kW of graphic cards? Fine, switch to the AC plug. But for the average Joe, a USB home harness in parallel to the 120-240V AC isn’t rocket science. Also, last time I checked, a 120W appliance at 12V required the same copper as a 1.2 kW at 120V…

          1. Not really – your house infrastructure lasts after you move, and is usually forced upon you by the regulatory agencies, who have to define a standard that actually is safe and functional for MOST people, including some headroom for potential future requirements. Your personal vehicle needs be nothing more than your actually needs, as no external legal reasoning forces you to have a big V8 and 10 ton metal box on stilts, that is entirely your choice, made from within the vast scope of stuff legal on the roads.

            Also a USB home harness would be a nightmare – you can’t have a single very efficient, over engineered to last transformer as the outputs are varied, there are what 3? 4? different power delivery negotiation standards already, and likely more will turn up in the end, so every output needs smarts that will continually have some power draw, and have to be updatable smarts so it can continue to be useful in the future – its just way to complex and will be wasteful to integrate such a thing into a building.

            Where having some regular 19, 12, 24, maybe 48V * as a mandatory DC house standard as a barrel plug socket is perhaps plausible. Letting your electronics have nothing but perhaps the cheap and relatively efficient and simple buck/boost to get what they actually need. The transmission losses around a house are going to be somewhat meaningful, but the saving from having but one super long lasting and efficient transformer for the house rather than lots of tiny and likely not that efficient ones built into the devices may make it worthwhile on overall power efficiency, with the added bonus of less resource use.

            *pick ONE – and I’d suggest 19 or 48V as one is so ubiquitous already as a powersupply output for electronics and the other is about as high as I’d consider sane to run, which allows for smaller diameter cables in the wall.

  7. I’ve been a subversive all my life and would not have it any other way. In my last job I stood up for fellow workers and uncovered a massive multi-million pound fraud the company were doing on worker’s wages. It went to the Houses of Parliament and the company was forced to spend 20 Million £ on weights and measures machinery. Right now I’ve joined a new group of subversives acting against a bunch of pretend subversives – a prominent UK trade union. I love vegan food, but have always wondered if it is ethical to eat vegans?

  8. The problem is, most vegetarian diets get much of their protein from legumes or nuts. There are people allergic to either, and I know one individual who is allergic to a substance that can be found in many of both. (The dieticians are nodding their heads at this point, saying “ah yes, that one “) There are vegetarian diets that would work for her — soybeans are safe, and almonds appear to be, and she can tolerate “cooked with” traces of things, and _proper_ refried beans have been processed enough to denature whatever it is — but it certainly isn’t as simple as “gimme a veggie burger”.

    Or “gimme a burger”; fewer people are allergic to meats. Though I know one person who had to give up her plan to be a large animal vet because she turned out to be allergic to cows.

    This doesn’t mean a green diet is impossible; it just means it’s a bit harder to do group cookery unless you know what sensitivities are in this crowd and/or plan enough alternatives.

    1. Covering large swathes of the Earth in monocrops drenched in glyphosate and eradicating all plant biodiversity for millions of hectacres is “””green””” but it’s not good for the environment. You’d think we would have learned this lesson during the dust bowl. We took vast plains made fertile by roaming buffalo, got rid of the buffalo, then drained every bit of that richness from the soil in a couple generations. And no, the combined farts of a continent-wide herd of buffalo did not cause mass extinctions.

      The people advertising this to you are liars. They just want to monopolize the core market of feeding people and muscle out independent techniques which have survived in harmony with nature for hundreds of thousands of years. And yes they will employ and bribe shameless scientists to re-write history and convince people of things which are so obviously wrong that you have to give up all curiosity to accept their framing.

      1. The Dust Bowl was a catastrophic drought combined with “The Plow that Broke the Plains” and the farming methods of the time with repeated plowing and discing between crops and many who did not know about contour plowing (as opposed to the “no-till” techniques today). The government encouragement to go West and be a farmer did not help.

        I wonder if there will be a “Environmentalist’s Folly” some day? See “Plowman’s Folly”

    2. That’s a manageable and shrinking problem. In addition to legumes there’s now plant based proteins using wheat (seitan), quinoa, oats, lupin, rapeseed, hemp, mushrooms/mycelium – the list goes on. If everyone not allergic to all of those made the switch the positive effects would be huge and those with allergies could continue eating what they ate before until new plat based foods are invented or cultured meat hits the shelves.

    3. I’m no veggie, I just happened to enjoy the Mecklenburger’s veggie breakfast.

      I grew up on a small farm. I like meat, but I also recognise that it’s a poor way yo make food out of land.

      We have to eat less of the stuff if we’re to make the best of our food production, simple as that. Personally I expect to find insect protein products at Tesco within the next decade.

      1. We have a way to raise animals that make them an excellent way to convert land to food. It is called managed intensive grazing. It’s deeply carbon negative, builds soil fertility, and reduces erosion and fertilizer use.

        The gap is we have to get people doing it.

  9. You make an excellent point; I fear some commentors have got stuck in the detail, but I think even they would concede that the best subversion is one where the potential opposition never realises they were potential opposition, nor realises that you see a different paradigm, nor really thinks they have been diverted in their course at all.

    May I suggest leaving the existing light circuits in your house (as backup, perhaps with little switches hidden on the panel) and using PoE to the light socket +- the lightswitch as you find neccessary? Maybe in 50 years we’ll all be doing it!

    1. So you’re all for controlling people without their knowledge rather than educate and persuade? Totalitarian impulses much?

      Methinks too many people have already failed to question the experts on so many things, in particular Global warming (rebranded as climate change to instll even more fear). Look at the actual data from 1900 or so on all the catastrophes being claimed and then note how many climate predictions have actually occurred. Answer: virtually none. Lots of website document this already.

  10. Yes, Light bulbs weren’t really efficient, maybe.
    But they weren’t harmful to the environment, either.
    The materials they did consist of, glass and metal, were not poisonous waste.

    They didn’t cause RFI/TVI, either. Their electromagnetic compatibility was good. They caused no harm to the radio spectrum. And they did could survive an EMP.

    Incandescent lamps were also useful for other things than producing light or heat.
    They could be used as fuses (the Yaesu FT-101 has one in the receiver line), could act as a controller in charging rechargeable batteries, could be used as a field strength meter in the radio field (tuning an oscillator; antenna matching).

    All in all, the incandescent lamp was truly ingenious, most likely because of its humble design and versatility.

    Unlike energy-savings lamps and LED bulbs.
    Incandescent lamps also did not require any power supply. And they did work with both AC and DC.

    And their light spectrum was clean, natural. Like fire or sun light. They didn’t harm animals, insects.

    That’s something the energy-savings bulbs did and the LED bulbs still do.:

    The former was smelly and creating a total unnatural type of light, with ugly spikes in the spectrum. It caused depressions, too.
    My family called these bulbs “grave light”, because of their moody light.

    The latter, the LED bulb, has a strong blue emission that’s filtered, more or less.
    Blue light can damage eye-sight on the long run, according to current discussions.
    And it again is attracting or confusing insects of the night.

    In principle, there are (still) other alternatives, like Halogen based incandescent lamps.
    But they’re being phased out, too. Because of the LED lamps.

    What we, as a society, do is avoiding or delaying the finding for a solution to our energy problem.
    Instead of fixing the power sources and continue to use and improve environmental friendly incandescent lamps,
    we’re trying to reduce/limit power consumption and use poisonous lamps instead. Is that really a good tradeoff?

    1. LED lighting is available in a wide range of colors from daylight on planet earth as seen on its surface to dungeon torch yellow. Bring back unmantled gas light? Shield all outdoor lighting from the sky. Planet’s side is away from the sun, it’s natural for night. From 5% to 50% efficiency in lighting in such a short time, an order of magnitude! WOW! I doubt wolfram mining is clean, smelting worse. Oh and those bulbs burn out rather fast don’t they. How many…does it take to…

      1. “LED lighting is available in a wide range of colors [..]”

        I don’t think so. Modern LEDs use a rensonator crystal to create a desired frequency. I wouldn’t be surprised if they use IR or UV light by now.

        However, the blueish wavelength must be filtered out, still. The ordinary E27 socket LED bulbs we can buy in shops don’t create purely white light. It’s white-blue, the frosted glass is used as an extra filter to further tone down the blue.. But it still reaches our eyes, even if it’s at the edge to our perception.

        “I doubt wolfram mining is clean, smelting worse.”

        So mercury in energy-saving lamps is fine and plastic in LED bulbs ? Hypocrite. IMHO. 🙄

        “Oh and those bulbs burn out rather fast don’t they. How many…does it take to…”

        No, they don’t. At least not by design. In my parents home, an OSRAM bulb lasted for over 20 years, for example.
        Energy-saving lamps and LED light bulbs must be changed multiple times a year sometimes.

        The LED bulbs suffer from bad PSUs. They do not contain needed capacitors, to save costs.
        There’s just a single diode inside that does rectifying.

        A slight fluctuation or power surge from a microwave oven, a heater or a vacuum is enough to cause a voltage spike that kills the LED bulb. That’s soo unnecessary. Because the still working LEDs themselves end up at the dumpster. And lastly, you can’t even use a dimmer device anymore. That’s not eco friendly, all in all.

          1. This is an excellent point – there are numerous examples of overspec’ed devices in modern times. It used to be common to purchase incandescent bulbs rated for 130 V to ensure a long life, and such bulbs could easily last over ten years. Now, both incandescent and LED bulbs are often overdriven to increase brightness at the cost of bulb life (obvious planned obsolescence). The lifespan of many cheaper LED bulbs can be drastically improved simply by snipping or swapping out a current setting resistor in the internal PSU circuit.

      2. If we are honest and if we are objective, then it’s clear that the incandescent lamp is superior in all disciplines to (current) modern day alternatives.

        Except for the efficiency / heat dissipation issue.

        But even this could be solved, if researchers would be allowed, not to say encouraged, to continue the development of modern incandescent lamps.

        Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to happen soon due to the ban of traditional light bulbs.

  11. >Why do we still use 19th century power distribution within our houses to run low voltage equipment?

    Because low voltage power distribution, even in-house for relatively short distances, is inefficient and requires more copper for the wires, and it’s actually more efficient and cheaper to regulate the current through a string of LEDs in series than in parallel.

    >The meal was deep-fried soy protein strips

    The processing of soybeans into soy protein requires so much energy and water that it’s more or less equivalent to eating chicken. Many other meat substitutes are worse, because they start with raw materials that are pitifully low in protein, such as wheat, and then waste 90% of the calories to extract the proteins – and it’s not even complete proteins that people could live on, so you need to

    1. so you need to take supplements.

      The vegan diet is also dependent on diversifying your food intake to include many foodstuffs that are simply not grown locally in many places of the world, requiring costly transportation. Go to Sweden and try to survive on whatever is growing in the ground without eating any meat or fish – don’t complain about getting rickets and anemia in the middle of the winter because all you have to eat is bread and potatoes. Not even butter or cheese to have a bit of stored vitamin D and calcium. You would basically die.

      1. Scurvy used to be common among northern Europeans every winter.

        Most high protein grain meal is byproduct of fermentation. Hardly wasted calories. Best use IMHO. Russia is going to need extra Vodka over the next few years to sooth the butthurt.

        Many ‘high protein’ vegetables are simply measured after drying vs low protein vegetables where the water counts. Accounting tricks.

        1. Fermentation is hardly energy-efficient if your main intent is to produce proteins. Having yeast proteins as a side product is different, but there are far better, direct ways of making ethanol than wasting agricultural produce into it. It’s just that bio-ethanol production is subsidized to transfer money to agribusiness.

          1. ‘Byproduct’…

            What ethanol production process is better? Grains/fruits/agave are solar powered.

            Delicious alcohol is overtaxed, not subsidized. At least in the USA. Beer taxes might be the third rail of politics in Germany, but G.D. Baptists and their invented rules not even in the book.

            The zero net energy analysis of ethanol as fuel has been debunked for a long time. It neglects all byproducts and overcounts fuel and fertilizer. They should be using MTBE in gas, but only because it’s a tasteable taggant for leaking fuel tanks. It doesn’t contaminate wells, it lets you know if a well is contaminated.

    2. A few years ago (around here) there was a “100 miles” movement.
      Basically, eat only plants/animals indigenous to the area (within 100 miles) before colonization.
      I thought it was a nice concept, but that would definitely rule out a lot of plants here in southern Minnesota (I’m looking at you bananas!)

      Although rose hips could be used as a source of Vitamin C.

      1. There was a series about that, a small town talked into the 100 mile diet. So one couple stops being vegetarian becauee it didn’t fit the new diet.

        People who jump from one diet to the next seems a bigger problem.

        1. There I don’t agree, jumping from diet to diet shouldn’t be any more a problem than eating in the fashion most of us will – whatever is in the supermarket or as prepared by the take-away.

          The 100 mile diet as an idea sounds so good, once you take out the silly only native to the region part – if it grows well in the area and is a better source of nutrition denying it makes no sense long term. As an experimental archaeology demonstration its interesting to see what the folks in the area would have had, but its not sane to ignore good now locally available stuff as a general rule.

          Plus in the UK I’m not sure you could manage that 100 mile diet, at least if you define native as only the stuff we know for sure wasn’t brought here by people over the last 2000 odd years, I doubt there is enough true native plants to fill all the dietary requirements, and the seafood that might make up the difference is largely becoming by that definition non-native as the water conditions change, sealife being rather mobile.

          1. “Whatever is in the supermarket” is the same stuff all-year-round because it is being imported from all over the world, preserved and canned, or grown in a greenhouse. If you were truly to eat according to the local seasons within a 100 mile radius, you’d either eat a lot of canned and preserved foods, or you’d get seasonal deficiencies.

            My grandparents’ diet consisted mostly of bread, tubers, jammed and preserved berries and mushrooms, butter, milk, cheese, meat, fish, eggs. If you took away all the animal products, what you’re left with is jam on toast and pickled mushrooms, and potatoes with salted water for a gravy.

          2. Except you can’t really make jam/marmalade without gelatin, so you’d just get berries in sugar water. Agar-agar and other modern substitutes wouldn’t be available with the 100 mile rule, which would technically include refined sugar as well… so no jams either.

          3. >“Whatever is in the supermarket” is the same stuff all-year-round because it is being imported….

            My point exactly fad diets sourced from the supermarkets really don’t cause any extra problem, as they were going to stock everything anyway. And likely then throw half of it away because to stock every choice sufficiently means a vast oversupply of whatever turns out to be less popular this week…

  12. If they’re going to feed people vegan bilge, I predict difficulty in retaining volunteers. Oh, so subversive, complying with the dietary specifications promoted by every government, the UN, the media, and celebrities as the future of food. Stunning and brave.

    1. Yet again, how to say you’ve never been to en EU hacker camp without saying you’ve never been to an EU hacker camp.

      I’m no veggie, I grew up on a farm and like meat. But the Mecklenbergers did a great job of cooking awesome food that just happened to be vegan. I really enjoyed it, and you probably would have too.

    1. Years ago I read an article (Radio-Electronics magazine?) that proposed a multi-tap outlet for houses.
      It would supply low DC voltages to things that could use it, but also IIRC, had high voltage/amp supply also for those appliances (such as you mentioned) on demand.

      but yeah, rewire every house/outlet?

  13. Another thing that annoys me is the fallacious belief that all energy should be the same price all the time. Most homeowners in the US are accustomed to this because domestic rate plans have avoided demand pricing, hiding the realities of the grid behind oversimplified tariffs, and it’s led to some mindbogglingly unhealthy consumption habits.

    Real energy has _curves_. And dynamic pricing can make us use it accordingly.

    Once we get people accustomed to the energy price fluctuating throughout the day, we’ll need probably another decade for price-responsive appliances to surface a reasonable amount of innovation, and a decade beyond that for them to proliferate (white-goods appliances tend to last a long time!) enough to start to make a dent in the way we use energy.

    That’s much too slow. We need to start hacking old appliances with new controls.

    My 40-year-old Kenmore dryer with the mechanical knob may last yet another 40 years, but I need a box that I can plug it into which will automatically run it when energy is nice and cheap. Ditto for the clothes washer and dishwasher (thought these have electronic controls). Ditto with EV charging, though many EVs are already there, the other major energy consumers haven’t followed suit.

    (Side note, as solar proliferates, it’ll make sense to charge EVs during the day, which means PV-divert charge scheduling on EVSEs installed at workplaces, which is another social change, but I think it’ll snowball once a few high-profile examples emerge.)

    I’m from the dialup era, I don’t expect files to be available immediately. I start a download, I go do something else, I check back later and it’s probably done. The speed of my connection is all but irrelevant; I don’t need to pay for gigabit anything. Likewise with appliances, if I could just start the dishes or laundry and assume they’ll be done by morning, relegating the task to the background, then it’s immaterial when the appliance decides to run itself.

    When the process can be treated as background, impatience disappears. The thing is just magically done when I check later. And if that allows it to use energy when it’s plentiful, so much the better. But I don’t want to throw out my perfectly-functional appliances and create more waste to get those benefits. We must upgrade what exists.

    1. Ive been making energy “diverters” to turn on appliances (hot water heaters mainly) when I have sufficient surplus power to run them. That along wth some active monitoring and manual control of energy devices means for our family of 5 we have an average consumption of less than an average single person household in our area.

      I find old appliances are easier to control than newer ones as they usually have basic resistive elements and mechanical timers/controls which work well with retrofitting external controls – I can happily modulate my resistive hot water heater but a heat pump unit would fail rather promptly.

      Long ago I came to the realisation that the most efficient path is not necessarily the best path.

      1. If you don’t have a smart meter, the best trick is an electro-magnet on the wall behind the meter. Add wraps on the metal core one at a time or you will stop the meter permanently. Let the meter run during meter reader hours.

    2. “Another thing that annoys me is the fallacious belief that all energy should be the same price all the time.”

      Yeah, since California basically rules out off shore oil rigs, they should pay more for oil shipped in from other places.

    3. Price fluctuations for energy are only because the supply is mismatched with the demand. The actual cost of making energy remains more or less the same – you’re simply paying extra for scarcity – which is not a good thing economically, socially, or practically.

      1. To elaborate: the price of power on the spot market is defined by the most expensive source. If you’re missing 5% of the demand, the bidding wars start until you find that 5% at any price – and then all the rest get paid that rate or they would drop out.

        That means 95% of the power gets overpriced, and this is frequently abused. E.g. in California during the de-regulation episode, power companies restricted transmission capacities intentionally to drive up the prices. These days intermittent power generation is added intentionally to create price fluctuations with frequent under-supply events.

        Making consumers respond and jump by the power prices is the wrong solution to the issue.

  14. I personally would rather hack or engineer my own diet and lifestyle. Forget all that hypocritical “environmental” nonsense and the anti CO2 fascism, the reason you should think about your diet is because your current one is probably killing you and the biggest culprit is processed foods, including vegan options. Slow down, learn to cook, focus on fresh locally grown and seasonal produce, learn what a balanced diet really requires and if you eat meat put it last on the list and only consume it if you still have available calories left on your required energy allowance. Do that any you will find you rarely have good cause, or need, to consume meat other than a bit of fish perhaps. Stop trying to change the world, get your own act together first and stop kidding yourself that you have a right to impose your beliefs about the state of the world and what needs to be done about it on others, just provide them with access to knowledge and have enough respect for other humans to let them come to their own conclusions.

  15. The reason consumers think eco friendly versions of products are worse, is because they are. Not because they need to be mind you, just because marketing people are the worst. Look at LED bulbs for instance. If you buy a “45W” led bulb, and look at the lumen rating, it’s maybe 10% less than an actual 45W incandescent. So someone like my mom buys it, and says “these LED bulbs are dim”. Whereas when I buy one, I know to ignore that stupid wattage equivalent, so I can put “100W” led bulbs in my 25W fixtures and light up the room to searing brightness while using like 1/10 of the power. They’re also flickery, because they’re too cheap to include any filtering or smoothing circuitry, not because LED inherently flicker. If I could buy LED bulbs that were 5 times as much that didn’t flicker, I would, but it seems basically impossible to tell by looking at the boxes.

    1. You have a valid point. So much xxxx from China. Municipal lighting is in the same boat. There needs to be life of service standards for parts that make these worth putting in our civic fixtures. At the beginning of LED screw in lights they were going to nix the “equivalent” watt rating but caved into marketing.

    2. Another trick: Wattage and Lumen output of the bulb is listed by the LED spec sheet, not by the actual bulb. Result: the Lumen output is nominal for the first 10 seconds before the lamp heats up and the output drops by 30%.

  16. I think the answer to preserving the environment is not mass produced ultra-processed food substitutes. A better solution would be a cultural change and reduction in consumerism. Repair things when they break. Work less, buy only what you really need. Maintain a garden, and buy/trade food with your neighbors. Cook your own food and chat with friends in the evenings instead of going to wasteful bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues. Live a simpler life basically, and become less dependent on global supply chains and industrial production.

    So why does most media promote more industrialization as the answer, instead of less? The answer is obvious. The elites of the world profit massively off the industrial production/consumption cycle. They want us hustling at our factory jobs, earning just enough to survive on their mass produced junk food. Meanwhile they’re taking 90% of the value created for themselves.

    1. Good news, the environmental paradise, Venezuela, is accepting immigrants.

      At least 20% of the population would starve if they had to survive on their own ‘value created’. They live on ‘bread and circus’. Gonna be rough if things get ugly. Be armed.

    2. there is money in green tech. money leads to lobbying. which means subsidies and tax breaks to the green tech industry. which they spend on more lobbying. next thing you know you are eating crickets all so someone else can make a buck (which they then spend on filet mignon). whether or not the green tech is actually an improvement for the environment or consumer is irrelevant. much of it is opening yet another can of worms (like electric cars).

      you are better off putting a methane capture system on cattle barns such that you can remove the excess gas from the environment. you can then use that to power farm machinery or sell it. either is good for farmers. there are also biotech options, like a low methane output cow. but then the anti-gmo people will whine. i say let them eat crickets. gmo food stands to solve world hunger issues. you can adapt a crop to local climates rather than spend fuel shipping food from bread basket regions.

  17. Here’s a subversive idea: reduce the human population and we can use locally-manufactured incandescent bulbs, forever. No rare earth mining, no supply chains, no fake bacon. Just glass, copper, iron, and carbon, and a lot less people using them.

        1. No surprise you won’t, the way you talk or think it must be hard to find a partner for the process, anyway, I suppose.

          PS: See the demographic change. The problem are not the children, maybe.

          1. Either way satisfies your criteria.

            You shouldn’t reduce the population too fast, or it will cause an economic shock, which causes poverty, which causes people to switch the breeding and economic strategy for larger families rather than investments for the future.

        1. Apparently, the problem is similar to mad cow disease – so dont do as Hannibal Lecter did and eat the brain or nervous system. And always make sure the flesh is well cooked.

  18. I’m a bit confused about this post Jenny. Germany appears to be decarbonising rapidly and Russia’s war with Ukraine has only served to accelerate renewable goals (even if some coal plants have to reopen due to gas pipelines being closed).

    Brown coal is at only 15% (compared with 25% in 2000); other coal is 8% (vs 24% in 2000); zero carbon energy is 45% to 55% (vs 24% in 2000) despite the loss of nuclear.

    1. Germany consciously decided to overpay for electricity, because Pooting and the rest of the Rusky jolly time crew. It’s not about being green, it’s about not being ‘red’.

  19. Real subversion now isn’t being an establishment type green, its being a pro-nuclear freemarket capitalist libertarian. That doesn’t mean we think lignite should still be burnt in Germany (they should have been sensible and not panicked after Fukushima, afterall you don’t get tsunamis in central Europe), but we have no desire for vegan virture-signal foods when the environmental impact of chicken and pork are negligible compared to the harms that all manner of countries are perpetrating by using fossil fuels for their powergrids. A capitalist knows to focus on the big gains, so replacing fossil fuel powerplants with nuclear and renewables, getting hydrogen infrastructure to replace petrol pumps and getting steel and concrete manufactured in ways which don’t pump out vast quantities of CO2 byproducts from their reactionsmust be the priority. Lifestyle change based “CO2 savings” are diminishing returns of insignficant value but massive cost to quality of life.

  20. There is strong empirical evidence that what we eat has very large impact

    We’re not in an either or situation – we need both energy transition and food transition. And in both areas individual changes and system level changes are needed and they reinforce each other. Individuals can switch meals to plant based alternatives (start with one meal today and ramp it up going forward) and help push for regional/national/international policy change (scale back subsidies to animal ag, legislate against practices that cause harm and suffering to animals, increase mandatory veterinary controls of animal ag, cameras in slaughterhouses, climate impact food labelling, …).

    BTW check out the libertarian philosopher Michael Huemer’s “Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism”.

  21. I had a thought about counterintuitive energy savings…

    If you have an unheated external shed/shop and find it too cold. It might be more efficient to heat it by running your (already owned for other purposes) air compressor, to a bleed outside like maybe a hose with an inflator needle. Yes it’s not as great a heat pump as something designed to BE a space heating heat pump, but it is one. That is vs using an electric heater. Noise may be a concern of course. I am spitballing about 20 or 30% better than a heater. IDK if you get a bonus by doing everything air powered you can and the air exhausting in the shop, as it sucks heat back out with expansion, but there would be the inefficiency difference.

  22. “our LED lights have a bunch of electronics to bring the mains voltage down to LED voltage, all of which serves only to waste power and to shorten the lifetime of the device.”


    Jenny, what am I missing?

    If I saw this in some random social media post I would assume ignorance but not here. Is somebody marketing LED bulbs with linear regulators built in? Are they not actually using PWM which is pretty near 100% efficiency to handle the voltage issue? And if the line voltage was lower would that not actually be less efficient due to Ohm’s law?

    I do agree that marketing decisions shorten the lifetime of the bulbs which honestly being LEDs should last for decades. But that’s because companies under-rate and over-drive the LEDs because they want you to continue buying replacements. It’s not because running LED lights off of line voltage is a bad idea.

    Have you heard about the lights in Dubai?

    1. Where do you people find LED light bulbs with fancy regulators?

      All the ones I have bought locally (brand name stuff) have a simple capacitive dropper. There’s no current regulation other than the series capacitor.

      They are cheaply made (despite the high price.) Besides the crappy “regulator,” the wires are not welded or even soldered to the base. They are merely squeezed between the metal parts of the base and the plastic housing – when the bulb gets a little warm, they flicker on and off at random because they lose contact.

      I’ve tried expensive name brands. I’ve tried cheap stuff. I’ve ordered expensive bulbs and I’ve ordered cheap bulbs. All the ones that are made to fit standard sockets are crap.

      I’ve got three LED lights in the house that are good:
      – A 100 watt flood light. It has an enormous aluminum heat sink and a proper current regulator built int.
      – A light fixture in the bathroom. It has a rather large constant current power supply built in, with a bunch of LEDs on a large aluminum base plate. The LED board was custom made to fit the fixture. The power supply appears to be an OEM device that the light fixture manufacturet bought from a large suppliert.
      – A replacement for a 500 watt halogen bulb. It is much large than the original bulb, but it includes a proper constant current power supply. The whole thing is enormous, though it still fits in the lamp that originally housed the 500 watt halogen bulb. It works well – even the original dimmer functions.

      All the others are the cheaply made crap things sold at stupid high prices – because “LED.”

      1. There is usually a little chip that looks like a transistor, that is actually an IC chopper with a variable frequency. The capacitor is used as a ballast for the chopper, which lets varying amounts of current through by changing the chopper frequency and duty cycle.

        1. I know how they should work. I know enough about such things to be able to recognize them when I see them. There’s no current regulator in the ones I’ve disassembled. I’ve even seen photos of such things in LED bulbs that other people have bought.

          It is just that none of the ones I’ve bought locally or ordered has been built that way.

          I’ve intentionally bought the more expensive bulbs in the hopes of getting one with a proper circuit – no such luck. Expensive or cheap, I haven’t gotten a proper regulator in an LED bulb.

  23. Why is it that vegans are always trying to force you to see their way of doing things, refuse to accept other peoples right but yet complain when people dont respect theirs.

    Why is it vegans expect a menu to have vegan food on it, but no vegan restaurant ever served meat for those choosing an “alternative lifestyle” to vegans. I look forward to the day where a vegan is prosecuted for this discrimination…

    Why does most vegan food have to pretend to be something else?
    There is no such thing as vegan chicken, vegan sausage, vegan black pudding!!! but it’s all on sale with the words being abused and twisted beyond their actual meaning. Which is frankly dangerous when it comes to food safety.

    Because hey, some people are allergic to some of the crap that goes into vegan food, but many vegans think it’s ok not to say or know what they are really eating as long as it sounds like it is area, odd and expensive to transport via air freight.

  24. This reminds me of that Einstein quote, “We Cannot Solve Our Problems with the Same Thinking We Used When We Created Them.”

    Buckminster Fuller and the New Alchemy Institute were looking at how to “Think Different” back in the day, and today we have Hundred Rabbits, One Army (Precious Plastics), and Tamera for some examples. I think the hacker/maker community is really going to be where we see some of the most important solutions to climate change come from, but I might be biased!

  25. Tried some vegan-baconoid at a place in Vermont. It was actually pretty good, and I am a meat eater (happily). Based off of smoked carrot for the “meat”, I don’t know what they used for the “fat” portion, but it was yummy. Now you just have to get it to the price of bacon..

  26. > I come from a place where lignite wasn’t mined and which has mostly shut its coal-fired power stations

    Do you mean the UK? The same UK where they stopped using coal and instead started burning wood SHIPPED from the other side of the Atlantic?

    It strikes me as a bit cheeky to imply that the author comes from some kind of enlightened environmental utopia, when the truth is much grubbier.

    And it’s not “waste” wood or biomass that Drax burns either:

    Look, I get the point of the article, and I am trying to minimise my carbon footprint. I ride public transport, I enjoy locally sourced food, and I’ll happily eat the “vegetarian alternative.”

    But I think it’s really, really important to call out this sort of hypocrisy when we see it. Drax is just plain evil, and they are happily greenwashing their crimes and preaching about “biomass” despite their whole business model being based on lies. Don’t even get me started on their “carbon sequestration” nonsense, that’s not even a rounding error compared to their overall emissions.

    I am not advocating that individuals do nothing about climate change. I am just pointing out that we could all give up bacon for the rest of our lives and it will have zero effect unless we also start holding scumbags like Drax accountable for their actions. FFS, they named after a Bond villain!

    1. I’m no fan of what Drax are doing, but it isn’t like the UK has just replaced all its coal power with biomass. Since 2012 wind power has gone from an average of 2GW to 8.82GW and solar 0.14GW to 1.40GW in 2022. Coal has gone from 15.63GW in 2012 to 0.49GW in 2022 and biomass 0.24GW in 2012 to 1.71GW in 2022. There’s still a long way to go, but there has been a significant reduction in the use of thermal power plants. Many GW of offshore wind are under construction or in planning and everybody who can afford it is getting solar. Without some kind of big energy storage renewables won’t ever meet 100% of the country’s power needs, but getting to 70-80% by the end of the decade (gov target is 95%) doesn’t seem unrealistic.

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