The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Burnt Orange and Green

A typical Texas intersection
(I'm not exaggerating quite as much as you think I am,
there are literally dozens of intersections on this scale in and around the five biggest cities):

Update on the image above: I should also point out for the non-Texan reader that Texas "urban" (I use the term in its loose southwestern sense) expressways are typically six lanes wide, and paralleled by two-lane one-way commercial streets for a total of ten lanes in four distinct paths. Where two of these expressways cross, it is a requirement that each of the eight crossing paths not only continue but have a path to each of the others for a total of 64 paths; of which twenty-four (the four right turns and the four U turns on the service roads, and all crossings from an express path to an express path) are expected to be unencumbered by stops. In order that I not get too acclimated to this nonsense I insist on calling the U-turns "Texas U-Turns".

What you see in the picture is the canonical intersection between two large Texas roads. Similar structures are being built and planned daily to replace that hideous inconvenience, the traffic light. For instance, there is currently a vast project to eliminate the embarassment of the possibility of as many as three stops on the stretch of Highway 183 between the airport and I-35. Clearly an expenditure in the neighborhood of tens of millions of dollars to replace a traffic light is a wise expenditure of funds, which may explain the state of the Texas school system. Not to mention the bike routes. Or not. I'm new here. Who the hell am I to say?

On the plus side my commute to work will only take seven minutes, provided I own a car.

Morning Edition, November 26, 2007 · Texas emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other state. And if Texas were a country, it would be the seventh-largest carbon dioxide polluter in the world. More...

Although second in population to California by a wide margin, Texas has higher emissions.

Texas has a much higher per capita carbon emission rate than other large states, but that is because emissions in mining and refining are attributed to the state with the facility, though they should be charged to the end user of the energy. It's awfully inefficient here and in some circles conservation is actually frowned upon. Yet it's not quite as bad as the statistics indicate.

Texas somehow is just an energy nexus. After all that coasting on oil wealth, and the weird Enron incident, now it turns out we are at the continental sweet spot for wind energy, and vast windfarms are sprouting on the high plains.

This proves there's no justice, I suppose.

A related NPR story goes a long way toward explaining the Texas aesthetic.
Wind energy is transforming the landscape here. Look in nearly any direction from Roscoe and you can see the white towers of wind turbines rising into the cerulean sky like giant candlesticks. The sight of rotating white blades on a distant mesa is now as common as bobbing pump jacks.

Although people in other parts of the nation say the 400-foot-tall structures are unsightly, people around Roscoe have a different view.

"My wife and I talked about this the other day. We were coming in from church, and she said, 'You know, at first I really thought they were kind of trashy looking,'" says Daylon Althof, a farmer who has one turbine going up on his land. "But she said, 'The more I see these going up, they're kind of beautiful because we know what they're going to provide for the economy around here.'"
I always have found them beautiful.


jules said...

Japan is just the same, except in each little triangles of dust in between the roads, we have a city.

Should we really be measuring how we rape the planet only in terms of CO2 output?

We make about half the CO2 per person but, with a much smaller population we use about the same amount of concrete as the USA!

AdamW said...


Michael Tobis said...

Jules, are you sure?

I have heard that the US is about 1% pavement. The US is 26 times larger than Japan. Is a quarter of the surface area of Japan paved?

Even assuming a per capita basis, which gives you back a factor of a bit under 2.5, you'd be claiming that ten percent of the surface of Japan is paved. At least that's not inconsistent with Wikipedia but I still am having some trouble believing it.

James Annan said...

It's not roads, but all sorts of construction - a large part of which is political pork. Buildings (of which 99% are concrete) are torn down and rebuilt on a 25year cycle, and there is a huge amount of "disaster prevention" aka concreted hillsides, river banks.

James Annan said...

I forgot to mention tetrapods

Michael Tobis said...

In Texas it's just roads.

Michael Tobis said...

That's Galveston. The road you see is called "Seawall" and it is atop the three meter wall that protects Galveston from hurricane surges. Below that you see sand periodically trucked in at considerable expense to simulate a sandy beach.

Tetrapods would not be tolerated as they would spoil the delightful aesthetics of the scene.

Note this is the first image of Galveston to come up on Google images, and it came up on a promotional travel site.

The very superficial nature of the resemblance of this scene to a natural subtropical sandy beach doesn't seem to be as striking to others as it is to me.