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Wild Ideas

Green Freedom:

(category: science,environment)

Wild Idea: There are only two ways to look at the Green Freedom discovery at Los Alamos. Either it will turn out to be a substantial part of our energy future... or it will turn out to be wrong. As a scientist, I can say the concept does indeed look like good science. Basically, given a source of electricity (i.e. a nuclear power plant) you can take in CO2 and water and produce gasoline, aviation fuel, and other 'fossil' fuels. That's right: given water, air, and electricity, you can make gasoline. The Los Alamos scientists who invented the concept say that given a nuclear power plant, the gasoline would cost just $4.60 per gallon. It's already more expensive than this in Europe. As the oil peak approaches, prices will certainly get this high in America as well.

Why this is significant: though it won't be easy, solar cells, windmills, geothermal, hydroelectric, and nuclear power plants can produce enough energy to run the American (and worldwide) economy without resort to fossil fuels. But this energy will come in the form of electricity. That's great for our homes and factories, but not for our transportation system. Yes, in theory we could make all our cars and trucks (though not our airplanes) battery powered. But enough batteries to make your car go 300 miles will weigh a whole lot more than a full tank of gas. It would be very expensive to convert all our gas stations to rapid battery-charge locations. Batteries are heavy, unsupported by current infrastructure, poisonous, and sometimes prone to explode. By contrast, gasoline carries far more energy per unit weight, a massive infrastructure already exists for delivering it, and we already have vast experience dealing with its own issues of toxicity and flamability. Green Freedom could give us carbon-neutral gasoline. And, even more significantly, aviation fuel: even if we someday get battery powered semis, we'll never have battery powered transcontinental jets.

The Green Freedom technology is only part of the solution, and maybe the easier part at that: the problem of getting the electricity to start with remains. But the oil will run out, and (I hope) we'll have enough sense not to tear apart all our mountains trying to supplement it with coal. We'll be forced to come up with carbon neutral power plants simply because we will run out of fossil fuel carbon. The Green Freedom concept should then allows us to keep our tranportation economy going far more cheaply than any other option, and with no environmental downside at all.

Simplifying Legal Codes:

(category: politics)

Wild Idea: Set a maximum number of words that can be present in the entire body of United States Federal law. Each state should also set a maximum number of words for the entire body of state laws, and for the additional laws of city municipalities within the state. All limits should be set far below the current number of words contained in the different bodies of laws. The laws would then be brought into compliance over a period of a few years by revoking outdated, useless, or harmful laws, and rendering helpful laws more straightforward and concise.

Why this is Necessary: The U.S. Congress passes thousands of pages worth of legislation every year, some of which the lawmakers themselves don't read. State legislatures are similar. City municipalities pass additional regulations. All this results in a volume and complexity of laws so great that no one can know them all.

This has several bad results. First, would-be law abiding citizens who want to launch a new business, aid a homeless person, go on a relief trip to a disaster area, or take their kids hiking in the woods inevitably find themselves violating some law or regulation. This saps their initiative. Things that would be good for society in general and the economy in particular don't happen because people are afraid of breaking laws. If the people are determined, say, to start a new business, they may do it anyway, but the effort required to learn of and comply with relevant legislation draws energy and money away from the main task. Even in this best case, this limits their ability to contribute to the economy and national productivity. In the worst case, they give up or go out of business.

Complex laws also make for injustice. Everyone is supposed to be equal before the law, but if the law is so complex that almost anyone can be shown to be in violation of some of it, then it is those who are scrutinized who get in trouble. Rather than impartially punishing those who cause major problems in society, and leaving everyone else in freedom, the law becomes a fickle thing to be turned against anyone unpopular with those who have authority and influence.

Finally, laws so complex that no one can reasonable keep from violating some of them breed a general contempt of the law. The concept of a law-abiding citizen fades as all citizens realize they must inevitably break some laws and regulations. To win back our respect, laws must become simpler and less numerous.

Under Construction: there should be more and better organized content here later.