MANILA, JULY 16, 2008
(STAR) DE RERUM NATURA By Maria Isabel Garcia - Burdened like everyone else by the rising cost of fuel and food prices, I began to have tech fatigue. I looked at all the “stuff” now which are supposed to make our lives easier, make us do many things at once, get a lot more information (at high resolution at that), and for some reason, I do not really feel more alive. I just feel I have stuff and I feel a bit of disdain.

It did not help reading the Guardian last July 3. A feature there revealed that the demand for flat TVs has increased the production of a gas called nitrogen trifluoride which is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in pushing global warming. In fact, nitrogen trifluoride stays in the atmosphere for over 500 years. It is not even in the list of greenhouse gases because we never foresaw that we would even produce that gas from stuff. I do not own a flat TV so I am passing that guilt on to those who do.

In a far more troubling report that leaked to the Guardian last July 4, I found out that the rush to biofuels is what drove food prices to rise 75 percent. It came from an internal World Bank report. This was a far cry from the three percent claim of the US government when it pushed for biofuels. This rise on food prices has apparently put 100 million people below the poverty line. Unless we are really able to grow these biofuel sources stacked one layer on top of the other, they would still compete for land that is otherwise devoted to food production. It seems that in the frenzied rush to produce more fuel, we in effect sacrificed at least 100 million human beings. In an age of so-called high computational ability, we seem to miss out on the values that really matter.

Some people will say that maybe the solution is not to read too much news because what you do not know will not hurt you, but that is what is sad about not reading science news — what you do not know will still hurt you — anyway. And ignorance of science news could even make the problem worse. So just when I have been thinking that we are gravely fumbling in our efforts to save us and the planet from ourselves, I came across materials that temporarily interrupted this spiral into the depths of technology-bashing. It is sort of like when you are rushing from one thing to another in your rubber shoes and your shoelaces get untied. Unintentionally, you get to breathe and think and look around while re-lacing your shoestrings.

I did notice some things worth sharing. The bad news is, there is not much happening in the proportion required for us to see the light in this fuel crisis but the good news — we found light in places where there usually isn’t any.

Think of the club scene. In fact, I never thought I would ever address members of the club scene in my column but in these times when we look everywhere to solutions to sources of energy, I am willing to address anyone who could be of help. In the Guardian last June 19, a club set to open in July in London claimed that it would harness all that energy from dancers pounding on the dance floor. The club said that if their calculations prove in order, 60 percent of the energy required by their club would come from the dancing clubbers. They took their cue from an operating club in the Netherlands that has a dance floor made of crystals called “piezoelectric crystals” which, when subjected to pressure, such as dancing feet, will produce a current. But on the counter side, I wonder how much energy is consumed by the cosmetic industry to keep the club crowd looking young? How much feet pounding would that amount to?

In our own local setting, we have such generous displays of movement whether from elicited cheer from the audience or from dance numbers in noontime variety shows. Maybe we can hook them up to machines that could harness all that movement to produce electrical currents to offset our power requirements. There are gyms in the US that have linked exercise machines on to televisions. This means that if you do not move, you do not watch. I seriously want to suggest this in the gym I go to where the young people turn on multiple televisions to full volume because they cannot hear them enough since they are also hooked on to their iPods at the same time. I am not a parent so I would not know whether it would be fair to only give teenagers the gadgets they can power with the amount of moving they do. The kids get exercise and you the parent can synch your cashflow as well. I also think that if we could run turbines every time a young person says “awesome” or “cool” or link all other movements from youthful energy to run turbines, we would truly be able to say that the youth runs our future.

Even the friendly skies are extending their handshakes to flying vessels other than airplanes that eat up fuel. This week, in fact, the skies had a flying lawn chair, on which sat Kent Couch. The lawn chair was attached to 150 big helium balloons which took Couch flying from Oregon to Idaho for 11 hours. But hey, he did it with only his BB guns to land (yes, he shot the balloons in the order he thought would land him alive.). He did not particularly link his unusual choice of flight vessel to the rising fuel prices and he claimed that this was a boyhood dream of his. But nonetheless, the timing could not have been better. His wife said that she can surely say that there has never been a dull moment being married to Kent. I think she is an extremely polite wife.

But if you think lawn chair flights are too solitary for your taste, you may want to consider dirigibles — those torpedo-shaped vessels — that are now revisiting the skies, notwithstanding the tragedy of the Hindenburg Zeppelin that blew up over 70 years ago in New Jersey. Dirigibles are lighter than air — filled with light air like helium or hydrogen. There are operational dirigibles now in Europe that are used for sightseeing and to lift some kinds of cargo. It is quite sensitive to weather so until scientists and engineers figure out how to make them more versatile and able to endure changing weather, you still cannot book a flight on it online.

This is what my own tech fatigue has led me to find out. Maybe you who may be feeling the same way could find other things that would help us cope with the fuel crisis. Have your adventure but whatever you do, beware of the fellow who claims he has invented an engine that runs on water but that he will not share the secret because OPEC countries are out to kill him. I have encountered him since the 80s, then the 90s, and I hear him resurrecting again. His myth is the one thing that seems to run on nothing at all.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved