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David LePoireRSS Feed of this column.

Dave explores the connections between energy, the environment, and technology. He currently works at a U.S. national laboratory on a variety of environmental science and homeland security projects... Read More »

The energy from those Russian warheads I feared as a child is coming to me right now. However, it is coming at a much slower and more controlled rate than I had originally feared. In fact, that energy is lighting the office and allowing me to write this. In regions with nearby nuclear power plants, such as near Chicago, about half of the electricity generation is from material that was originally in Russian nuclear weapons. Those warheads probably were once targeted for the U.S., but soon after the Cold War ended, the U.S. and Russian Federation agreed to a program, Megatons to Megawatts, to reduce the nuclear warhead stockpile and convert the excess Russian weapons material (highly enriched uranium) into fuel for U.S. electricity producing nuclear reactors.
Energy use and environmental sustainability are deeply entwined. The impact of environmental degradation has been an important factor in the development and decline of civilizations. It has been suggested that many agricultural societies collapsed by overextending their reach for resources, including energy. Most of the case studies focused on agricultural societies because of their simplicity relative to industrialized societies.
For most of human history, technology changed very little during a person’s lifetime. Certainty, their life was not constant with the hard agricultural life being interrupted by war, disease, and famine. However, very few new technologies would come into their life. In contrast, my grandparents saw tremendous change throughout the 20th century as planes, cars, electricity, radio, and computers enter during their lives. Politically, the U.S. grew from a minor player to a world leader. Socially, many rights were obtained. In my life, I have also experienced rapid change, but it seems a bit different than my grandparents’.

For example, the biggest change is the way computers have grown to dominate many products and processes. But why do I have a computer now?