Southern Yellow Pine and private jets

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, on building energy-efficient homes.

You build a home out of a type of wood that keeps the temperature constant without air conditioning or heaters. The miracle wood in this category is Southern Yellow Pine. As for renewable resources, more Southern Yellow Pine trees are planted each year than are used. I’m told this is the only tree with this benefit. The Southern Yellow Pine has a resin inside that melts and freezes at 71 degrees F., a very comfortable temperature for humans. The chemical actions of melting and freezing work to balance the temperature. If it’s a hot day, some small amount of the resin melts (it takes a huge amount of energy to melt a tiny amount) and the melting process pulls heat from the surroundings, from the home. When it gets colder at night, the resin-wood emits heat as it freezes.

Read the whole interview. Woz is taking a technological approach to climate climate and energy. He believes that while technology created these problems, it can also get us out of them. Contrast this approach to Jim Kunstler, who thinks quite the opposite.

This has been the heart of my beef with the rosy future crowd. Energy and technology are not the same thing, not interchangeable or substitutable. If you run out of one (energy), you can’t just plug in the other (technology).

Kunstler says, no matter what we do and no matter how many alt and renewable energy sources we create, that the coming energy shortages (combined with global warming) will mean drastic lifestyle changes for everyone.

His argument is echoed by the recent protests against Heathrow Airport expansion plans and also against the larger issue of carbon emissions by jets. Some of the more militant protestors want jet flights within Britain to be emergency only while others attack Leonardo DiCaprio for doing a documentary about climate change while flying around the planet in a private jet.

Me, I think Wozniak and the technophiles are correct.  Technology will have to get us out of this because if it doesn’t, we’re all screwed. So, rather than ban jets and curtail flying, we need to create jets with greatly reduced carbon emissions. And to use that approach in all facets of dealing with climate change and peak oil.


  1. I think they’re both right. You can’t replace enery with technology, but you can use technology to change the way you live. This is a great example. Once you have a house made with the proper material, you don’t need to heat or cool it as much as before. Once natural gas and/or oil start to run out, I’d much rather be in one of these homes than one that relies on a gas furnace to keep it warm!

    Tech won’t solve all the problems, and yes the american lifestyle will have to change soon. But if you start making small smart changes now, it will be less of a leap when the energy runs out. I’d much rather jump from a second story window than a 10 story high-rise given the choice.

  2. My understanding of Kunstler is that the technological innovations will not get us seamlessly through the initial collapse. There may be some great ideas out there. However, look how much trouble it takes to get a wind farm going. So many people just don’t believe we have a real problem on our hands, and by the time they figure this out the oil/economic crash will have occurred. That’s going to be the wake up call for most people. Then there will finally be a big demand to get these alternative technologies going, and who knows if they can at that point. This wood sounds great, but it’s only going to help people building new homes. (See financial markets for that sorry state of affairs.) Steve Wozniak does not have the same economic restraints as most people. So good for him, but otherwise, it’s a drop in the bucket.

    Sorry to be negative, but I have to agree with Kunstler.

  3. Me, too. We’re still thinking in terms of minor reductions in usage. CFLs, for example, will typically help a household reduce its electric consumption by about 5%. It’s a good start, but only a start. To make a real impact on global climate change and energy consumption, we are talking about real lifestyle changes– which will cause real inconveniences based on today’s expectations. And we need big changes sooner rather than later.

    The fact is we have a growing world population AND growing per-capita world energy consumption. No matter how many CFLs we buy (or how many McMansions are built with southern pine), that trend will continue until we make a serious effort to reduce both population growth AND per-capita consumption. The former is both touchy and an area of vague responsibility, but the latter is squarely in our court, since the U.S. uses more energy than anyone else.

    I don’t mean to discount small changes– they are necessary, but not sufficient. The big changes will come, with or without our cooperation. We’ll like it better of we start incorporating them now, than if we wait for nature to do it for us. And yes, technology can help– but it’s not enough: we’re going to have to burn a lot less energy, period.

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