Friday, 24 April 2009

Stop Looking for that Cure All, its like the Holy Grail

Stop Looking for that Cure All, its like the Holy Grail, be nice if it existed, but it doesn't.

New Scientist has an interesting article about waste gasification technology.

A lot of the article is devoted to potential issues with the technology, which need to be addressed, but the reaction to those problems is troubling:

These troubles have tainted the reputation of gasification - and, by association, plasma gasification - ever since.
Nevertheless, a newspaper article by Cahill, based in part on his studies of emissions from the smouldering remains of the World Trade Center in New York - which he says are "eerily similar" to those from gasification plants - plus a strongly worded editorial by Saff, had a direct impact on two proposals for high-profile commercial plasma gasification plants in the US. A plant in St Lucie, Florida, has been scaled back significantly, partly in response to environmental concerns, and plans for a similar plant in Sacramento, California, have been delayed indefinitely.

Pick any proposed technology, and you will find detractors. If a group can get enough attention, they can threaten the existence of the technology itself.

Modifying a law of physics somewhat, we should realize the following rule. Every action has consequences. Those consequences impact something or somebody. Hell, even inaction can have consequences.

It is important to be aware of the consequences, but focusing on all of them is letting the tail wag the dog. Or not seeing the forest for the trees, pick your metaphor.

I agree with the conclusion at the end of the article,
"If there is a market for recyclables, we should recycle as much as is practicable and not take resources from our great-grandchildren," he says. "But if waste can't be recycled, it has an energy value. And the more energy you can generate [from it], the better."

Lets not lose sight of the problem here, we have a waste issue. But its not the kind of problem where one solution, one cure all, one panacea will fix it. That's why we have a problem now; our one solution in the past was to dispose of everything in the dump.

Our future waste management must include managing packaging at production, recycling and reusing where we can, composting of organics and dealing with whatever is left over. Waste gasification offers tremendous potential for dealing with "what's leftover", lets not throw out an opportunity just because it doesn't solve all our problems. Break them down and deal with them one at a time.

PS I hope I need not point out that if gasification does prove to have massive issues, than we shouldn't use it. But we have to use a calm evidence based approach here. Being afraid of change or the consequences is not the solution. Embrace the change, because its something we need to do.

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