Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Giant Anti-Hurricane Wall Around the Gulf of Mexico Would Pay For Itself

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 57 - like a hurricane

As Gulf Coast residents prepare to do battle with yet another tropical menace, a few questions may come to mind. For instance, why in this era of polio vaccines and internet pizza delivery have we not found a way to prevent hurricanes? I mean, they’re just large masses of condensed water vapor with some snazzy visual and sound effects.

Well, it’s not like science hasn’t tried. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, artificial attempts to dissipate hurricanes have included everything from dropping a tarp across the ocean to block evaporation to blowing the things to hell with nukes. Unfortunately, as hurricanes are made by God when He is really really angry, nothing that man has constructed can stand up to them.

Until now.

Instead of attempting to destroy or dissipate a hurricane, we should instead try to block or redirect them to locations nobody cares about. The simplest way to accomplish such a task would be to build a giant wall in the path of the hurricane.

Now I know what you’re thinking: What is Nick smoking today, and where can I get some? But I assure you that I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and I think an Anti-Hurricane Wall could help prevent trillions of dollars in property damage, not to mention countless lost lives.

The best place to start testing an Anti-Hurricane wall would likely be the Gulf of Mexico as it’s home to vital oil refineries and lots of people dumb enough to live below sea level. Here’s how an Anti-Hurricane Wall would work in the Gulf:

  1. Build a giant wall between Florida and Mexico. The wall would have holes near the bottom to allow sea traffic and dolphins to travel through it freely.
  2. The wall would be made of tough anti-hurricane materials such as plywood and bungee cords.
  3. When a hurricane reaches the wall, it would run into the wall and would—much like a person or rambunctious kitten impacting a wall—fall down and start crying or something.
  4. Eventually the hurricane would give up and go home or at least to some other country that can’t afford an Anti-Hurricane Wall.

See, isn’t that simple? Of course, building an enormous Anti-Hurricane Wall the size of the Gulf of Mexico would present a few challenges:

  • The wall would need to be about 500 miles long if built from, say, Key Largo, Florida to Cancun, Mexico.
  • The wall would need to be about five miles high as that’s about how high the outer portions of a hurricane tend to reach. Sure, the eye of a hurricane can reach almost twice that height, but if the surrounding part of the storm can’t get by the wall, neither can the eye.
  • Building a 2,500 square mile wall in the middle of the ocean could be quite expensive. Even if we used some 10% off coupons at Home Depot, it would likely cost around, oh, $100 billion for the 70 billion square feet of plywood and other materials needed to build this thing. But considering that Hurricane Katrina did over $80 billion in damage by itself, this thing could pay for itself in a couple of years.
  • Insurance companies could probably be convinced to pay for some or most of the wall as they’d stand to save the most from blocking hurricanes from making landfall.

Of course, there are a few negative consequences to building the Great Wall of the Gulf of Mexico. For example, I don’t think Cuba would see much sunlight ever again, and they might not like that (especially since they’d be on the wrong side of the wall). Plus some people would argue that the only wall we should be building in that region is across the U.S. border with Mexico, though I would argue that hurricanes are at least a little more dangerous than illegal immigrants. Oh, and heaven forbid a hurricane managed to knock down the wall; the ensuing tidal wave would likely wipe out the entire Gulf Coast, but let’s not dwell on the negatives any longer.

Depending on the effectiveness of the Gulf Coast Anti-Hurricane Wall, I would later recommend constructing one off the U.S. East Coast since, well, that’s where I live and I think I deserve giant protective walls as much as any Texan or Louisianian. So start calling your senators and representatives today and ask for Anti-Hurricane Walls before it’s too late. Oh, and let them know that plywood’s on sale at Lowes this week: buy 5,000,000, get 5,000,000 free!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Solar Power Sucks: Cut Your Power Costs Up to 90 Percent With Inexpensive Home Wind Turbines

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

now if we could just figure out how to get earth, fire, water, and heart...

Wasn’t it just over a year ago I was saying that everyone should be using solar power because it’s so awesome and cheap?

Yeah, strike that.

More than a year later and there’s been no significant drop in the cost of solar panels and other equipment you need to get your home off the local power grid and running completely on natural, wonderful sunshine. I’m sorry, but when it costs $32,000 to install a solar power system, I think I’m going to stick with writing checks to the electric company for about $50 a month.

And while I don’t necessarily mind writing a $50 check to Pepco each month, I’m running low on checks, and a check reorder is expensive! Like, 12 bucks! Plus shipping! That means it’s once again time to reconsider alternative energy sources. And what’s the Punny Money energy du jour? Why, it’s Mother Nature’s other natural power source: moving air.

While I was sitting at home last night listening to winter winds pound our home at up to 50 miles an hour, it occurred to me that I could be running our whole home off those gusts right now if I had a turbine sitting on my roof. A quick trip to the internet later and I was pricing wind turbines and accessories. Here’s what I found:

Compare that to a solar panel which could set you back $80 with just enough power to run your night light.

So what’s stopping everyone from running out and slapping wind turbines on their homes right now? Not a dang thing. Except for these five things:

  1. Equipment and installation. Unfortunately you can’t just plug any of the above turbines into your home and start running your dishwasher and A/C off wind power. You’ll need to purchase separate equipment, like converters and wiring, and probably have all of it professionally hooked into your home’s electrical system. This could add a couple thousand dollars to the cost of getting your wind power system off the ground.
  2. Building permits. Many areas won’t allow their residents to install even tiny wind turbines because they look silly or for another reason we’ll cover in a minute. Because you’ll need to place your generator high, you might need to install a tower or large pole, and most places require you to obtain a special, hard-to-get permit when adding parts to your home that exceed certain height restrictions.
  3. They can be noisy. Small wind turbines are a lot quieter now than they used to be, but one that’s big enough to power your home will probably make at least as much noise as a well-tuned clothes washer. So unless your neighbors already do their laundry on their roof, you might get some objections to the noise levels coming from your turbine.
  4. They’re still not that cheap. Sure, you may be able to power an energy-efficient home off that $5,500 model, but it will still take you several years to recoup the costs of installation. Fortunately the typical wind generator lasts 20 years with little or no maintenance, and you’d be able to make most of that money back if you sold your home.
  5. You need wind. Here’s the kicker for about 70% of Americans: the average wind turbine won’t spin in anything less than 8-10 mile-per-hour winds, and you won’t reach peak energy production without sustained winds of 20 mph. That said, even if you go most of the year with just a gentle breeze running along your sidewalk, you’d be surprised how much the wind can pick up just 50 feet above your home. That’s why turbines are much more effective the higher you can install them.

Unfortunately for us, our off-the-grid energy possibilities are pretty much nil thanks to an abundance of trees (no solar power, lower wind power potential), lack of steady wind (no wind power), and retarded local governance (so no building permits for a 100-foot-high turbine). I guess that means I better tell the hamsters to get back in their wheels.

(For more information on residential wind power, visit the American Wind Energy Association’s Small Wind website.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ten Reasons Why Global Warming Is Great!

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

something we should fear more than global warming: intergalactic giants picking up our planet and eating it

I’d like to step back from personal finance for a moment and discuss a problem that has been dominating the headlines lately: global warming. On the outside, global warming seems to be the greatest threat mankind has ever faced—worse even than the threat of nuclear war, the Black Plague, or those creepy aliens from the movie Independence Day. The predictions are grim: tens of millions of people will drown very slowly as if they were walking into the deep end of the pool over the course of 20 or 30 years, ground animals will grow confused and start living in trees, and food crops we use to fuel our cars will wither and die.

But those of us who are truly educated and have perhaps baked our brains too long in the gloriously harmful rays of the sun know the truth: global warming is awesome. You could just take my word for it, or you could consider the following information before you trade in your SUV for a “fuel efficient” tricycle.

  1. Most of the globe is actually really cold. It wasn’t until relatively recently that the Earth finally thawed out from a long and chilly ice age. While snow cones were plentiful, so were frostbite and school closings. Much of the world still deals with sub-zero temperatures on a daily basis. I’m sure you don’t hear folks in Siberia complaining about global warming.
  2. No more snow removal. How does an average high of 60 degrees on January 1st sound to you folks up in New England? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Sure, a few people down by the equator would have to put up with 180+ degrees in summer, but there would be plenty of room for them to relocate in Canada. (In all seriousness, global warming would mainly affect winter temperatures in the north, so Mexico won’t become a hot tamale.)
  3. Global warming would only kill off the unpopular animals. Does the world really need polar bears? Sure, Coca-Cola would have to find a new wintertime mascot, but plenty of Northerners would appreciate not being eaten by these monstrous teddy bears of death. As for penguins, I think their appeal is on the way out thanks to some crappy penguin movies the last few years.
  4. Santa Claus will be fine. The CIA is reportedly helping Santa Claus relocate from the North Pole to a small Caribbean island as we speak. Expect a tanner fat man to wiggle his way down your chimney by Christmas 2010.
  5. No more droughts! At its current rate, global warming would increase precipitation 7% by the end of the century. Farmers and water park operators rejoice!
  6. Lower heating bills would more than offset higher A/C costs. If we traded just five cold winter degrees for five warmer ones, we’d run air conditioning a bit more and heating a lot less. All that heating fuel we save could go to powering our cars, helping augment the awesome power of global warming even more!
  7. No more flu season. Contrary to popular belief, the flu is not transmitted by “cold” or snowmen. It spreads when people come and stay in close contact indoors—something you get a lot of during cold winter months. Warmer winters could save tens of thousands of lives each year from the flu and other diseases.
  8. Plants love global warming. No, the world will not die of famine if global warming has its way. Warmer winters would mean longer growing seasons. And all the carbon dioxide supposedly responsible for global warming? Plants will eat it right up and become stronger and healthier.
  9. So what if we lose a few coastal cities. The economic benefits of warmer winters and nights would far outweigh the costs of combating tiny rises in sea levels. With the extra precipitation making our deserts more inhabitable, we could just shift all the U.S. cities inward half a mile each. Toasty!
  10. Bikini season 10 months a year. Aww yeah.

So before you start picketing your local manufacturing plants and chaining yourself to trees marked for deforestation, give global warming a chance. Together, we can create a warmer, sexier planet for all of our future generations.