Uncanny Los Angeles
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Uncanny Los Angeles

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A trip through an alternative energy past that really existed.

A trip through an alternative energy past that really existed.

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  • I don’t think we know our technology very well. Or understand how we socially engineer costs, choosing which pieces have to be paid by society and which by the company.
  • Oil and gas finds Pipeline buildouts California has never been a coal state Energy abundance assumption
  • System plus corporate bad actors Energy efficiency in transportation was not the point Automobile Affordances
  • System plus corporate bad actors Energy efficiency in transportation was not the point Automobile Affordances
  • System plus corporate bad actors Energy efficiency in transportation was not the point Automobile Affordances
  • System plus corporate bad actors Energy efficiency in transportation was not the point Automobile Affordances

Uncanny Los Angeles Uncanny Los Angeles Presentation Transcript

  • Uncanny Los Angeles A trip through an alternative energy past that already existed
  • Los Angeles, 1857
  • Los Angeles, 1857
    • Horse
    • Human muscle
    • Wind
    • Sun (Agriculture)
  • Los Angeles, 1907
    • Key moment in the city’s energy story
      • Coal/manufactured gas in use
      • Some automobiles
      • Oil and natural gas are near at hand
      • But a constellation of other energy technologies are already in use
  • Monrovia
    • Day and Night solar hot water heater
    • LARY, PE
    Electric Rail of L.A.
  • The Electric Railways
  • California Power and Light
  • California Power and Light
    • California Light and Power
      • 1903
  • Reynolds Wave Motor
  • The Wave Motor Vs. The Airplane
  • Wave Motor Vs. the Airplane “ If God had intended that man should fly he would have given him wings… The airship business is a ‘fake’ and has been since it was started two hundred years ago… Never has the human mind so persistently evaded the issue, begged the question, and ‘wrangling resolutely with the facts,’ insisted upon dreams being accepted as actual performance.” --REAR ADMIRAL GEORGE W. MELVILLE Chief Engineer of the U.S. Navy, 1901 "Probably no other single subject, save that of navigation of air, have so much thought and energy been expended as upon the conservation and utilization of the power exerted upon our sea-coasts by the force of waves.” -- MCBRIDE’S MAGAZINE, 1903
  • Why Old Green Tech Is More Than a Curiosity The line between absurdity and breakthrough is hard to see. The initial choices between technologies are usually marginal. “ Old” and “New” technologies happily coexist.
  • Who Killed the Electric Railway? General Motors! “ The electric streetcar… did not die a natural death: General Motors killed it.” -Bradford Snell Bribes, WalMart-style supply chain strong arming, direct purchases of railways to destroy them. Progress! Rail service was a bad monopoly. People wanted to live in the ‘burbs. Greater transportation flexibility. Traffic in downtown core. The car was a better technology.
  • Who Killed the Electric Railway? Technological change happens through people and organizations, not through some mystical zeitgeisty process. Neither group recognizes there is no inherent reason for either railways or automobiles to win. Both represent different kinds of progress. That’s because Progress, with a capital P, isn’t real.
  • Who Killed the Electric Railway? “ It’s what happened” becomes “ It was what was supposed to happen” or “It had to happen.” Technological momentum has a way of erasing the past, of making us forget that there were alternatives, and that decisions had to be made. Contingency starts to seem inevitable.
  • All technology is social technology. Apple mattered. The details, the context, the marketing, the specific embodiment of an idea made material matters. Users co-create products, too.
  • Los Angeles 1957 The very first electric power was fed onto the grid from a reactor at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.
  • Learning from Nuclear “ The bottom line is that there was no compelling economic case for large public or private investments in commercial nuclear power systems in the 1950s or 1960s.” Steve Cohn, Too Cheap To Meter But there were social reasons: Progress! The Technological Sublime!
  • Learning from Nuclear There were scientific reasons: Can we do it?
  • Learning from Nuclear There were security reasons: Cold War!
  • Learning from Nuclear There were corporate reasons: Nuclear First Mover Advantage Westinghouse, 1973: “Between now and the year 2000, the potential return to Westinghouse, just assuming it maintains its present share of the reactor market, could be $300 billion .”
  • Voting on Our Technological Laws Don’t fear the spreadsheet. Social engineer cost. We should decide what the public pays. Small changes in priorities can lead to big shifts. “ The paper-clip is ubiquitous not because it is an earth-shatteringly important technology… There are many ways of holding paper together: pin it, staple it, punch holes and secure it with ‘Treasury tags,’ use Sellotape, put it in a ring-bind or other sort of folder, or bind it into a book. We use paper-clips so much because they are, for many uses, marginally better than the alternatives, and we know this.”
  • The Breakthrough Is Underway Energy priorities have already shifted. Environmentalism has a future-oriented option. A green tech lobby is coming into being.