Leonardo di Caprio mentions ur shameful Barrier Reef devastation and we act like its a bad thing. Like tourism is our biggest issue here? What about truth? What about climate change?
A new solar roads project shows what we all know. We can't wait for governments to make this call. It's time to act. A people’s revolution is required. Democracy is failing us. So far, smugness and stupidity seem a more likely sinkhole for the democratic experiment than the bloodshed and tyranny that George Washington predicted, but if climate change really gets going it could still come to that. Democratic governments are abject moral cowards. Like bad parents they yield to our demands before we even voice them.
Tony Abbott is a particular embarrassment, unilaterally tripling our carbon emissions target while US President Barack Obama reduces America’s by a third. New South Wales Premier Mike Baird also reveals a dangerous mix of expedience and ideology, selling filthy public power stations to fund even filthier roads. As if roads could end congestion; as if roads were the solution, not the problem.
It seems we’re stuck with this knuckle-dragging devotion to old fuels and technologies while other countries welcome and celebrate change. So perhaps it’s time to sidestep government and vote with our credit cards.
Cities are hot. Fashionable, yes, but also hot. A chef in Asuncion, Paraguay, recently made television news when he cooked a meal for six on the footpath. No added heat. Just black asphalt in the sun. True, Paraguay has razed 80 per cent of its native forests, so Asuncion is hotter than most. Still, it wasn’t just eggs. He also cooked bacon, fries and some kind of sausage thing in a pan on the footpath.
The point is, cities are hot because roads are hot. Roads heat the planet by their function – spewing carbon into the atmosphere – and by their blackness, absorbing and re-radiating the sun’s infra-red.
Australia has the highest sunshine count on earth. We also have the most road kilometres per capita, as well as the highest carbon emissions and biggest waists. What does all this say? Hmm. Perhaps we need to drive less, not more.
I know, it’s a big country. There are times when driving is unavoidable. But by far the largest part of our road surface is suburban, not remote.
Already, in Sydney, action is being taken to cool our roads using shade and reflectivity (trees and pale asphalt). Michael Mobbs, who has curated a road-cooling project in Chippendale, insists we can cool our cities 2 degrees by 2020 simply by shading and recolouring.
But a more extreme proposal recently went viral on YouTube. Solar Freakin' Roadways is an idea from husband and wife engineering couple, Julie and Scott Brusaw. The idea is simple. It involves repaving roads, parking lots, cycle lanes, driveways and sports surfaces – everywhere that is currently asphalt – in a photovoltaic surface. Simple idea, immense ramifications.
Across America’s 60 billion square metres of road surface, the Brusaws calculate, the panels would – even at 15 per cent efficiency – generate three times the country’s total energy use.
The roads are made of interlocking hexagonal glass-covered panels containing microprocessors and LEDs. The panels, which are "superstrong, textured and tempered" to meet impact and traction requirements, can be replaced individually if damaged.
Electric vehicles would run silently and cleanly, transforming the city’s aural culture and the global warming situation in one go. The embedded LEDs would provide lane marking so that, instead of constant repainting and resurfacing, roads would simply be reprogrammed. Netball courts could be transformed with a switch-flick into basketball or ice hockey or indeed, car parks.
Lit lane-markings would enhance night safety. The surfaces also would detect the presence of large animals, such as roos, because they would be pressure-sensitive. Plus, since the panels would be self-heating, safety in snow and ice would also be improved.
Two sub-surface corridors, one for cables, the other for stormwater – which would be filtered for recycling – would be included. Finally, trumpets Solar Freakin' Roads, "it’s finally going to look like the freaking future out there!"
It’s a bold and brilliant idea – ending both the heating effects of roads in one swipe, and generating electricity to boot. Plus there’s the huge new industry that would carry out the design and construction of it all. So, would it work?
The Brusaws’ video has clocked up almost 16.5 million views and helped secured two successive US Federal Highway Administration grants to prototype and test a sample parking lot. Tests for strength, durability and traction, the Brusaws say, "exceeded all requirements".
Yet there are doubters. One in particular, scientist Phil Mason (also known as Thunderf00t on YouTube), ridicules the idea in terms of cost, material, performance (specifically traction), efficiency and power storage.
Mason’s arguments set out the project's future R&D agenda. Will the benefits of job creation outweigh cost? Is stopping traction impossible on glass? Is point-generation of power more efficient (as Mason dubiously asserts) than a massive decentralised grid? Will tiled roads allow washouts?
More interesting, in view of the $2 million that has so far been raised via crowd-funding, is what the project says about what people want.
Two million, measured in personal, non-tax deductible dollars, is a lot. What they suggest, contrary to what our fearless leaders apparently believe, is that people want change. Ordinary, out-in-the-streets people want a clean, smart future so much that they are prepared to invest their own money and time.
Imagine if Baird’s WestConnex was a solar highway. Imagine if the cycle lanes and the footpaths generated clean energy. Then selling off the dirty, old coal-fired power stations might be an even deal for the public.