Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Small Is Beautiful—Or Is It?

Recent issues of Discover Magazine (Feb. 06*) and the New Yorker (I think it was last week's, but now I can't find it to check) both had articles about Amory Lovins, the wizard of small technology, or perhaps more accurately, appropriate use of technology in terms of energy efficiency and benign effect on the environment. His Rocky Mountain Institute carries on a lot of his work, and appears to be gaining the attention of numerous large companies, which are discovering that building energy efficiency and environmental awareness into new facilities can not only help the environment, but also save them money. Both articles are well worth a read. The one in Discover will tell you more about the science and technology, while the New Yorker focuses more on the man. It sounds like if you ever meet him, you can expect to have a thick stack of white papers pressed into your hands.

The leading edge of Small, of course, is nanotechnology—machines and structures engineered at the atomic and molecular level. Nanotech offers all kind of promise, but also possible hazards. One of the possible hazards is the potential biological effects of tiny fibers from products based for example on nanotubes as they degrade, or are disposed of. There is at least some risk that nano-fibers in the environment might prove to be the next asbestos. Well, according to the Washington Post technology section, some forward thinkers at a place called the ETC Group in Toronto have already observed that it would be useful to have a universal warning sign for nano-materials, and have started a competition to see who can come up with the best warning sign. Entries have poured in. You can view a large gallery of them at http://www.etcgroup.org/gallery2/v/nanohazard, and even cast a vote; or just view the finalists at http://www.etcgroup.org/gallery2/v/finalists/.

*Okay, it's a year old. But I just finally picked it up and read it, so it's recent to me.

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