Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Case For English as the Global Language

          Language is a unique and central part of every culture. However, it also presents a barrier in which the exchange of information between individuals is either hampered or prohibited. The trend of globalization has made a globally accepted common tongue desirable in all facets of life. In the case of science, a common language for publication of scientific studies would greatly increase the body of scientific information available, and in turn the pace at which groundbreaking discoveries are made. Communication amongst businesses would also be facilitated, increasing the ease at which businesses can make their products and services available to the global population. We as a species should accept that the time has come for a globally spoken language. 

          It seems that most would agree that a global language would be beneficial to humanity. The question is how do we get there, and what language should be globally spoken. The two obvious choices are Chinese and English, since they are the most widely spoken.

                         Native Speakers                    Total Speakers
English:              328,000,000                         1,800,000,000
Chinese:             845,000,000                         1,345,000,000

Source: wikipedia

          English has already won the most total speakers and for good reason. Its simply more beneficial to speak English than it is to speak Chinese. The GDP of USA is roughly 4 times that of China, and is without question the wealthiest nation. From a business standpoint, it is certainly the most beneficial language to know. From a scientific standpoint, most peer reviewed and respected scientific journals are published in English, making a scientist who publishes in english more likely to be noticed, and his study more relevant. (There already exists a market for freelance bilingual scientists to translate scientific papers to English for publication). And further still, a vast majority of computer programming languages use English keywords. Knowledge of English is essential for a programmer, and without it, one would be excluded from what is currently an over 300 billion dollar industry. 

          Furthermore, in taking Chinese classes, I have noticed several disadvantages in learning the language. First of all I believe the character based architecture is inferior to the phonetic alphabet architecture of english and other latin and greek derived languages. In fact, China had to essentially re-write their language in to a simplified form in hopes that it would improve their literacy rate. A phonetic language is better than a character based language because you need only to learn 26 very simple characters to get started. In Chinese you must learn thousands to be considered well spoken. Not only must you recognize the characters, but you must also know the pronunciation. The pronunciations consist not only of a sound, but also of an intonation. Furthermore, the alphabetic system makes the looking up of an unrecognized word much easier, because you can follow the alphabetic order in the dictionary to find the meaning of any word, without fail. If you come across a character you don't recognize in Chinese, you might have no idea how to pronounce it or what it means, or a good way to look it up without the use of some software that can recognize the character. 

There must certainly be arguments in the contrary of this line of thought (especially the last point I made), I would love to read them in the comments. Any and all responses are welcomed, and thanks for reading. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Solar Power Will Ultimately Take Off

        Many people are quick to label the possibility of solar power becoming a significant source of energy as a very distant possibility. I want to convince you here that a solar based energy grid is the most likely culmination of the current human and market pressures on energy production, and it will take off sooner than you think. I am currently invested in solar power and will hold the stock (Sunpower Corporation: SPWRA) likely for the rest of my life. Here's why:

Economic Pressure:
Most of our energy comes from Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas. We currently use them simply because they are economical. However, they are bound to increase in cost due to the fact that as these resources become more scarce, new and more expensive methods are necessary to extract them. (oil sands, deep sea drilling) In contrast, the more solar we use, the cheaper it becomes. This is due to economies of scale as well as the maturation of the technology itself. 

Demand Pressure:
Because demand for energy is growing globally, we will use up the cheap and easily accessible fossil fuel reserves more quickly. This will hasten their increase in price and make them less economical. Solar does not suffer from this problem. Silicon's availability is predominately a function of our ability to refine it rather than of its availability in nature (It is the second most common element on the earths crust). 

Environmental Pressure:
Whether or not you believe in global warming, you probably agree that smog is not the most pleasant or healthy experience. And I think most reasonable people would concede that pouring CO2 into the atmosphere is not good for the planet. The negative environmental consequences of fossil fuels make solar power a more desirable method of collecting energy, all else being equal. 

Political Pressure:
Energy independence is something desired by every government. Particularly by the US who would prefer not to funnel more money into the middle east given a choice. Since politicians make the laws, it's safe to say that when solar becomes more economical, politicians will certainly get behind it. 

     It's difficult to say when we will shift to a predominately solar grid, but it seems likely that it will happen. When it does happen it, it is likely to happen quickly for this reason. Lets say that its 2015 and the cost of electricity from coal is now on average $.15/kwh. The cost of solar has come all the way down to $.14/kwh. While this difference is not enough to convince everyone to go solar, some environmentalists and penny pinchers will start the shift. As these people purchase solar panels, the economies of scale increase further driving down the cost. The further cost reduction will make going solar attractive to more people. This process occurs recursively resulting in an exponential growth of solar power. 

     I've been far from empirical in my analysis, and I instead wanted to outline some very general trends and their likely consequences. I welcome readers' opinions as well as any supporting or falsifying data you may have regarding this conclusion.