Friday Linkage 10/31/2014

Just living takes a lot of time. You wake up, get the kids ready for the day, finish a day of work, make some dinner, and look up to see that it is almost 7:00 which means the bedtime routine is about to start. I envy people who find time in their day for other pursuits, but I am not one of those people lately. It’s like we barely have time enough to get the bare minimum done. I guess this is what you mid-thirties with two kids is supposed to be like. Right?

On to the links…

Climate Change And Rising Violence Are Linked, According To 55 Scientific Studies—Get ready for a world where conflicts arise because of climate change. If you thought the water wars in the Mad Max films were a fantasy then you have not been paying attention.

NPR Guts Its Environment And Climate Reporting Team, Becomes ‘Part Of The Problem’—If NPR, which usually gets credit for being one of the honest brokers, is not giving good coverage to climate issues who will be the voice of reason? It sure as shit is not going to be Fox News.

Solar Grid Parity In All 50 US States By 2016, Predicts Deutsche Bank—Imagine the demand destruction that can take place when solar is on par with the cost of other power sources. The panels on your roof could be putting out power on a per watt basis that was comparable with dirty coal or fracked natural gas. Let the sun shine, baby!

Minnesota Gets Ready To Launch Solar Highways—Just look out the window for a moment the next time you drive on a highway and think about all of the land sitting there that could be used for solar energy installations. It’s a lot.

SolarCity Unveils ZS Beam — New System Improves Speed + Affordability Of Solar Carport Installation—If you are done thinking about all of the right of ways along American highways start thinking about all of the parking lots that could be covered with solar carports. It’s an amazing opportunity to get two uses out of space that is just sitting there and is not very aesthetically pleasing.

The Australian Solar Industry Has Grown By 1 GW Since July 2013—When you think about Australia you probably think about the sun. Here is a country roughly the size of the continental United States that gets absolutely blasted by the sun. It should be covered in solar panels.

MGM Installs America’s Largest Rooftop Solar Array but it Only Powers 1/5 of the Hotel—This solar array is freaking huge and it only powers 20% of the convention center/hotel’s needs. That really speaks volumes about the nature of energy use in Las Vegas. It is still cool to see something of this scale done.

How Cheap Wind Energy Threatens To Upend The Kansas Governor’s Race And Upset The Koch Brothers—What the heck is wrong with Kansas? It is the home the Koch brothers, which is bad enough but it is also the state that elected Sam Brownback to be governor. That guy is a complete stooge. The state should also be covered in wind turbines like Iowa, but the industry is still in its infancy. WTF?

America’s Last Coal-Fired Ship Finally Stops Dumping Coal Ash Into Lake Michigan—The S.S. Badger is a freaking ecological disaster that as used political machinations to continue operation long beyond its expiration date. It looks like the boat might finally be cleaning up its act. Somewhat.

How California is Turning Drainage Canals Back to Rivers—People think of California as this ecological oasis, but its modern history has been of subverting the natural order. As people begin to realize the value of nature some of these mistakes are being rectified.

John Oliver’s Takedown of the Sugar Industry is Pretty Sweet—John Oliver, like his former boss, delivers some of the most had hitting commentary with a hint of humor that is undeniably excellent. I cannot wait for the 2016 election cycle. It’s going to be epic. Although his assertion that cranberries taste like cherries that hate you is a little harsh. C’mon John.

Against the Grain: Should you go gluten-free?—Gluten. The new big bad in the nutrition “whack a rat” game. It’s funny how people eliminate gluten and feel better. No, it’s really just common sense that if you eliminate beer, refined carbohydrates, and lots of calories that you will feel better. Alas, it’s a fad.

What the World Eats—Check out National Geographic’s series of images on what various countries eat. It’s kind of shocking.

What Food Do We Throw Away the Most?—Ahhh, an infographic. Noel Dempsey has produced a couple of graphics that show what we throw away:

Food-Waste-Infographic

Friday Linkage 10/24/2014

A week in central Florida will mess with your head. Never mind the artifice of Walt Disney World. The entire place is like a twilight zone of ‘Murica. Case in point, I saw more solar installations on rooftops landing in Detroit than I did landing in Orlando. WTF? Oh, and the governor of the state of Florida is Rick Scott. How embarrassing is that guy?

On to the links…

All 13 Of Obama’s New And Expanded National Monuments In One Map—In our uber polarized political times there is little reflection on the successes of the past six years of Obama’s presidency. Take a look at these new and expanded national monuments with a sense of achievement and hope. Heck, there are two more years to get some more done.

The GOP Intensifies Its Attacks On The National Science Foundation—The Republican Party hates science because it is evidence based and generally objective, which flies in the face of a party that wants to use selected portions of the bible as a guidebook for behavior. Ignorance is bliss for the GOP.

These Republicans Prove You Don’t Have To Be A Scientist To Have A Lot To Say About Science—If you’re a Republican the newest way to start a sentence is “I’m not a scientist, but…” What follows is usually some drivel about science that a fourth grader watching Mr. Wizard would find insulting.

US Energy Efficiency Ranks Released: How’d Your State Do?—Energy efficiency is the renewable energy that is cheapest, returns investment the fastest, and is just hard to argue with unless you’re a Republican. Then it just sounds like socialism. Iowa was in the top third or so, which feels about right.

Wind Power is Cheapest Energy, EU Analysis Finds—When you account for externalities, which any good economic analysis should attempt, wind is the cheapest form of energy. Externalities are like a subsidy that we give to fossil fuels that is off the books, so to speak.

Solar’s $30 Billion Splurge Proves Too Much for Japan—Damn, Japan, $30 billion dollars is a lot to dump into solar projects. In one year Japan installed more solar capacity than in all of Spain. Imagine that for a moment. What if the U.S. did something like this? Oh wait…

An Easy-to-Install Solar Charger That Juices Your EV Off the Grid—I found this to be an interesting and unique solution to providing more recharging stations for EVs. My guess is that EV adoption will outstrip the number of available charging spots away from the home in the near term, so quick and easy solutions will be required to keep pace.

U.S. Solar Is 59 Percent Cheaper Than We Thought It Would Be Back In 2010—Yep, solar is significantly cheaper than it was predicted to be just four short years ago. As the cost curve keeps bending lower the adoption rate will go up. Utilities beware because demand destruction is coming your way.

US Wind Industry Booming, Already Surpassing 2013 Levels—Wind is continuing its winning streak.

Earth to Cellulosic Ethanol: Glad You’re Here, Buddy, What Took so Long?—Cellulosic ethanol, like algae derived biofuels, are always around the corner in terms of commercial scale. It appears that a few projects are up and running that prove concepts of commercial scale plants. If workable, these plants could show a path forward to non-food based biofuels.

Turning to Darwin to Solve the Mystery of Invasive Species—As our climate changes and globalization marches on invasive species are a fact of life. Understanding the mechanisms by which these super competitors evolved is key to preserving some semblance of our ecosystems.

Are goats the answer to the reed choking US east coast marshes?—Got a problem with invasive species? Ask the goats to take care of the problem. These little guys are awesome!

This Is Your Teenager’s Brain on Soda—Soda may not be crack, but it is likely that it is a dangerous “drug” all the same. From obesity to memory problems to diabetes to whatever new study will uncover. The stuff is evil.

Friday Linkage 10/10/2014

Fall is really in the air, so that means it is time to blow town and go on vacation. The family and I leave next week for a quick jaunt to the swamps of Florida for enforced fun with Mickey Mouse and his furry friends. My son has not stopped chanting “tea cups!” for the past week. Save me, please.

On to the links…

Teacher Sends Hungry First Graders Home With Backpacks Full Of Food—I both love this story and hate this story. I love that a teacher took this upon themselves to help their students, but it makes me sick that in the United States we have children that are hungry. There is no excuse why any person in this country should be hungry on a given day unless it is their choice to not eat. No excuse.

How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground—School lunch is big business and even bigger politics. It’s why, as parents, we should be fighting tooth and nail to change the system.

If America Cared about the Planet as Much as the NFL, This is What it Would Look Like—When the NFL was about to go on strike a few years back the news and analysis of the labor negotiations was amazing in its depth. If people cared about anything other than sports that much the world would be a much better place.

EPA says 24.1-mpg New Car Average is Best-Ever—Our average vehicle fuel economy keeps creeping up and as new technologies come on board—hello aluminum F-150—the numbers will keep getting better as we approach the 2025 deadline.

America’s Biggest Solar Provider Has A New Way To Make Rooftop Systems More Affordable—Every day brings stories about how solar is becoming increasingly affordable. Pretty soon it will be the same as putting on a new deck for a lot of people. I hope to put my solar system on the house next year. Yee hah!

Home Solar Plus A Battery Could Be Cheaper Than The Grid In Germany In Just A Few Years—Think about a market where solar plus a battery being cheaper than the power provided by a centralized grid? The demand destruction would be enormous.

$7 Million Annual Reduction In Lighting Costs For Ford Due To $25 Million LED Investment—This is a great investment. How good? The NPV value of this deal is $29 million assuming a discount rate of 5% and no inflation of the annual reduction in costs that might happen due to increasing energy costs. Efficiency is sweet.

Obama to Declare National Monument in San Gabriels—This is another step closer to creating a national park right on the doorstep of metro Los Angeles. Imagine that.

Translogic 160: Detroit Bus Company—This is a great story about someone creating a solution to a community’s need. A lot of the world may have left Detroit for dead, but there are a lot of people who refuse to believe the commonly held sentiment about the city’s future.

A Cool Folding Tricycle That Can Also Haul Your Groceries—I really hope that human powered mobility is the future of transportation for a majority of our needs and I hope more nifty solutions like this come to market. It’s just cute and cool.

Your Coffee is about to Get a Lot More Expensive—Climate change may be about to smack our favorite morning indulgence. Drought in Brazil, rust in Central America, and god knows what else around the world is sending coffee prices soaring in wholesale markets.

Colorado’s First Legal Hemp Harvest Since 1957 is Underway—It’s not going to set the world on fire because seed stocks are limited and expertise is lacking, but the future of hemp farming in America is happening. A lot of this year’s efforts are going into seed saving which will help subsequent years be successful.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Infographics Are Made—I love infographics for some strange reason. Some people like trashy romance novels or porn. I like infographics. It’s interesting to see some of the tricks of the trade.

Clover is a Good Thing

“Are you going to do something about that clover?”

It was an offhand question from a neighbor which was asked while we watched our kids run around like mad people in the warm glow of an early autumn day when the temperature still allowed for shorts and sandals.

But, it forms the central line of thought about suburban lawns in most of the United States. Certain species of ornamental grass are good and everything else is an interloper. Even worse, there is a social pressure in some neighborhoods to maintain a certain type of grass in order to “keep up with the Joneses.” Whatever.

In my opinion this is one of the most destructive impulses in modern America. In order to keep a thick carpet of Kentucky bluegrass we will pour water on our lawns when a drought is ongoing. We will coat our landscape in chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides in order to maintain an artificial monoculture that can barely withstand the daily onslaught on children’s activities without looking threadbare. It is insane.

Which brings me back to the spreading patches of clover that I have nurtured in my lawn over the past couple of years. Dutch white clover is an amazing little plant that should not be wiped off the face of your landscape with an indiscriminate application of the latest miracle lawn chemical hawked by some guy in a Tyvek jumpsuit.

First, it fixes nitrogen in the soil. Like legumes and other “green manures” that people use in their vegetable gardens to put nitrogen back into the soil for healthy plants, clover can do this job for a lawn. So, instead of pouring bag after bag of synthetically derived fertilizer onto your lawn just let clover do the work of feeding your grass.

Second, it withstands close and repeated mowing. This means that it will survive and outcompete other non-grass plants that find it difficult to thrive when you keep lopping off the top portion of growth. It is amazing to see the kind of grass “mat” that is made when clover and turf intertwine. No crabgrass or lawn weeds seem able to penetrate the green fortress.

Third, in this era of climate change and weird weather clover will help the soil retain moisture, like a mulch, and it is relatively drought tolerant. If you are like me and you let your lawn go brown as the rainfall fails to appear, much to the chagrin of my sprinkler loving neighbors, patches of clover will maintain their green hue for a week or more after turf grasses start to go dormant.

About the only “downside” is that bees love the white flowers that rise from thick patches of clover. However, given the state of pollinators in the United States I think creating a little bit of bee friendly lawn is a good thing.

Sure, my lawn does not look like a golf course. But, who wants to maintain such an artificial environment steps away from their home on which their children play? Not this father.

Friday Linkage 10/3/2014

October…where did my summer go? BTW, it’s a little more than a month until Breckenridge opens for the season. Who’s ready for some powder days?

On to the links…

Solar Energy Boom In Texas Approaching? Looks Likely—When Texas embraces the potential liberation of solar, you know the world is on the path toward a cleaner and greener future. Granted, it’s still the land of ridiculous belt buckles and dinosaur juice.

New York’s Bold New Plan To Expand Solar Energy—This is not a sunny state we are talking about taking the solar challenge. The projects in this initiative will increase the solar production in the state by 68%. Imagine a five year trend where growth was 68% per year…damn, that would be a 1,338% increase. Too amazing to even imagine.

China Says Build More Solar Now—Some days I wonder what it would be like to control a command economy. You can tell me China is capitalist or communist all day long, but it is really a capitalist command economy which is such a strange thing. I could just say build more solar and wind, but no more of those coal fired power plants.

Solar Power Could be World’s Top Electricity Source by 2050—According to the IEA, or International Energy Agency if you’re feeling nasty, solar could be the top dog of electricity production by 2050. Talk about some serious demand destruction if that is the case.

Solar Energy Storage System For Homes and Businesses Unveiled—A small-scale distributed way to level out the spikes in demand and production might be the holy grail of the smart grid of the future.

Nebraskans Raise Their Voices in Fight Against Keystone XL Pipeline—The fight over Keystone XL has created some strange bedfellows who would not normally see eye to eye on most issues. I guess when a landscape you love is threatened by permanent destruction than you make concessions.

$25 Million Algae Biofuel Blitz Planned By Energy Department—Maybe in the future we will power our cars and trucks with pond scum. Maybe…

Scientists Trace Extreme Heat in Australia to Climate Change—Australia, a huge per capita user of energy, is baking in a changed climate. Put another shrimp on the barbie.

I’m Optimistic About Climate Change, and You Should Be Too—I don’t think that I share the author’s optimism, but I have some level of hope that we will find a way forward that does not destroy the progress that human beings have made.

A Call to Action Against a Predator Fish—Along with Asian carp, is there a worse invasive species than the lionfish? These things are like the perfect storm of an invasive species. Fried lionfish bites anyone?

Everything But The Squeal: How The Hog Industry Cuts Food Waste—Using every part of the animal for some type of product is how the industrial ag machine stays profitable. It’s the same way with oil refining. Making gas and diesel keeps the lights on, but the other products are where the refinery gets into the black.

50 Cost-Efficient Ways To Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly—It’s been a while since I have featured an infographic. UK based magazine Good To Be Home has a nice list of easy things we could all do at home to be a little greener:

original

Sh*t the Candidates Say in Iowa: Debate Edition

This past Sunday evening Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst debated each other. The result can only be described as expected.

Braley attacked Ernst for being a tool of the Koch brothers and being in league with Ted Cruz when it comes to shutting down the government. Ernst accused Braley of suing his neighbors over errant chickens. When it comes to substance Joni Ernst does not bother with the policy stuff, she just accuses the other guy of being a lawyer. Remember, in the Republican worldview lawyers and judges are evil unless they are rendering judgments like the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby’s bogus religious exemption.

The real moment of clarity for voters in Iowa should have been when Ernst would not be put on record about the right amount for a minimum wage. She believes that it should be solely up to the states to decide what is the right minimum wage for their particular circumstance—something a state can already do if it wishes to be higher than the insufficient federal minimum wage. This is right wing code speak for not really supporting a minimum wage. Here it is in full:

“I do believe that is something that needs to be set by the states, because our Iowa cost of living is very low. Currently it is at $7.25 an hour, and I’m someone that worked the minimum wage way back when, when it was much lower. But the way we can combat this and do better for Iowa families is by growing our economy.”

Never mind the logical fallacy of comparing the absolute minimum wage from prior years to today’s minimum wage without factoring inflation. These people believe that those making $7.25 per hour are living high on the hog. In Iowa a worker would need to work at least 73 hours per week to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. Wow, that’s only a near doubling of an average 40 hour workweek. Maybe we can help Iowa families by not asking them to spend even more time away from their children and loved ones because they cannot afford to survive. Just saying.

Climate change is the other issue that is now being discussed in right wing code speak.  Ernst’s own words pretty much define the new line of reasoning:

“I do believe our climate is changing. But again, I’m not sure what the impact of man is upon that climate change.”

Acknowledge that every scientific fact points to a warming planet and subsequently weird climate, but simultaneously deny the link to human activities.  You know, because burning fossil fuels at insane rates has nothing to do with a changing planet.

But, the tried and true defense is to play dumb:

“I don’t know the science behind climate change. I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact, whether it’s man-made or not.”

Yep, these are the people who feel qualified to speak on issues like EPA regulation.  On one hand they are too ignorant of the science to make an informed argument, but on the other hand they feel strongly that the regulatory environment is too extreme.

At least Ernst is on record as supporting a woman’s right to access to contraception saying, “I do believe in a woman’s right to contraception.” Granted, she will probably find a way to walk that back when she gets in front of evangelicals.

It could actually be worse because I could live in northeastern Wisconsin and be worried that Glenn Grothman might be my next U.S. Representative. Check out what he has to say.

No More Diet Soda

Hot on the heels of nearly banishing beer from my daily routine—I have been giving myself one night a week to enjoy carefully curated beers—I started to wonder about another daily habit that might be quite harmful to my health.

Despite my love of the Sodastream, I fall victim to the convenience and deception of diet soda. It’s so easy to get a twenty ounce bottle from the vending machine at work in the afternoon when I am thirsty and my energy is flagging. A little caffeine and carbonation seem to do wonders to get me through the stretch run most days. Add on top the idea that I am getting a soda fix without the calories and corn syrup guilt of a traditional soda.

With apologies to Lee Corso, not so fast my friends. In our collective desire to consume fewer calories and not make any lifestyle changes—isn’t that what diet soda is really selling—the addition of artificial sweeteners to our diets may be causing more harm than good.

How is that possible? The dangers of artificial sweeteners have been hinted at for years. Most people hew to the conventional wisdom that aspartame—the generic name for trademarks like Nutrasweet—is not good for children. As my daughter so rightly pointed out one day, “If I shouldn’t drink it, why can you?” Good logic, little one, good logic.

The answer, in all likelihood, is that no one should be consuming artificial sweeteners. Why? Because recent studies and anecdotal evidence, which is mounting by the day as more long term studies are published, show that something in these products is confusing our bodies. People who replace sugary sodas with diet sodas do not appear to lose any more weight and, in fact, show signs of glucose intolerance which is a precursor to diabetes. Our bodies do not like to be fooled into thinking we are getting sugar because we are hard wired to seek calories. It’s a survival instinct.

There are a host of other problems associated with artificial sweeteners like migraines that appear to be linked to consumption. Rather than seek some happy median, it just seemed easier to excise the products from my life entirely. Like any change to habit it’s hard not to fall back into routine and slide a few dollar bills into the vending machine to get a late afternoon hit of liquid satisfaction. It all seems worth it when you are trying to avoid lifelong health problems like diabetes. On one hand you can have a diet soda, but you increase your risk of getting a lifelong illness. On the other hand, you can save a few bucks and avoid that chance. The downside risk on this one blows the upside gain out of the water.

Have you gotten rid of artificial sweeteners in your diet?