Friday Linkage 10/20/2017

Days without being an international embarrassment: 0.

Do I even need to tell you who I am talking about?  The thing that amazes me most about the incompetent orangutan in the Oval Office is that no matter what the issue or topic of the day may be he finds a way to make it about himself and how he is better than any other man to ever hold the office.  His need for a constant stream of affirmation of his supposed excellence on any topic is a field day for arm chair psychologists and political observers.  When the final days of this putrid presidency wind down in a few years—has it really only been nine months—the historians will take decades to unravel the shit storm.

On to the links…

Interior Secretary Zinke Has A Flag Raised When He’s At HQ—Scott Pruitt has a special phone booth and a private security army while Ryan Zinke thinks that the Department of the Interior is his personal military command.  What is it with Trump and his minions having to declare dominion over everything that they survey?  The inferiority complexes are stunning.

Secretary Zinke, it’s Time to Call it Quits—I think this is really a race between Zinke and Tillerson.

Scott Pruitt’s Quest to Kill Obama’s Climate Regulations is Deeply Shady — and Legally Vulnerable—Is Scott Pruitt the shadiest person in government in a long time?  He is essentially a self-admitted shill for the fossil fuel industry who is going about his day with a plan drafted by those same interests.

Perry Questions Value of ‘Free Market’ in Energy—The free market, like religious freedom for Republicans, is great as long as it supports your pet cause but when it causes damage to the pocketbooks of your masters it is unacceptable.  In the drive to placate the coal barons the Trump administration has pissed off just about everyone else involved in energy.  Too bad for them that the total of everyone else is a hell of a lot bigger and more important than what remains of the coal industry.

Coal Country is Finding Little Relief in Trump’s Climate Actions—It was not the government that was killing coal, it was the free market.  People and companies were voting with their dollars to support non-coal sources of energy.

4 Signs that Trump’s Furious Efforts to Save Coal are Futile—When an industry pins all of its hoped on a huckster more famous for a b-grade reality show and bankruptcies you know times are desperate.

The War on Coal is Over. Coal Lost.—All that remains is the rear guard action on the long retreat.  The question is how much additional damage will be done during the long retreat.

This is What America’s Eco City of the Future Looks Like—The future is green and powered by renewables.  Even in Texas.

Americans are willing to pay $177 a year to avoid climate change—We need to keep pounding home the message that climate change is real and that the tools are available to prevent the worst of its impacts.  All that is required is political will and a measure of sacrifice, whether that is economic or social.

The Future of Renewable Energy—What will renewable energy systems look like in a few years?  Now that we have moved beyond niche applications we need to ask ourselves these larger questions.

Electrifying Heating—I have thought about this topic somewhat lately now that I produce my own electricity on my roof.  If I added a similar size solar photovoltaic system on my southeast facing roof I would be able to heat my home with the sun via electricity.  I cannot make natural gas at home, but I can make electricity.

World’s First Floating Wind Farm now Operating in Scotland—Technology like floating wind turbines allows for less expensive construction in deeper water with less environmental impact.  Sort of like a win-win that opens up more sites for offshore wind development.  As if coal needed some more bad news.

Regreening The Earth Could Lower Carbon Levels As Much As Ending Use Of Fossil Fuels—Why don’t we do both?  What would a national program of regenerative forestry practices, improved grassland management, and general regreening do for our planet and our economy? I think it would be huge.  Not yuge, just huge.

This Is How to Substitute Lentils for Ground Beef—If everyone made a few substitutions like this on a weekly basis we would be a long way to reducing the greenhouse gas impact of our food choices.  Remember, meat is a huge source of our personal emissions.

To Uber or Not? Why Car Ownership may no Longer be a Good Deal—I am already beginning to see this with some colleagues who have children in college.  Instead of trolling the dorms for that one person with a car they just split an Uber X to go to the store or choose to have items delivered instead of doing it themselves.  I believe it is more than a simple story about replacing rides with Uber or other car sharing services, but rather replacing the utility provided by a personal automobile with a portfolio of services.

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Where are the Tools of Meaningful Change?

Last week I wrote about society possessing the tools for meaningful change as it relates to carbon emissions and climate change for the first time in my memory, which stretches back into the 1980s.

The fact is that the tools for meaningful change exist at many different levels throughout society.  Consider the following hierarchy:

  • International
  • National
  • Community
  • Household
  • Personal

Too often we become fixated on the tools at an International or National level at the expense of seeing the good we can do at a Community, Household or Personal level.  Furthermore, we fail to see the connections that cross multiple levels.  Take a Fortune 500 company in the United States.  It obviously has an impact on the local community.  However, depending upon its size—which as a Fortune 500 company is usually quite large—and its geographic footprint it will definitely impact multiple communities in multiple states thus making it a national concern.  Frequently, these companies have just as much of an economic or physical footprint in multiple countries so their behaviors are international by definition.

At a lower level, a lot of our Personal choices impact both our Household and our Community.  There are no set walls that determine the scope and impact of our actions.  Nonetheless, I find it useful to categorize or bucket our actions into these broad levels so that we can think about things in a more defined sense.

The old adage from the gauzy past was to “think globally, act locally.”  Somewhere along the line we abdicated personal responsibility in favor of pushing large collective solutions.  Those large collective solutions, while spreading the pain of change and adaptation across the entire population, have fallen out of favor with the leadership—if you can it that—in Washington D.C.  Therefore, action must come from levels below International and National categories—unless there are entities that can cut across those categories by virtue of their economic and/or geographic footprints.

Once we understand where the tools of meaningful change exist we can begin to build our own personal menu to create a better world.

Friday Linkage 10/13/2017

Every day I think that we have reached a new low with the Trump administration.  If it is not family corruption, it is cabinet members using the taxpayer as a personal travel expense account.  If it is not crude behavior, it is stoking the fires of racial unrest.

Now it looks like Trump has set his dim sights on war with North Korea and threatening the 1st Amendment.  I know that the right wing only really loves the 2nd Amendment, but a threat to the Constitution cannot go unchallenged.  However, nothing else matters save for tax cuts for billionaires so the Republican members of Congress may grumble but they will kiss the ring of their dear leader.

On to the links…

Trump’s Plans To Demolish Clean Power Plan Revealed—Scott Pruitt has one goal in this world: make the world a better place for fossil fuel interests at the expense of everything else.  Once you understand this motivation every action makes sense.  Furthermore, Trump and his cabal are wedded to coal because they need to keep the narrative alive that Trump is saving rural jobs.

The GOP wants to repeal Obama’s Climate Plan. Like Health Care, it’s Going to be a Fiasco.—Can we all just agree that any day Trump and his cronies are in the White House has the potential to be a fiasco.  Actually trying to govern is a freaking dumpster fire.

Vintage Photos Taken by the EPA Reveal what America Looked like before Pollution was Regulated—Even Scott Pruitt’s EPA has documentation to show just how much better our country is now that pollution is regulated.  I realize that people like Trump do not like to read because it is hard, so pictures can supply the necessary knowledge.

The Two Clean Energy Bills that Could take California’s Climate Action to the Next Level—California may be burning right now, but the state is pushing ahead with aggressive climate change related legislation.  Leadership at the national level may be lacking.  States can create a critical mass to generate meaningful change.

Will Iowa Continue Adopting Wind, Solar without Federal Mandate?—This is a little closer to home.  Here is the thing, Iowa was deploying large amounts of wind before the Clean Power Plan.  The economics for that development have not changed in any measurable way that would favor a change.  Furthermore, the state already gets almost 40% of its electricity from the wind and has projects in the pipeline that will take that number north of 50% in the coming few years.  This all comes at the expense of coal because no one is retiring cheap to run wind turbines or cleaner natural gas facilities to keep an old coal boiler running.  Solar  is the icing on the cake.

Friendly Policies Keep US Oil and Coal Afloat Far More than We Thought—What is Scott Pruitt’s answer to the question of oil and gas subsidies?  He has come out vociferously against the small amount of subsidies for wind and solar, but he is silent on the taxpayer money going to prop up his friends in oil, gas, and coal.  We already knew who lined his pockets, but these questions need to be asked loudly, often, and on the record.

This Coal Baron has Trump’s Ear. What he says is Utter Nonsense.—This is Robert Murray.  He likes coal because coal made him rich.  He likes Trump because Trump likes his money, so Trump likes coal.  Too bad everything that comes out of his mouth is just garbage.

Rooftop Solar & Storage – Cheaper Than Subsidizing Old Coal—Facts will not get in the way of people like Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry pushing a dirty fuels agenda.  This is the administration built on falsity and outright lies that answers facts with “We will agree to disagree.”  The future is now and we need to keep pushing.

Solar Competitors Band Together to Help Bring Electricity to Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico—The federal government will not help Puerto Rico in a sensible way because the sitting president does not like people who happen to be brown, don’t play golf, and don’t want to join his shitty club in Florida.  Socially conscious private industry is rising to the occasion to provide solutions in the wake of a dearth of actual leadership in Washington D.C.

Rooftop Solar Provides 48% Of South Australia Power, Pushing Grid Demand To Record Low—This graph is full of amazing insights:

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We are just beginning to realize the potential of distributed renewables.

Australia Adds 97 MW Rooftop Solar In September, Set For Record 1 GW In 2017—Those will not be the last charts of that type you see from Australia either.

Let’s Take A Moment To Remember How Shitty Electric Cars Once Were—The most amazing thing, in my opinion, about the current electric vehicles on the market is that they are true vehicles.  These are not souped up golf carts or hacked conversions.  These are vehicles that can easily replace all but the longest road trips.

GM’s SURUS Fuel-Cell Truck Platform Could be a Disaster-Relief Hero—In general, I find fuel cell concepts to be half-baked.  However, this idea has real merit for a number of reasons.  The most pressing of which is made clear in places like Puerto Rico or New York after Superstorm Sandy.  People need electricity and liquid fuel runs out quickly.  Imagine a fleet of these disembarking from a Joint High Speed Vessel to a damaged seaside location.

The Empty Countryside—This story may be about rural England, but it could easily have been used to describe northwest Iowa or southeastern Colorado.  It is a long term demographic and development trend that I see no chance of abating in the near future.

Why Forest Kindergartens are the Best Schools for Our Young Kids—Maybe it is not just the forest, but the opportunity to freely apply lessons to an environment of your own choosing.

McDonald’s is Now Selling a “McVegan”—It is meatless and dairy free.  It is only available in Finland for some reason.

The Chicken Experiment That Shook the World—If there is going to be a global health crisis we are completely unprepared to deal with it will be antibiotic resistance.  It is amazing to think that so many of our problems can be traced back to a single experiment in the 1940s.  That is history for you.

Turning the Lights off at Work

It is my opinion that I have cut down my household electricity consumption to a fairly good range.  For a family of four living in an above average sized home using 360 to 390 kWh per month on a twelve month rolling average feels like a success.  Furthermore, I am offsetting more than 100% of that electricity consumption via the solar photovoltaic system on my roof.

Although my children generally groan when I tell them to head back downstairs to turn off lights when they are done playing with LEGOS or practicing piano they understand what is behind the request.  Heck, my son has turned into a little eco-warrior albeit in his own way.  For some reason he is focused on people who smoke.  His frequent refrain when we pass someone smoking is, “Why do people smoke?  It’s not good for them, it is expensive, and the smoke is bad for the environment.”  If only we all could follow the logic of a six year old.

However, much of my days is not spent at home but at work.  It is a fairly standard office setting.  A lot of cubicles, a smattering of offices, and a handful of conference rooms.  It is the type of office environment that would not be out of place in a half hour sitcom or the movie Office Space.  Fortunately my days are not interrupted by Lundberg.

Surprisingly in a recent renovation of the office space some automatic lighting controls were installed that switch lighting on and off based on movement.  This prevents offices and common areas from being lit up all night long when none is occupying the space.  I say surprisingly because the company I work for is not well known for its forward leaning facilities plan.

The conference rooms do not have these features.  Lights are still controlled by wall mounted switches and projectors for presentations have indeterminate timers.  No matter how many LEDs I switch off in my own home, it cannot compare to switching off the conference room lights at the end of the day before going home.  Heck, I turn off the lights in the three conference rooms I pass on my way to get hot water for tea whenever these rooms are unoccupied.

The computer projectors, though, drive me insane.  When these things are blazing away it is like leaving a 300W incandescent bulb burning.  Ever seen a 300W incandescent bulb?  It’s freaking bright and hot.  A couple of taps on a remote is all it takes to turn these machines off yet most meetings adjourn with the projectors being left on regardless of a meeting taking place in the same room or not.

I now find myself turning into the light and projector police at work.  What about you?  Do you turn the lights off at work?

Refocusing on a Home Based Economy

2009 seems like a long away.  It’s has been “just” eight years, but as Donald Trump continues to be an international embarrassment on a daily basis it makes me wonder about those halcyon days when we waited for Barack Obama to take the oath of office.

2008 was a bear for a lot of people.  The economy literally seemed like it was going off the rails completely and no one had any idea how to fix things.  It turns out the “masters of the universe” in the high finance world had figured out a way to spread the risk and damage from low-grade securitized mortgage loans to almost every aspect of the American economy.  Amazingly, this contagion also spread to the global economy because as much as closed minded right wingers would like to believe the world is not interconnected globalization is a fact of life.

The buzzwords in the winter of 2008 and into 2009 were things like urban homesteading, frugality, DIY, canning, etc.  You get the idea.  We were collectively abandoning a consumer lifestyle focused on buying a plasma television a few inches bigger than the perfectly fine working plasma television in the basement of our home that was half again as big as we needed.  We were all wondering if maybe we had lost something in the pursuit of more square footage, solid surface countertops, nine foot ceilings, and crown molding.  Well, how times have changed.

Or has it?

After eight decent years of economic recovery, which has been uneven and much slower than prior economic recoveries, experts are beginning to wonder if the new era of Trump will also coincide with a recession.  Despite the major stock indices hitting new highs on a seemingly daily basis there is ample evidence that maybe there is just a little gas left in the tank and recession is waiting on the doorstep.

What to do?

My solution is to turn inward and focus on a home based economy.  It’s sort of in line with my theory that the most subversive thing that we can do is nothing.  [LINK]  By focusing our efforts inside of our homes the emphasis is no longer necessarily on the things we buy to consume.  It is inward facing and not concerned with external judgment.

Maybe it is about mindfulness.  Maybe it is about frugality.  Maybe it is about all of those things that we pay lip service to in conversation but forget to act upon the minute we get an email touting the latest sale at REI.  I am as guilty of this behavior as anyone else and it is the single thing that I am trying to break myself from over the course of the next few months.  It is my hope that by focusing on the economy of the home that I will slowly begin to break my own cycle of consumerism.  In the process I hope to solidify household finances and achieve some measure of greater satisfaction.

That sounds great, but what does it mean in practice?

Take a look at the image below:

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This is for the average “consumer unit,” so in reality you will spend more or less on items as your personal circumstances dictate, e.g. I do not smoke so I do not spend $323 per year on tobacco.  However, as a thought exercise it gets you to think about where you spend your money.

It’s easy to key in on the largest single unit related to “housing.”  Yet, for most of us our housing situation is somewhat inflexible because we have a mortgage, lease, etc.  It is easy for some blogger to scream “downsize” but the costs associated with that may actually make the option prohibitive.

Now, look at some of the other categories.  Transportation eats up the next largest portion.  Well, if you start basing your life around your home you will probably drive a lot less.  Trust me, once I started thinking about every mile driven being $0.50 tossed out the window I began to think about every trip I took by car and how I could reduce those miles.  Stay at home and you do not spend the money on transportation.  Yes, you will still spend money on insurance and tags for your vehicle but every mile not driven is less you spend on fuel and maintenance.

Food is the third largest contributor and another place where a home based philosophy can really make a difference.  Modern Americans spend a smaller share of their income on food than at any other time in the country’s history yet we still spend a lot of money both in and out of the home.  Plus, we throw away a lot of food.

The common thread throughout is by focusing on living a frugal life at home the expenses in a lot of these categories can be ameliorated.  If you are buying less stuff you are spending less money and producing fewer carbon emissions.  Like I said earlier the greenest thing you can do is nothing.

We Have the Tools to Create Meaningful Change

For the first time in my memory, which stretches back to the now fuzzy early 1980s, I feel that we have the tools to positively combat climate change available at a personal level.  No longer are we limited to advocating for municipal recycling, agitating McDonald’s to get rid of polystyrene clamshells, or hanging our undergarments out to dry in the sun.  Hey, it was the 1980s and I wanted save the whales so I spent a lot of time writing letters to McDonald’s threatening to boycott Happy Meals forever unless they got rid of those old school burger boxes.

Let me use solar power as an example of a tool that we have available down here at a personal level.  Consider the cost per watt in dollar terms from 1977 until 2015:

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In simple mathematical terms that is a decline in price per way of over 99.5%.  Whereas a solar photovoltaic system was probably only something that strange science teacher who drove an ancient Volvo actually had on his house is now something a lot more people can install.

Take my solar photovoltaic installation.  In a little more than two half days and for a cost of less than $11K I had 4.64 kWh of solar installed in a single array on a west facing garage roof.  After tax credits the total cost will come in somewhere around $6K.  For six thousand dollars I now produce all of my electricity needs from the sun.  Granted, it is a grid tie system so I use traditional utility power on occasion.

Yes, I use a lot less electricity than the average peer house but it’s not like I live in an off-grid yurt.  I have a typically large American refrigerator, I run the air conditioning when it is hot, I have a large screen television that gets turned on to watch football games, and so on.  Hell, I have an electric dryer and range.  The point is that you can use a lot less electricity and produce it all via the sun with a fairly minimal investment and without sacrificing the quality of life we have come to assume is natural in the United States.  This is not Ed Begley Jr. being eco-dramatic on Living with Ed.

Even better is that none of the technology used in a solar system is in its infancy, so the maturity of the design is well along which means the systems are reliable.  No one is going to be spending hours up on a roof trying to figure out why the panels are not producing any juice.  The solid state system just sits on top of the roof generating power from the sun without any moving parts or noise.  Day in and day out whenever the sun shines and even when it does not.  If that is not a powerful tool to combat carbon emissions and the resultant climate change I do not know what would qualify.

Going solar is just one of the many tools available to us to make a difference.  We all need to take a moment and examine our lives.  What are the activities that we engage in that have an outsize impact on our carbon emissions.  Tools exist and are available to us that can ameliorate almost any source of emissions if we are willing to make the effort.

Given the horrible state of national leadership on climate issues it is incumbent upon us as concerned individuals to make every effort and deploy every tool.  You might feel good about yourself when you sign a petition, but it has to go further than that if we are to have any hope of a sustainable and equitable future on this planet.

My goal over the next few months is to really examine what the tools are that can help me—a guy living a fairly normal suburban life with three other people in eastern Iowa—eliminate my carbon emissions.

Friday Linkage 10/6/2017

This country is messed up in so many ways.  What has happened in the past weeks in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas are horrific reminders of the role our politicians play in responding to disasters and shaping our future.  However, we are saddled with Trump and his merry band of Republican sycophants who care for nothing more than self-adulation, guns, and tax cuts.  In reality, Trump cares only about self-adulation and Republicans really only care about tax cuts but both are willing to use the issue of gun rights to get their desired outcomes.

I do hold out hope that there is a better and more constructive future in the works as the coalition that has propped up the right wing for the past twenty years fractures under its own internal pressures and external demographic realities.

On to the links…

The McKibben Effect: A Case Study in How Radical Environmentalism Can Work—It’s not radical if the end goal is the survival of humanity as a species.  It’s only radical because the forces opposed have deduced that the easiest way to create opposition is to label something as radical in an effort to saddle it with semantic baggage.

Skiing IS Politics—The personal is political and it always has been.

New Era of Solar Power is Now Upon Us—According to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of the power installed in 2016 was solar.  The same agency predicts that solar growth will be the highest of any energy source through at least 2022.

US Renewables Grew 10% In 1st Half Of 2017—That is a damn good number for the first half of the year given that the number usually spikes in the second half due to large projects coming on line before the year’s end.

Growth of Green Energy Sector Surges in Minnesota—Clean and green energy is producing a lot of jobs in a lot of places.  No one really thinks about Minnesota being a hot spot for solar, but solar is big business now.

What’s Up in Coal Country: Alternative-Energy Jobs—This is what the future looks like.  It is not Trump’s attempt to use clowns like Rick Perry to prop up the coal industry for the benefit of a few crony capitalists.  It is about providing jobs for people in an industry that can help make the world a better place.

Courts are Waking up to the Cost of Climate Change—The guy at the top and his minions—here’s looking at you Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke—may be tools of the fossil fuel industry, but it looks like the rest of the world is realizing the true costs of these fuels need to take into account externalities.

Here are the Actual Tax Rates the Biggest Companies in America Pay—As the debate over tax reform…errr tax cuts heats up in Washington D.C. take note of what is really happening.  American companies do not pay higher taxes than their counterparts in Europe.  However, you will hear this time and again in the coming months.  It is a right wing myth.

Americans Have Soured on Junk Food. Don’t Worry, Food Companies Have a Plan.—Americans no longer mindlessly consume ever more Big Macs, Whoppers, and whatever the hell Taco Bell is making today.  Oh, we still consume the veritable shit ton of junk food but the growth has stalled.  On to the developing world the titans of garbage in a paper sack say.

Bicycle Highway in the Netherlands Built Using Recycled Toilet Paper—Leave it to the freaking Dutch to build a bike path out of recycled toilet paper.

This Entire Barley Field was Planted and Harvested without Humans—Automation in farming may happen before automation in our personal automobiles.  I do not know what the positives and negatives are of this development but robotic farming is kind of cool.

Which Is Better for the Environment: Meatless Mondays or #NoRedOctober?—Why not do both?