Friday Linkage 4/17/2015

Hillary is in. Marco is in. I am sure that we are going to here from Chris Christie and a host of Republican also rans…Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum really do not have a lot on the calendar about now do they?

The crazy thing is that the national media cares more about this story than any single person in Iowa save for the self-important campaign operatives who act like gatekeepers to the caucuses. Ahhh, the summer before a caucus in Iowa is a beautiful time.

On to the links…

Ocean Acidification Triggered Devastating Extinction—Here is a simple concept: If the oceans die, we probably die. Save the oceans and you have a good chance of saving the human race plus a good chunk of this planet’s biodiversity. Otherwise it is game freakin’ over.

Overfishing in U.S. Waters Hits All-Time Low—We can make policy that helps the oceans. It’s just too bad no one seems to focus on some of the limited success that we have had in modulating our piss poor behavior.

Permafrost’s Ticking “Carbon Bomb” may Never Truly Detonate—A slow leak is better than an explosion, so to speak, but this is still a major problem when considering how to combat global climate change.

Forest Service Sticks up for Coal Mining on Roadless Lands—Why? Why would an agency of the federal government actually encourage coal companies to destroy wilderness in the pursuit of a fossil fuel that is in its long cycle death throes? Oh wait, it’s the Forest Service. This should be their logo:

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Are You Ready for Corn-Powered Hydrogen Fuel Cells?—Hydrogen powered transportation was a bait-and-switch from the Bush administration almost as good as Iraq having WMDs. If hydrogen, which is really just an energy storage mechanism, can be produced in a way that is not energy intensive it is a good solution.

Striking Chart Shows Why Solar Power will Take Over the World—This chart reminds me of those I used to see in the late-1990s showing processor power and cost. It was a way to explain the previously unimaginable proliferation of computer controlled objects. Guess what, solar is coming like a freight train of awesome:

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U.S. Predicted To Be Net Energy Exporter In Next Decade; First Time Since 1950s—Maybe we should not drill, baby drill and keep some of that energy in the ground for the time being.

In The Midst Of Toxic Oil Spill, Vancouver Announces It Will Go 100 Percent Renewable—This is not some small city in the sun belt of the U.S., but a major Canadian metropolis in a the somewhat overcast Pacific Northwest. Granted, it’s over the next 20 years but if it happens it will be a big deal.

100% Renewable Electricity By 2050 Possible In France—If it’s possible by 2050, why not get it done sooner? What are the obstacles and how do we overcome them?

Investment In Australian Renewable Energy Industry Plummets 90%–Here is why we cannot get to 100% renewables sooner. Policy makers screw up, insert uncertainty into the planning process, and slow down progress. What a joke.

Dubai Will Invest $3 Billion To Boost Solar Power Project Capacity To 3 GW—Sometimes all it takes is some oil money to get the job done.

4 Ways to Invest in the Low-Carbon Economy—Our personal investment choices are rarely something we think about as a tool against climate change but our 401ks and IRAs may have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be focused on positive investments for the planet.

How Refrigeration Determined What We Eat and Where We Live—Trust me, millions of people would not move to the Sun Belt if there was no ice cream or ice cold air conditioning.

How to Successfully Grow an Herb Garden—It’s that time of year when everyone has grand garden plans, including myself. Maybe a little herb garden is all we really need:

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The Joni Ernst Watch 4/13/2014

When it comes to Joni “Make ‘em squeal” Ernst  or Steve King it’s clown shoes all day, every day. Recently, the conversation in Iowa has turned away from our homegrown whack-a-doos and focused on the nutcase circus that will be the Republican caucus.

The big news is obviously the most non-news item of the weekend. Hillary Clinton made it official and announced that she is running for the Democratic nomination to be President of the United States. Now, if you thought the right wing was sharpening its knives as crazies like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul announced their candidacies just wait until they wake up from the Masters induced comas to realize what has happened. Donald Trump just stopped mid-coif adjustment to do a spit take on his surely golden mirrors. Rush Limbaugh has not been this excited since that pharmacy did a two for one Oxycontin special:

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Bill O’Oreilly is probably angry that he cannot be a misogynistic toad all year:

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Sean Hannity just messed himself realizing how easy it was going to be lathering up his loyal viewers with Hilary red meat.

The problem for the right wing is that she represents one of the most formidable candidates that could enter the field. Initial polling has her with huge leads over any likely challenger from the Democratic Party. Furthermore, she has leads over any of the hypothetical challengers from the Republican Party.

And the Republicans are countering with announced candidates like Rand Paul or expected candidates like Florida love buddies Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. You can try and polish these candidates conservative bona fides into general election gravitas but it will fail because the primary season will force them into ideological dead ends that do nothing for a national race. Good luck with that boys.

Friday Linkage 4/10/2015

Do you ever have those weeks at work where you look up and it’s Friday morning? The problem with those weeks is a lot of time is spent not actually doing you “day” job, but instead focused on some parallel project. Whoever told me that mergers and acquisitions was an exciting field of work during b-school was not telling the whole truth.

On to the links…

California’s Worst Drought in 1,200 Years in Pictures—I have not been to California since the current drought cycle began, so it is shocking to see these pictures. Remember, this is a mega-drought cycle that could last decades.

Barclays Ends Financing of Controversial Mountaintop Removal Mining—In 2013, Barclays was the biggest financier of mountaintop removal mining in the world. Imagine you worked in an industry where the single biggest source of private capital ceased operation. Ouch.

U.S. Power Sector In 2015: More Renewable Energy, Less Carbon Emissions—The price of a portfolio of renewables is low enough that it competes on its merits against fossil fuels. One of those merits is that once installed renewables do not require constant refueling. Sure, oil is at a low price right now but who believes that will be true in five years?

How to Maximize Renewable Energy Options for New Mexico—Renewables is all about location. In Iowa, it makes more sense to deploy wind power because of our wind energy infrastructure and constant wind speeds. In the American southwest the portfolio looks quite different. Even between Arizona and New Mexico the portfolio may look different.

Rethinking the Grid: Personal Power Stations in Your Garage—In some ways, traditional utilities are pushing this model to the forefront by adjusting their pricing schemes to harm solar power producers at a rooftop scale. What happens when more and more customers disembark from the grid?

Spain Got 47 Percent Of Its Electricity From Renewables In March—Granted, Spain’s economy is still in the proverbial toilet but including nuclear the country got approximately 70% of its power from non-carbon sources. Amazing.

Indian State Plans 25 GW of Solar, Gets 40GW—Rajasthan blew past its solar target of 25GW in the next few weeks as businesses have signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) for over 40GW of solar. Imagine exceeding your targets by 60%. Wow.

Detailed Projections of Coral Bleaching—Coral bleaching, which is equivalent to a coral reef dying, will impact different reef ecosystems at different rates and spreads. It is still a damn shame that it is happening at all.

Scientists Have Found A New Way To Save The World’s Coral Reefs, And It’s Pretty Fishy—Coral reefs are an ecosystem. We have forgotten the impact that fish have on this ecosystem as fishing and aquarium collection have devastated fish populations.

Microbeads: Solving a Big Problem of Little Bits—Plastic microbeads should be outlawed. It’s pollution that we can only control at the source.

The Joni Ernst Watch 4/6/2014

When it comes to Joni “Make ‘em squeal” Ernst  or Steve King it’s clown shoes all day, every day. Recently, the conversation in Iowa has turned away from our homegrown whack-a-doos and focused on the nutcase circus that will be the Republican caucus.

It hurts me to say this, but I have to give some credit to Senator Ernst for her current advocacy for spending on mental health support for veterans. It makes sense given her time in uniform that she would champion veteran’s causes—unlike the predominance of chicken hawks who serve in Congress—and it is refreshing to see someone support the troops once they get home. Thanks Joni.

I thought Bobby Jindal was not considered a viable Republican candidate, but apparently he has different ideas and is moving staff to Iowa.  He has got to hope it goes better than his response to the State of the Union in 2009.

Now that Michele Bachmann is former Representative Michele Bachmann it is almost funny to hear her go off about President Obama.

Okay, it’s actually frightening to think that this same person was a member of Congress, maybe not the craziest member if you consider Louie Gohmert, and was polling well in Iowa prior to the 2012 caucus. WTF?

Just because a class of people have it worse in other countries, does not make the way we treat that same class of people any better.   Seriously, where do the Republicans find these guys and why do people vote for them?

Friday Linkage 4/3/2015

Are the recent pieces of legislation that codify discrimination based on supposed religious grounds the death rattle of the right wing? Yes, the bills passed in Indiana and Arkansas. Heck, the governor of Indiana signed the crap legislation and now has backpedaled like an all-pro defensive back. However, the national backlash is inspiring. The majority of Americans think that this type of legislation is wrong—moral, legal, or otherwise. Once your party is stuck supporting such a lunatic fringe what hope do you have of being nationally relevant over the long term?

On to the links…

EPA To Place Restrictions On The World’s Most Widely Used Herbicide—Glyphosate is nasty shit, but it is available almost without restriction. It probably causes cancer and it is over applied throughout the U.S. The EPA is finally starting to act.

New Cars Are More Efficient Than Ever, Beating Standards By A ‘Wide Margin’—The most recent targets for fuel efficiency are working as cars rolling off the assembly line are increasingly fuel efficient. In 2013, cars were getting 1.3 miles per gallon more than was required by law. Damn.

Has motorization in the US peaked?—Peak car or peak motorization is a concept that draws out some pretty partisan bickering. The auto culture is a big part of the identity of the U.S. yet there is an undercurrent developing that is rejecting that component.

Banks Losing Millions On Bad Energy Industry Loans—Energy project financing rarely makes the headlines because people’s heads hurt when talking about debt. However, this is a big deal because it will make it increasingly difficult for fossil fuel energy projects to receive bank backed funding.

SolarCity Reaches 5 GWh In One Day, Two Weeks After Smashing Past 4 GW–Progress. Plain and simple.

$100 Million For Solar PV Systems In Hawaii—I am waiting for the day when Hawaii is 100% clean energy. With an expensive electricity market and ideal conditions the worm may be turning for this to become a reality.

600 MW Perovskite Solar Cell Facility Slated For Turkey—Every day other countries are getting in on the solar bandwagon. Remember, each year this plant will be pumping out 600 MW of solar cells that will destroy demand for fossil fuels. Each and every year.

Beijing Puts Brakes on New Solar Panel Capacity—It was a low-key announcement but the overcapacity of solar cell manufacturing that has led to a supply gut and drastic price cuts has compelled the Chinese government to put a halt to further manufacturing capacity additions.

Clean Energy Makes Up Record Share of UK Power with Coal-to-Biomass Conversions—The moral of the story is that coal is screwed. Renewables and cheap gas are pushing the dirtiest of fuels to the backburner. For good, hopefully.

Wind Replaces Coal, Geothermal Overtakes Gas As Major Sources Of Power Generation In New Zealand—Almost 80% of the energy produced in New Zealand is from clean sources. Coal and gas are both declining as renewables come on line that are cheap and clean.

Beijing’s Four Major Coal-Fired Power Plants Will Completely Shut Down—I do not know if it will make a difference in China’s notorious air quality, but the people of Beijing have agitated enough that officials have made the decision to close the four closest plants burning coal. It’s baby steps.

How Long Can Oceans Continue To Absorb Earth’s Excess Heat?—There is a growing scientific consensus that climate change’s impacts have been mitigated by the world’s oceans being able to absorb excess heat. Now there is a concern that this mitigation is reaching the end of the line. Uh oh.

Bayou Bonjour: Caernarvon Diversion Builds Land and Gives Birth to New Bayou—This an amazing story about the restorative power of letting nature do its thing. River deltas are some of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, yet these same ecosystems have the ability to be restored in short order if left alone.

Warming Winters Not Main Cause of Pine Beetle Outbreaks—This is interesting because for years the narrative in the American west has been that global warming has allowed the pine bark beetle to survive previously harsh winters and thus decimate forests. However, the real culprit may be forest thick with trees that would have been thinned out via other natural events that man has prevented. Ten o’clock rule anyone?

Florida’s Climate Denial Could Cause Catastrophic Recession-Florida and Rick Scott are the best. Essentially, so much property in Florida is insured by the federal government that if a major loss of value occurs due to a natural disaster—which will be made worse by the very climate change that Rick Scott denies is real—the U.S. economy may be pushed into a deep recession because of the cost.

Tips to Lower Your Carbon Footprint—Sometimes you just need to take a little action by yourself:

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You Must Read—The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Any event that has occurred just five times since the first animal with a backbone appeared, some five hundred million years ago, must qualify as exceedingly rare. The notion that a sixth such event would be taking place right now, more or less in front of our eyes, struck me as, to use the technical term, mind-boggling. [Page 7]

The extinction of a species is an extraordinary event—think about a child learning that the dodo was essentially wiped off the face of the Earth by human behavior—yet there is a cycle where mass numbers of extinction events occur. For all intents and purposes, the evidence points us to a conclusion that human beings are about to witness a mass extinction of species.

9781250062185Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is the most accessible book that I have ever read dealing with the science behind the extinction of species. Generally, books on this topic are dense academic or scientific works that quickly bore and confuse the general public with detail that is not of interest to the general public. Making scientific knowledge accessible to even an educated general public is no small feat and should be considered a success in and of itself. Furthermore, Kolbert weaves a rapid paced tale that engrosses the reader with both the amazing variety of natural life on the planet and the very precarious nature of so much of that life.

The story is quite simple. Humans are the weediest species on the face of the planet. As a species we inhabit all forms of habitats and manipulate those habitats to suit our preferences. Furthermore, through industrial development and behavior we have begun to fundamentally alter the chemistry of the entire biosphere. The end result is that as the conditions around the planet change a great number of species will be unable to adapt or move leading to their extinction. All that will remain will be the weeds of the plant and animal worlds.

How many species will go extinct? We do not know because “Yet another possible explanation for why observations don’t match predictions is that humans aren’t very observant.” [Page 187] We do not even know how many species exist at this moment in time, so if something is lost that was never discovered how will we account for its loss? The answer is that we will not and the world will be a less amazing place.

What frightens me the most in reading this book and others on climate change’s impacts is that we have no idea how forthcoming changes will impact the livability of the planet. It’s one thing to talk about aggregate temperature increase or species going extinct or sea levels rising, but it is another thing entirely to imagine the collapse of entire ecosystems because the connections between species are lost. The web of life seemed like such an easy concept to grasp when you are a middle school student in your first real biology class. It seems like a scary ass concept now that you are an adult staring at human derived climate change that is messing up the basic operating rules for the entire Earth.

I do not know if it is all doom and gloom. I would like to think that for the sake of my small children the world will not be such a grim place by the time they reach adulthood with children of their own. I just seem to lose hope the more that I learn.

You Must Read—The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire that Saved America

In years past, wars had been fought and rivers of blood shed for far less land than that which was under consideration by the select group of “forest arrangers” as they called themselves. Never before had the fate of so much territory been determined by a small, mostly unarmed group of tree specialists. They were in one the creation, transforming by surveys, mapping, and suggestions areas larger than some eastern states. [Page 56]

9780547394602If you think that our modern conflicts over the role of the federal government in owning land is acrimonious and/or unique you must read Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire that Saved America.  It has everything that you would come to expect in a modern tale about conservation. Politicians making decisions about public lands who are corrupt? Check. Private industries with deep pockets looking to profit from the cheap sale of public lands? Check. A few dedicated politicians acting in the interest of public conservation? Check. It just happens to not involve anyone with the last name Koch or a corporation with the name Exxon.

The book is really about two events. The first is the creation of the United States Forest Service under the aegis of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. The second is a massive fire in the American west, mostly on land managed by the Forest Service, that changed the perception of public lands in the American consciousness. The title of the book is slightly hyperbolic in that America itself was probably not at risk in the period, but the future of our public lands surely was in doubt.

These two stories are interwoven to provide the foundation for the fundamentals of the modern conservation movement in the United States where federal lands would be at forefront of the battle. Even today we see the same battles being fought when clowns like Cliven Bundy claim that their rights to land supersede any federal claim to the land and right wingers line up behind them in support. At least until it is revealed that the clown in question is a raving lunatic with horribly outdated and pathetic racist beliefs. Just saying.

Amazingly, history favors the conservation of lands. Few people, if any discounting those on the lunatic fringe, look back and view the creation of the national parks as a bad thing. Yet at the time of creation there was great debate. The same thing is true of lands managed by the federal government outside of the park system.

One of the great follies that came to be following the fires in 1910 was the so-called “ten o’clock rule,” which by the mid-1930s came to be defined as any fire reported the prior day had to be put out by ten o’clock the following morning. The result would be disastrous in terms of forest and people lost to fire:

The ten o’clock rule would stay in effect for most of the century until rangers who realized that fires were critical to the health of a forest started to have a voice. Budgets escalated as the fire control mission became even bigger and more intrusive. From the air and on the ground, with chemicals dropped like bombs and with bulldozers to scrape perimeter lines, the Forest Service attacked all fires, growing into a force of nature—or against nature, depending on the view. [Page 273]

Forest in the American west need fire. Fire clears out weaker trees and combustible undergrowth. Fire creates a patchwork of trees of various ages and, thus, heights which are not as susceptible to fires that hop along the crowns of trees. Fire can also be the mechanism for a forest’s regeneration as many seeds and cones will not release protective layers until a cleansing fire has pass through. These ideas were anathema to a generation of foresters who grew up under the tutelage and influence of men like Gifford Pinchot. If there is a place to lay blame on that generation of foresters it is on their belief that fire was inherently evil vis a vis the forest and that fire could be controlled by man. Time has proven that the suppression of fires only gives man the impression that he has controlled the elemental force.

Fire is a transformative event for forests, but it is part of the natural cycle:

They knew well enough that a forest after a fire is not a cemetery, set with stones—just a change of worlds. Still, it was hard to see any tomorrow in the ashen landscape. [Page 249]

We would do well to remember this fact as we approach the fire season in a year where much of the American west is affected by extreme drought. Time and time again, our government will send men and women into harm’s way because individuals have decided to ignore nature’s will and inhabit a combustible forest. It was done in the early-Twentieth Century and it will be done again in the Twenty First:

Then they did what all western boomers did after a combustible punch: got up off the floor and rebuilt, with brick, stone, and steel, shaking a fist again at nature. [Page 2]