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Friday Linkage 7/3/2020

Riddle me this, protestors in Aurora, Colorado were met with riot police when demanding justice for the death of Elijah McClain.  Their offense?  Playing the violin.  That’s it.  No violence, no looting, nothing.

In St. Louis it is apparently all right to be a cranky white couple brandishing firearms outside your home while protestors walk past.  How were the dealt with by the police?  Crickets.

Does anyone need a more clear example that the police in the United States are out of control?

Stay safe out there.

On to the links…

House Democrats Laying Out New Roadmap for Cutting U.S. Greenhouse Gases—The Green New Deal is a dead letter, but its ideas can spur action along a number of different fronts.  We have the technology and the understanding to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions within our lifetimes.  Failure to do so is a dereliction of our duty to future generations.

Congressional Climate Crisis Action Plan Would Decarbonize U.S., Add $8 Trillion In Benefits By 2050—Another take on the potential plan coming from House Democrats.  Now you know and knowing is half the battle.  Thanks G.I. Joe.

Colorado Springs will Shut Down its Two Coal-Fired Plants by 2030. Now it’s Time for Xcel to Do the Same, Environmentalists Say.—2030 seems like a long way away, but it is less than a decade off.  My guess is that this closure can happen sooner if we really push for it to happen.  Plus, the Martin Drake power plant in Colorado Springs is an absolute eyesore.

Why the World’s Most Advanced Solar Plants Are Failing—The twenty four solar panels on top of my garage seem to be doing just fine day in and day out with no intervention from anyone.  The best answer is sometimes the simpler answer.

Inertia and the Unintended Consequences of More Renewable Power Deployment—Some interesting concepts here that might be an issue as we deploy every increasing amounts of renewable energy.

Chesapeake Energy, Fracking Pioneer, Files for Bankruptcy Owing $9bn—Chesapeake Energy may be the worst “bad actor” in the fracking industry, but it is hardly alone in its loose treatment of contracts and the fundamentals of business.  The idea is to make a profit.  These companies seem allergic to actually making money rather than just blowing through capital like Uber.

Chesapeake Energy Goes Bankrupt, Will It Spur The Industry To Police Its Own?—The short answer is no.  The long answer is that these companies have very little incentive to do anything of the sort because the government at all levels—local, state, and federal—backs them up.

$40 Oil Is The New Normal—If this is the new normal price then a lot of oil companies are going to have a hard time staying afloat.

Fuel Efficiency Rules Lead to Deadlier Car Accidents—This is the kind of hack statistical analysis that gets us into trouble.  Heavier cars are not necessarily safer.  Just take a look at what happens when a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu is slammed into a 1959 Chevrolet Bel-Air.

Impossible Foods Begins Selling its Meatless Sausage to Restaurants Nationwide—People are already concerned about the treatment of animals in industrial operations, the conditions for workers in meat processing facilities, and the general environmental harm that the entire supply chain for animal based protein is causing.  Now you can eliminate all of that with one change.  The future is a crazy place.

New Study Finds Microplastics in Fruits and Vegetables—Future generations will probably call us the “plastic people” for our infatuation with a material that does not degrade and infests every aspect of our lives.  Or we will just be known as the most ignorant epoch of humans.

CSAs for the 1 Percent—Now for something that no one asked for.

On Behalf Of Environmentalists, I Apologize For The Climate Scare—This opinion piece has been getting a lot of play on the Internet over the past few days and I think it is something that we all should read.  I do not necessarily agree with all or even most of the points, but there is something salient about the issue with alarmism.  I just do not know if we are concerned enough, in general, as opposed to small sub-sections of the population being over concerned.

More Companies Want to be “Carbon Neutral.” What Does That Mean?—Once Starbucks has co-opted something you know it is just a branding play.

Progress Against My Personal Goals for the First Half of 2020

We are about halfway through 2020 and I can safely say that no one thought it would look anything like it does right now at the beginning of the year.  If you had coronavirus and “white power” as predictions I suggest you buy a grip load of lottery tickets because you are a modern day Nostradamus.

Here are my goals for 2020:

  • Deeper decarbonization: My lawncare routine is now zero emission.  My daily driving is now zero emission. Okay, it is more like zero driving but I digress.  There are some areas I want to explore if coronavirus does not get in the way of accomplishing some tasks.
  • Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: I do not know what to say about this one.  First, I took a new job right before the coronavirus shutdowns occurred and it is likely that I would have been working remotely regardless of the situation.  Second, both my wife and I have been working from home since mid-March so there has not been a lot of opportunities to replace vehicle miles.  Heck, we are “down” with regards to miles driven somewhere in the range of 55-90% depending upon what you use as the baseline.  Since mid-March we have worked from home 63 days.  In terms of commuting avoided this represents almost 2,580 miles and almost 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide.  We are not replacing miles with human powered transit because we are just not replacing miles travelled at all.  Maybe this is better.
  • Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: As of the morning of July 1, I had ridden approximately 1,470 miles.  My goal was to be at 1,500 by that date but I lost almost a week of potential rides to my truck and bike being stranded after a catastrophic water pump failure on the way home from Colorado in June.  Still, I am very much on target.
  • Ride 2 “New to Me” Trails: Rode one “new to me” trail in the MoPac East in Lincoln, NE.  Check out my thoughts on that trail here.
  • Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: Check out my comments here. 
  • Read 40 Books: Sitting at 31 books seems like fairly good progress until you recognize that more than two thirds of that was accomplished in the first quarter.  I will get there.
  • Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: This seems to be the task that eludes me every summer.  However, we do have someone contracted to do some hardscaping later in the summer that will hopefully be the impetus for a transformation of a large percentage of our yard.  Plus, we replaced all of the plants in our front landscaping beds this summer.  That translates into a lot of work moving rock, amending soil, and what not to end up with the same landscaping footprint as prior.  It does look better now.
  • Maximize Local Food: Our grocery shopping habits really changed after things started shutting down in mid-March.  Grocery shopping was done online and in as few trips as possible.  As a result, my spending on local food (defined by me as purchased directly from farmers or from my local co-op) declined significantly.  It has started to pick back up recently as things have relaxed a bit.  Regardless, for the year my local grocery spend accounts for about 20% of my total which is down from over 30% before March.

Second Quarter Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer

The year started with the highest of hopes to consume beer that was brewed locally, purchased directly from the brewery, and packaged in such a way that no waste was created.  Coronavirus pretty much killed that goal in its sleep.  A lot of breweries closed entirely, although some stayed open to provide direct sales of packaged beer.  Growlers and other reusable containers were prohibited as potential virus vectors.

Plus, when a person is staying at home all day and night there seems to be little reward to kicking back with a cold beer at the end of the day.  Days and nights, weekdays and weekends, workdays and holidays just seem to kind of meld into one long slog of Zoom meetings, squirrelly children, and longing for something that approximates normal.

Here is what my beer purchasing looked like in the second quarter:

Second Quarter Beer

No real surprises.  The Sierra Nevada Brewing purchases are a little random.  Along with Summit Brewing, Sierra Nevada is a nostalgic brewery for me as it is one of the first IPAs that I can remember drinking back in the…1990s.  You know, that same period of time when Republicans were up in arms about a President having lied about an affair.  Oh, the good old days…

I did get a chance to visit my favorite brewery on the planet—Outer Range Brewing Company in Frisco, Colorado—during a trip to complete some trim carpentry on a friend’s vacation property.  Yes, the same trip where my truck decided to become a gigantic paperweight on the side of the interstate following a catastrophic water pump failure.  Can you tell that I am still a little bitter about that repair bill?

Some beer made it home with me and will have to be an occasional treat until I can hopefully make it back for the Christmas holiday and some skiing.  I have the sinking suspicion that the current spike in coronavirus is going to put a damper on any skiing this year.

Deeper Decarbonization by Intent and Accident

One of my 2020 “goals” was a deeper level of decarbonization.  In prior years I have installed solar panels (twice) and purchased an electric vehicle.  However, for 2020 I wanted to examine other parts of my lifestyle and see where I could decarbonize even more.

The first area was lawn care and its attendant equipment.  As anyone who cares about the air we breathe knows, lawn equipment powered by small gasoline engines is one of the dirtiest sources of air pollution that we use on a regular basis.  God help you if you are still rolling around with a two-stroke mower or string trimmer.

For the lawn care “season” so far I have mowed my lawn 11 times with my new battery electric mower and string trimmer.

Each mowing session represents approximately 1 hour of small engine runtime eliminated.  Depending upon the study and assumptions, an hour of small engine runtime is equivalent—in terms of emissions—to approximately 100 miles of automobile travel.  Considering I a running 100% “on the sun” right now you could say that my change in mowing equipment has resulted in the equivalent of reducing driving by 1,100 miles.

While reducing CO2 emissions is a big deal, it is even more important to reduce other types of emissions like small particulate and gasses other than CO2.  This is where reducing small engine runtime is so beneficial.  Without catalytic converters or other advanced emissions equipment, small engines are essentially belching out pollutants like it was 1972.   There are no hard estimates, but there are guesses that for every hour of mowing something like34 pounds of “other” pollutants are shot into the air. This includes things like nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter.  The image of an American lawn as some kind of green idyll takes on a whole other bent when you consider the maintenance costs.

The second area where I was going to decarbonize was commuting.  Well, commuting is out because of coronavirus.  By accident both my wife and I have ended up cutting our commuting dramatically since mid-March.  Through June 30th we have avoided commuting for 63 days—not counting furlough, vacation, or holidays—which works out to a combine savings of ~2,500 miles driven and ~3,300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

My original goal had been to replace 500 miles of driving—EV or otherwise—with the equivalent of human powered transport.  However, as you can see my household is blowing those goals out of the water in a totally different way.

There are some other areas of my household that I am looking to decarbonize in the coming months, but restrictions and closures due to coronavirus may impeded the progress toward those goals.  Regardless, I think that between the revised lawn care routine and cessation of commuting there has been some good progress made toward any goal of emitting less carbon dioxide and other emissions.

Over a Megawatt Hour of Solar and a Little Bit of EV Driving in June

June’s solar production ended at ~1.14 MWh.  Yep, my expanded solar photovoltaic array produce more than a megawatt hour of electricity for the month.  That feels like progress:

June 2020 Solar

Overall, my household ended the month producing ~544 kWh more than we consumed.  For the year, we are “in the black” ~995 kWh.  Quickly, I am approaching the point where I am net positive since installing my first solar panels a few years ago.  With July—traditionally the best month for solar production—I could reach that milestone before the summer is out.

Yes, I draw power from the grid.  However, it is my contention that if everyone were attempting to be net positive in terms of their power consumption this world would be a better place.  If enough people were doing just that we would have a huge portfolio of generating assets across the United States that would go a long way to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.  All right, I will get off my soap box.

The total number of miles driven for the month went up compared to prior coronavirus impacted months mainly as a function of actually leaving the house to shop for groceries and taking children to their limited activities for the summer.  Still, I only drove 254.3 miles for the month of June at an average efficiency of 6.2 miles per kWh.

Compared with my truck—which is an untrustworthy mechanical beast that left me stranded on the side of the interstate—I saved ~298 pounds of carbon dioxide being emitted, assuming that I pulled all of the electricity that I required from the grid at an average carbon intensity for my area.  Obviously, I am pumping out quite a bit more solar than required by my household so the actual emissions savings are probably even greater.

The crazy thing over the past three months has been just how much our household driving has been reduced.  For April, May, and June my driving is down 82%, 83%, and 54% respectively.  This takes into account that we have been using the Nissan Leaf for almost 100% of our local and regional trips.  So much so that my wife sold her car to her brother.  Talk about savings.  Plus, there is so much more space in the garage now.

Books I Read in the Second Quarter of 2020

The first quarter was a big one for reading books, but the second quarter…not so much.  Maybe it was all of the “doomscrolling” we seem to be doing these days or it was the fact that the libraries closed until recently or it was just the freaking sense of malaise from the coronavirus crisis.  It seems to take the fun out of everything right now.

The good thing is that the libraries in my area are doing pickups for books you reserve online, so there is the ability to work through a reading list without resorting to Amazon.  I applaud my local libraries for really going all out to help people through this situation in any way possible.  It reminds a person of the importance of libraries and librarians.  Support your local library.

My hope is that I can crush my reading list in the second half of the year.  So far I am at 31 books against a goal of 40 for the year.  Coronavirus be damned!

Here is what I read during the second quarter of the year:

If you want to see what I read during the first quarter, check out the list here.  [LINK]

Note: I borrowed almost all of the books listed above from one of three area public libraries.  The links are there for someone to find the book online.  I do not receive a single cent from Powell’s for linking to their site.

A Quick Ride on the MoPac East Trail

On the way out to Colorado to finish some trim carpentry on a friend’s vacation home I stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska.  As a reader of this blog would know I end up in Lincoln once or twice a year.  Unfortunately, every time I end up in Lincoln it is usually hot and windy or hot and humid or just so hot it does not matter.  It is my belief that the city of Lincoln is trying to kill me.

Stubborn to a fault, it was my mission to hit up one of the local trails that I had not ridden and see what eastern Nebraska had to offer the gravel set.

The MoPac East Trail is built on an abandoned Missouri Pacific rail line that runs for about 26 miles along its entirety.  The eastern portion, hence the MoPac East, runs just under 22 miles from the eastern edge of Lincoln at the 84th Street trailhead to the town of Wabash.  The difference in mileage is for the portion that runs through town and is paved.

I rode just a little over 15 miles of the 22-mile portion due to a combination a wind, heat, and lack of knowledge about the trail conditions.  I did not want to find myself gassed in 90-plus degree heat facing a headwind on the return trip and end up exhausted the next morning on an eight-hour drive into the mountains.  For the out and back (just over 30 miles round trip) I gained and lost ~450 feet of elevation, which squares with most trails I have ridden in the region.

The trail conditions were fairly good.  I am going to attribute the rutting in some locations to the intense rainstorms that the remnant of Tropical Storm/Depression Cristobal dropped in the region.  Otherwise, the trail was graded well and most of the gravel was evenly distributed.

I will note that I forgot what it is like to ride on crushed limestone.  The white dust is nothing short of insidious.  For whatever reason Easter Iowa trails are using less crushed limestone and more of a cleaned rock.  In preparation for a paving project the northern portion of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail outside of Center Point has a packed base that has been rolled over many times.  It is almost as hard as pavement at this point.

All in all, I would say that I favor the MoPac East trail over the longer Homestead Trail that I rode last year.  The MoPac East’s surface conditions were better and there was enough variation to break up the long slogs.  The Homestead Trail felt like a singularly long bike ride through a straight tunnel of trees.

One trail new to me down and one to go to complete my goal for the year.  Where will I ride next?

Friday Linkage 6/26/2020

Do you want to know why I want to see more long range electric cars?  It’s about the points of failure.

This past week I spent three hours stranded on the side of the road after the vehicle I was riding in had a spectacular failure of its water pump.  Without warning the water pump failed, sending shrapnel into the adjacent hoses, and dumping all of the engine’s coolant on the interstate.  Thankfully, we were near an exit and pulled off without causing any engine damage.

For anyone who tells you that electric cars are too complex just ask them about the cooling system on their existing ICE vehicle.  I doubt the person has a working knowledge of just how complex that system has become let alone the other liquid systems on the vehicle.  That is my rant for a furlough Friday.

Stay safe out there.

On to the links…

Great American Outdoors Act Approved by Senate in Major Conservation Win—It’s a win, but it took vulnerable senators in an election year to get behind something that the majority of the American people support.  This is where our political climate is right now.  Republican politicians will only support things that a majority of Americans want to see if they are in a tight race for reelection.  Otherwise, it is gifts to rich people and corporations all day long.  Yes, I am looking at you Cory Gardner.

The Untouchables—Not the movie with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery.  Rather, we are talking about multi-national corporations that have become trans-national governments beholden to no one but their owners.  No wonder the planet is messed up.

Can Working Less Save the Planet?—It cannot hurt.

Trump Administration will Not Regulate Rocket Fuel Chemical in Drinking Water—Who wants to guess that somewhere a company with liability exposure to perchlorate pollution has donated money to Trump’s reelection campaign or his inaugural committee or stayed at one of his hotels or just handed an envelope of money to one of his doltish sons?  The opportunities for corruption are just too varied to even guess.

The $3 Trillion Green Plan To Get The Economy Out Of Intensive Care—It’s a good idea, but it is a dead letter in a Congress where Mitch McConnell has any role.

For Oil, The Writing Is On The Wall: New Times Call For New Energies—It is not longer a question of if, but rather when and how fast.

Wowzers — 2X More Electricity From Offshore Wind For USA—Basically, the U.S. has offshore wind resources that could power the electricity needs of the nation two times over.  Start building those turbines.

World’s Largest Liquid Air Battery Will Help the UK Go Carbon Neutral—It’s not all about lithium ion batteries, which are great for EVs but cost too much to really be a solution for stationary energy storage.  If we can deploy enough storage capacity to shift renewable energy from its peak production to the moment of peak demand the renewable revolution can succeed.

Taking a Page from Tesla’s Notebook, Sunrun Builds a “Virtual” Solar Power Plant in California—This idea is so cool.  Link a bunch of distributed power generation and storage assets in such a way that they become a virtual power plant with respect to the grid.

Central USA Set Several Wind Power Records In Spring—Damn, 62% of energy provided over the course of the day for the Southwest Power Pool came from the wind.  Remember when the maximum was supposed to be 5%.  Then the critics said 10%.  What happens if we get to 100% for a power pool and start exporting the excess?  The future is an amazing place.

‘Desperate’ To Get Natural Gas Out Of Appalachia, Pipeline Builders Face Long Battle Even After Supreme Court Victory—Even in defeat, the opponents of natural gas projects have to remain hyper vigilant because these people will never give up trying to destroy the land, air, and water of the United States.

A Utility In The Middle Of Coal Country Opts For Renewable Energy—When Indiana starts to abandon coal you know the writing is on the wall for coal in the United States.

Now Is Not The Time To Pump The Brakes On Fleet Electrification—Now is the time to retire old gas guzzling fleet vehicles and replace them with EVs.

Importance of Accelerating EV Adoption To Reduce CO2 Emissions, Using Kenya As An Example—Transitioning to EVs is not just an issue for developed Western economies.

India Eyes Private Investment to Open 41 New Coal Mines—Some ideas will just not die.  Despite the pollution, India’s politicians seem wedded to the idea of coal as the energy for the future of the country.

Cuba’s Clean Rivers Benefit From Sustainable Agriculture—Because of the political climate in the U.S.—particularly Florida—the U.S. is not really allowed to look at Cuba in a positive light.  Just ask Bernie Sanders how well it went over when he praised one aspect of the island nation’s development.

The UK’s Barn Owls are Growing in Number – and for Once it’s Thanks to Humans—Maybe, just maybe, we are not completely trash after all.

Wood Heaters too Dirty to Sell are Clean Enough to Give to Tribes, says EPA—This is the EPA on Donald Trump.  It is like he is a drug for every bad idea to get all hopped up on and go out into the world to wreak havoc.

The Gas Industry is Paying Instagram Influencers to Gush over Gas Stoves—As a dyed in the wool evangelist for smooth top electric ranges—the clean up is just too easy—I am so tired of hearing people gush about gas stoves.  There is nothing quite like having an open flame spewing pollution into your home.  Now it comes out that the Instagram pimps are being paid by the gas industry to be shills for stoves.  The one thing I wish COVID-19 would kill off is the entire influencer “industry.”

They Forgot the Bread

The Roman poet Juvenal is generally credited with having created the phrase “bread and circuses” to illustrate Roman emperors desire for the superficial appeasement of lower classes at the expense of wider concerns.

In the modern context, it has generally been applied to organizations—political, social, commercial, etc.—that provide some level of material comfort and superficial entertainment to mask shifts in the underlying foundations of civil society.

Think about large land grant universities in the United States.  These institutions have generally raised tuition at levels much higher than the corresponding rates of inflation, increased class sizes to levels that would make most concerned educators blush, and allowed departments—athletic, academic, or administrative—to become nearly autonomous fiefdoms free from any sort of oversight.  Do the students these institutions purport to serve revolt?  Nope.  As long as the revenue sports keep them entertained and the cheap beer flows from lukewarm kegs no one raises a single cry of outrage.  It’s not bread and circus.  Rather it’s Beer and Circus.

However, in recent years the primary mother fuckers behind this cynical strategy seem to have forgotten that you need to at least provide some comfort to people in order to keep them mollified.  In an excellent piece of angry opinion writing Daily Kos community member Haricot Blue wrote:

Yes, you were sitting pretty.   And all you had to do to keep it that way was to not wage a racist, scorched-earth war against the first Black President of the United States.  That’s all!  That is the only thing you dumb, stupid idiots had to do:  swallow your pride, smile, shake hands, and play nice with one of the most charismatic, inspiring, intelligent and genuinely moral politicians in American history. 

Barack Obama didn’t want to ruin you, you dumbasses!  He wasn’t out to confiscate your estates, kill your grandmas, and force you into re-education camps!   All he wanted was a more humane, less cruel, less racist version of the system that made you rich.  You should have wanted that too!  Not because you care about other people — for your own good!   But you were too stupid.

What would it have cost you?  A moderate tax hike?  More oversight from nosy bureaucrats?  Some limits on your environmental depredations and exploitation of workers?  Maybe a few more women and people of color showing up at the Executive Retreat?   And in return, millions of your fellow citizens would have health coverage, a living wage, affordable education and child care, clean air and water, some disposable income and free time – in short, a stake in the system.  

Instead, these mother fuckers—yes, I use the term lovingly—took everything that they possibly could and supported the election of the worst president in the history of the United States.  Now they are surprised that people are pissed and want change.

A little bread would have gone a long way, but Mitch McConnell has never been one to concede an iota if it means that the same iota has to come from his pocket.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak, and with an election coming up in a little over four months things are looking increasingly worse for the Republican Party.  Not that it could happen to a better bunch of mother fuckers.  These are the people who spent eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency obstructing every idea, no matter how aligned with their priorities, because…um…that’s right, he was the black guy.  Then they stood behind the racist troll as he laid bare the reality of American politics.  That is to say, there is a large percentage of people who will vote based on nothing more than racial animas and perceived lack of standing.  Never mind that it has been Republican policies since the 1980s that have destroyed what little standing those same people had in the first place.  It is just easier to blame someone with darker skin, drink a Natty Light, and complain about Colin Kaepernick.

I can hope, dear god I can hope, that come November enough people are sick of this carnival barker’s sideshow and his Republican freak show to usher the mother fuckers out into the cold D.C. air in January.  The think tank jobs and Fox News gigs will be cushy, but at least we will not have to hear them lecture the nation on…whatever, I stopped listening at about the same time as that Tea Party bullshit.

Friday Linkage 6/19/2020

No linkage this week since I am on a working vacation helping a friend with a laundry list of “handyman” tasks around the house.

I will be returning next week.

Stay safe out there.