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Friday Linkage 9/21/2018

It is just 46 days until the midterm election.  If the Keystone cops routine led by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley with regard to the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh is anything it is motivation to get another party in power as a check or balance to the Trumpian instincts of the Republican Party.

The midterms are not about impeachment.  The midterms are about rescuing a sense of common decency that is lost when people like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Donald Trump control all the levers of power.

On to the links…

Why Growth Can’t Be Green—I do not know if I agree with the entirety of the thesis that growth cannot be green, but I do agree that we need to rethink our entire economic paradigm.  It is leading us to ruin.

Here’s A Radical New Plan To Tax Carbon And Give Everyone In America $2,237—A carbon tax is coming.  Once the basic mechanism is in place it will be the most powerful ecological and economic tool in the recent history of the United States.

Trump’s Methane Rule Rollback Burns the Natural Gas Bridge—Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.  Natural gas wells and pipelines that leak methane might as well be coal plants shooting dirty flue gas into the sky.

U.S. Cities, States, and Businesses can Nearly Hit the Paris Climate Goals–Without Trump—Action on a state, local, and corporate level can make a difference.  Our federal government may be an obtuse retrograde comedy of errors, but we can make progress in the interim in other locales.

Renewables = 43% of New Power Capacity in USA in 1st Half of 2018—I wish it were closer to 100%, but baby steps.

Utilities have a Problem: The Public Wants 100% Renewable Energy, and Quick—You would be hard pressed to find a more hide bound and conservative industry than utility companies.  These companies make banks and insurance companies look like early stage tech startups run by nineteen year olds living on Red Bull and Taco Bell.

Australia on Track to Miss Paris Climate Targets as Emissions Hit Record Highs—Just when I think we are doing the worst in the United States, Australia seems to jump out of the corner of the room and yell, “Look at me!”  Government instability, coal industry trying to run things, etc.

Steep Emissions Reductions Targets Won’t Drive Up Power Bills, Modelling Shows—We can do right by the planet and it will not cost us an arm or a leg.  Or both.

EIA Report Says Coal Still King on State-by-State Basis—Despite all the progress made in reducing coal’s role in electricity generation, it is still the dominant form of electricity generation in most states.  More work to be done folks.

“Golden Sandwich” Photoelectrode Harvests 85% Of Sunlight—Wow.  Just wow.  How can we find money to deploy into making this a commercially viable product?  Imagine my smallish 4.69 kWh solar array suddenly being able to produce over 20 kWh in the same area. Talk about repowering.

This Breakthrough in a Type of Photosynthesis could Provide the World with Unlimited Energy—This reminds me of 1950s newsreels that promised nuclear energy would produce electricity that was too cheap to meter.

Bombardier Revives the Battery-Powered Train—For the short haul train routes between urban locales doesn’t using this type of train make more sense than stringing high power lines all over the place?

Tenfold Improvement in Liquid Batteries mean Electric Car Refuelling could Take Minutes—Liquid or flow batteries have been touted as an alternative to lithium ion batteries for a long time.  The energy density has always been too low to make the debate serious.  Maybe times they are a changing.

What Bison in South Dakota can Teach us about Fighting Climate Change—More effective rangelands policy could help the world sequester carbon in soils, improve water quality, and produce animal protein at the same time.  Now, the impediment would be that we would probably have to get rid of the cows and sheep on rangelands.

Frisco Leads Water Efficiency Charge, Reduces Municipal Consumption by 30 Percent—Drought will become the new normal for much of the American west.  However, our profligate use of water continues unabated.  This does mean that we have a long way to go with efficiency as a way of reducing our demand on precious water resources.

Why Fashion Brands Destroy Billions’ Worth of Their Own Merchandise Every Year—What a freaking waste.

20 Habits of Frugal People—There is an intersection of frugal people and environmentalists that is not really discussed.  Frugal people, generally, are not big consumers and environmentalists should also not be big consumers because of consumption’s ecological footprint.  The best part is that being frugal is a cheap way to be an environmentalist.

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Two Approaches to the Environment on the Ballot this Midterm Election

In November we will be given a choice to change the direction of the United States politically.  As is the case every two years the entirety of the U.S. House of Representatives is up for election.  Many of the House districts in the United States are drawn in such a way that partisan incumbents face little challenge to their reelection bids.

In Iowa, however, relatively fairly drawn House districts mean that we have an actually competitive race between incumbent Rod Blum, no friend of this blog, and Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer.

As an environmentalist I think comparing the candidates’ views on climate change to be instructive as it serves as a point of departure from the Trump wing of America and the rest of the country.

Rod Blum is a climate change denier.  As a member of the arch-conservative and downright wacky House Freedom Caucus Blum has not met an environmental rule or agreement that he did not want to gut like a catfish.  In 2014 he went on the record as a skeptic of climate change.  He supported Trump’s move to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  While in office he has continued to financially benefit from oil and gas stocks while moving to open up public lands to more oil and gas drilling.

The League of Conservation voters nailed it by giving Rod Blum a 2% lifetime score when it comes to national environmental issues.  Honestly, I am quite surprised he managed to drum up 2% given his voting record.  He’s basically Scott Pruitt, but from Dubuque, Iowa.

Contrast that with Abby Finkenauer, who has an entire section of her campaign website dedicated to the environment and clean energy.  Entitled “Growing our Clean Energy Economy and Protecting our Environment” it states that:

I’ll play a similar watchdog role in Congress, and will just as firmly stand up to attempts to weaken key programs and measures that fight climate change, grow our clean energy economy, and protect our environment. Ultimately it’s time we had a representative who fights for Iowa families – ensuring they can live in healthy environments supported by good jobs – rather than standing with corporate polluters and those opposed to science.

A-freaking-men!

I believe that the choice of what is right for Iowa’s 1st district and, thus, the United States is to vote for Abby Finkenauer this November.  It’s just the planet that is counting on you.

You Must Read—The Parent’s Guide to Climate Revolution

Are you a parent, about to become a parent, or even thinking about having a child in the near future?  Good.  Be prepared to be scared shitless on a daily, if not more frequent basis, as only being a person responsible for the existence of another human being can make you.

9781608684816.jpgSaying that “you must read” Mary DeMocker’s The Parent’s Guide to Climate Revolution is a little misleading.  This is not a book you read cover to cover and take back to the library.  DeMocker admits as much:

Or you might adopt the fortune cookie method—keep the book nearby and, whenever you have a few minutes, crack it open and see what you get.  Most chapters are short enough to fit into the average bathroom breaks parents with young children allow themselves. [xxvi]

This is not a book with a powerful narrative streak built through successive chapters that concludes with a powerful final passage.  We know what the powerful narrative is before we even pick up the book because we are worried that our actions today will create a planet that is unlivable in the future.  The very fate of humanity rests in our hands.

The book is laid out into 100 chapters or fortune cookie moments if you will under broad headings like “Raise Empowered Kids” and “Build a Fossil-Free Future.”  I would quibble it should be a fossil fuel free future because I still want to see fossils at the Field Museum, but I digress.

What were the pieces that I liked best:

  1. Get Clear on Why There is Hope—There is hope. We often forget to message this fact when we are discussing the state of the world with regards to climate change, Donald Trump, Nebraska Cornhusker football…you know, things that seem so dauntingly horrible that nothing will matter. Well, our kids pick up on that vibe and it is our duty to make sure that we convey hope.

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  1. Plant Trees!—Trees are amazing. You will find no bigger advocate of trees as a solution to a lot of problems than me. Planting a tree with your kids is one of those teaching moments that keeps on teaching well after the planting.  Through the seasons and as the tree grows your child will be amazed, as they should be, by what the tree they helped plant does.

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  1. Be the 3.5 Percent—Apparently, non-violent movements become successful when approximately 3.5 percent of the population or more is involved. All right, let’s get 3.5 percent signed up.

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  1. Let Kids Play with Knives—I would like to amend this to also say let kids play with saws and shovels and hammers and what not. We have created a generation or two of children that have little experience with actually making things from bare components as opposed to pre-selected bits with tidy instructions. See what they can do with some potatoes and onions or a few scrap pieces of wood in the garage.

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  1. Tame Your Tongue—This one is the hardest for me because in a time when crass political language dominates the only method of communication that seems to break through is to out nasty the nasty. However, we are better served not behaving in such a way and it is my hope that I can follow this advice.

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I could have picked a lot more of the one hundred fortune cookie moments, but you get the idea.  You will pick the book up and key in on different moments.   That is the purpose of the book.

What Impact Does a Single Aluminum Can Make?

About once a week, sometimes more, I pick up a discarded aluminum can on the side of the road in the last few miles of my usual thirty mile out and back.  Cyclists are not the source of these cans, I believe, since most of them are on a stretch of road well-travelled by garbage trucks, work vehicles, and jackasses who litter.

Aluminum, as we all learned in elementary school when Earth Day was new and shiny, is easily recyclable.  The problem is that less than half of the estimated 100 billion aluminum cans per year are recycled.  Now, a 50% recovery rate is pretty good compared to plastic or paper but considering the ecological impact of turning bauxite into aluminum it is unacceptable.

It takes a lot of raw bauxite ore and energy to make aluminum.  Recycling the aluminum flips that equation on its head.  The old saw that we learned as kids was that the energy saved from recycling one can could save enough energy to run your television for three hours.  When you are concerned about the environment and love watching Thundercats on Saturday morning this is a big deal.  Now?  Not so much.  Here’s the deal.  It takes twenty times the energy to produce an aluminum can from raw ore versus recycling said can.  Put in kilowatt hour terms it takes ~4.2 kWh to make an aluminum can from scratch. So, every can you pull from the waste stream and put into the recycling stream saves about 4 kWh of electricity and, by extension, about 4 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

That is for a single can.  If I pick up a single can across the 25 or so weeks of “prime” riding season here in eastern Iowa the end result is a savings of about 100 kWh of electricity or 4 to 5 days of solar photovoltaic production from my rooftop array.  Start multiplying that over all of the people taking a ride and it adds up to some real electricity savings.  Think about getting closer to 100% recovery of the 100 billion aluminum cans manufactured in the U.S. every year.  Those are big numbers.

How big?  For every one billion cans or four billion pounds of carbon dioxide not emitted that is like doing any one of the following:

  • Over 388,000 of the average car driven for a year or
  • Almost 196,000 homes energy use for one year or
  • About 460 wind turbines production for a year
  • And a whole lot more…play with the numbers, it’s fun.

This is why it is important, in my mind, to pick up the cans I see littering the road and trail when I am on my bike.  A few seconds every ride is all it takes.  Heck, in Iowa we have a freaking deposit law so every can also nets you a nickel.  Do it for the nickels!

Friday Linkage 9/14/2018

It’s been seventeen years since the attacks of September 11th.  It is amazing to believe that the students entering college this fall have no personal living memory of that day when it is so indelibly scarred on so many of our consciences.  Time marches on without regard to our humanity.

It is also amazing to think about the path we chose to follow as a country in the aftermath of September 11th.  The administration of George W. Bush, which seems like a gauzy dream during these days of Trump, got us into two wars from which we are not out of seventeen years later.  All for a total cost of more than $1.5 trillion and counting.

What could we have done with $1.5 trillion in the United States?  Remember, this money is gone and what it bought is used up, blown up, stolen, or just plain abandoned in the desert.  In essence, we have gotten nothing for our blood and treasure.

On to the links…

The Most Ambitious Climate Plan In History—In the coming years the battle lines will be drawn over a carbon tax.  All the other mechanisms, carrot and/or stick, will be shelved in favor of a simple carbon tax.  As they say on sports talk radio, book it.

U.S. Budget Deficit Widens to Fifth-Highest Ever, CBO Reports—Any time a Republican says “Tax cuts pay for themselves” please ask them for evidence to back up that claim that does not come from the Heritage Foundation.  It is not that the United States does not have enough money for a progressive agenda, it’s that America is being looted by the right wing for corporate interests.

Trump Administration Rushes To Lease Federal Lands—These bastards know that they are living on borrowed time, so they better get while the getting is good.  Teapot Dome scandal will have nothing on these grifters when the final accounting is complete.

The E.P.A.’s Review of Mercury Rules Could Remake Its Methods for Valuing Human Life and Health—In Trump’s America your life is worth less than a coal baron’s ability to make a lot of money.  There is no other reason to change this rule except to mollify the retrograde coal companies that are one of the last groups to actually like Donald Trump.

Trump Administration Wants to Make It Easier to Release Methane Into Air—Oh wait, oil and gas bros also still like Donald Trump because his administration is doing yeoman’s work for them.

Scott Pruitt in Talks with Coal Company for his Next Job—Nothing says looking out for Americans’ interests quite like taking a job with the type of company you favored over the aforementioned Americans’ interests not three months after leaving office in a cloud of scandal.  Maybe they offered him a Trump mattress and some of that special lotion as a signing bonus?

Cover the U.S. In 89 Percent Trees, or Go Solar—Why not do both?  I love trees and I love solar.  Until every south and west facing roof is covered in solar panels we have not done enough.

California Commits To 100 Percent Clean Energy By 2045—It’s big and it’s bold.  Is it possible?  I don’t know, but watching California lead the pack will be interesting.  I would love to see Iowa go 100% wind powered and beat everyone to the punch.

For States That Have Already Met Their Renewable Energy Goals, A New Question: Now What?—If you do not think local and state elections matter then consider this possibility: states that have met their RPS could just stay put and do nothing more going into the future if there is no push from local constituencies.  Or, these same states could do more.  Your call.

Sony Vows to Use 100 Percent Renewable Electricity by 2040—If your state won’t commit to renewables maybe your favorite company can.  Heck, some of these companies have a carbon footprint of small countries.

How Solar Power Saved $6.7 Million on a Tuesday—It got really hot in the Northeast U.S.  However, solar power pushed peak demand pricing to later in the day when things cooled down by providing up to 20% of the electricity on the grid.  What did coal do for you today?

Coal-Dependent Utility Fights Efforts to Reveal Whether Power Plants are Cost-Efficient—These are the boring but important stories to watch.  State utility boards are the definition of boring government business.  That being said, these same utility boards hold hearings that can eviscerate the economic basis for continuing to use coal.

Largest Offshore Wind Farm Opens off England’s Coast—I have to imagine that offshore wind is a Republican nightmare.  It is wind power, so they hate it.  However, it is offshore so any protest about appearance or the environment would also argue against offshore oil and gas drilling.  What is someone bought and paid for by Exxon cash to do?

Coal-Killing Energy Storage Grows By 200% In US—The last thing coal has going for it is that it is baseload power.  It can be counted on to deliver power when it is scheduled to deliver power.  However, the intermittency of renewables can be mitigated with some measure of storage.

Fossil Fuel Demand Set To Peak In The 2020s—It should be our mission in life to see that this peak happens sooner than forecast and that demand declines at a precipitous rate thereafter.

Large Trucks are Biggest Culprits of Near-Road Air Pollution—This is just one of the many reasons why electrification of transportation should focus on commercial trucks and busses first.

By 2040, Most of the World Won’t Have Enough Water to Meet Demand Year-Round—If you do not things are going to get turbulent and violent in the coming decades just wait until the taps run dry in many parts of the world.  Do you still want to be watering a lawn in Utah?

How to Eat Well – and Save the Planet—Most of these ideas are not rocket science.  Eat less meat.  Avoid high fructose corn syrup.  It it’s processed, leave it on the shelf at the store.  And so on…

Fundraisers for Sick Restaurant Employees Represent the Failure of American Health Care—The other battle line in America, in addition to a carbon tax, is with regard to health care.  The right wing does not care that you cannot get health care.  The right wing wants you to get sick and die, but only after spending all of your assets to obtain some measure of care.  They want you to die with a single red cent left to your name.

More Older Americans Are Turning To Marijuana—If you have any doubts about the future of marijuana legalization in the United States imagine what the situation will be like when AARP and baby boomers get behind the trend?  Federal legalization is a fait accompli.

Airbus SeaWing Kite Sails To Cut Fuel Costs For Cargo Ships 20%Haven’t we seen this idea before?

In Praise of the Sick Ride

I have come to praise the sick ride.  No, not the kind of “sick” ride where you need to make sure to capture some footy for the boys.  This is about the ride you take after a sick day.

It is that time of year when the kids go back to school, so after a summer of days out in the open everyone is crammed back together in a single building.  Inevitably this begins the cycle of germ transmission that makes these places the equivalent of a low level biohazard zone.  I only half kid.

This is about the ride you take the day after you spend a day consuming Sudafed and Mucinex while wiping your nose with the equivalent of the boreal forest of Kleenex.  After a night of Nyquil induced sleep you wake up to a beautiful near fall day of full sunshine, no discernible wind, and temps hovering in the low 60s.

The leaves are starting to turn on the edges of that one tree in the neighborhood that always blazes red earlier than any other tree.  It is the harbinger of fall and the dreaded day when you hang up your bicycle until spring.  You cannot pass up days like this just because you spend the last thirty six hours binging on Netflix, mainlining herbal tea, and slipping off into fitful sleep.

So, you clip in and head for a ride.  The weather may be perfect and your bike is finally dialed in after an entire season of riding, but you are a mess.  Your cadence is jacked.  The hills you normally whiz up become grinds.  At the turn your legs are somehow managing to feel like Jello and be tight at the same time.  Your sinuses are torched and your skin has an oddly prickly feel to it.

Heading home you have gulped more than twice as much water as normal and your clothes are soaked.  The backs of your gloves are covered in an odd combination of grime, sweat, and snot.  Your teeth itch.

You unclip and slump onto the steps in your garage.  Your water bottle is empty, but you try and coax the last few drops out of the cap.  There is more liquid inside, just a few steps away, yet you remain glued to the second step.

A hot shower is a miraculous thing.  A few minutes with hot water and a bar of lemon scented soap makes a new person emerge from the other side.  All of the grinding of the past couple hours is forgotten.  The sickness of the past few days is forgotten.  Something magical happened over the course of thirty miles that no day on the couch could ever replicate.

You went on the sick ride.  Praise the sick ride!

What Does Rob Blum Have to Say for Himself?

Iowa’s incumbent 1st District Congressman Rod Blum does not want to answer for his record or, rather, his lack of a record on any issues of substance during his two terms in Congress.

As a member of the arch conservative House Freedom Caucus, Blum has been a rubber stamp for some of the worst impulses of the modern right wing in America.

Tax cuts that bankrupt the Treasury, but enrich the wealthiest Americans?  Check.

Attempting to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act without offering anything in the way of a replacement that would protect average Americans?  Check.

Allowing corruption to run rampant through his own caucus with nary a word of protest?  Check.

Providing no oversight or investigations into the corrupt and unethical Trump administration because a notionally Republican president is a good thing for their own agenda?  Check.

Well, what do you expect from a member of Congress embroiled in his own ethical scandal who trots out the well-worn Trump line that any investigation into a Republican is a “witch hunt?”

Furthermore, Rod Blum will not answer to his own constituents about these and many more issues.  In the past two weeks I have contacted his office on ten separate occasions regarding questions of revocation of U.S. citizens passports, general corruption in the Trump administration, breaches of security protocols at all levels of government, and unethical behavior on the part of the president without a single response beyond a form email acknowledging my contact.

It is time for Rod Blum to do something for the people of Iowa and walk away.  I am sure that the money he secured for himself by cutting his own tax bill will provide enough succor on those cold winter nights in Dubuque.