Tag Archives: climate change

April was Brutal

It has been a brutal month of April for anyone who wanted to spend time on a bike in Iowa.  How brutal?  Here is what things looked like on April 8th:

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If you were thinking that this was an aberration here is what things looked like from the same vantage point on April 15th:

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Measurable snow on the ground in mid-April.  Icey road conditions, sub-freezing temperatures, and lots of wind into the third week of the month made this a brutal time to try upping my bike commuting miles.  Add in a hectic kids’ activity schedule and you have a month of me sucking to reduce my transportation emissions through two wheeled salvation.

On the bright side, the last week of April has been perfect.  Like high-60s in the afternoon, plenty of sunshine, and no significant precipitation perfect.  If you can deal with the joys of wind in Iowa you can enjoy some time in the saddle.

If I could just get my new bike dialed in…

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Friday Linkage 4/20/2017

4/20…heh, heh,heh…

Sorry, I had to because every year around this time the Denver Post turns into a newsprint edition of High Times.  It blows my mind that we now live in a time and place where people openly purchase, possess, and consume marijuana in multiple states.  Sure, reefer madness will never truly leave us until the generation that elected Donald Trump makes their last trip to the Cracker Barrel but the time is coming.

On to the links…

White Castle Goes Highbrow? Now Famous Slider can come with Fake Beef—We also live in a time where there is a vegetable based burger patty being served at White Castle.  Oh yeah, your favorite stoner dream food is now plant based.  And how does it taste?  Apparently, it works.

Trump may Greenlight an $8 Billion Attack on Competitive Energy Markets—Trump, his Trumpkins, and the rest of the right wing love free markets right up until free markets ding the pocket books of the barons—that feels so Into the Badlands to say—who pay to keep them in office.  This is an idea supported by Rick Perry.  Yes, the same Rick Perry who could not remember the name of the three government agencies he was committed to eliminating.  One of which he currently serves at the helm.  Irony.

Trump’s EPA Embraces an Odd Argument against Fuel Economy: It will Kill People—No, this is not your Grandpa Earl telling you how much safer cars were in the 1950s because his Bel Air was made with thousands of pounds of good ol’ American steel:

Old New Malibu Crash.gif

Grandpa Earl is wrong.  Trump is wrong.

Former Administrators say Pruitt’s Impact on EPA can be Reversed—The end of the Trump administration, whether it comes in January 2021 or sooner, will feel like waking up from the flu after a week of shuffling around the house.  Everyone will feel better, but it will take time and some effort to feel right again.

UK Emissions are Falling Fast. Now the Country might try for Zero.—By 2017 the U.K.’s CO2 emissions are 42 percent below 1990 levels:

carbon_brief_2017_uk_emissions.jpg

Imagine if the U.S. had pulled this off?

173 Countries Agree to Slash Shipping Industry Emissions in Historic Deal—If you do not think that your buying stuff is driving a lot of emissions just think about what it costs in terms of energy to move goods from China to the United States.

Renewable Energy Meets 100% Of Portugal’s March Electricity Needs—This is damn impressive.  Even more impressive to me is that the low for a percentage of production was 86%.

China made Solar Panels Cheap. Now it’s Doing the Same for Electric Buses.—I know that we all love rail mass transit, but the humble electric bus may be the way to slash transportation emissions for hundreds of millions if not billions of people.  China spent a lot of money to make solar panels cheap and now they are on the same path for busses.

These Huge New Wind Turbines are a Marvel. They’re also the Future.—Bigger wind turbines make more power and are more efficient.  Plus, we can begin replacing existing turbines—which already have the infrastructure in place for power transmission—with bigger turbines to produce more power.  And there is that whole offshore wind thing as well.

New 3 in 1 Roof Solar Tiles Power your House for Half the Price of a Tesla Roof—These may be a little clunkier than the Tesal roof tiles but if they can actually deliver them for half the cost and similar performance it will be a winner.  I would like to add some more solar photovoltaic capacity to my roof—it’s never enough once you get some solar PV—but I really like the idea of covering my roof in solar roof tiles.

Sydney’s First Battery Powered Apartment Block Halves Residents’ Power Bills—Australia feels like the future of solar.  It’s like they are living in tomorrow and we are all waiting to get there soon.

6 Solar Roads Shaking up Infrastructure around the World—With so many roofs and parking lots that could be covered in solar panels are solar roads even something we should care about?

Scientists Accidentally Produce an Enzyme that Devours Plastic—This feels like the plot to a bad science fiction movie from the mid-1990s.  You know, attractive female scientist and roguish male outsider team up to figure out why the world’s plastic is disappearing.

You Must Read—The Wizard and the Prophet

517K8QxDd0L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_It has been a while since I suggested a book on this blog owing to my having read a lot of turds and a lot of fiction.  However, I have recently finished a book that I think would give anyone with an environmental bit grist for the thinking mill: Charles C. Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World. 

The book is a narrative using Norman Borlaug, the “wizard,” and William Vogt, “the prophet,” as the central characters in a century long development of visions for how we must develop in the face of social, economic, and environmental challenges both natural and manmade.

Norman Borlaug is probably the more well-known of the two having won a Nobel Prize for his work advancing the basic components of what would come to be known as the “green revolution.”  In Iowa Borlaug is a state hero.  Heck, he is memorialized in the National Statuary Hall Collection with a bronze statue.  It oh so immodestly states on the statue’s base, “THE MAN WHO SAVED A BILLION LIVES.”  Humble indeed.  I guess when you have a Nobel Prize, Congressional Gold Medal, and Presidential Medal of Freedom you can say these kinds of things.

William Vogt, although lesser known, is equally influential in that his ideas and many of the people he influenced have come to define what we consider to be modern environmentalism.  Vogt’s thinking about the intrinsic value of nature, as opposed to those like Gifford Pinchot who viewed nature as something to extract value from, get a the core of the attempts at conservation in the Twenty First Century.

More important than the biographies of the two men is the concept that each represents a pole in a battle for the vision of how we are to live on this planet.  As it states in the title these are presented as a wizard camp and a prophet camp.  Each camp’s vision for how we interact and thrive on this planet is based on a foundational philosophy.  The wizards put their faith in our ability to invent or innovate our way to a more prosperous and sustainable future.  The prophets put their faith in the inherent superiority of nature and seek to have humans adapt to fit.

Think about this as a continuum with each camp on the opposite ends.  At the extreme ends of the continuum exist the viewpoint that their particular world view is correct and the other is fundamentally wrong.  Now, in reality no one is entirely on one end or the other save for people we would label as cranks, eccentrics, or worse.  People exist on some spot along this continuum and understanding their placement goes a long way to understanding their views on the environment.

This is a particularly interesting construct to utilize in a world where we are facing the impacts of human caused climate change.  Some people will advocate that modern science is the only way to adapt.  Other people will pontificate that a major change in lifestyle is the only solution to humanity’s predicament.  Real change will come from some blending of the two, but in a polarize world that might not be so easy.

The other interesting idea that pops up in the book as an anecdote is that organisms have an instinctual or biologically deterministic drive to expand or grow until collapse.  Perhaps whatever camp we fall into is merely window dressing prior to a general calamity brought about by deep seated biological signals.  Interesting.

The Best Way to Cut Your Emissions is to Stop Driving and Start Biking

Depending upon how you calculate the numbers transportation is now the greatest source of emissions in the United States:

Transportation Emissions

No matter the degree to which we decarbonize are electric grid the effort will be for naught if we do not begin to address the emissions that are a result of our transportation choices.  Transportation emissions come from a lot of sources—personal automobiles, delivery vehicles, mass transit, etc.  The most direct control that we have over transportation emissions is to control how much we drive personal automobiles.  If we do not drive our vehicles do not produce emissions.  It is a fairly simple calculus.

A gallon of gasoline produces approximately 20 pounds of carbon dioxide when combusted. The average fuel economy for a new car is 23.4 miles per gallon.   Simple math gives you 0.85 pounds of carbon dioxide produced for each mile driven.  Considering that the U.S. is such a truck/SUV/crossover/whatever market I am going to round that up to one pound of carbon dioxide produced for every one mile driven.

Do not drive a mile, save a pound.  It is a direct, one-for-one relationship in my mind and it makes for a fairly simple accounting of progress.

The average American drivers puts 13,474 miles per year in behind the wheel or, according to my simple math, creates 13,474 pounds of carbon dioxide via combustion to drive.  That is a lot of carbon dioxide.  To put it into comparison, the solar array on my home that went active last August is calculated to have saved approximately 3,350 pounds of carbon dioxide in just over seven months.  If the average driver reduced miles driven by approximately 25% the savings would be roughly the same.  This is why we have to address our addiction to fossil fuels in the transportation sector in order to have any significant impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and arresting climate change.

My goal for the next nine months is to drive less than 2,500 miles in total.  Why 2,500 miles?  It’s the length of time, in miles, until my next oil change.  Why nine months?  It’s the length of time, in months, before my next trip to Colorado. Everything seemed to line up in such a way to make this an easy target to measure and understand.  This would also put me on pace to drive approximately 5,000 miles per year including regular trips to Colorado.

A goal of 5,000 miles per year or less would mean a reduction of almost 63% versus the average American driver and a similar reduction in carbon emissions.  Now imagine a world where the United States reduced its emissions from transportation by 63%.  Wow.

It is not just a story about emissions.  Personal automobiles are expensive.  Most people do not realize the full costs of driving in a way that is easily quantified.  You could spend a lot of time calculating the actual cost per mile of driving for your particular situation or you could just let the IRS do the leg work.  For 2017 the IRS has set the “mileage rate” at 53.5 cents per mile.

In my particular case nine months of driving will cost $1338.  However, every trip to work that I replace with a bicycle trip will save me $6.  Greenhouse gas emissions are hard to imagine.  Six dollars in my pocket every time I decide to commute to work on the dirt wagon is concrete.  Somewhere along the way I am going to translate these savings into a Chris King headset for my bike.

I anticipate a degree of failure, but I feel that I will make little progress toward an ambitious goal unless I make some sort of public proclamation.

Friday Linkage 3/30/2017

Spring is here in Iowa and that means…well, it initially meant six inches of snow followed by a lot of rain.  It also means that one day is sunny and 50 degree while the next day starts out with fog and mid-teens temperatures.

If you do not like the weather, just wait fifteen minutes is what every farmer in the state will tell you over a cup of coffee.  I always want to ask, “Who actually likes any of this weather?”

On to the links…

Public Lands are being Sold in Secret on the Internet—This is what you get when a corrupt businessman becomes president and appoints corrupt politicians to run agencies like the Department of the Interior.  Scream about Hillary’s emails all day long, but the real scandals that have occurred and will occur under the current administration will take a generation to unpack.

Zinke Creates New Outdoor Recreation Panel Made up of Industry Advisers—This is the best government that money can buy.  Trump did not drain the swamp, he appointed every Swamp Thing that he could find to help him loot our country.

The EPA ousted Science Advisers. Now it’s Going after the Science Itself.—You would not want actual science to get in the way of good talking points delivered to your desk by the filthy hand of the oil and gas lobby.

Scott Pruitt’s “Dirty Dealings” Stir a Campaign to Oust Him From the EPA—Is anyone surprised by this?  Trump appointed a guy to lead the Department of Energy who wanted to get rid of the department even though he had little idea of what the department actually did.  Scott Pruitt is a corrupt stooge.

Trump Wanted to Slash Funding for Clean Energy. Congress Ignored Him.—It turns out that a lot of people and, thus, a lot of members of Congress like clean energy.  Despite what the head cheese puff in charge says America is trying to move forward.

Study Predicts Major Expansion of Offshore Wind Along Atlantic Coast—The lead of the story is everything you need to know: “Almost every state along the Atlantic coast — 12 out of 14 — has offshore wind potential that exceeds its current electricity needs, according to a new study.”  Well, why don’t we get a move on?

Unprofitable Coal Plants now Play ‘Game of Chicken’ to Survive—Think about the statement “half of U.S. coal capacity ran at a loss last year.”  That is to say that half of the U.S. coal plants, measured by capacity not installations, did not make money last year.

California said to be Preparing to Retaliate if Trump Cuts Emissions Rules—Trump and his cronies may think that they have the upper hand here, but it has been fought in court that California has the legal right to set its own stricter emissions standards as their efforts predate federal efforts.  Trump will insist that he has the best people and that they will win in court.

Global Carbon Emissions could be Cut 3 percent by Following the UK’s Example—3% may not sound like a lot, but it is a start.

SoftBank and Saudi Arabia to Build World’s Biggest Solar Farm—The numbers on this project are stunning.  200 GW of solar.  That is almost three times what the entire country of Saudi Arabia generates in electricity today regardless of source.

Landfills: A Future Source of Raw Materials—Can you imagine a future where autonomous robots “mine” landfills for the raw materials that generations before us threw away as garbage?

Rep. Jeff Backer Tries to Blame Minnesota’s Ag Pollution on… Goose Shit—This is what you get when you elect politicians who proclaim, “I am not a scientist.”  This is usually said right before talking about something which a scientist would have a more valuable opinion than an elected hack.

Brewers Association Reports 5% Volume Growth for U.S. Craft Brewers in 2017—At least this is some good news:

beer chart

It’s Your Dystopia and None of My Own

Dystopian prognostication is popular right now.  Donald Trump, tension in the Korean peninsula between nuclear armed combatants, increasing economic inequality, climate change…you get the idea because you are living in this news cycle every day.

In a world where it seems like the first war between two nations with nuclear weapons could be started by an errant tweet it is not a far stretch of the imagination to visualize a dystopian future.  However, this forecasting is not something that is new to modern civilization.  Almost since the close of World War II musings on the dire future of human civilization has been a theme in literature and popular culture.

Seriously, spend a few minutes reading the entries on Wikipedia for dystopian or post-apocalyptic works.  Damn, we are some dark creatures.

Add in a dash of climate change and the Kardashians…bam, you have all the elements for everyone with a keyboard, camera, or microphone to paint a picture of a really shitty future.  What if the future, as drastic as the impacts of climate change might be, is not really as bad as Mad Max: Fury Road?

Maybe the future is different than today, but not altogether bad by most objective measures.

What if the future is less Walking Dead without the zombies and more solarpunk?

Consider what the future will look like with a look back on history.  Civilizations do not “fall” in the sense that one day things are all Athenian democracy and the next it is apocalypse.  From the perspective of a historian writing about the decline of a civilization hundreds of years after the fact a long period of decline may be interpreted as a “fall,” but it is nothing of the sort.  One of my favorite examples of this is how native Mayans respond to people asking “What happened to the Mayans?”  Nothing, people of Mayan descent still live in the exact same places that they did when the temples you visit on a cruise excursion were built.  The markers and remains of the civilization changed, but the people remained.

What would our modern civilization look like if the markers of a high energy system fueled by non-renewable energy were forced to adapt to a lower energy future?  Would some future historian or current pundit—yes, I am looking at the talking heads on Fox News, lament the “fall” of modern Western civilization?

Perhaps, but would it really represent a fall or is just an evolution?  The difference in how that question is answered may rest with our response to a world wracked by climate change.  If we hold on to our old ways of doing things then a fall is likely as we prop up existing paradigms in ever more complex systems that are pre-ordained for a spectacular collapse.    However, if we pivot either by choice or circumstance to the changing conditions maybe society will have a chance to evolve into something more compatible with a long term sustainable arc.

Friday Linkage 12/15/2017

I was prepared to write some snarky comments about how the voters of Alabama could look past someone being a certifiable crazy person and child molester but could not stomach voting for a Democrat. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that at least enough voters in Alabama had the good sense to not vote for Roy Moore.

The frightening thing is that more than 48% of voters who participated in that special election thought that Roy Moore was the right person to represent them, the state of Alabama, and the values of the United States of America.  There is nothing that encapsulates our broken system, riven by partisanship, more than that fact.

Imagine there was a special election in say Colorado where the Democratic candidate was accused of cruising the mall for teenagers, had been twice removed from office for failing to follow the laws of the land, and had defended slavery.  Can you imagine the howls from people like Sean Hannity and Fox & Friends.  Instead, put an elephant on that candidate and he is the last, best chance to protect America from…access to healthcare?

On to the links…

Trump’s Interior Secretary: Shameless Tool of Oil and Gas Industries—The more light that we can shine on Ryan Zinke’s agenda and actions the better the world will be for it.  Like the other Trump kleptocrats he is gorging on a buffet of public goods to enrich his friends and donors.  Take a moment and read up on the scandals of the Warren G. Harding administration and tell me if you see some similarities.

The Interior Department Is Giving Business to Secretary Zinke’s Billionaire Pal—Can you smell the corruption that Ryan Zinke is cooking?  This guy does not care that he is corrupt because there is nothing you can do about it.  This guy is the point man for the theft of your public goods.

Reclaiming Appalachia: A Push to Bring Back Native Forests to Coal Country—Coal country is a damaged place.  Decades of dominance by companies that care little for the land or people has left a landscape scarred.  Healing that landscape in a deliberative way is a great step forward.

How American Cities & States are Fighting Climate Change Globally—The federal government is in the bag for fossil fuels and ideologues who would have you believe that human caused climate change is some kind of hoax cooked up by academics and liberals.  As if those groups can be counted on to agree on a menu for a campus mixer without things devolving into a bloodbath of recriminations let alone conspire on a global scale in secret.  Cities, municipalities, and states are where the climate change action is happening right now.

Here’s What Carbon Neutral Electricity Could Look Like for Fort Collins—Cities are starting to figure out just how much power they have to transform the energy system of the future.

Trump’s Coal and Nuclear Subsidy Won’t Keep Power Plants Open but Will Raise Prices—Let’s see, a plan championed by all hat, no cows Rick Perry is destined to fail in its ultimate goal yet still raise prices for consumers. It’s like Republicans under Trump have decided that it is okay to get all of the downside risk while achieving none of the goals.  Also remember that this plan is essentially a sop to a half dozen or so coal barons who want a federal bailout without actually asking for a federal bailout.  You know, the free market and all.

The Federal Land at Stake in Trump’s Rush for More Drilling—Trump and the rest of his kleptocrat cronies are running high on the hog right now in transferring public goods into private resources.  If you think that there is anything public about land being opened for oil and gas drilling try getting near one of these facilities out west.  Your ass will end up in the back of a sheriff’s car real fast.

‘Death spiral’: Half of Europe’s Coal Plants are Losing Money—Coal is on the brink.  Why?  It is losing money.

Australia Has Already Hit 1 Gigawatt Of Solar Installed In 2017, Breaking Multiple Records—1 GW is a lot of solar.  Every week seems to bring a solar story from Australia that highlights that country going all in on solar.

Rooftop Solar and EVs Save Water and Cut Pollution in Texas – and Data can Help Us go Further—As we enter a period of climate change stressing water supplies it is important to consider the second order effects of renewable electricity.  It takes a lot of water to produce grid electricity from coal, nuclear, or natural gas.  A solar panel requires zero water to do the same thing.

Are Pigs Eating our Food?—This is a fairly nuanced look at the idea that livestock is eating our food in a 1:1 direct substitution.  The truth is much more complex, as the truth tends to be, as livestock—depending upon the species—eat residues from other agricultural production processes that are essentially waste products or eat substances that humans cannot eat directly for sustenance.

Expect a Meat Tax within 5-10 Years—Five to ten years seems a little sporty, but as we fully understand both the environmental and health impacts of eating meat there will be an increasing drumbeat for some sort of action.  In the United States I think that the easiest solution would be to end the crop subsidies that make CAFOs possible.  Without subsidized corn and soy there would be no way that companies could make CAFOs work.

How Our Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult—Is it just our housing or is it our entire society?