Tag Archives: environment

Friday Linkage 2/10/2017

The abnormal has become the normal.  The surrogates of the president lie—massacres in Bowling Green, terrorist attacks in Atlanta, who knows that else—with a zeal that makes me wonder if it is overtly encouraged by the current president.  Alternative facts—known as lies to anyone with the sense of a first grader—have become the new currency of cable news.  Have we actually entered the Twilight Zone?

Wake me up in a few years.

On to the links…

U.S. Wind, Solar Power Tout Rural Jobs as Trump Pushes Coal—Trump has a narrative in his simple mind that coal is power and solar is for hippies.  Too bad the reality on the ground—like so many things—does not actually match this narrative.  Maybe it is an alternative fact?

Americans are Now Twice as Likely to Work in Solar as in Coal—If you were going to ask for a group’s support which would you pick: the group with more jobs that is growing or the group with fewer jobs that is declining?  Which one do you think the sitting president chose?

6 Reasons the Clean Energy Revolution Doesn’t need Trump’s Blessing—Trump may think that his perch atop his imperial presidency makes him capable of doing whatever he wants and making it happen via proclamation, but the reality on the ground is very different.

Reasons to be Cheerful: A Full Switch to Low-Carbon Energy is in Sight—I like the positive spin on this.

Cheaper Renewables to Halt Coal and Oil Demand Growth from 2020—This is what the death spiral looks like.  As the technology doing the replacing gets cheaper and easier to deploy there is no way that the displaced technology can compete on either cost or performance, so it’s displacement becomes self-fulfilling.  Once the coal mines shutter who is going to invest in coal?

Electric Vehicles Will Be A Major Oil Price Driver In The Future—The question is how much a disruption in oil demand will be needed to make a major difference in price.  Recently, we have seen swing production of less than 10% cause major price disruptions.

We’re Probably Underestimating How Quickly Electric Vehicles will Disrupt the Oil Market—Disruption can happen fast.  I cannot wait to see what the EV market looks like when both Chevrolet and Tesla are selling EVs at volume for an attainable price.

Californians are Paying Billions for Power they Don’t Need—This story kind of blew my mind.

Rachel Carson, ‘Mass Murderer’? A Right-Wing Myth about ‘Silent Spring’ is Poised for a Revival—With people like Scott Pruitt installed at the EPA and right wing whack jobs in Congress I am expecting this old trope to get a lot of play on the cable news cycle.

L.A.’s Mayor Wants to Lower the City’s Temperature, and these Scientists are Figuring out How to do it—The L.A. Times came strong with some stories this week that I think are of relevance to our understanding of the world.

Invading Pythons and the Weird, Uncertain Future of the Florida Everglades—Florida is a petri dish for everything we have screwed up over the past few decades.  Now it is also a living laboratory for what happens when invasive species change the dynamic.  After reading The New Wild [https://www.amazon.com/New-Wild-Invasive-Species-Salvation/dp/0807039551] I am left to wonder if anything can be considered invasive in Florida anymore given how dramatically that landscape has been changed over the last few centuries.


Friday Linkage 12/16/2016

Is Donald Trump just trolling America now with his picks?  The Scott Pruitt choice was bad, but Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy is just ridiculous.  Rick Perry literally does not know what the Department of Energy does.  Most of the people claiming he will do a good job talk about his coming from an oil and gas state.  Never mind that oil and gas exploitation falls under other federal agencies and the Department of Energy actually spends most of its time and budget on nuclear responsibilities.  Maybe we will get a return of George W. Bush’s interesting pronunciation of nuclear.

On to the links…

Full Levelized Cost of Electricity In the United States by County—This is an amazing interactive map that lets you play with assumptions about cost, tax incentives, etc. to see at what the lowest LCOE of various electricity generation methods would be by county.  I am surprised that nuclear is able to be competitive in any of these scenarios.

If Trump Wants to Dismantle Obama’s EPA Rules, Here are all the Obstacles He’ll Face—Given the makeup of the cabinet and its glaring lack of experience in public service, I cannot wait to see them whine, moan, and bitch that government does not operate like their personal business fiefdoms.  No shit Sherlock, there is a reason that government does not work like a private business…it’s not a private business.

Solar Capacity has Increased 99% since Last Quarter—Maybe the best thing I have heard in a while: “The industry is booming, and President Trump will be hard-pressed to stop it.”

White House Releases Strategy for Deep Decarbonization by 2050—Save this document because we are about to spend four years without such vision.  We are far more likely to see reports about how we can make America great again by being big league and classy and yuge.

The End of the Commonwealth—The gilded age has returned and the crony capitalists have swept into power.  Populism was co-opted to allow for a takeover by wealthy elites.  The “blue collar billionaire” who criticized his opponent for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs has tapped former employees of the bank for key positions and even nominated the CEO of the most reviled oil company to be Secretary of State.  Our government is at the service of a very few very rich people.

Without These Ads, There Wouldn’t be Money in Fake News—The dictum “follow the money” has always been true.  Without the ability to garner revenue from clicks, fake news would be a gnat’s ass.

Renewables Produce 56% Of Denmark’s Domestic Electricity—The U.S. is unlikely to be leading a lot in this area for the next few years, so we need to take solace in the world making progress.

Solar Panels have been Benefiting the Climate ‘since 2011’—The carbon debt has been paid.

Your Hobby Is Action, Not Accumulation—I used to be so guilty of this when it came to books.  I read a lot, but I still acquired books like crazy.  It became more about a good looking library as opposed to actually reading and accumulating knowledge.  At what point do the things we own begin to own us?

I Love Meat. But these New “Bleeding” Veggie Burgers Convinced Me to Give it up for Good.—These burgers are only available in limited markets right now, but I cannot wait to try them once availability increases to more markets.  Now, if they could tackle the whole veggie bacon thing we would be cooking so to speak.

Homeopathic “Drugs” Will Have to Carry Disclaimers That They Are Bunk—Finally.  Homeopathic drugs are just ridiculous.  It’s like the snake oil salesmen of yesteryear were allowed to continue peddling patent medications without any repurcussions.

First Industrial Hemp Seeds Certified by Colorado Department of Agriculture—The “Green Rush” hype in Colorado has focused on the recreational smoking aspect of marijuana legalization, but there has been a steady increase in the interest of farmers and industry to exploit industrial—e.g. non-psychoactive—hemp as an alternative crop.

Degrowth Is Punk as F*ck—Maybe this is the answer.

Friday Linkage 12/9/2016

It seems like the announced cabinet for President-Elect Trump, which still makes me vomit a little in my mouth every time I say it, gets worse every day.  Now we have Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  This is a guy who has made a career out of suing the EPA.  Is it any wonder that government fails to work when we elect people who do not want to make it work?

On to the links…

Why the International Energy Agency has Grown Bullish, but Perhaps not Bullish Enough, on Renewables—In Trump land I do not know if we can be bearish enough about anything environmentally friendly.  I fear that the next four years will be nothing but walking backwards into climate change oblivion.

Trump Advisors Aim to Privatize Oil-Rich American Indian Reservations—I am sure that this will go really well.  Nothing like allowing Trump’s fossil fuel besties to grab resources from native communities.

Four Reasons 30% Wind and Solar is Technically No Big Deal—The important part of this story is that there are places that are already operating at over 30% renewables.  We have made a lot of progress and need to fight to make it stick.

Solar Panels Repay their Energy ‘Debt’—One of the negatives that climate change deniers and fossil fuel lovers like to spew is that solar panels can never produce more energy than was used in the manufacture of the panels.  Wrong.

U.S. Brewery Count Topples 5,000-mark per Brewers Association 2016 Year in Review—5,000 breweries is amazing and scary.  Is this a bubble?

My DIY IKEA Backpack—In the forthcoming Trumpocalypse I can see lots of people having to make survival gear from whatever they can find around.  These blue IKEA bags may be the bees knees.

China’s Environment is Screwed and so is its Economy

China’s economy may be a growth miracle, but the externalities associated with that growth are certainly coming home to roost.

The infamous smog, that wonderful concoction of airborne pollutants and atmospheric conditions, made well-known during the run-up to the Olympics in 2008 has not gotten better. It’s gotten worse.

Recently, the U.S. embassy in Beijing—which has become a trusted source on the quality of the air in China—reported that its air quality index measuring so-called PM2.5 particles hit 545. A number greater than 300 is considered immediately hazardous to one’s health. The visibility in the city is expected to be reduced to less than 500 meters.

What does that look like? Here you go:


Granted, the smog gets worse in the winter as atmospheric conditions and increased heating burden mix to create this lovely toxic stew.

However, the long term trend is that China’s air is so messed up that it will inhibit long term economic security. Why? People will not want to live there.

Businesses will not be able to locate themselves in China because no one will want to work there or will demand what amounts to hazard pay in order to relocate. Don’t believe it? Coca-Cola is offering its employees a so-called “environmental hardship allowance” for expatriate employees.

Panasonic is doing the same thing.

For Republicans or anyone who believes that air quality is a luxury remember that people like to breathe clean air. The lack of clean air will impact the economic viability of companies and countries. It looks like China is going to be the laboratory for this particular experiment in free market thinking. Here is to hoping the invisible hand of the market slaps the libertarians in the house.

You Must Read—Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade

Hard as I try to imagine the cars that this rubble once was, I can’t. It’s like standing in a supermarket meat section, staring at a package of hamburger and trying to imagine cows. [Page 229]

We, as consumers in Western countries, do not really recycle. We harvest. When we dutifully put our recyclables in one bin or seven, depending on the country’s recycling norms, we are just harvesting the raw material for the people who really recycle our old bottles, cans, Christmas lights, and so on. For most of us that bin of nearly-trash is out of sight and out of mind while we have assuaged our green guilt for another day.

9781608197910The words at the top are Adam Minter’s, who brings childhood memories of being the son of a scrapyard owner and a unique perspective to Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, so it is surprising that sometimes he cannot see the trees for the forest when it comes to scrap. It speaks to the transformation that our end products go through once they leave our possession and become “trash.” I, like the author, am hesitant to call anything trash after reading this book because somewhere, usually in a developing economy hungry for jobs and cheap raw materials, has found a way to extract something of value for either reuse or recycling from our refuse.

Adam Minter’s father and grandmother ran a scrapyard in the Twin Cities, which sparked a lifelong interest in the colorful world of scrap. The story, like so many nowadays, really comes to fruition in China where the author details the workshops and companies that hoover material in the United States and other countries to fuel China’s economic growth. Without the recycling of scrap from the developed Western countries it is quite possible that China would not be enjoying the amazing economic growth of recent history.

It’s stunning the value that can be gleaned from surprising places. There are workshops in China that specialize in removing the copper wire from string lights. You know, those little twinkly lights that hipsters love to decorate patios with, have some copper but it’s wrapped in a lot of nearly worthless insulation. I say nearly worthless because someone figured out that slipper makers could use the plastic for the soles of inexpensive shoes.

The story about the recycling of cars surprised me the most. I always assumed that cars were recycled, but there was a period when rising wages post-World War II combined with a boom in the sales of cars created a situation where more cars were being junked than could be economically broken down into recyclable parts. Millions of cars polluted the landscape until someone came up with an effective way to shred the cars into little flakes of metal. It was only recently that we finally caught up to the backlog of cars that were abandoned and that was perhaps a function of the economic crisis that slowed the retirement of older automobiles. Also interesting was the fact that the average junked car has $1.65 in loose change. How come I can never find that money when I am looking for meter fare?

The thing that nagged at me the entire book was the thought of how much stuff was buried in landfills across the United States. Before it was economical to shred cars or mechanically separate mixed metals or strip metals from electronics that trash was probably buried. It’s just sitting somewhere, interred until we could figure out a way to economically mine and process the material. Are we sitting on billions of dollars of buried waste?

Junkyard Planet is a trip into a world most of us will never see or consider because we have no access or concept of how the scrap economy functions. Heck, most of us could not tell you where the closest junkyard actually is located unless we repair cars or have a predilection for odd Instructables that require things like washing machine motors.

You Must Read–Merchants of Doubt…

We take it for granted that great individuals–Gandhi, Kennedy, Martin Luther King–can have great positive impacts on the world.  But we are loath to believe the same thing about negative impacts–unless the individuals are obvious monsters like Hitler or Stalin.  But small numbers of people can have large, negative impacts, especially if they are organized, determined, and have access to power.  [Page 213]

Do you think the science about global warming and climate change is settled? If you are reading a blog entitled My Green Misadventure I am guessing the answer is apparent and you also wonder why people like James Inhofe are allowed to speak about science. Ever.

The science is settled. Human activities are contributing to changes in the planet’s climate. Scientists may exist who debate that truism but they are in the minority. A minority that is something akin to 99 scientists agreeing that human derived climate change is real versus 1 scientist who does not. Okay, that is not quite right, because it is more like 999 scientists who agree and 1 who is being a pain in the ass.

9781608193943The question remains as to why the public does not possess this same certainty. I have read no better account as to the way in which the public’s perception of scientific has been perverted by a cadre of crooked scientists than Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Why this book sat so long on my shelf is a mystery to me because it was one of the single most powerful and relevant books that I have read in a while.

This book chronicles the small group of former scientists—former because their paid dishonesty on the behalf of industry disallows them from being considered scientists forever—headlined by the Freds, Fred Seitz and Fred Singer, sowed doubt and distrust of good science in the name of manna or ideological jihadism. It did not matter if the issue was smoking, secondhand smoke, acid rain, or global warming because there was a network of institutes, corporations, and politicians willing to give them safe harbor in order to promote an erroneous agenda.

I will leave the nitty gritty details to the authors because they do an excellent job of detailing the who, what, why, and when of the issue. Most amazing to me is that these so-called lovers of liberty engaged in tactics that would have been equally at home in the most totalitarian of states:

There is a deep irony here.  One of the great heroes of the anti-Communist political right wing–indeed one of the clearest and most reasoned voices against the risks of oppressive government, in general–was George Orwell, whose famous 1984 portrayed a government that manufactured fake histories to support its political program.  Orwell coined the term “memory hole” to denote a system that destroyed inconvenient facts, and “Newspeak” for a language designed to constrain thought within politically acceptable bounds.

All of us who were children in the Cold War learned in school how the Soviet Union routinely engaged in historical cleansing, erasing real events and real people from their official histories and even official photographs.  The right-wing defenders of American liberty have now done the same.  [Page 236]

Simply sickening.

Please pick this book up and read it until the end. As the effects of human derived climate change hit home every day—drought, flood, wildfires, etc.—it is ever more important that more people understand the forces at work preventing real solutions from being implemented. It is not that the science is unsettled, but rather that we have allowed ourselves to be confused:

Doubt mongering also works because we think science is about facts–cold, hard, definite facts.  If someone tells us that things are uncertain, we think that means that the science is muddled.  This is a mistake.  There are always uncertainties in any live science, because science is a process of discovery.  [Page 34]

How Do the People at the Heritage Foundation Keep a Straight Face?

A post was made recently on the Heritage Foundation’s blog The Foundry entitled “6 Environmental Truths the Left Conveniently Ignores.”

I was keyed up. What are these truths and why would the so-called “left” ignore them if they were truths?

First, “Human freedom and prosperity lead to environmental success.” What does that even mean? Human freedom…which ones and measured how? Remember, the intellectual love child of Jim DeMint…er, the Heritage Foundation is anti-choice when it comes to things that they disagree with. This is all about human freedom as long as you agree with the position. Usually missionary and definitely not with another man.

Second, “We’re not running out of resources.” I do not know of a single person in the environmental community who say that we are running out of resources, in general. In terms of specific resources there is no doubt that an increasing population will increase demand to such a point that prices will be sky high. That’s just high school economics. I think it was the first lesson called supply versus demand, but I might have fallen asleep.

The discussion about resources usually revolves around oil and other fossil fuels. It’s also an argument that is more nuanced than “running out” of stuff. With regard to oil the argument is generally about the availability of easily extracted crude. Sure, you can squeeze oil from a rock but that is less economically ideal than sticking a straw in some Middle Eastern sandbox.

Third, “The quality of our air is cleaner and safer.” Yes, it is. Because of regulations stemming from legislation like the Clean Air Act. The Heritage Foundation likes to cite the improvement since 1980—you know, because Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and nothing existed before Saint Reagan—but the progress actually started when the Clean Air Act was signed into law in 1970.

What would the air look like without regulation and government oversight? Kind of like China’s:

Smog_in_Beijing_CBDFourth, “Although tough to measure, water quality is also improving.” Yes, because of the Clean Water Act and other initiatives to make the water cleaner. It’s not magic. It’s not the free marker. It’s not right wing ideology. It’s also true that in some communities the water has gotten worse because of oil spills, fracking fluid, drought, and the toxic sludge left over when Mitt Romney washes the product out of his hair.

Fifth, “The government owns more land than it can manage.” The Sagebrush Rebellion is just a nice right-wing trope that will refuse to die. Too bad Cliven Bundy turned out to be a racist clown and his militia buddies were not much more than fame whores masquerading as patriots.

Why would the private sector manage this land any better than the BLM or the states? It would not. The management of this land is not just about the extraction of resources. It is about maintaining a resource for all of the American people. It is our children’s inheritance.

Finally, “Thanks in part to the big successes made in other areas of the environment, the environmental pressure groups have pitched global warming as the next great environmental issue of the day.” No, global warming and the attendant climate change are the next big issue because it literally impacts the future of life on this planet as we know it. Simple.

So, this was just a rehashed list of right wing talking points about stuff they dislike framed in a way to sound like left leaning environmentalists were asking for too much. Yeah, because asking for clean air, clean water, and a future for our shared planet is a lot to ask for. I hope this kind of shrill writing is the death rattle of the extreme right wing as it rides a demographic time bomb into the sunset of relevance.

I did like the caveman cartoon to lead things off.  Nothing says hard hitting political commentary like a half-assed editorial cartoon.