Tag Archives: pollution

Friday Linkage 6/26/2015

So much rain and a lot of miles. Rain and miles occupy much of my thoughts lately. To get to my seasonal mileage goal on my bike I have to time a lot of rides around when it is going to rain. When an area sees storms drop multiple inches of rain in an hour or throw hailstones the size of golf balls and larger this is a harder task than it seems at first blush. First world problems, I guess.

On to the links…

The Economic Limitations of Wind and Solar Power—Most of the time we get focused on the technical limitations of renewable energy without really thinking about the broad economic limits. This piece is a well-reasoned look at those limitations.

Europe’s Emissions Decreased Another 5% in 2014—Some of this is a function of a mild winter, which reduces the demand for natural gas and heating oil, but there is something to this trend. If only the U.S. could actually follow suit and find a way to reduce its emissions.

Texas Enjoys Record-Breaking Quarter As New Solar Capacity Soars—Texas now has ~379 MW of installed solar—adding up utility, residential, and commercial—with 2015 looking like a big year in terms of cumulative additions to this total. Remember, every solar panel is less fossil fuel that needs to be burned. It’s demand destruction lone star state style.

India Expects 52% Jump In Annual Wind Energy Capacity Addition—India is looking to have 60 GW or more of wind energy installed by 2022. Now, if we could just retire some of those old coal fired power plants.

Pakistan Solar Park Plugs In 100 MW To Grid—I probably should not follow a story on India about one on Pakistan, but it looks like these two blood rivals are in the renewables news.

Renewables will Supply Majority of Australia’s Electricity by 2040—Now that there is a study showing a roadmap of getting to majority by 2040 how does Straya accelerate that into 2030 or sooner? These are the questions we need to be asking. Stretch goals.

50% Renewable Electricity Passed By California Senate—50% is great, but why stop there?

For Automakers, Fuel Economy Targets May Be Less of a Stretch—When the new mileage targets came out a few years ago all the commentators howled that it was impossible to meet these targets without every vehicle becoming some sort of punishing econobox. Guess what? Innovation happened.

One Container Ship may Cause as Much Cancer as 50M Cars—Shipping is a dirty business because these massive container ships use bunker oil. Just think of it as the sludge that is left over when everything else of value has been extracted from oil. You are left with the shit. It’s cheap, plentiful, and really dirty. If there is a low hanging fruit, in terms of emissions and pollution reduction, it has to be switching ships off bunker oil.

Recycling is Stalling in U.S., and Big Blue Bins are One Reason—Recycling bins have just become trash bins we do not feel guilty about. It’s recycled, we say, throwing packaging and what not into one big bin. Guess what? It’s likely to become trash.

Once And Future Nut: How Genetic Engineering May Bring Back Chestnuts—Chestnuts are an acquired taste. Roasted chestnuts may be sung about every holiday season, but how many people actually know what those taste like? I remember getting a bag every year after Thanksgiving when I would take a trip into Chicago with my parents. It’s but a memory now that chestnut trees have been obliterated by blight.

General Mills to Remove Artificial Colors, Flavors from Cereals—While I applaud this move, did anyone ever really buy a box of Trix and think, “These are natural, right?”

Why did this businessman buy 53,000 acres in Florida?—Usually when you read about someone buying a bunch of land in Florida it is about subdividing that land and turning it into a retirement community. Apparently someone has a different idea about how Florida should look.

Corona Is Expanding Its Breweries to Keep up with Demand—Dear god why? How much of this stank beer can bros drink? Seriously, is there a worse beer that people think is premium and drink with such vigor? Why?

Friday Linkage 5/15/2015

Where did May go? I know that I have a similar sentiment a lot of months, but May really got to the halfway mark pretty fast without me noticing. Here is to hoping that summer can be a slower and lazier season than spring has been thus far.

On to the links…

Iowa Landowner Claims he was Offered Prostitute by Oil Pipeline Rep—This story is getting a lot of play here in eastern Iowa as the debate over a proposed Bakken oil pipeline is really heating up. If anyone is surprised that an oil company would act like this does not know oil companies. Seriously, read about oil company hospitality suites in the 1980s.

Renewables = 84% of New Electricity Generation Capacity in 1st Quarter of 2015—Yes, 84% of the electrical generation capability added in the first quarter of 2015 in the United States came from renewables. For the first time utility scale solar tipped over 1% of the total U.S. generation capacity. Dig it.

Tesla’s Powerwall Home Battery is already Sold Out through 2016—If you wanted to get a Powerwall home battery you are out of luck until sometime after we choose a new president.

MIT Report: Today’s Solar Panels Fine For Tomorrow’s Needs—We have the technical tools right now to supply the world with clean and green power from the sun. Any further efficiencies will only make the economics better in the long term.

Coal Investments are Increasingly Risky, says Bank of America—The real war on coal is occurring between coal companies and the investment community, which sees the industry as an increasingly riskier place to put their money to use. This is truly the death knell because modern corporations run on debt and financing. It is the lifeblood of large scale economic activity.

Oil And Gas Wells Are Leaking Huge Amounts Of Methane, And It’s Costing Taxpayers Millions—Basically, oil and gas exploration companies are allowing a lot of methane to leak out of wells drilled on public lands. Remember that these are the same oil and gas companies that pay lower than market rates for the right to drill on public lands. What a scam.

In Wyoming, Taking A Photo Of A Polluted Stream Could Land You In Jail—Like “ag gag” laws this law is just waiting for court case to blow open the cozy relationship between lawmakers, polluters, and the chilling effect such a relationships have on free speech. Isn’t it amazing how right wingers love the second amendment, talk about freedom constantly, and are the first in line to trample any freedom that does not involve a firearm?

Is Corn Ethanol Breaking The Law?—Uh oh. Inevitably, farm state lawmakers will pass a correction to this little piece of legislation that will remove the illegality.

Buh-Bye, Corn Ethanol: Joule Makes The Same Thing From Recycled CO2—I would love to fill my truck on ethanol derived in this manner.

First Large-Scale Hemp Processing Plant begins in Colorado—One of the overlooked part of the marijuana legalization in Colorado was the concurrent legalization of industrial hemp. Hemp will not be an instant agricultural miracle, but it could become part of a broader portfolio of options for farmers.

Who Controls California’s Water?—The story is a little more complex than Chinatown makes it out to be, but the problems can be traced to policies that can be changed. Maybe.

Monsanto Bets $45 Billion on a Pesticide-Soaked Future—You can buy organic all day long, but the big companies pushing pesticides and herbicides are betting big on a future where we continue to soak our fields in their deadly chemicals. Who do you think will win?

Sri Lanka First Nation to Protect all Mangrove Forests—Mangrove forests are those great unsung ecosystems. Threatened, like swamps, because they seem like a hindrance to development but the value is not realized until the ecosystem is gone.

M&Ms Candy Maker says, “Don’t eat too many”—Sugar is the equivalent of a drug. It’s addictive and it causes health problems. Now, the pushers are telling consumers that it is a bad idea to eat too much of their own product.

The Brutal Reality of Life in China’s Most Polluted Cities—You do not need to spend $10 and see the new Mad Max movie to witness what a scarred hellscape would be like in the future because China has done all the work for you without the explosions or insane cars.

Friday Linkage 4/10/2015

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

On to the links…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

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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—The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World

Fracking is either America’s economic savior or one step further along the staircase to ecological doom. In truth, it may be both things at the same time or neither depending upon who you ask and when you ask the question.

9781451692280There is no doubt, however, that fracking—the process by which hydraulic pressure is used to create numerous small fractures dispersing from a bore hole—is controversial. What Russell Gold attempts to do in The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World is clarify some of the misconceptions about the industry in general and put a face to a dynamic that seems to dominate the headlines.

First, fracking as a concept is not new. The technology to “frack” a well has existed almost as long as oil and gas men, make no mistake that this is a male dominated industry, have been drilling holes in the ground to extract dino juice. The actual mechanisms have changed dramatically, replacing explosives with high pressure water and sand.

Second, the concerns are legitimate. To get at most shale gas the bore hole needs to pass through the strata of rock that many aquifers reside. To ensure that this underground water is not contaminated by escaping gas the well needs to be “cemented.” If you remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster and a score of other incidents where wells have failed miserably you will understand that this process if riddled with potential errors. In the race to pull gas out of the ground as fast as possible or get wells drilled before lease terms lapsed, frackers have regularly failed to follow the industry’s best practices and regulators have not held their feet to the fire in order to drive better behavior. While some people were getting rich and our homes were cheaper to heat a lot of holes got put into the ground that will impact our environment for generations to come.

Third, the change wrought by the expansion of natural gas supplies in the United States is somewhat uncharted territory. The U.S. was supposed to both consume more natural gas and produce less as the twenty-first century progressed, yet the opposite happened. Efficiency and production shifts away from natural gas flat lined domestic demand while domestic production soared. Between shale gas and unconventional oil the U.S. is producing more fossil fuels than it has in many decades, which is dramatically reshaping the economy in ways that may not be sustainable.

Lastly, the story of fracking is one about personalities. No single person dominates the story in The Boom more than Aubrey McClendon, the deposed founder of Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Chesapeake was one of the single biggest proponents of fracking and natural gas from the outset of the boom. Its fortunes were made and lost on the backs on the price of natural gas and the markets, which may or may not have been manipulated by people close to McClendon.

Toward the end of the book there is an interesting side bar about the odd marriage of McClendon and Carl Pope, who at the time of the story was the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Perhaps in exchange for promoting natural gas as a bridge fuel to wean the world off of coal McClendon became one of the Sierra Club’s largest donors. Talk about an odd couple. When Michael Brune took over as executive director the decision was made to cut ties with McClendon at great cost to the Sierra Club’s coffers.

Gold’s book is a breezy, not overly technical, account of how an obscure process to extend the life of oil and gas wells turned out to fundamentally alter the conversation about energy in America. Given how dependent our lifestyle and economy is on hydrocarbons sucked from the ground there can be few stories more central to the history of modern America.

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.