Where there are slaves, the environment is under assault, forests are being destroyed, endangered species are dying, and climate change is worsening – and all of this destruction is driven by profits from products we buy.
To provide the shocking scale,
we now know that if slavery were a country it would be the third largest producer of CO2 in the world after China and the USA,
“The third largest producer of CO2 in the world after China and the USA” and not a word to be found about this in the Paris Climate Accords …
A question to be asked, it seems, is whether ‘attacking slave labor’ around the world is something that can unite people who might battle at the corollary of ‘to fight climate change and reduce pollution’?
Bales’ makes a lot of sense and has convinced me that fighting slavery will also mean fighting against environmental damage. The question is: to what extent? Does eliminating slavery eliminate that ‘third largest producer of Co2’? Bales certainly implies this … yet, the roughly 40% of deforestration that Bales attributes to slave labor wouldn’t end if slavery ended. As another reviewer put it
where workers are so vulnerable that they can be pressed into modern slavery, and rule of law is weak enough to tolerate profound environmental destruction, free labor will usually be available to do the same bad work on marginally better terms. Bales knows that modern slavery is a symptom of complex social vulnerability, rooted in poverty, violence and ecological displacement. Turning around to propose that a new abolition movement would reverse these deeper problems may work as a homily, but it is unpersuasive as policy.
Blood and Earth is highly worth the read and, as this review started, it changed my thinking in a head-slapping moment. However, Bales’ assertions fall short as to what the environmental benefit would be from ending slavery and his work fails to provide a set of viable prescriptions for individuals, businesses, and societies as to how to move forward to eliminate slavery and its associated environmental destruction.
Kernan: Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?
SCOTT PRUITT (EPA ADMINISTRATOR):
No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact.
So, no, I would not agree that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet, as far as — we need to continue debate — continue the review and analysis.
Pruitt, as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, ‘owns’ some of the best climate science in the world and yet is rejecting perhaps the most basic and longest understood item in the field. As Professor John Abraham put it in an email
Scientists have known since the mid 1800s that carbon dioxide was a major greenhouse gas. This means Mr Pruitt is knowledge is close to 200 years out of date.
Now, Pruitt’s revealing statement is generating lots of buzz.
Within reporting, even ‘honest’ reporting seeking to make clear the #AlternativeFacts nature of Pruitt’s comments, the framing is all too often ‘normalizing’ and understating the outrageousness of the EPA directly holding such anti-science attitudes. For example, here is Tim DeChristopher at CNBC:
The statement contradicts the public stance of the agency Pruitt leads. The EPA’s webpage on the causes of climate change states, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”
Mark Sumner, someone who made his career in the coal mining industry, has penned (keystroked?) a thoughtful “Open letter to America’s Coal Miners & America“. This very respectful missive lays out the powerful ‘team’ reliance reality of coal-mining, highlights that coal powered America (and the globe) for a century, and lays out that any attack on coal is perceived by miners (by those more broadly in the industry) as a fundamental attack on them and their self-worth. The reality that coal — essentially uniquely — powered America, Sumner discusses, is no longer the reality and is less true with each passing day.
This is the hard truth. In 2000, coal generated almost 53 percent of all the electricity in the United States. By 2009, that was 45 percent. In 2014 it was 39 percent. One year later, it was 33 percent.
Look at that last number. Coal’s contribution to the electrical picture dropped by 6 percent in a single year.
Sumner calls for miners to recognize that
you’re being used as props in a war that’s not just bad for the nation, it’s bad for you and your families. You’re being sold a bill of goods
Sumner lays out that mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time and that this atrophying will continue — whether or not Trump successfully destroys environmental policy.
The core element for coal’s fall from glory in Sumner’s narrative: natural gas, in particular: fracked natural gas.
It happened because fracking for natural gas has made that fuel extremely abundant, and generators of electricity would much, much rather deal with gas than coal.
Now, within that discussion of natural gas, he writes;
Better still, from the point of view of the people making electricity, gas generators are cheaper. You can buy them small and add on power gradually. Coal plants are big. They take a huge amount of money up front and don’t start making money for decades after construction.
This is an important economic argument and business case reason for moving away from coal toward gas that is also true for nuclear power (like coal) and for wind/solar (like natural gas).
First group (nuclear, coal)
requires large upfront investments,
take a long time (decade+) to develop/build, and
move from 0 to 1000 (from 0 kilowatts of production to 100s to 1000+ mw hour production) at a flip of a switch.
And, btw, are seen as at risk to changed public perception, protests, priorities, and regulation (such as climate) as they are under construction.
Second group, natural gas/wind/solar,
can be built & brought on incrementally,
have (relatively) shorter timelines; and,
are seen as having relatively minor other certainty risks.
These differences are huge for planners amidst a disrupted electricity marketplace — uncertainty as to future demand (think efficiency, economic turmoil), massive technological change (LED lights, solar panels, smart grid, electric cars), changing business models and relationships (such as increased ‘behind the meter’ generation and storage), etc. With such uncertainty, committing $billions to a decade-long process for adding a gigawatt of production to the grid suddenly is a risk that requires significant mitigation (locking in rate structures that likely will disadvantage customers) that might not be possible to secure.
This business risk is a too-often overlooked reason for why there businesses (including to utility) are looking to natural gas, wind, and solar while “why there are no new coal plants under construction anywhere in the United States. None.”
The pace of global change accelerates with each passing year. Energy systems — which tend, even amid revolution (wood to coal, coal to oil, …), to change slowly — are struggling, globally, to adapt to how that pace of change is accelerating within them as well. Globalization combined with information technology reach combined with materials science explosion combined with business practice advances combined with the realities of climate change (and its risks/opportunities — even if denied by @TeamTrump/@GOP) … are all coalescing to create the circumstances for tectonic shifts.
Writ large, the average person (in the developed world, at least) doesn’t spend much time thinking about ‘energy’ other than concern over the gas tank level and paying bills (primarily ‘at the pump’ since electronic billing has removed even the electricity and gas bills from many people’s consciousness). Most energy-system change is occurring essentially invisible to the average person … with the (partial) exception of solar power, which has become perhaps ‘the’ symbol of 21st century energy and the technological potential for successful climate mitigation(again, with strong reality-denying exception of @TeamTrump).
Solar has seen massive price drops, continued double-digit percentage year-to-year growth rates, and expanded penetration into energy markets around the world. In the developing world, solar is providing a leap frogging out of energy poverty for literally tens (and soon 100s) of millions of people. Solar is emergent and increasingly dominate in off-grid (from highway signs to remote homes), industrial scale, and distributed grid-connected electricity generation.
In the public consciousness, something sparked mania
Do Solar Roadways stand up to scrutiny? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzzz5DdzyWY
and went viral in 2014: Solar Roadways. While any decent analysis would show this an amusing dream that might merit some research/development work but that serious investment should put it in the back-of-the-line behind many simpler and more productive solar applications, that Solar Roadway mania seems to have taken root with multiple demonstration projects and even large-scale plans underway around the world.
A question to ask, however, is whether it makes more sense to have solar ‘on the road’ (solar roadways) or solar on the things using the road?
Solar car challenge (http://www.solarcarchallenge.org/challenge/)
The idea of directly powering transportation using solar power has a long history, with the oldest solar car race now over 30 years old. While capturing attention, this really has been niche rather than a serious near-term transportation option.
There have been uses for solar power in mobile platforms. For example,
Interesting, when talking to business people trying to sell them, it is rarely the electricity value that their customers are interested in when they but a solar option. It is the maintenance / staff implication: the cart driver who forgot to plug in a cart, leaving it w/out power after a few days, or the annoyance of having to go out and get a dead cart in the middle of the day. Having solar doesn’t necessarily provide 100% of the carts’ electricity requirements (though gives a true off-grid EV option) but greatly reduces ‘ran out of power’ annoyances and while extending operating ranges.
Aviation has been playing around with moving away from fossil fuels, including electrically powered aircraft leveraging solar on the wings. With light-weighting of equipment, including solar, this has moved from demonstration and experiment to actual applications starting with unmanned aerial reconnaissance/surveillance.
One option that has been explored by major manufacturers (such as Airbus) is installing solar power into commercial aircraft wings — not to power the aircraft but to power auxiliary systems, especially when on the tarmac, to reduce fuel drain to power them.
That last has been part of the automobile market, with Toyota offering a solar option for the Prius since the 2010 model year for powering the ventilation system. Think parking in the August sun — the solar would power the vents and reduce heat buildup in the Prius, both improving comfort and air conditioning loads when entering the car (think 30F or more reduced heat build-up). While enough to power a fan, that 50-watt panel couldn’t provide meaningful propulsion benefits and wasn’t hooked up to the car’s battery system.
Now, assuming actual achievement of 4 miles/day driving off the solar panel (an optimistic assumption, for multiple reasons: cars not driven every day, shading reducing production, etc …), this is less than 1,500 miles per year or under 10 percent of the average 16,550 annual miles driven. Again, however, this could provide a meaningful dent into the average driver’s use and enable some interesting enhanced range uses (such as ‘refilling’ the car’s battery while parked for an extended period parked away from a plug).
Now, the Prius solar roof isn’t going to revolutionize transportation and, for most, it remains “a better choice to put the solar panels on your house” rather than car roof, but it is a clear indication that integrating solar into mobile electric transportation has moved from ‘pipe dream’ into commercial reality.
Stephen Colbert’s addition of Truthiness to the English lexicon provides an umbrella concept for that old adage. And @TeamTrump’s and the @GOP base’s allegiance to #AlternativeFacts before reality is taking this to a whole new level.
One aspect of such truthiness is to blast out a seemingly blow-the-mind number (statistic) without providing a context for that number — a context that would radically change the reader’s perspective. An ever-reoccurring example about the US budget: OMFG … the United States sends (roughly) $40B (yes, Billion with a B!) in foreign assistance (military and non-military each year. Again, OMFG and all that … That is a lot of EFFing money, isn’t it? Well, that $40B is less than 10% of the Pentagon budget, roughly 1% of the Federal Budget (not going to eliminate the deficit with that, will we?), and is less than 0.3% of the US gross domestic product. Foreign aid (non-military) is about $30B or under 0.2% of the US GDP. In context, not such a heart-attack creating number. And, the United States is far behind most in the developing world as to share of GDP given in foreign aid. Providing the figure and discussing aid out of context is a core reason why so many Americans (incorrectly) believe that the foreign aid budget is in the range of 28% (rather than 1%) of the total Federal budget. And, it is disinformatzia like that which the radical Republican extremist @TeamTrump is creating and leveraging on its path to devastate the government.
Taking us to today’s item sparking the post: right-wing embraced / promoted / thralled Judith Curry sharing of radical Republican extremist outlet Daily Caller‘s distorting ‘lies, damned lies, and STATISTICS’ item about solar panel production.
Solar Panels Increased Emissions Of A Gas 17,200 Times More Potent Than CO2 http://buff.ly/2lOx8tl
OMFG — “17,200 Times More Potent” certainly catches one’s attention.
To reinforce that point, the core conclusion from those in the government who analyze climate forcing:
greenhouse gases are often used in products or by end-consumers. These gases include industrial sources of man-made compounds such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), and N2O. The present contribution of HFCs, PFCs, SF6, and NF3 gases to the radiative forcing effect of all anthropogenic greenhouse gases is small
Remember, as well, that 0.6% is for the entire semiconducter industry of which the solar panel production is only a portion.
Okay, NF3 pollution matters for climate change but, for the moment, this is a blip on the spectrum compared to Carbon Dioxide, Methane, etc … And, btw, that is a tiny, tiny blip. Going back to the 6,586 MMT of CO2 equivalent, the entire NF3 (which is not just for solar) — weighted for its greater climate impact (that 1,700 more powerful) — puts it about 5 MMT equivalent or less than 1/1000th of total US emissions.
Hmmm … does some context change one’s perspective as to 1,700 more powerful?
Government programs impact people’s lives in uncountable ways. These range from those most highly visible firemen on the streets to the semi-hidden code developments that lower year after year the risks of fire in our homes. The extent to which government programs have enabled American prosperity — whether standards or legal system or technological development — is something that few actually think about on a daily lives.
How many, when pulling up Waze on their smart phone, consider that the decades-old Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) provided the conception and resources for core technology (such as ARPANET (now the Internet) and GPS) development that enables avoiding that traffic jam so they can make it to work on time?
The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), partially modeled after and developed with the lessons from DARPA, is less than a decade old but is showing its power in helping to leapfrog energy technologies in ways that could powerfully impact U.S. society, the US economy, and U.S. global competitiveness for decades to come.
This week, ARPA-E is holding its annual Energy Innovation Summit which provides a variety of windows on both ARPA-Es approaches to fostering leap-ahead (potentially disruptive) energy technology and programs along with the chance to kick the tires on many of these.
As to kicking tires in the Technology Showcase, the floor is filled with items to fascinate the ‘tech geek’ that provide windows on ways that could impact people’s lives in ways that few really consider.
Here are two examples from that tech showcase:
Innovative ways to improve personal comfort
ARPAE is tackling the spectrum of energy challenges and opportunities including how to improve both the energy efficiency and comfort for people in the built space and, well, beyond. Typically most would think of this as improving ‘the’ building (insulation (which ARPAE is working on), building controls (again), more efficient air conditioning (again), window glazings for upgrading single pane windows to greater efficiency (lots there, including a paint option) etc…) but how about doing things that target the individual? Within the ARPAE program are companies developing air conditioning for shoes (so that you can have a building at higher temperature while people remain comfortable … or, by the way, making soldiers more effective on the battlefield in the Middle East during summer) and clothing that adapts to temperature changes.
Within Otherlab is Material Comforts, “a textile that gets thicker and increases its insulation vale in response to a drop in temperature”. Imagine the middle of winter … you put on your clothing in the house warmed to 68F and walk outside to that 25F frigid cold but you don’t need to pull on a coat since your sweater expands to provide greater insulation. You get in the car and the sweater contracts as the heat kicks in. Within the office, as you wander around and have 5-10F differences in heat, your clothing adapts — to maintain you at your personal comfort level. Imagine … This could directly save energy (relatively unused spaces in a building might not need to be heated as much, etc, etc …) but would enable productivity (people are more comfortable, spend less time putting on/taking off clothing) … and, well, enhance people’s lives. Material Comforts won’t be showing on the clothing rack next year but, well, perhaps by 2020 or so this will become a clothing option and could have a real impact on real people’s lives. ARPA-E’s program is enabling its development that, well, simply might not have occurred otherwise.
Tobacco to Squelene
Squelene oil is throughout human life, especially in cosmetics. The primary squelene source: sharks. Sharks are under global threat from overfishing — with squelene being potentially more important than the more commonly heard of ‘shark fin soup’ challenge. Options exist other than shark livers for squelene and, despite their higher costs, many cosmetic firms use those options. But sharks are still dying for lipstick — and likely very few are aware of this as they stand in front of the mirror.
SynShark has developed a path to extract squalene from tobacco plants that will, on mass scale, undercut the price of squalene from shark livers. This will enable creating alternative income paths (higher income likely) for the world’s tobacco farmers, reduce fishery devastation (from pollution to shark kills), and provide a path for lowering the cost of cosmetics around the world. The processing of the tobacco plants creates other potential value streams, including high-quality proteins and potentially materials for making biofuels. Several years in development, Synshark is doing its first commercial demonstration (15 acres) this year with the potential for orders-of-magnitude growth over the coming few years.
Honestly, few people — even energy specialists — might have come up with the above as tangible examples of how ARPAE’s innovative approaches are opening the doors to changing lives for the better, creating US jobs, and improving US competitiveness. However, spending a few minutes with the two firms mentioned above and the 100s of other innovators at ARPAE would convince anyone who truly cares about making America great that the ARPAE is leveraging relatively limited resources in powerful and valuable ways.
Wandering ARPAE’s Energy Innovation Summit provides chances to learn about (reasonably viable and shockingly low cost) paths toward small fusion power, coming spray painting of windows for energy efficiency without impacting visibility, transparent wood for construction (let in light without sacrificing solidity and energy efficiency), new materials technology, heating/generator combinations for the home, new wind turbine concepts (including one that could scale up to 130 megawatts, or roughly 13 times larger than the largest currently in the world), …
Wandering the Energy Innovation Summit, seeing the technologies, speaking to the innovators, and considering the possibilities can provide reasons to technological optimism for paths toward a prosperous, secure, climate-friendly future …
This is a prosperity that is there for us (for the U.S.) to seize … if we choose to do so.
February 27th, 2017 · Comments Off on From Dark Ages to 21st Century, from CPAC to @ARPAE
This morning, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPAE) Energy Innovations Summit will begin. This annual three-day event brings together many of the world’s leading thinkers, scientists, tinkerers, business-process gurus when it comes to leap-frogging the United States (and the world) into a new (cleaner, efficient, effective, less expensive, …) energy future. Not unreasonably, the conference subtitle:
The premier event dedicated to transformational energy solutions.
Wandering the Summit’s ‘trade-show’ (“Showcase“) is enough to blow even the most brilliant mind — with many booths manned by PhDs working at the leading edge of opportunities to move 21st laboratory work into the real world. From building energy information management systems to better drill bits to plant-based chemicals for displacing highly-polluting ones to solar-based liquid fuels to …, the possibilities for transforming the world just from these booths can (at least for this author) take the breath away. That’s the trade-show — easy to have conversations with top-tier investors providing insights on the hows and whys of leaping the innovators’ Valley of Death to top bureaucrats managing programs to university researchers to listening to speakers like the Terminator can give hope for opportunities to move into a prosperous, Climate-Friendly future.
The Summit occurs each year at National Harbor, just outside DC in Prince George’s County, MD. What just finished there? A dystopian window on the ‘intellectual’ world of the nepotistic, kleptocratic Trump-ista kakistocracy*. Dominated by fossil fools who falsely state (either simply based on outdated information or a passion for #AlternativeFacts deceit) that solar (pv), wind, and other clean energy options are unaffordable (too costly) and who don’t just ignore fossil fuel externalities but assert that we should subsidize them (with deceptive statements about CO2 as ‘plant food‘ and ‘CO2 not a pollutant‘), CPAC has seemingly — in the words of @TeamTrump’s KellyAnne Conway — transformed into a North Korean autocratic-like environment of TPAC: Trump Political Action Conference. In stark contrast to ARPAE’s incredibly science rich environment, CPAC is dominated by (climate) science disdain and denial — #AltTruth and #AlternativeFacts dominate. This dark space, with Trump advisor Steve Bannon arguing that core to the Trump regime will be ‘deconstruction’ of government agencies, makes clear that the agenda is to be turning the United States back to the 19th century not just when it comes to polluting energy but across a much broader space.
As I now head out to the ARPAE Summit, what are some expectations:
Amazing opportunity to learn about new technologies, business processes, opportunities that boost economic performance (and national security and …) while helping to address (reduce, mitigate, …) climate change and other environmental impacts.
Will leave with stories to share (look to the blog in coming days) and many new contacts for the years to come (sources, collaborators, …).
That the halls will be filled with uncertainty as to ARPAE’s (and, well, the nation’s) future under the Trump team.
* If you are not aware of the term, kakistocracy is one of the most important terms for understanding Team Trump;
It is now February 2017, just less than two years after the above video and this prominent example of Jim Inhofe’s anti-science mania. (As Alec Baldwin put it about Inhofe, “Is there a bigger oil whore than Jim Inhofe?“) In those two years, we had 2015 hotter than 2014 and then 2016 hotter than 2015. The world is warming — despite Inhofe’s big snowball.
There is a 4A weather / climate emergency
The Arctic is experiencing massive temperature fluctuations, with record high temperatures.
When it comes to America, for example, Oklahoma is experience record heat for Valentines Day and this has nothing to do with Oklahomans romantic passion. It is the middle of February and the thermometer is hitting 100F.
Oklahoma is represented by one of the loudest climate science denialists in the U.S. Senate, a Senator who has received more fossil fuel contributions to his campaign than almost any other Member of Congress. The products of these firms are a serious contributor to humanity’s ever-mounting greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions. And, continued denial of basic climate science (and of the scientific consensus about climate change) is inhibiting action to slow (and reverse) the warming fostering 100F days in Oklahoma in the middle of winter.
In the interim, Oklahoma needs Jim Inhofe’s snowball a lot more than the Senate floor.
February 9th, 2017 · Comments Off on #Science denial/confusion in the classroom: Sadly, not just a US problem.
Just as occurred (and, sigh, still occurs) with the tobacco industry, a key target of fossil fuel promoters is to sow confusion about the science related to fossil fuel pollution impacts (from climate change to mercury poisoning to …), the strength of the scientific consensus, and about the work of scientists (as individuals and as groups). These Merchants of Doubt work diligently to undermine science — from astroturf organizations, to lobbyists, to campaign contributions, to attacking scientists, to funding and distributing misleading books, to working to undermine science education in the classroom.
Too often, the efforts to foster political controversy drive those involved in education — such as textbook publishers — to self censor and provide subtly misleading (if not outright dishonest) material for the educational system.
This plagues the United States of America, with frequent battles over textbook material and distortions of climate science, evolution, history, etc … to meet political agendas with the cost of fostering “Alternative Facts”-based eduction. While a serious problem in the U.S. educational system (and likely to worsen amid the Trump regime, including the ideological dogma of Secretary of (mis)Education Devos), sadly, this is not only an American problem
Distorting climate science for all ages: a UK example
Considering this KS3 science book from the key UK textbook publisher, CGP Books. The photo is from the section on “the Earth and The Atmosphere”. As you can see, this is splattered with caveating and unscientific terms when it comes to climate change science:
“some scientists believe”…
“the long-term trend of temperature increases is due to rising carbon dioxide levels”
“could have some serious effects”…
“could cause sea levels to rise”
As to the first, “some scientists believe”, there are two serious items:
“When climate scientists like me explain to people what we do for a living we are increasingly asked whether we “believe in climate change”. Quite simply it is not a matter of belief.
Our concerns about climate change arise from the scientific evidence that humanity’s activities are leading to changes in our climate.
The scientific evidence is overwhelming.”
(As so often, XKCD provides path to understanding truth …)
Using “could” similarly distorts.
Serious impacts already are occurring — from disrupted weather patterns, to movement of flora & fauna, to species extinctions, to (see below) land threatened by rising seas, to …
Reasonable debate can occur as to ‘how serious’ the impacts already are and will be, how fast the impacts will occur, and what can be done to mitigate/adapt to those impacts — but it is simple distortion of science to state that climate change ‘could have serious impacts’.
Sea levels are rising. This is associated with rising temperatures — both due to thermal expansion of the seas (basic science, people, heat ==> expansion) and melting (land-based, eg glaciers) ice.
In the face of Team Trump’s climate-science denial and active-intent to promote polluting energy, such minor elementary school science distortion can seem unworthy of attention. It is, however, this very sort of seemingly minor distorting material that helps foster electorates susceptible to ‘Post Truth’/#AlternativeFacts polemics. Such hedging material undermines societal ability to understand science and engage in truthful, fact-based policy formulation.
Yesterday, in Washington, DC, the temperature hit 74F and this morning it was below 30F with snow flurries.
February 6th, 2017 · Comments Off on #ClimateHawk @RepMcEachin: @GOP to “wage war on #Environment”
Amid the (mounting) fears that @RealDonaldTrump has utter contempt for the Constitution and is intent on a drive toward an authoritarian Kakistocracy*, powerful voices are emerging.
Rep. Donald McEachin, D-VA-04
Below is a portion of an interview with one of these, Rep. Donald McEachin, VA-04, who was elected to the House of Representatives last November. The more I get exposed to McEachin, the more that he impresses me and the more that I want to hear from him.
This interview section focuses on McEachin and the environment for the environment in the House. Some key comments.
Republicans “are going to go full tilt [against] the environment…they’re going to wage war on the environment.”
“we don’t have a lot of time … don’t have time for the nonsense that Republicans are about to bring forward”
“have to depend on the Senate to stop [@HouseGOP anti-science/anti-environment measures], because we’ll just get steamrolled here.”
Take a look at the interview below, crossposted from Blue Virginia courtesy of Lowell Feld.