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The internet saves a huge amount of energy … even as it burns up a large amount

April 20th, 2015 · No Comments

It is seriously difficult and even more seriously important for us to consider our energy and climate challenges and opportunities with systems thinking. Let’s consider the all-encompassing information revolution which, clearly, is integrally tied to energy and energy usage. (After all, omething is behind your screen turning on, isn’t it?) If one takes a systems approach, even as knowing we could be doing an awful lot better, it is clear that the “information technology is good for climate” and that “The energy impact of web searches is very LOW“.

As energy expert, Stanford Professor Dr. Jonathan Koomey put it several years ago:

Most folks think that the power used by computers is a lot more than it actually is, and that it’s growing at incredible rates. Neither one of these beliefs is true, but they reflect a stubborn sense that the economic importance of IT somehow must translate into a large amount of electricity use. That incorrect belief masks an important truth: Information technology has beneficial environmental effects that vastly outweigh the direct environmental impact of the electricity that it consumes.

….

The really important story is that while computers use electricity, they are not a huge contributor to total electricity consumption, and while it’s a good idea to make computers energy efficient, it’s even more important to focus on the capabilities information technology (IT) enables for the broader society.  Computers use a few percent of all electricity, but they can help us to use the other 95+% of electricity (not to mention natural gas and oil) a whole lot more efficiently.

As an example of this latter point, consider downloading music versus buying it on a CD.  … the worst case for downloads and the best case for physical CDs resulted in 40% lower emissions of greenhouse gases for downloads when you factor in all parts of the product lifecycle (Weber et al. 2009). When comparing the best case for downloads to the best case for physical CDs, the emissions reductions are 80%. …

And, sending an email rather than a postcard by international aircraft … and … using gps navigation to avoid getting lost while burning gasoline … and … smart use of information technology enables the economy to operate more efficiently and with a lower footprint.

So, being quite clear that smart adaptation and leveraging of information technology enables a more efficient and lower polluting economy, there is a truth: computers burn electricity, server farms burn electricity, making the computer equipment has resource demands, etc … Thus,

 

And, taking Energy Smart practices can help reduce the footprint and save costs.

These include purchasing decisions, such as the how many different systems to buy to the ever-present debate of laptop vs desktop

Energy efficiency and consumption are a key design element to laptop computers that make the devices much less power hungry than desktop PC counterparts. Desktop computers are permanently tethered to a massive power supply, making energy efficiency a bonus or a perk as opposed to a functional necessity. … Laptop computers consume up to 80 percent less electricity than desktop computers

Obviously, there are some basic choices about set-up (such as having an advanced power strip to reduce vampire load issues) and choices about power management — such as actually turning off your computer and monitor before you leave the desk at the end of the day.

The basic points information technology and the worldwide web are making the economy work more efficiently … and therefore with lower pollution.

As Koomey concluded a debunking of the myth of huge internet energy demands

So Google, Youtube, blog, and flickr as much as you want.  If you are worried about your carbon footprint, buy 100% green power and do an efficient retrofit on your house to cover your emissions “” and let the Internet keep saving people energy and resources.

Indeed, replacing material consumption and transportation with electricity is almost certainly a good thing from a climate perspective since it is considerably easier to generate carbon-free electricity than it is to have carbon free-transportation or carbon-free versions of books and newspapers and inventories and offices

 

 

For weird, sort of uncertain reasons, there is (as “debunking” above suggests) a concerted effort to suggest that internet use is an overwhelming part of our energy system.  And, in using the internet’s “Series of Tubes,” it is very easy to be caught up with the data that comes from these who falsely (okay, generously speaking: incorrectly) state “that generating the electricity needed for a Google search emitted half as much carbon as did boiling a cup of tea”. Note that Google put the figure at 1/35th that half-a-cup-of-tea number. Again, going with Koomey from his “Tempest in a Tea Pot“:

Information technology (IT) facilities do use electricity, but moving electrons is always less energy intensive and environmentally damaging than moving atoms.

While it is important to improve the energy efficiency of IT facilities …, it is the NET environmental impact that matters, not the direct electricity use and carbon emissions of these facilities treated in isolation.

driving an average car just one mile and back to the nearest library to manually search for information produces more than 100-times more greenhouse-gas emissions than a web search

Within in mind, we are ready to consider the infographic after the fold.

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(Fewer to no) Birds Die (from solar flux)

April 17th, 2015 · No Comments

Last fall, the world learned that the Brightsource concentrating solar plant at Ivanpah, California, was killing birds. There was a rather huge outcry, much of it without a context of overall numbers and causes of bird deaths. While seeking to place the deaths in context, I wrote “the system can/should be improved”. Well, this has occurred. At the second concentrating tower facility, the 110 MW Solar Reserve Crescent Dunes project,  rsz_how-not-to-focus-heliostats

[The] standby [non-operating] position create[d] a tight circle of solar flux you can actually see above the tower [in the picture to the right].

In a January test, the “concentrated solar flux” in standby kill 115 birds.

Can we say ‘not good’?

Recognizing this as a serious issue, the engineering team took a challenge of solving the problem.

“The difficulty is that that was a concentrated solar energy in that area above the tower,” SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith …

“So what we did is we spread them over a several hundred meters of a  sort of ‘pancake’ shape so any one point is safe for birds — it’s 4 suns or less.”

 

Solution: don’t focus all 3,000 heliostat mirrors at the same point when in standby mode.

And, the impact of that solution:

“We have had zero bird fatalities since we implemented this solution in January, despite being in the standby position as well as flux on the receiver for most days since then,” he said. “This change appears to have fully corrected the problem.”

Since January’s mishap that delivered the Eureka moment for safe solar power tower development, no more dead birds at all. I did the math as of our conversation this week; a day or so short of 3 months with zero fatalities.

All energy systems have impacts on the world around us — renewables, writ large, far less than fossil fuels.  Paying attention and addressing those impacts, seeking to reduce damage, should be core to paths forward.  It is good to see solutions occurring such that there are “3 months with zero fatalities”.

 

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The Lomborg bonanza (Or, how could Australia better spend $4 million?)

April 17th, 2015 · No Comments

The Australian government has given The Smiling Dane, Bjorn Lomborg, a major reason to smile.  It seems that Bjorn won’t have to headquarter out of a post office box any more.  While imposing draconian cuts on higher education, the climate-change denial dominated Australian government has given Lomborg $4 million (Australian $) to set up a variation on the ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ Copenhagen Consensus Center.

What does the Center say its about?

research that analyzes the optimal ways to combat the biggest problems facing the world.

We promote the use of sound economic science – especially the principle of prioritization – to make sure that with limited resources, we achieve the most ‘good’ for people and the planet.

In series of deceptive piece after piece after piece after piece after …, Lomborg on climate pauseLomborg and proponents have leveraged effectively half-truths to support misleading conclusions and dangerous recommendations. This has enabled them to assert that climate-related investments simply don’t pass the muster of their “sound economic science“.  Yet, as highlighted at Climate Progress years ago, what did the very economists involved in Copenhagen Consensus research conclude back in 2008?

[I]f the net benefit (total benefit – total cost) were compared for each policy proposal, the climate policy packages would most likely be ranked higher than most if not all options considered.” (Yohe et al.,The inappropriate treatment of climate change in Copenhagen Consensus 2008, submitted, emphasis added)

For some reason, I suspect that advocacy of “prioritization of climate policy packages” isn’t what motivated the Australian government to give Bjorn four million reasons to smile.

In any event, perhaps it would make sense to leverage some “sound economic science … to make sure that with limited resources, [the Australian Government] achieve[s} the most ‘good’ for people and the planet.”

Within the Australian higher education, for example, Lomborg’s “host” university could provide 100% free ride scholarships to almost 600 Australian students (average annual tuition of $6829).  In a country with zero sun resources (sarcasm), that $4 million could pay for 4 megawatts of solar installation which, based on Australia’s range of solar pv productivity, would mean somewhere between 5,110 to 7,300 megwatts a year of production.  At 29 cents per kWh (Australia’s average 2013 retail price), that would translate to between $1,481,900 to $2,117,000 in value per year.  Hmmm, not bad on a $4 million upfront investment.

Lets take that “sound economic science” from The Copenhagen Consensus‘ (deceptive) cost-benefit analysis:

Australia could invest $4 million in malaria nets for $144 million in benefits.

For malaria, the recommendation is to reduce resistance to artemisinin – the primary drug treatment for malaria – by using combination therapies, while providing bed-nets to reduce infection. Each dollar invested returns $36 in benefits.

Australia could invest $4 million in treating TB for $172 million in benefits.

For TB, treatment since 1995 has saved 37 million people. We can do even more. The author suggests intensifying efforts to identify TB carriers, particularly among those co-infected with HIV, while scaling up treatment to both regular and drug-resistant strains of TB. Each dollar invested returns $43 in benefits.

Australia could invest $4 million in circumcision of HIV-negative men for $112 million of benefits.

For HIV/AIDS, to get the best bang-for-buck the authors suggest focusing on hyper-endemic (15%+ of adult population infected) regions in Africa. By circumcising 90% of HIV-negative men we can get $28 back on the dollar/blockquote>

Or, instead, the Australian government could squander $4 million on The Smiling Dane for negative return on investment “for people and the planet”.

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Department of Energy’s “Annual Outlook 2015″ is out: what do we know w/out reading it?

April 15th, 2015 · No Comments

Yesterday, the Department of Energy’s released the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) “Annual Energy Outlook 2015“. Before even reading the summary, there are two things that we know:

  • EIA is WRONG!
    • Forecasting is extremely difficult and the energy sector is no exception to the rule.
      • Note, to say “EIA is WRONG!” is something that can be written about any forecaster / forecast — the questions are to what extent are the forecasts useful in helping planning and decision-making (individual, investor, government, business, etc ….).
    • Takeaway: Use the EIA material as a reference case and guidance but not as gospel.  You need to understand the underlying material and, if using the EIA material to support planning (business, government, policy, environmental, or otherwise), make sure to think through alternatives to ‘satisfice’ when reality varies away from the predictions.
  • EIA is extremely PESSIMISTIC ABOUT RENEWABLE ENERGY!
    • Without exception, the EIA forecasting about renewable energy trends has been (far too) pessimistic about how renewables actually develop.
      • While there are a number of (somewhat) understandable bureaucratic rules and analytical process reasons behind this, the EIA has been very consistent in its erroneous renewable energy projections — the real world has always outperformed what the EIA says it would do.
        • Reasons for the bias included difficulties in projecting innovation (technology, business methods, etc …) and requirements to stay within current policy (which heavily subsidies, indefinitely, fossil fuels and has supports for renewable energy sunsetting) parameters.
        • Note that in an analytically ‘unbiased’ world, one would expect projections to vary in errors both in too pessimistic and too optimistic.  This is seen within EIA work on gas and oil, for example.  The renewable energy projections are always, however, on the ‘negative’ side.
    • Takeaway:  In planning, the EIA “reference case” on renewable energy penetration and development is to be taken as the ‘worst’ case situation. We can be near certain that there will be (far) more renewable energy in the years ahead than what EIA predicts.

UPDATE: Greentech media published an overlapping/reinforcing article: Why EIA’s Energy Outlook Misses the Real Value of Renewable Energy: EIA outlook lowballs renewables through 2040, and doesn’t include EPA’s proposed carbon rule. And, CAP’s Climate Progress chimed in with This Federal Report Underestimates Renewables Every Year, And Energy Experts Have Had Enough

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@Newsweek editors publish hit piece on #wind. Do they even care basic facts wrong?

April 12th, 2015 · No Comments

There is an old adage: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.  With an advocacy piece, with heavy over tones of analysis and citations with reams of numbers, it is hard to work through a series of statistics to understand whether the basic material is truthful or contrived and manipulated to support a preconceived notion.  This poses a real challenge to an editorial staff: how do they judge thought pieces in terms of fact checking?  Is it enough that the reference says what is said or do the editors owe the readers more?  Should basic asserted facts be accepted without examination or do the editors owe the readers more?  And, if basic facts are wrong should the overall article be published or do the editors owe the readers more?

A 20080825_03-3 Brown Hill Range wind farmpause for basic truth: wind power is providing tremendous value, around the world, with lower polluting energy that is helping to restrain (if not drive down) energy prices. Fully-burdened cost benefit analysis shows great benefits from supporting wind power.

Simply put, I am far from the only one who believes “editors owe the readers more”.  Recently, The New Yorker‘s editors failed their readers by publishing Jonathan Franzen’s Birds-Climate without — it seems — giving a serious look at assertions and basic failures.  Newsweek‘s editors have done a similar — if not more serious — disservice to their readers with the publication of Randy Simmons’ broadside attack on wind power. Simmons, in short, argues that government subsidy of wind power (such as the Production Tax Credit) is counter-productive and too costly.

As with Franzen’s piece, books could be dedicated to dissecting this one article and providing more accurate discussions to support public debate and discussion. This article gets things wrong on so many levels: from misstatements on basic facts, to misrepresentations, to playing with statistics, to not addressing fundamental issues to … Below the fold are three missing examples:

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People want “services”, not “energy” nor a specific energy source …

April 10th, 2015 · No Comments

Photo courtesy of Justin Levy

Within discussions of the energy system and options, what is too often lost is that people simply want (and, well, often require) “services” — the meeting of their needs and wants.  As put before

Consumption: Needs / wants — what are seeking? Example: At the end of the day, I want (oops, many days, need) a cold beer …

When we turn on the light switch, it is because we want light … not electricity.  The specific energy (whatever the source and type) and the efficiency of our usage are tools to achieve something: we don’t “want” electricity or gasoline to move our train or car but we want to get somewhere (in some level of comfort, within some time frame, …).  We don’t “want” a wireless router but leveraging it for ability to connect (rapidly, seamlessly) electronically with the world for entertainment, communication, and other purposes. We want the “service” not the “energy”.

This came to mind while watching yesterday’s MIT debate on divestment from fossil fuels.  DivestmentPoster-small

Within this, arguing against divestment, Stanford Professor Dan Wolak stated that — in essence — “people want fossil fuels”.  Dan Gould, supporting divestment, challenged this (41st minute) with the statement that:

They don’t demand fossil fuels. They demand energy.

As per above, people don’t “demand energy” but desire, expect, demand “energy services”.

Gould’s next comment was spot on.

So, the idea that we must have fossil fuels … that this is the only answer to our energy needs … is fundamentally flawed.

 

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The Inspiring Bronx

April 9th, 2015 · No Comments

To some, perhaps the idea that they should look to the Bronx for true inspiration likely seems foreign.  Here are three examples of Bronx institutions and people who take my breath away and inspire me with hope as to ways to solve problems and create opportunities …

Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX) (and its founder, Majora Carter) is truly inspirational as to how to leverage a green economy and other paths toward social equity & strength, economic performance, and greening/cleaning up some of the nation’s dirtiest streets.

The Bronx Community College’s Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), operating in one of the most stressed communities and community colleges in the nation, is providing servicesNYC - Bronx: Hall of Fame for Great Americans ranging from training for jobs in solar installations to being on a path to being a leading biodiesel research / development center. (Full disclosure: I was a key note speaker at their annual 2014 conference which gave me to learn about CSE’s programs and plans and to visit something at the Bronx Community College that I regret that I’d never even heard of before, America’s first hall of fame…)

And, others fighting every day for a cleaner and more prosperous Bronx.

And, something that I just learned about …

Green Bronx Machine is both an institution and an individual:  Stephen Ritz. Ritz is a teacher in the poorest Congressional district in America with classrooms filled with children facing serious challenges to ‘equality’ in their opportunities.  And, as a teacher who any (sensible) parent would love to have their child TEDxManhattan2014-035to have, Ritz is doing more than his part to address and overcome these challenges.

He has created a program focused on green — on growing food (which ends up in his student’s and community residents’ bellies) and on vertical gardens. Moving from basic seeds to some leading edge urban agricultural technologies and techniques. But, the food is not the end state …

For New York public school teacher Ritz and the students participating in his hybrid urban farming and workforce development program, the Green Bronx Machine, growing fresh produce in an unconventional inner city setting goes hand in hand with upward mobility and community revitalization.

My favorite crop is organically grown citizens — graduates, members of the middle class, kids who are going to college, …Social sustainability and a living wage is at the heart of innovation. The green economy — that represents jobs today, now and into the future.

For true inspiration, take some time to watch and listen to Ritz … for example, his Ted talk.

Or, the video that introduced me to Green Bronx Machine with an excellent article at Green Biz.

If inspired, Green Bronx Machine targets a National Health & Wellness Center in the Bronx  … hard to imagine that Ritz and his team would not leverage any donation that you can make to achieve real results.

 

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Requiem for Canadian glaciers (and #climate #science)

April 9th, 2015 · No Comments

Wonder what your favourite glacier to ski or hike will look like in 20 or 40 years? A new study makes detailed predictions about how the glaciers in B.C. and Alberta will melt and shrink between now and 2100.

Nature Geoscience

The disappearing Penny Ice Gap

just published a sobering look at likely deglaciation in Western Canada during the 21st century with continued carbon emissions. The research team led by Garry Clarke of the University of British Columbia developed models that incorporate ice dynamics physics with existing surface mass models. Using global climate models to project temperature and precipitation projections with “business as usual” carbon emissions, the models indicate that glacial ice mass in this region will decrease by 70% from its 2005 footprint by the end of the century.

Retreat of mountain glaciers is a significant contributor to sea-level rise and a potential threat to human populations through impacts on water availability and regional hydrology. Like most of Earth’s mountain glaciers, those in western North America are experiencing rapid mass loss. Projections of future large-scale mass change are based on surface mass balance models that are open to criticism, because they ignore or greatly simplify glacier physics. Here we use a high-resolution regional glaciation model, developed by coupling physics-based ice dynamics with a surface mass balance model, to project the fate of glaciers in western Canada. We use twenty-first-century climate scenarios from an ensemble of global climate models in our simulations; the results indicate that by 2100, the volume of glacier ice in western Canada will shrink by 70 ± 10% relative to 2005. According to our simulations, few glaciers will remain in the Interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state. We project the maximum rate of ice volume loss, corresponding to peak input of deglacial meltwater to streams and rivers, to occur around 2020–2040. Potential implications include impacts on aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, alpine tourism and water quality.

Think of this as yet another chapter in the water crises that will be the hallmark of the 21st century. Climate change and unsustainable agricultural uses of water have conspired to put California into a drought with profound economic implications. Syria fell into civil war after a prolonged drought wiped out agricultural productivity in rural parts of the country. Blood shed in South Sudan and other sub-Saharan countries has become all too common during water shortages. Freshwater reserves in China are under pressure from climate change, industrial use, and pollution. Ditto in India. The list goes on. And on.

This is a DWG guest post.

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Yes, we are significant enough to impact the Earth …

April 8th, 2015 · No Comments

There are multiple factors fostering climate denial/skepticism CCEHvOqUsAAkxg3and a raft of truthiness laden arguments and shaky assertions (repeated time and time again, no matter the evidence proving them wrong) leveraged by science denialists against climate science.  Amid them is one that, in some ways, reflects humanity’s basic wonder at the immensity, scope, and wonder of the world around us that is often captured within a religious weltanschauung. In short, the arrogance of man to believe that we can have an impact on God’s creation.

To suggest that humanity is capable of impacting and disturbing forces of such magnitude is reflective of a self-centred arrogance that is mind numbing. Humanity is a subset of Nature. Nature is not a subset of humanity.

This is an argument that I’ve encountered too many times in the past. This sparked a question: “Do you believe that a major nuclear war could bring about a nuclear winter?”  A “yes” response was virtually a gotcha moment: okay, you believe that humanity can impact the climate. In other words, we’re now just haggling over the price.

Let’s be clear. This is far from truly ‘fringe’. A chairman of a powerful Senate committee directly states

The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate. [M]y point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous. [Senator James Inhofe]

Rather than taking the hypothetical of nuclear warfare, there are so many tangible examples of humanity having a direct impact on the global system. When it comes to the atmosphere, for example, CO2 levels and the ozone layer.  We could show humanity’s direct ability to impact God’s creation via major canals, replacing forests with cities and farms, flattening mountaintops, etc …

In the past day, there are a number of efforts going on that provide strong visualization of humanity’s thumbprint on the globe.  It is hard to imagine anyone watching Chasing Ice and not being awed both by the enormity and scale of Greenland, Antarctic, and other major ice (glacier and otherwise) formations along with overwhelmed by the rapidity of change in them.

The images above show the drying up of Mongolian lakes.

Lakes on the Mongolian Plateau are shrinking rapidly, according to researchers from Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. After analyzing several decades of satellite imagery, the researchers found that the total lake surface area had declined from 4,160 square kilometers (1,060 square miles) in the late 1980s to 2,900 square kilometers in 2010, a decrease of 30 percent. The authors attribute the losses to warming temperatures, decreased precipitation, and increased mining and agricultural activity.

Note something: this is not solely (nor necessarily) dominated by climate change but climate change (“warming temperatures”) is part of the causation for shrinking Mongolian lakes.

This is all part of NASA’s  Images of Change, which provides (as of this post) 302 sets of ‘before and now’ photos from around the globe of humanity’s growing thumbprint on the world (around us all). For example, water diversion and the shrinkage of the Dead Sea.

Water Diversion: Dead Sea

Sadly, retreating ice (as with Chasing Ice) could be represented with 1000s of images as with this 1940 and 2005 comparison of an Alaskan glacier.

Northwestern Glacier melt, Alaska

As Brad Plumer’s  opened his “15 before-and-after images that show how we’re transforming the planet“.

Human beings have replaced nature as the dominant force shaping Earth. We’ve cleared away forests, dammed up mighty rivers, paved vast roads, and transported thousands of species around the world. “To a large extent,” two scientists recently wrote, “the future of the only place where life is known to exist is being determined by the actions of humans.”

Yes, humanity is a subset of nature … but a subset which has figured out how to have its thumb weighing heavily on nature’s scales.

Plumer’s post and the NASA project are worth a visit … and perhaps sharing with those who wish to assert that humanity is too insignificant to have an impact on God’s creation.

 

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Lieutenant General’s Green Army

April 7th, 2015 · No Comments

This guest post comes courtesy of DWG ….

Hurricane Katrina revealed the power of nature and the incompetence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Michael Brown. The storm shredded the Gulf coast and breached the levees protecting New Orleans, leaving 1883 people dead, 2 million homeless, and the city in chaos. It took the Joint Task Force Katrina under Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to rescue the recovery efforts. The general has since retired from the military, but now leads a Green Army.

I don’t call myself an environmentalist, I call myself a pollution fighter.”

Here is a taste of the general in action. Starting at the 3:50 mark, he says that the environment is biggest challenge of the millennial generation and beyond. Here is the situation in Louisiana.

“There is an expiration date on clean drinking water in Louisiana. We will have less tomorrow than we had today. And this is because of the acts of men, of greed and of a failed democracy. A democracy that put the flag of oil and gas companies over our capitol, over the constitutional responsibility to look out for the welfare of the people.In that regard, our democracy has failed us. I don’t say that with any pride. I say it with a sadness in my heart because I spent 37 years, 3 months, and 3 days wearing the cloth of this nation as a soldier. To come back to my home state and see corporations work with total disregard, with collaboration and support from elected officials, to do things that tell the people of Louisiana that oil field wastewater is not hazardous. These are elected officials in the state of Louisiana who will stand up and defend this industry.”

He goes on to describe industry-fueled propaganda as psychological operations (about the 6:00 mark).

Every day this group practices psychological operations on us. Don’t say nothing bad about the oil and gas companies because if you do, they will leave. And, oh my Lord, what is going to happen to our economy. This is psychological operations.

Now that is speaking truth to power.

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