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Pontiff going #UFC on #Climate Change

June 14th, 2015 · No Comments

This Thursday, the Vatican will release the Papal Encyclical “Laudato si’, on the care of our common home”.

Pope Francis’ decision to take such a serious stance on climate change (on the need to take action seriously to protect our common heritage, to protect the poorest among us, and to protect our common future) could have a dramatic impact on the global political dynamic.

And, by entering the fray, Pope Francis is taking on serious adversaries and creating serious foes. This preview captures the situation in a compelling manner.

For more substantive discussion of the Encyclical as tipping point, see Pope Francis’ climate encyclical: Are we close to a “tipping point” in the climate change debate?

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Stepping outside the box for a different perspective: #EV vs #ICE / #gas (guzzling) cars

May 26th, 2015 · No Comments

Imagine …Tesla Visit 18

  • Growing up with and learning to drive in electric vehicles;
  • Then taking test drive in a stick-shift gasoline car …
  • What would shock you at that experience
  • The resulting disdain for internal combustion engines.

Tibor Blomhäll imagined

Having heard so much good about petrol cars, we decided to test drive one.

They are said to combine cheap price with long range and fast charging.

A winning formula on paper – but how are they in real life?

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→ No CommentsTags: automobiles · electric vehicles · Energy · gasoline · PHEV

The power of translation: @BarackObama’s #climate anger emerging

April 26th, 2015 · No Comments

As part of President Barak Obama’s speech at the White House Correspondent’s dinner, as part of his speech (full video), the President introduced his anger translator who expressed — forcefully — perspectives that many in the reality-based community feel (and believe are pent up in many) and wish were part of the general and open dialogue across our society. A bit more than halfway through this routine, things shift … when it comes to climate change.

At the three minute mark, President Obama shifts the discussion from money in politics to “the need to focus on big challenges: like climate change”. For nearly a minute, the routine continues with President Obama speaking in the ‘acceptable’ zone of somewhat banal political language even if straightforward in laying out that

The science is clear.

But, then President Obama begins to lean in forcefully.

OBAMA: The science is clear, the science is clear. Nine out of the 10 hottest years ever came in the last decade.

LUTHER: Now I’m not a scientist, but I do know how to count to ten.

OBAMA: Rising seas, more violent storms…

LUTHER: You got mosquitoes, sweaty people on the trains stinking it up. It’s just nasty!

OBAMA: I mean, look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate.

LUTHER: Okay, I think they got it, bro.

OBAMA: It is crazy! What about our kids? What kind of stupid, short-sided irresponsible bull —

LUTHER: Whoa, whoa whoa, whoa!

OBAMA: What?


OBAMA: What!

LUTHER: All due respect, sir, you don’t need anger translator. You need counseling.

For years, those understanding of climate change risks and challenges have expressed strong concern over “climate silence“. From inadequate media coverage, to absence in the 2012 Presidential debates, to gaps in OFA calls for action, to commentators’ failures to associate climate when discussing things like California’s drought to …., there was a prolonged period of stunning and distressing inadequacy of discussion of climate change — including from the Oval Office’s Bully Pulpit.

This has changed.

This has changed significantly.

President Obama has been speaking forcefully on climate change.

President Obama has been confronting forcefully science denial.

President Obama has been working forcefully to encourage those with a basic respect for science to move toward more meaningful action.

President Obama has been issuing forcefully executive orders and directing Agency moves (such as EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act).

Last night, President Obama let his anger shine forth in what some are calling his most forceful statement yet on climate change.

Last night, President Obama hammered forcefully the nail in the coffin any claims of the White House engaging in Climate Silence.

That is a coffin we need to bury across all of society.

President Obama’s anger against those who deny climate science and who are impeding movement toward a prosperous, climate-friendly society is anger that we all should share.

While everyone who has understanding of climate science implications requires some form of counseling (let’s be honest, this is pretty overwhelming and depressing …), perhaps we need to emulate President Obama and let our anger shine forth.

UPDATE:  Joe Romm, whose Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga is the go-to discussion of rhetoric and climate change, shared his perspective on the President’s anger translator:

this is one of the most brilliant pieces of writing on climate change — with pitch-perfect delivery — you are ever going to see.

UPDATE 2: After sending me that perspective on Obama’s speech after a note about my post, Joe put up Obama Finally Gets Angry At Climate Science Deniers and Its Hilarious:

I’ve been critical in the past for Obama not speaking forcefully enough about climate change — and for not realizing until mid-2013 that moral outrage is the winning way to speak about it.

But this was not only Obama’s best “speech” on climate change to date, it was delivered to the perfect audience — the DC elite and the panjandrums of the media. The “not-so-intelligentsia” have been wildly underplaying the story of the century for a long, long time.

They should have called “Bull–” on deniers a long time ago. Kudos to the President for finally doing so.

This was the perfect audience  — and this speech just might influence some reporters’/outlets’ approaches to climate change issues in the 2016 election cycle.

Peter Sinclair likens the power of President Obama’s “anger translator” with John Oliver’s look at climate science consensus.

If you saw the President’s as-always, pitch near-perfect and impeccably timed speech to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner last, you saw his final bit with his “Anger Translator”, a brillant parody on the ‘angry  black man” so loved and feared by the Fox News Crowd.
But even the Anger Translator is taken aback by the President’s rage about climate deniers….

The use of humor to cut thru to the bone is rarely deployed like this by a Chief Executive.  Only John Oliver has done anything quite as skewering as this.

UPDATE 3: The post-mortem on climate silence is clearly too soon. According to notes from those who track such things, the media reporting on the Anger Translator is downplaying (to outright ignoring) the climate portion of the President’s remarks.

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→ No CommentsTags: barack obama · catastrophic climate change · climate change · Global Warming · global warming deniers · Obama Administration · political symbols · politics · President Barack Obama

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.
    • 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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→ No CommentsTags: energy information administration · Forecasting

@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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→ No CommentsTags: Divestment

The Inspiring Bronx

April 9th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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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