Later On

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Archive for the ‘Global warming’ Category

The reality of climate change continues to emerge

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The American Southwest has not seemed to really care about water — think of all the green lawns in Phoenix and the fountains splashing in Las Vegas — but the reality is hitting a bit harder now that the Colorado River’s water supply drops and drops. Joshua Partlow reports in the Washington Post (no paywall):

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The survival — or at least the basic sustenance — of hundreds in a desert community amid the horse ranches and golf courses outside Phoenix now rests on a 54-year-old man with a plastic bucket of quarters.

John Hornewer picked up a quarter and put it in the slot. The lone water hose at a remote public filling station sputtered to life and splashed 73 gallons into the steel tank of Hornewer’s water hauling truck. After two minutes, it stopped. Hornewer, one of two main suppliers responsible for delivering water to a community of more than 2,000 homes known as Rio Verde Foothills, fished out another quarter.

“It so shouldn’t be like this,” Hornewer said.

Some living here amid the cactus and creosote bushes see themselves as the first domino to fall as the Colorado River tips further into crisis. On Jan. 1, the city of Scottsdale, which gets the majority of its water from the Colorado River, cut off Rio Verde Foothills from the municipal water supply that it has relied on for decades. The result is a disorienting and frightening lack of certainty about how residents will find enough water as their tanks run down in coming weeks, with a bitter political feud impacting possible solutions.

[Officials fear ‘complete doomsday scenario’ for drought-stricken Colorado River]

The city’s decision — and the failure to find a dependable alternative — has forced water haulers like Hornewer to scour distant towns for any available gallons. About a quarter of the homes in Rio Verde Foothills, a checkerboard of one-acre lots linked by dirt roads in an unincorporated part of Maricopa County, rely on water from a municipal pipe hauled by trucks. Since the cutoff, their water prices have nearly tripled. The others have wells, though many of these have gone dry as the water table has fallen by hundreds of feet in some places after years of drought.

“This is a real hard slap in the face to everybody,” said Hornewer, who has been hauling water to his neighbors for more than two decades. “It’s not sustainable. We’re not going to make it through a summer like this.”

The prolonged drought and shrinking reservoirs have already led to unprecedented restrictions in usage of the Colorado River, and the federal government is now pressing seven states to cut 2 to 4 million acre feet more, up to 30 percent of the river’s annual average flow. The heavy rain and snow pummeling California have not had much impact on the Colorado River Basin and major reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead have fallen to dangerous levels.

This grim forecast prompted Scottsdale to warn Rio Verde Foothills more than a year ago that their water supply would be cut off. City officials stressed their priority was to their own residents and cast Rio Verde Foothills as a boomtown of irresponsible development, fed by noisy water trucks rumbling over city streets. “The city cannot be responsible for the water needs of a separate community especially given its unlimited and unregulated growth,” the city manager’s office wrote in December. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of “We’re all in this together.” I suspect that the struggle will become considerably more intense once both food and water start to run short.

In the meantime, Wyoming is considering laws to prevent the sale of new electric vehicles to ensure that maximum burning of fossil fuels continue, and of course OPEC is pumping all the oil they can. There’s money to be made!

I’m reminded of a cartoon from the New Yorker years ago of a man floundering the water near a pier as he drowns. Another man, on the pier, shouts, “I’m sorry, I can’t swim. Would $10 help?”

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2023 at 1:13 pm

A somber post: We’re Living Through the End of Civilization, and We Should Be Acting Like It

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In OK Doomer Jessica Wildfire writes of what is now happening and what it portends for the future:

There’s no question anymore. This civilization is ending. You can relax. It’s not up for debate. It’s not a question of hope vs. doom.

It just is.

I’m writing this for a simple reason. The sooner everyone accepts the end of this civilization, the better. Humans don’t have to go extinct, but the way we’re living has to change. There’s no hope for this way of life, full of reckless consumption and convenience well beyond the planet’s means. The harder we fight, the more denial and delusional thinking we engage in, the worse we’re going to make it. Downplaying the truth has only made things worse. It makes everyone complacent. So, I’m going to explain things in the bluntest way possible.

First, let’s talk about Covid.

We have enough information about Covid to know we should’ve been taking it far more seriously. As one science writer shows in a thorough review of available research, we’re dealing with the most dangerous disease in modern history. It’s the most contagious virus scientists have ever seen. It does more damage than HIV, by hijacking our immune system and building reservoirs in virtually every organ in the body, from the brain to the liver. Viruses like HIV don’t cause severe illness at first. They cause mild illness. The true damage doesn’t become apparent until months later. Scientists know this now.

This virus has evolved beyond our antibody therapies and vaccines, and it’s even evolving beyond Paxlovid. As one study in Science says, “unselective use is expected to rapidly lead to emergence of drug resistance.” These are facts, and they don’t care how we feel about them. If anything, Covid wants everyone to keep living in fear of the truth. It loves our denial. This is going to be the worst year of the pandemic yet. Everyone’s tired, but we’re more vulnerable than ever. There are tools for us to make it through, but most humans aren’t interested.

Covid minimizers ask if we’re going to wear masks forever. Yes, we are. They’ve left us with absolutely no alternative.

Okay, let’s talk about the weather. A bomb cyclone followed by atmospheric rivers have dumped historic amounts of water on California over the last week. According to The New York Times, it’s going to cost at least $1 billion, and some sources estimate the damage will run far higher. The state already lost $18 billion in climate disasters last year. The flooding there is expected to go on for another week. More than 100,000 homes have been destroyed, and it’s hard to know how many people have fled. The heavy precipitation might replenish the snowpack, but at the expense of the state’s infrastructure.

What we’re seeing now has the potential to become a megaflood, something climate scientists predicted in Science last year. They discuss California’s Great Flood of 1861-1862, “characterized by weeks-long sequences of winter storms” that transformed parts of the state “into a temporary but vast inland sea nearly 300 miles in length.” Their models predict these megafloods will happen much more often now, thanks to us. One happened in Pakistan last year.

We could be watching one now.

In the southwest, it’s the opposite problem. Entire lakes are drying up. States can’t make simple water conservation plans. The federal government has finally stepped in, but it could be too late. According to a story in The Washington Post, “The negotiations will ultimately have to weigh cuts in rapidly growing urban areas against those in farming communities that produce much of the country’s supply of winter vegetables.” Parts of Arizona were already relying on trucked water. Now even that’s going away. Affluent suburbanites are losing their minds. They’re spending thousands of dollars to drill wells to nowhere.

Neighborhoods, cities, and entire states have already started bickering over water. Last year they began to demand the federal government divert the Mississippi into the desert so they could build waterparks. Then to everyone’s shock, the Mississippi river itself dried up to the point that ships couldn’t pass. Saltwater started leaching into people’s drinking water in some areas.

Soon, these places won’t have water at all.

That already happened last summer. In cities like Monterrey, people were lucky if they could find buckets to collect water from trucks. Their taps were completely dry. According to a piece in Scientific American, American cities are increasingly failing to provide clean drinking water, even while they claim brown sludge “meets federal standards.” They’re under constant boil water notices.

These things aren’t front page news.

They should be.

In Utah, the Great Salt Lake has shriveled to 25 percent of its normal size. In a few years, residents will have to evacuate. According to Live Science, the lake “could be set to disappear within the next five years, exposing millions of people to the toxic dust trapped in the drying lake bed.” Why is the dust toxic?

It’s laced with arsenic.

If the state wants to save what’s left of the lake and avoid a humanitarian disaster, they have to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 7:59 pm

Car/highway propaganda video

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Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2023 at 6:00 pm

E-bikes could be a more affordable way to reduce emissions

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Adam Bearne has an interesting report at NPR, with audio and a transcript at the link. The transcript begins:

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:  Electric cars are seen as one way for Americans to reduce emissions. But these days, the average price of a new electric car is more than $60,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. Is there a more affordable way to ditch your fossil-fueled car? NPR’s Adam Bearne has been trying to find out if electric bikes might be a better option.

ADAM BEARNE, BYLINE: Lelac Almagor is on a mission to get out of the car.

LELAC ALMAGOR: I just really hate driving. The sitting and the being stuck and the waiting is just really not for me.

BEARNE: Public transportation here in Washington, D.C., used to be an option. But she’s discovered its limitations now she has children.

ALMAGOR: I used to metro a lot and take the bus a lot. And then when I had kids, it just became a little bit too complicated to get to where we were going with the kids and the stuff that the kids have. It wasn’t working well for me. I wasn’t happy.

BEARNE: She’s thought about commuting on a regular bike, but…

ALMAGOR: I think in my 20s was a repeatedly failed bike commuter. I’m just really not that spandex cyclist type of person. That’s just really not me. I really hate biking up hills.

BEARNE: Then she tried out an electric bike. E-bikes use a battery and an electric motor to boost the rider’s input, or the motor can just totally take over.

ALMAGOR: It was one of those orange JUMP bikes that they had around for a while. And I remember it was just amazing. I was going down to meet a friend at Eastern Market, which is further than I would typically be able to walk. And I got on the bike, and I just – I got there so quickly, and it was so much freaking fun. Like, I just – I felt like a child.

BEARNE: But to carry her kids and all their stuff, she needed something bigger than the average e-bike. So she settled on an e-cargo bike. It’s actually a trike with two wheels at the front, one at the back and a big box in front of the rider that’s got plenty of room for passengers. Almagor can carry her entire family in this bike. She proved it by taking me along for a ride with her 3-year-old son, Oren, strapped in next to me and her infant daughter, Tamar, snugly secured in a car seat, clutching a tambourine. For Almagor, this is way better than driving.

ALMAGOR: All of those . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2023 at 1:48 am

The Downfall of Andrew Tate Is Deliciously Ironic and Vitally Important.

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Jay Kuo writes in The Status Kuo:

If you’re like many people, the first time you’d ever heard the name Andrew Tate was through reading about climate activist Greta Thunberg’s brutal takedown on Twitter after the former lightweight world kickboxing champion decided rather unwisely to troll her. As it is Schadenfriday, I’ll review the hilariously ironic part of this first before getting into why this actually matters beyond the hellsite of Twitter.

The Tate Twitter Massacre

On Tuesday, Tate, 36, whose Twitter account was suspended in 2017 but had been newly restored to Twitter by his fellow butthurt manbaby Elon Musk, was in the mood to troll an autistic teenage climate activist. You know, just in case anyone had forgotten what a truly horrible person he is. Tate tweeted the following at Greta Thunberg:

Hello @GretaThunberg

I have 33 cars.

My Bugatti has a w16 8.0L quad turbo.

My TWO Ferrari 812 competizione have 6.5L v12s.

This is just the start.

Please provide your email address so I can send a complete list of my car collection and their respective enormous emissions.

For good measure, Tate included a picture of himself refueling one of those vehicles. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2022 at 1:02 pm

A City Fights Back Against Heavyweight Cars

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David Zipper reports for Bloomberg:

Imagine that you, a city resident, are contemplating swapping out your mid-sized sedan for a full-sized pickup truck. And not just any pickup truck; your eye has fallen upon a heavy-duty one, like the Chevy Silverado HD or the Ford F-250. These are machines intended for towing and hauling, but they’re increasingly popular as passenger vehicles in the US, despite their massive proportions. At 6,695 pounds, the F-250 is 23 inches taller and more than twice as heavy as a Honda Accord.

Such oversized vehicles exacerbate problems across all kinds of communities, but none more so than dense urban neighborhoods full of pedestrians and cyclists. Driving a large pickup or SUV increases the likelihood you’ll kill or injure someone; its thirsty power plant (the F-250 gets 15 mpg) spews more air pollution and greenhouse emissions.

If you’re a city or state leader, you have a limited arsenal of tools available to discourage residents from operating these behemoths on local streets. A proposal from the District of Columbia would add a new one: The city is poised to require owners of vehicles weighing over 6,000 pounds to pay an annual $500 vehicle registration fee], almost seven times the cost to register a modest sedan. No other US jurisdiction has created such a forceful financial disincentive against the biggest, heaviest car models.

“You can’t ban sales of these things,” says Mary Cheh, a D.C. councilmember who developed the new fee structure, “but you can make them pay their own way.”

Other state and local leaders alarmed by “truck bloat” would be wise to study the D.C. law, which represents a first-of-its-kind effort to address the negative externalities — or costs borne by others — associated with larger, heavier SUVs and trucks. To date, the federal government has largely ignored such societal downsides. Although pedestrian fatalities are surging in the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently declined to add pedestrian crashworthiness to its crash test ratings program, which could have penalized the biggest models. (Most other developed countries added these tests years ago.)

D.C.’s approach revolves around . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2022 at 7:00 pm

Video of a Death Spiral

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What is amazing is that so many — including many in power — do not care. Yet.

Written by Leisureguy

6 December 2022 at 1:58 pm

Tesla is not a car company, it’s an emissions-credits company that sells cars as a (necessary) sideline

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I did not know this. Their car sales provide the raw material for their actual business. (Note that he is talking about profit, not revenue.)

Thread time. Here’s the thing about @tesla. It’s not a car company. Tesla is a company that has to make cars in order to sell its real product: Emissions Credits. Let me explain. Back in 2012, the EPA put out new, strident emissions standards for new vehicles fleetwide. 1/

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2022 at 1:48 pm

Carbon emissions per capita by country

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From the graph:

Highest carbon emissions per capita

1 Middle East oil producing countries – Bahrain/Oman/Kuwait/Qatar/UAE
2 Canada
3 Saudi Arabia
4 US
5 Australia/NZ
6 Russia
7 South Korea
8 Kazakhstan/Turkmenistan
9 Taiwan
10 Japan

Only 9.5% of France’s electricity production comes from fossil fuels, much lower than many other developed countries like the U.S. at 60% and Japan at 69%.

From Visual Capital:

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2022 at 11:23 pm

Embrace what may be the most important green technology ever. It could save us all

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George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:

So what do we do now? After 27 summits and no effective action, it seems that the real purpose was to keep us talking. If governments were serious about preventing climate breakdown, there would have been no Cops 2-27. The major issues would have been resolved at Cop1, as the ozone depletion crisis was at a single summit in Montreal.

Nothing can now be achieved without mass protest, whose aim, like that of protest movements before us, is to reach the critical mass that triggers a social tipping point. But, as every protester knows, this is only part of the challenge. We also need to translate our demands into action, which requires political, economic, cultural and technological change. All are necessary, none are sufficient. Only together can they amount to the change we need to see.

Let’s focus for a moment on technology. Specifically, what might be the most important environmental technology ever developed: precision fermentation.

Precision fermentation is a refined form of brewing, a means of multiplying microbes to create specific products. It has been used for many years to produce drugs and food additives. But now, in several labs and a few factories, scientists are developing what could be a new generation of staple foods.

The developments I find most interesting use no agricultural feedstocks. The microbes they breed feed on hydrogen or methanol – which can be made with renewable electricity – combined with water, carbon dioxide and a very small amount of fertiliser. They produce a flour that contains roughly 60% protein, a much higher concentration than any major crop can achieve (soy beans contain 37%, chick peas, 20%). When they are bred to produce specific proteins and fats, they can create much better replacements than plant products for meat, fish, milk and eggs. And they have the potential to do two astonishing things.

The first is to shrink to a remarkable degree the footprint of food production. One paper estimates that precision fermentation using methanol needs 1,700 times less land than the most efficient agricultural means of producing protein: soy grown in the US. This suggests it might use, respectively, 138,000 and 157,000 times less land than the least efficient means: beef and lamb production. Depending on the electricity source and recycling rates, it can also enable radical reductions in water use and greenhouse gas emissions. Because the process is contained, it avoids the spillover of waste and chemicals into the wider world caused by farming.

If livestock production is replaced by this technology, it creates what could be the last major opportunity to prevent Earth systems collapse, namely ecological restoration on a massive scale. By rewilding the vast tracts now occupied by livestock (by far the greatest of all human land uses) or by the crops used to feed them – as well as the seas being trawled or gill-netted to destruction – and restoring forests, wetlands, savannahs, natural grasslands, mangroves, reefs and sea floors, we could both stop the sixth great extinction and draw down much of the carbon we have released into the atmosphere.

The second astonishing possibility is breaking the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2022 at 3:06 pm

An impressive animated video on climate change

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Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2022 at 6:02 pm

How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths

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Mass protests against the domination of cars were one factor that led to the superb cycling infrastructure of today’s Netherlands.

From Project for Public Spaces:

Given the reputation of the Netherlands as a cyclists’ paradise, you might think that its extensive cycling infrastructure came down from heaven itself, or was perhaps created by the wave of a magic wand. Not so. It was the result of a lot of hard work, including massive street protests and very deliberate political decision-making.

The video below offers vital historical perspective on the way the Netherlands ended up turning away from the autocentric development that arose with postwar prosperity, and chose to go down the cycle path. It lists several key factors, including public outrage over the amount of space given to automobiles; huge protests over traffic deaths, especially those of children, which were referred to by protesters as “child murder”; and governmental response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, which prompted efforts to reduce oil dependence without diminishing quality of life.

The Netherlands is often perceived as an exceptional nation in terms of its transportation policies and infrastructure. And yet there is nothing inherently exceptional about the country’s situation. As the narrator says at the end of the film, “The Netherlands’ problems were and are not unique. Their solutions shouldn’t be that either.”

You can read more on the blog A View from the Cycle Path.

And find out more about what we can learn from the Netherlands in these recent PPS posts:

“What Can We Learn about Road Safety from the Dutch?”

“Where the Sidewalk Doesn’t End: What Shared Space Has to Share”

“Exiting the ‘Forgiving Highway’ for the ‘Self-Explaining Road'”

Continue reading to see comments on the post.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2022 at 3:00 am

Science Over Capitalism: Kim Stanley Robinson and the Imperative of Hope

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James Bradley’s interview with Kim Stanley Robinson is excerpted from the book Tomorrow’s Parties: Life in the Anthropocene and appears in The MIT Press Reader:

There is no question Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the most important writers working today. Across almost four decades and more than 20 novels, his scrupulously imagined fiction has consistently explored questions of social justice, political and environmental economy, and utopian possibility.

Robinson is probably best known for his Mars trilogy, which envisions the settlement and transformation of Mars over several centuries, and the ethical and political challenges of building a new society. Yet it is possible his most significant legacy will turn out to be the remarkable sequence of novels that began with “2312.” Published across less than a decade, these six books reimagine both our past and our future in startlingly new ways, emphasizing the indivisibility of ecological and economic systems and placing the climate emergency center stage.

The most recent, “The Ministry for the Future,” published in 2020, is a work of extraordinary scale and ambition. Simultaneously a deeply confronting vision of the true scale of the climate crisis, a future history of the next 50 years, and a manifesto outlining the revolutionary change that will be necessary to avert catastrophe, it is by turns terrifying, exhilarating, and finally, perhaps surprisingly, guardedly hopeful. It is also one of the most important books published in recent years.

This interview was conducted between January and March 2021, beginning in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the United States Capitol and the inauguration of President Biden, and ending as a second wave of the COVID pandemic began to gather pace in many countries around the world. As we bounced questions back and forth across the Pacific, a drumbeat of impending disaster grew louder by the day: atmospheric carbon dioxide reached 417 ppm, a level 50 percent higher than preindustrial levels; a study showed the current system responsible for the relative warmth of the Northern Hemisphere — the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation — at its weakest level in a thousand years; and Kyoto’s cherry blossoms bloomed earlier than they have at any time since records began in the ninth century CE.


James Bradley: In several of your recent novels, you’ve characterized the first few decades of the 21st century as a time of inaction and indecision — in “2312,” for instance, you called them “the Dithering” — but in “The Ministry for the Future,” you talk about the 2030s as “the zombie years,” a moment when “civilization had been killed but it kept walking the Earth, staggering toward some fate even worse than death.” I wonder whether you could talk a little bit about that idea. What’s brought us to this point? And what does it mean for a civilization to be dead?

Kim Stanley Robinson: I’m thinking now that my sense of our global civilization dithering, and also trying to operate on old ideas and systems that are clearly inadequate to the present crisis, has been radically impacted by the COVID pandemic, which I think has been somewhat of a wake-up call for everyone — showing that we are indeed in a global civilization in every important sense (food supply, for instance), and also that we are utterly dependent on science and technology to keep eight billion people alive.

So “2312” was written in 2010. In that novel, I provided a timeline of sorts, looking backward from 2312, that was notional and intended to shock, also to fill the many decades it takes to make three centuries, and in a way that got my story in place the way I wanted it. In other words, it was a literary device, not a prediction. But it’s interesting now to look back and see me describing “the Dithering” as lasting so long. These are all affect states, not chronological predictions; I think it’s very important to emphasize science fiction’s double action, as both prophecy and metaphor for our present. As prophecy, SF is always wrong; as metaphor, it is always right, being an expression of the feeling of the time of writing.

So following that, “The Ministry for the Future” was written in 2019, before the pandemic. It expresses both fears and hopes specific to 2019 — and now, because of the shock of the pandemic, it can serve as an image of “how it felt before.” It’s already a historical artifact. That’s fine, and I think it might be possible that the book can be read better now than it could have been in January 2020 when I finished it.

Now I don’t think there will be a period of “zombie years,” and certainly not the 2030s. The pandemic as a shock has sped up civilization’s awareness of the existential dangers of climate change. Now, post COVID, a fictional future history might speak of the “Trembling Twenties” as it’s described in “The Ministry for the Future,” but it also seems it will be a period of galvanized, spasmodic, intense struggle for control over history, starting right now. With that new feeling, the 2030s seem very far off and impossible to predict at all.

JB: In “The Ministry for the Future,” the thing that finally triggers change is the catastrophic heat wave that opens the book. It’s a profoundly upsetting and very powerful piece of writing, partly because an event of the sort it depicts is likely to be a reality within a decade or so. But as somebody whose country has already experienced catastrophic climate disaster in the form of fire and flood and seen little or no change in our political discourse, I found myself wondering whether the idea such a disaster would trigger change mightn’t be too optimistic. Do you think it will take catastrophe to create real change? Or will the impetus come from elsewhere?

KSR: People are good at . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2022 at 6:32 pm

Last stand in the Amazon

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Jeff Tollefson has a profusely illustrated and gripping article in Nature on the effort to preserve the Amazon rainforest. The interactive graphics and illustrative maps are richly rewarding, and I urge you to click through to read (and view) the article, which begins:

As the Sun dips towards the distant Andes, Luis Tayori’s crew cuts the motor and our skiff makes landfall on a small island deep in the Peruvian Amazon. Tayori collects his gear and makes his way barefoot up a rocky beach. The low roar of the Madre de Dios River fills the air as he sets up a drone on a flat patch of sand.

Thumbs on the controller, he sends the machine skywards, and the shrill buzz of four propellers gradually fades as it disappears over a grove of trees. Tayori is here to check out reports from local Indigenous communities that drug traffickers have been using the island as a base.

Within minutes, the drone’s camera captures its target: an illegal airstrip. Even here, in one of the most remote and pristine areas of the Amazon, the cocaine trade is rapidly expanding its reach.

“This is serious,” he says.

Tayori is a member of the Harakbut Indigenous group, and his job is to protect the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, an Indigenous territory nestled against the Andes Mountains in the southern Peruvian Amazon. The Madre de Dios region is a vast landscape that holds massive stocks of carbon and biodiversity, but modernity is quickly encroaching in the form of loggers, gold miners, energy developers and drug traffickers, along with the profound impacts of global warming. Combined, they create an existential threat to the Amazon forest and the Indigenous peoples who live there.

Villagers on this stretch of river fear  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2022 at 5:40 pm

Humans redouble effort to make the earth uninhabitable

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In Nature Jeff Tollefson has an interesting albeit disheartening article, extremely informative, well written, and profusely illustrated with stunning photographs (one of which is shown above). The article is worth reading, though it did make my heart sink. Humanity is not doing well, and its failures are primarily due to its own actions and omissions.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2022 at 10:20 am

Tampa Bay is a possible catastrophe

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In July of 2017, I blogged about an article by Darryl Fears in the Washington Post, which begins:

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Mark Luther’s dream home has a window that looks out to a world of water. He can slip out the back door and watch dolphins swim by his private dock. Shore birds squawk from nearby nests in giant mangroves.

He said it’s hard to imagine ever leaving this slice of paradise on St. Petersburg’s Bayou Grande, even though the water he adores is starting to get a little creepy.

Over the 24 years since he moved into the house, the bayou has inched up a protective sea wall and crept toward his front door. As sea level rises, a result of global warming, it contributes to flooding in his Venetian Isles neighborhood and Shore Acres, a neighboring community of homes worth as much as $2.5 million, about 70 times per year.

“Why stay?” asked Luther, an oceanographer who knows perfectly well a hurricane could one day shove 15 feet of water into his living room. “It’s just so nice.”

Tampa Bay is mesmerizing, with 700 miles of shoreline and some of the finest white sand beaches in the nation. But analysts say the metropolitan area is the most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage if a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit.

A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe.

Yet the bay area — greater Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — has barely begun to assess the rate of sea-level rise and address its effects. Its slow response to a major threat is a case study in how American cities reluctantly prepare for the worst, even though signs of impacts from climate change abound all around.

State leaders could be part of the reason. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has reportedly discouraged employees from using the words “climate change” in official communications. Last month, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved bills allowing any citizen to challenge textbooks and instructional materials, including those that teach the science of evolution and global warming.

The sea in Tampa Bay has risen naturally throughout time, about an inch per decade. But in the early 1990s, scientists say, it accelerated to several inches above normal, so much that recent projections have the bay rising between six inches and more than two feet by the middle of the century and up to nearly seven feet when it ends. On top of that, natural settling is causing land to slowly sink.

Sea-level rise worsens the severity of even small storms, adding to the water that can be pushed ashore. Hard rains now regularly flood neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater.

y a stroke of gambler’s luck, Tampa Bay hasn’t suffered a direct hit from a hurricane as powerful as a category 3 or higher in nearly a century. Tampa has doubled down on a bet that another won’t strike anytime soon, investing billions of dollars in high-rise condominiums along the waterfront and shipping port upgrades and expanding a hospital on an island in the middle of the bay to make it one of the largest in the state.

Once-sleepy St. Petersburg has gradually followed suit, adorning its downtown coast with high-rise condominiums, new shops and hotels. The city is in the final stages of a plan to build a $45 million pier as a major attraction that would extend out into the bay.

Worried that area leaders weren’t adequately focused on the downside of living in a tropic, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council reminded them of the risks by simulating a worst-case scenario hurricane, a category 5 with winds exceeding 156 mph, to demonstrate what would happen if it entered the Gulf of Mexico and turned their way.

The fictitious Phoenix hurricane scenario projects that wind damage would destroy nearly half a million homes and businesses. About 2 million residents would require medical treatment, and the estimated death toll, more than 2,000, would top the number of people who perished from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Florida’s most densely populated county, Pinellas, could be sliced in half by a wave of water. The low-lying county of about a million is growing so fast that there’s no land left to develop, and main roads and an interstate connecting it to Tampa get clogged with traffic even on a clear day.

“If a hurricane 4 or 5 hit us,” St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Darden Rice said, referring to the two highest category storms, “there’s no doubt about it. The plan is you’d better get out of Dodge.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s warning was even starker. Standing outside City Hall last year, he described what would happen if a hurricane as small as a category 3 with 110 mph to 130 mph winds hit downtown.

“Where you’re standing now would be 15 feet under water,” he said. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more. It’s a lengthy article and if Fiona hits Tampa, we’ll know how much of the article is reliable.

Thank God Tampa’s had the past five years to prepare and reduce the risk. However, important but non-urgent things tend to be pushed aside by urgent matters (whether those are important or not).

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2022 at 1:09 pm

US installs record solar capacity as prices keep falling

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John Timmer reports in Ars Technica:

This week, the US Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab released its annual analysis of solar energy in the US. It found that nearly half the generating capacity was installed in the US during 2021 and is poised to dominate future installs. That’s in part because costs have dropped by more than 75 percent since 2010; it’s now often cheaper to build and operate a solar plant than it is to simply buy fuel for an existing natural gas plant.

The analysis was performed before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains many incentives and tax breaks that should expand solar’s advantages in the coming years.

Solar, by the numbers

In terms of large, utility-scale solar installs, the US added over 12.5 gigawatts of new capacity last year, bringing the total installed capacity to over 50 gigawatts. Texas led the way, with about a third of the total capacity added (3.9 GW) going online in the Lone Star State. Combined with residential and other distributed solar installations, solar alone accounted for 45 percent of the new generating capacity added to the grid last year.

That growth showed up in figures on how much energy solar supplies. Five states now receive more than 15 percent of their electricity from solar power, including Massachusetts and Vermont, with California receiving 25 percent of its electricity from the Sun.

Solar’s expansion has largely been driven by falling costs. The DOE estimates that the price of building a solar plant has been dropping by an average of about 10 percent a year, leading to a fall of over 75 percent since 2010. That has left prices averaging about $1.35 for each watt of capacity in 2021. Large-scale plants benefit the most, with projects over 50 megawatts costing about 20 percent less than those under 20 MW.

The drop in prices is causing some somewhat odd trends, driven by the fact that it’s becoming increasingly economical to install large facilities in states that don’t get as much sun, like Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As a result, the past several years have seen the average incoming energy at newly constructed facilities (measured as daily kilowatt-hours per square meter) drop by about 20 percent.

That has helped cause a large spread in what’s called the capacity factor, which is calculated by dividing the amount of energy produced at a facility by the maximum energy it could have generated if it produced 24 hours a day. The median capacity factor of solar plants in the US was 24 percent, but outliers were as low as 9 percent and as high as 35 percent. As prices continue to fall, this spread may become more pronounced, with more plants at the low end of the range.

More to come

In parallel with the drop in construction costs, the cost of electricity generated by solar farms has been dropping as well. The new analysis has tracked this via both the cost of power purchase agreements and the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), the latter being a measure that compensates for the benefits of tax incentives to provide a more direct measure of how much a method of generation costs.

Both of these are dropping. The LCOE has plunged even faster than the cost of construction, dropping 16 percent annually since 2010, for a total drop of 85 percent. In concrete figures, the LCOE of solar was about $230 per megawatt-hour in 2010; it’s now $33 per MWh. If the tax incentives are included, it drops further to $27 per MWh.

(An aside about those tax breaks. Before the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the only way to get a tax break on a battery installation was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2022 at 12:12 pm

New wind turbine concept

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Jesus Diaz writes in Fast Company:

The type of wind turbine you’re used to seeing in stock photos of wind farms is called a horizontal axis wind turbine (or, HAWT). But there is another form of wind power, called a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT), in which the blades rotate on an axis perpendicular to Earth’s surface. This type of turbine can work better in unstable wind conditions because they don’t need to be pointed into the wind, but still produce much less electricity and durability problems because of the force the wind exerts on them. That’s why you would only see VAWTs in small applications, like homes, and HAWTs in wind power farms.

But a new company claims to have improved on the VAWT design. The invention could create a turbine with a maximum output of 40 megawatts, far surpassing the 15 megawatts of the world’s current largest turbine. That company is called World Wide Wind, a Norwegian startup. The Norwegians—rich, thanks to their oil and gas reserveswant to dramatically increase their wind energy production to 30.000 megawatts by 2040. Their industry’s interest in offshore wind energy is so big that there is a waiting list to test new technologies off its coast, which is on the incredibly windy shores of the North Sea.

In June 2021, company founder Stian Valentin Knutsen wondered if it would be possible to have two sets of rotor blades on a single turbine mast, making them rotate in opposite directions. “The idea was to increase the energy output of the vertical turbines while simultaneously eliminating the increased torsional forces and the inherent problems associated with upscaling traditional HAWTs for increased energy outputs,” company spokesperson Elsbeth Tronstad told me via email. Knutsen looked for scientists to test the possibilities and finally met Hans Bernhoff, a professor at the department of electrical engineering at Uppsala University, in Sweden. 

According to the company, Bernhoff had been doing research on vertical wind turbines for more than 20 years, building his own 200 kilowatt (kW), 131-foot-high vertical turbine that was functional for a decade. He was intrigued by Knutsen’s theoretical model and joined the company, developing the idea of the large tilted offshore floating turbine that World Wide Wind is now working on.

HOW IT WORKS

The concept of vertical axis turbines is not new, but the architecture of this machine—which the company says is patent pending—is radically different. The design employs two coaxial, or counter-rotating, rotors mounted on a vertical shaft.

Each rotor has three blades that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 September 2022 at 3:59 pm

Fossil Fuel Industry Seeks to Expand Free Speech for Corporations and Limit It for Citizens

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Amy Westervelt reports in the Intercept:

REPS. JAMIE RASKIN, D-Md., and Katie Porter, D-Calif., probably didn’t plan for their committee hearings to run at the exact same time this week, but the hearings sure were talking to each other.

In her Committee on Natural Resources hearing, Porter highlighted the role PR firms play in blocking climate policy. Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, and his selected witness, Amy Cooke, CEO of the conservative John Locke Foundation, expressed concern that preventing companies and their hired PR firms from spreading misinformation about climate change would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Meanwhile, the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, chaired by Raskin, focused on free speech attacks against environmentalists, digging into the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to curb citizens’ speech rights via strategic litigation and laws that criminalize protest. Taken together, the two are a perfect illustration of the industry’s First Amendment strategy: expand free speech for corporations, curb it for citizens.

Raskin’s free speech hearing focused on two key tactics: the increased filing of strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs — defamation suits aimed at penalizing citizens or citizen groups for exercising their First Amendment rights — and the proliferation of so-called critical infrastructure bills, which pile on fines and criminal sentences for those caught trespassing or vandalizing near pipelines, power plants, railroads, or other infrastructure. These anti-protest bills were a direct industry backlash to the Standing Rock protests in 2016 and 2017. Starting with a law passed in Oklahoma in 2017, they proliferated with the help of the industry group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts and disseminates pro-corporate model legislation for adoption by state governments. Seventeen states now have critical infrastructure laws on the books, with several more considering proposals.

“SLAPPs and anti-protest bills are really two sides of the same coin,” said Deepa Padmanabha, deputy general counsel for Greenpeace and a witness at Raskin’s hearing. “They’re tactics used by the same corporate actors to quash dissent. They’re pushing legislation to silence us, to criminalize our critiques through anti-protest bills. And they’re also filing SLAPP suits to silence dissent.”

Greenpeace has dealt with both. Greenpeace USA activists were arrested in 2019 under Texas’s felony critical infrastructure law for unfurling banners on a bridge, which temporarily blocked shipping. The goal of the action was to highlight the connection between the oil industry and climate change.

Greenpeace is engaged in active litigation in a couple of SLAPP suits too. In one, Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, sued the organization for its role in the Standing Rock protests. The suit was initially filed in federal court and invoked the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, a law designed to prosecute organized crime. “Energy Transfer was alleging that our advocacy work to uplift Indigenous voices at Standing Rock constituted organized crime,” Padmanabha said.

Because RICO allows for damages to be tripled if a defendant is found guilty, Greenpeace faced a $1 billion fine. Losing that suit would have had a truly chilling effect on free speech. A federal judge threw out the case, but Energy Transfer filed again in North Dakota (minus the RICO charge), a state that doesn’t have an anti-SLAPP law on the books. . .

Continue reading. Things look bad, overall.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2022 at 6:03 pm

Air Canada just ordered 30 electric planes that can carry passengers up to 500 miles as the race for airlines to cut emissions intensifies

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Taylor Rains reports in Business Insider:

Air Canada is one step closer to becoming a greener company.

The Montréal-based airline announced Thursday that it had ordered 30 of Heart Aerospace’s ES-30 electric aircraft. Air Canada has also gained a $5 million equity stake in the Swedish manufacturer. 

Scheduled to enter service in 2028, the plane is set to seat 30 passengers in a two-by-one configuration and fly up to 124 miles, or 200 kilometers, when in all-electric mode. 

The range can extend to 249 miles when the battery is supplemented by generators and 497 miles when the capacity is limited to 25 people, according to Air Canada.

“Air Canada has taken a leadership position in the industry to address climate change,” Michael Rousseau, the company’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “The introduction into our fleet of the ES-30 electric regional aircraft from Heart Aerospace will be a step forward to our goal of net zero emissions by 2050.”

The move complements Air Canada’s  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2022 at 4:47 pm

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