Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Global warming’ Category

Why fossil fuel subsidies are so hard to kill

leave a comment »

Government subsidies for fossil fuels are the epitome of perverse incentives, particularly when those same governments proclaim that they are taking action against climate change. Jocelyn Timperley writes in Nature:

Fossil-fuel subsidies are one of the biggest financial barriers hampering the world’s shift to renewable energy sources. Each year, governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels — more than triple what renewables receive. This is despite repeated pledges by politicians to end this kind of support, including statements from the G7 and G20 groups of nations.

“I think everyone seems to be basically on the same page that something needs to be done about fossil-fuel subsidies,” says Harro van Asselt, a specialist in climate law and policy at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu. “It’s the discrepancy between the rhetoric and the reality that is starting to bite a little bit. We’re figuring out that it’s incredibly challenging to actually make it happen.”

Change is possible. At least 53 countries reformed their fossil-fuel subsidies between 2015 and 2020, according to the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI), a research group in Geneva, Switzerland. And US President Joe Biden is the latest high-profile politician to vow to eliminate them. But much more needs to be done. “In the next few years, all governments need to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) says in a 2021 report1 laying out a road map to a world with net-zero carbon emissions.

How are fossil fuels subsidized?

Fossil-fuel subsidies generally take two forms. Production subsidies are tax breaks or direct payments that reduce the cost of producing coal, oil or gas. These are common in Western countries and are often influential in locking in infrastructure such as oil pipelines and gas fields, says Bronwen Tucker, an analyst in Edmonton, Canada, at Oil Change International, a non-profit research organization headquartered in Washington DC that works to reveal the costs of fossil fuels.

Continue reading. There’s more, including an interesting chart.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 4:45 pm

A history of FLICC: the 5 techniques of science denial

leave a comment »

The above illustration is from a really excellent post about the techniques deniers use, often unwittingly (that is, some deniers simply cannot think very well — that’s not a good thing, but it’s better than being cynically deceptive). The post includes some interesting videos, so clicking the link is a good idea. The post begins:

In 2007, Mark Hoofnagle suggested on his Science Blog Denialism that denialists across a range of topics such as climate change, evolution, & HIV/AIDS all employed the same rhetorical tactics to sow confusion. The five general tactics were conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic.

Two years later, Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee published an article in the scientific journal European Journal of Public Health titled Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? They further fleshed out Hoofnagle’s five denialist tactics and argued that we should expose to public scrutiny the tactics of denial, identifying them for what they are. I took this advice to heart and began including the five denialist tactics in my own talks about climate misinformation.

In 2013, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition invited me to give a workshop about climate misinformation at their annual summit. As I prepared my presentation, I mused on whether the five denial techniques could be adapted into a sticky, easy-to-remember acronym. I vividly remember my first attempt: beginning with Fake Experts, Unrealistic Expectations, Cherry Picking… realizing I was going in a problematic direction for a workshop for young participants. I started over and settled on FLICC: Fake experts, Logical fallacies, Impossible expectations, Cherry picking, and Conspiracy theories. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 12:00 pm

Steven Pinker and the Apocalypse

leave a comment »

Robert Wright in the Nonzero Newsletter:

Steven Pinker, in his new book Rationality, says he sees a paradox within the world view of the woke—at least, those of the woke who subscribe to postmodernism.

On the one hand, postmodernists “hold that reason, truth, and objectivity are social constructions that justify the privilege of dominant groups.” On the other hand, their moral convictions “depend on a commitment to objective truth. Was slavery a myth? Was the Holocaust just one of many possible narratives? Is climate change a social construction? Or are the suffering and danger that define these events really real—claims that we know are true because of logic and evidence and objective scholarship?”

I guess he has a point (though, honestly, I’m not conversant enough in postmodern thought to say how many postmodernists are indeed hoist with this petard). But there’s also a kind of paradox within Pinker’s world view—not a logical contradiction, but an interesting tension.

Pinker is sympathetic to evolutionary psychology. (As am I; in 1994 I published an ev-psych manifesto called The Moral Animal that was favorably reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by… Steven Pinker.) And evolutionary psychology suggests that the human brain was designed by natural selection to, among other things, advance self-serving narratives that may stray from the truth.

Indeed, some of the “cognitive biases” that get so much attention these days—including in this newsletter and in Pinker’s new book—may exist for that very purpose. Confirmation bias, for example, leads us to uncritically embrace evidence that seems to support our world view, thus helping us mount rhetorically powerful arguments on behalf of our interests and the interests of groups we belong to.

Evolutionary psychology also suggests that people are naturally inclined to use whatever power they have to amplify these dubious narratives. So, really, Pinker should be willing to entertain the possibility that the world described by woke postmodernists—a world in which the powerful construct a version of reality that works to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the less powerful—is the real world.

I just recorded a conversation with Pinker for the Wright Show. (It will go public Tuesday evening, but paid newsletter subscribers can watch it—see below—now.) I somehow failed to ask him about this seeming harmony between evolutionary psychology and postmodernism—the fact that the two world views support similarly cynical views of human discourse. But that’s OK, because I’m pretty sure I know what he’d say in response:

Yes, he agrees that human nature inclines people to sometimes embrace self-serving falsehoods, and that this tendency can work to the advantage of the powerful and the disadvantage of the powerless. But he still diverges from the postmodernist perspective (as he defines it) by insisting that there is such thing as objective truth, even if none of us has reliable access to it. He writes in Rationality, “Perfect rationality and objective truth are aspirations that no mortal can ever claim to have attained. But the conviction that they are out there licenses us to develop rules we can all abide by that allow us to approach the truth collectively in ways that are impossible for any of us individually.”

I share Pinker’s belief that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2021 at 5:07 pm

California Begins to Phase Out Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment

leave a comment »

I wish my own city would take this step. From the report:

According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), operating a gas leaf blower for an hour can create as much smog-forming pollution as driving a Toyota Camry for 1,100 miles.

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2021 at 5:56 am

Economists to Cattle Ranchers: Stop Being So Emotional About the Monopolies Devouring Your Family Businesses

leave a comment »

Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Last week, there was what should have been a historic hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, with the goal of reforming America’s cattle ranching system. The first witness was a Republican Senator trying to persuade the House members to adopt his legislative initiative. “My name is Chuck Grassley,” he said, “And I’m a farmer from Butler County, Iowa.” Grassley’s homespun rhetoric disguised a sophisticated and longstanding campaign to address a crisis in the beef industry, and more broadly, our food system at large.

To consumers, this crisis appears as high meat prices, with costs for beef up 12% this year alone. “I’ve never seen it like this in all the years I’ve been doing this,” said Bob Strupeni, a butcher in San Francisco who has been working in the industry for 44 years. Higher meat prices are responsible for roughly half the annual increase in food prices, and food inflation is not only stretching household budgets, but has created a serious political problem for the White House. In September, the Biden administration attacked the industry over high prices, calling for an end to “pandemic profiteering.”

To cattle ranchers, who actually sell the cows to packers that are turned into beef, the crisis is not high prices, but low prices. They aren’t getting very much for their cattle. This is weird, because, normally, beef and cattle prices move in tandem – the current high beef prices should result in high cattle prices. But since 2015, the ‘meat margin’, or the spread between the prices ranchers get for their cows and the prices consumers pay at the supermarket, has widened dramatically. Despite high consumer prices, independent ranchers are losing money, and going out of business. “If we don’t get some of these problems fixed quickly, we won’t have any independent ranchers in this country,” explained Oklahoma Farmers Union president Scott Blubaugh.

Why are there high prices to consumers and low prices to cattle ranchers? Grassley had an answer. “The four major beef packing companies control 80% of the cattle industry,” he told the House members. And they are what he called “a chokepoint” for the entire sector. In other words, follow the money. In the beef industry, it’s not Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook suppressing business, but “the Big Four” – Tyson’s, JBS, Cargill and National Beef, who control 85% of the market (and more in some regions).

Grassley’s chokepoint comment is right; for every dollar Americans spend on food, only 14.3 cents goes to the farmer. And much of the rest of it goes to the middlemen. JBS, for instance, paid out a record $2.3 billion in dividends in 2020, and plans to increase that by 75% this year, even as cattle producers leave the industry. Here’s a chart showing the meat margin. The split between beef and cattle prices starting in 2015 is very clear.

With such stark disparities, the politics of beef are lined up for major change. Consumers are upset. More importantly, ranchers, who are a fractious bunch, tend to have wealth and connections, and they have for the first time unified around a core agenda of making packers disclose prices paid for cattle. They have also persuaded large numbers of Congressmen to act on their demands. Bitterness between ranchers and packers is so bad that JBS exited the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a politically powerful trade association. Schisms in industries like this don’t happen often, and when they do, they mean reform is on the table.

How Beef Markets Work

Is there really an emergency in the supply chain, or is this just a fight over money between well-off ranchers and massive multi-nationals? The answer is that there is a serious problem that goes beyond parochial concerns. Back in May, I interviewed independent ranching advocate Bill Bullard to talk about something that hadn’t happened in America since World War II – a beef shortage, along with accompanying high prices. Like a lot of shortages, it’s easy to chalk this one up to Covid. But in fact there was plenty of cattle, it just wasn’t getting to the shelves. So what was happening?

One hint is to look at packing plants. In the late 1970s into the early 1980s, beef packers consolidated as a result of policy. The Reagan administration facilitated a large merger wave, and the courts threw out a consent decree going back to the 1920s that blocked packers from engaging in a variety of anti-competitive practices, such as owning their own feed lots. The result was the re-creation of a new oligopoly that had been taken apart in the 1920s, a set of dominant firms profiled by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 book, The Jungle.

During this consolidation craze, dozens of smaller packers disappeared, either purchased or driven out of business. Entering the market as an independent packer no longer made sense, because an existing packer could simply drive you out of business through things like below cost pricing, or making your products not viable by intentionally losing money to drive you out of business. Or they could sign exclusive distribution agreements with supermarkets or significant buyers, meaning that you would no longer be able to have access to potential customers. In addition, packers began mass imports from Mexico starting in 2009, using a loophole to label such beef as “product of U.S.A.,” meaning it was harder and harder to compete.

It’s fairly clear there would be new packers if it weren’t for anti-competitive tactics. Indeed, Walmart, which doesn’t fear retaliation as it is itself a large beef retailer, looked at this situation, and realized that it makes more sense to become a meatpacker itself than to buy from the middlemen who inflate costs. The retail giant got into the packing business in 2020. Walmart is not good for independent ranchers, but that the chain entered packing is an illustration of how bloated the cost structure is of existing players.

Along with the consolidation came plant closures. From 1977 to 2014, . . .

Continue reading.  There’s more.

Of course, it would probably be a good thing if consumers did drastically curtail their consumption of beef:

Do read the rest of the original article. It’s interesting how the meat-packers screwed over the cattle ranchers and how economists helped them do it. Later in the article:

How Economists Manipulated the Data to Aid Monopolists

It was a remarkable moment. Clear evidence of market rigging presented to a court, a significantly expanded meat margin, and angry ranchers explaining what was happening, were somehow no match for the economic scientists.

How did Koonz make the case that . . .

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2021 at 2:28 pm

Pedal-powered school “buses”

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2021 at 11:30 am

Renewable energy costs now in the range of fossil fuel costs.

leave a comment »

Both charts here are from EV’s Charts of the Week. And though renewables (Photo-Voltaic (PV), Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), Offshore- and Onshore-Wind) are within fossil-fuel cost range, that’s not likely to stay that way, since fossil-fuel costs are rising. Hydroelectric power is also renewable, and the drought in the Western US has affected that, especially in California.

Soon renewables will be below fossil fuel’s cost range. For example:

However, the US in particular must upgrade its electric grid to carry this power — and the US does not like to invest in social goods such as infrastructure, education, public health, and so on. Will Englund has an excellent report on this in the Washington Post. (Link is a gift link: no paywall.) His report begins:

On a good day, a fair wind blows off Lake Ontario, the long-distance transmission lines of New York state are not clogged up and yet another heat wave hasn’t pushed the urban utilities to their limits. On such a day, power from the two big wind turbines in Vaughn Moser’s hayfield in this little village join the great flow of electricity from upstate as it courses through the bottleneck west of Albany and then heads south, where some portion of it feeds what is currently the country’s largest electric vehicle charging station, on the edge of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

There, at an installation opened earlier this year by a car-sharing company called Revel, on the site of the old Pfizer pharmaceutical headquarters, this carbon-free power can help juice up a whole fleet of sleek vehicles that aim to leave the internal combustion engine behind.

But that’s on a good day. Even now — before this state and the country’s grand ambitions for an electric future are fully in motion — there are too many bad ones.

Seventy-four times last year, the wind across Upstate New York dropped so low that for stretches of eight hours or more barely any electricity was produced. Nearly half the year, the main transmission line feeding the metropolitan area was at full capacity, so that no more power could be fed into it. Congestion struck other, smaller lines, too, and when that happened some of the wind turbine blades upstate fell still.

And in New York City this summer, the utility Con Edison appealed to customers to cut back on their electricity usage during the strain of five separate heat waves, while Tropical Storms Elsa, Henri and Ida cut power to thousands.

Converting the nation’s fleet of automobiles and trucks to electric power is a critical piece of the battle against climate change. The Biden administration wants to see them account for half of all sales by 2030, and New York state has enacted a ban on the sale of internal combustion cars and trucks starting in 2035.

But making America’s cars go electric is no longer primarily a story about building the cars. Against this ambitious backdrop, America’s electric grid will be sorely challenged by the need to deliver clean power to those cars. Today, though, it barely functions in times of ordinary stress, and fails altogether too often for comfort, as widespread blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and elsewhere have shown.

“We got to talk about the grid,” said Gil Quiniones, head of a state agency called the New York Power Authority. “Otherwise we’ll be caught flat-footed.”

The grid’s big looming problem: Getting power to where it’s needed

By 2030, according to one study, the nation will need to invest as much as $125 billion in the grid to allow it to handle electric vehicles. The current infrastructure bill before Congress puts about $5 billion toward transmission line construction and upgrades.

Even in this progressive, wealthy state, where policymakers are spending billions on climate change initiatives and the governor has announced plans for two big new transmission lines feeding the New York metropolitan area, the challenge is enormous. By 2050, the state projects, electric cars, trucks and buses will use 14 percent of New York’s total output. That’s equivalent to half of all the electricity used in New York City in 2019 — so it’s like powering a new city of four million people. Overall demand could grow by as much as 50 percent. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2021 at 12:46 pm

Greenland’s effects on South Carolina flooding

leave a comment »

The above video, of the largest calving event caught as it happened, was linked in a report in the Post and Courier in Charleston SC. The paper sent a reporter, Tony Barleme, to Greenland to take a look at the effects of global warming, which is affecting South Carolina (and Charleston is right on the coast). He reports:

1. Gravity

So many things in Greenland are gigantic. Greenland is five times the size of California, and roughly 80 percent is covered with ice. Greenland’s ice sheet is a mile deep on average, but near the center of the country it rises 10,000 feet into the sky. Greenland’s ice sheet is so thick and heavy that it makes the Earth wobble a bit as it spins, like an unbalanced top. When the ice sheet meets the ocean, the ice sometimes cracks and falls with the force of atomic bombs. Even Greenland’s language, Greenlandic, has huge words — one is 153 letters long.

Greenland’s ice is melting in a big way, too. This summer, so much melted in one week that you could flood the entire state of South Carolina with 2 feet of water. The ice sheet normally melts in the summer, but it’s melting faster now than it has in 12,000 years.

All this melting ice raised sea levels across the globe, just as dropping ice cubes into a whisky drink eventually makes a mess. Except some ice cubes in Greenland can be half the size of Manhattan.

There’s more: The Greenland ice sheet is so massive that it generates its own gravity. It pulls the Atlantic Ocean toward it like someone tugging a blanket. South Carolina is at the other end of this blanket, which means that Greenland pulls water away from our coast, lowering our sea level. But as the ice melts, its gravity disperses and its grip loosens. Seas at the far end of the ice’s power slosh back.

That’s one reason sea levels in South Carolina have risen faster than many other places around the globe.

Greenland is 3,000 miles north of Charleston, but this distant land of ice, polar bears and reindeer already has reshaped our coastline. It has made Charleston’s tides higher, our flooding worse. And what happens in Greenland in the future will largely determine the Lowcountry’s fate.

These forces come with overwhelming numbers, so it’s best to start smaller. Perhaps by flying in a 78-year-old plane over the world’s fastest-moving glacier.

With an Elvis impersonator on board.

2. The ice has left the building

It was the middle of August, and the afternoon temperature was in the low 60s, speeding up the summer melt. Above western Greenland, Josh Willis crouched in the back of a World War II-era DC-3.

He wore a blue NASA jumpsuit and cradled a 3-foot-long metal tube. He peeled off a sticker that said “REMOVE BEFORE LAUNCHING.” Setting the tube down, he opened a round metal hatch in the floor. Through the hole, you could see the Ilulissat Icefjord below.

Willis has a cherubic face and those long Elvis sideburns. Mention that he looks like Elvis and he lowers his voice and answers with the King’s trademark, “Thank you very much.” He’s a graduate of Second City’s comedy school in Los Angeles and has done shows on Hollywood Boulevard. His performances are a bit of oil and water — climate science and comedy. But he thinks that scientists could do a better job talking about their discoveries, and humor helps. For a science communication contest a few years ago, he and friends did a music video called the Climate Rock. In it, an 11-year-old asks, “What is climate?” Willis, in a 1970s Elvis jumpsuit, sings:

“You take a bunch of weather and you average it together and you’re doing the Climate Rock!”

Climate Elvis was born.

Willis has a more serious day job: climate scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He leads the agency’s OMG project, which does not stand for “Oh My God,” though Willis does find himself saying that when he looks below and sees Greenland’s cathedrals of ice. It stands for Oceans Melting Greenland, a title he cooked up a decade ago as a catchy way to describe the project’s central question: Do warming oceans affect Greenland’s ice sheet?

Which is how he ended up throwing things out of airplanes.

•••

The Ilulissat Glacier is a key OMG target and one the most important glaciers you’ve probably never heard of. It pours into a large valley near the town of Ilulissat, which is pronounced illoo-lih-sat and means “icebergs” in Greenlandic. The glacier also goes by other names: Jakobshavn, after a Danish merchant, and still used by many scientists; and the Greenlandic name “Sermeq Kujalleq,” or south glacier. But given all the giant icebergs, Ilulissat fits best.

About 40 miles from the sea, the Ilulissat Glacier forms an 8-mile wall called a calving front. Here, ice moves toward the ocean at 150 feet per day — a pace that tripled during the 1990s and 2000s. As it moves, it creates a great white shelf over the water that breaks off, often violently.

On warm days, the ice cracks like cubes after they’ve been dropped in a warm drink, except these cracks sound like thunderclaps and shake your ribs. Chunks as large as skyscrapers crash into the water, launching ice shards and spray. Some fractures release so much energy that geologists call them glacial quakes. Earthquake instruments across the world detect the biggest calving events. In 2008, a crew for the documentary “Chasing Ice” watched part of the ice wall collapse in a roar of thunder and white. The chunk was larger than 3,000 Egyptian pyramids.

All this falling ice flows down a fjord that’s 2,500 feet deep. But near the fjord’s mouth, the biggest icebergs hit an underwater speed bump — a sudden rise in the seabed that’s still about 800 feet deep. This bump creates the world’s most beautiful traffic jam.

Icebergs with giant arches crowd ones that look like snow cones, alligator heads and cowboy hats. Blue meltwater rivers speed down shimmering white slopes. Humpback whales swim between iceberg cliffs. Water streams off the cliffs, sounding like a steady rain. Some icebergs lose their balance as they melt. Without warning, they do summersaults, even ones as large as aircraft carriers. This can swamp fishing boats and smear the water with white ice bits for miles.

Over time, ice melts below the big icebergs, enough to clear that 800-foot-deep speed bump. Freed from the fjord, they float into the open ocean, propelled now by powerful currents.

But this traffic jam had long given OMG fits. The NASA crew needed space in the water to drop their probes, and sometimes the bergs were bumper to bumper. A few days before, they’d found an opening to drop a probe. But it didn’t broadcast any data. Now they were back for another try.

And Willis badly wanted the measurements, in part because of what they’d discovered a few years before. . . 

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 12:46 pm

Rice feeds half the world. Climate change’s droughts and floods put it at risk

leave a comment »

In a severe drought, rice farmers in California’s Sacramento Valley have to leave some of their fields unplanted (upper left).CALIFORNIA RICE COMMISSION, BRIAN BAER

I have mentioned in several previous posts that two major catastrophes that climate change will bring are food wars (due to crop failures and low yields) and mass migration (due to droughts, flooding, and sea-level rise). We already see the beginnings, and we’re still in early days of climate change when (for example) one major political party in the US can still deny that it’s happening. 

Nikk Ogasa writes in Science News:

Under a midday summer sun in California’s Sacramento Valley, rice farmer Peter Rystrom walks across a dusty, barren plot of land, parched soil crunching beneath each step.

In a typical year, he’d be sloshing through inches of water amid lush, green rice plants. But today the soil lies naked and baking in the 35˚ Celsius (95˚ Fahrenheit) heat during a devastating drought that has hit most of the western United States. The drought started in early 2020, and conditions have become progressively drier.

Low water levels in reservoirs and rivers have forced farmers like Rystrom, whose family has been growing rice on this land for four generations, to slash their water use.

Rystrom stops and looks around. “We’ve had to cut back between 25 and 50 percent.” He’s relatively lucky. In some parts of the Sacramento Valley, depending on water rights, he says, farmers received no water this season.

California is the second-largest U.S. producer of rice, after Arkansas, and over 95 percent of California’s rice is grown within about 160 kilometers of Sacramento. To the city’s east rise the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, which means “snowy mountains” in Spanish. Rice growers in the valley below count on the range to live up to its name each winter. In spring, melting snowpack flows into rivers and reservoirs, and then through an intricate network of canals and drainages to rice fields that farmers irrigate in a shallow inundation from April or May to September or October.

If too little snow falls in those mountains, farmers like Rystrom are forced to leave fields unplanted. On April 1 this year, the date when California’s snowpack is usually at its deepest, it held about 40 percent less water than average, according to the California Department of Water Resources. On August 4, Lake Oroville, which supplies Rystrom and other local rice farmers with irrigation water, was at its lowest level on record.

Not too long ago, the opposite — too much rain — stopped Rystrom and others from planting. “In 2017 and 2019, we were leaving ground out because of flood. We couldn’t plant,” he says. Tractors couldn’t move through the muddy, clay-rich soil to prepare the fields for seeding.

Climate change is expected to worsen the state’s extreme swings in precipitation, researchers reported in 2018 in Nature Climate Change. This “climate whiplash” looms over Rystrom and the other 2,500 or so rice producers in the Golden State. “They’re talking about less and less snowpack, and more concentrated bursts of rain,” Rystrom says. “It’s really concerning.”

Farmers in China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam — the biggest rice-growing countries — as well as in Nigeria, Africa’s largest rice producer — also worry about the damage climate change will do to rice production. More than 3.5 billion people get 20 percent or more of their calories from the fluffy grains. And demand is increasing in Asia, Latin America and especially in Africa.

To save and even boost production, rice growers, engineers and researchers have turned to water-saving irrigation routines and rice gene banks that store hundreds of thousands of varieties ready to be distributed or bred into new, climate-resilient forms. With climate change accelerating, and researchers raising the alarm about related threats, such as arsenic contamination and bacterial diseases, the demand for innovation grows.

“If we lose our rice crop, we’re not going to be eating,” says plant geneticist Pamela Ronald of the University of California, Davis. Climate change is already threatening rice-growing regions around the world, says Ronald, who identifies genes in rice that help the plant withstand disease and floods. “This is not a future problem. This is happening now.”

Saltwater woes

Most rice plants are grown in fields, or paddies, that are typically filled with around 10 centimeters of water. This constant, shallow inundation helps stave off weeds and pests. But if water levels suddenly get too high, such as during a flash flood, the rice plants can die.

Striking the right balance between too much and too little water can be a struggle for many rice farmers, especially in Asia, where over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced. Large river deltas in South and Southeast Asia, such as the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, offer flat, fertile land that is ideal for farming rice. But these low-lying areas are sensitive to swings in the water cycle. And because deltas sit on the coast, drought brings another threat: salt.

Salt’s impact is glaringly apparent in the Mekong River Delta. When the river runs low, saltwater from the South China Sea encroaches upstream into the delta, where it can creep into the soils and irrigation canals of the delta’s rice fields. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2021 at 10:00 am

Transparent wood material could be the window of tomorrow

leave a comment »

Interesting idea — and clearly a window of glass made from wood would be a better insulator than a (single-pane) glass window. Ashwini Sakharkar writes in Inceptive Mind:

While the smartphone industry is mastering flexible screens, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong Zhu in co-collaboration with colleagues from the University of Maryland and the University of Colorado, has developed a transparent wood material that can be used in a variety of industries. This material is seen as a potential replacement for the glass currently used in construction in nearly every way.

New transparent material looks like glass, but it is made entirely of wood. It is made from the wood of the Balsa tree: – a tree of the flowering plant family that grows very fast and can reach a height of 30 m. Its wood has been widely used in fields such as model assembly, packaging, insulation, and floating equipment. The wood of this species is treated at room temperature, oxidizing in a special bleaching bath that bleaches it of nearly all visibility. The wood is then penetrated with a synthetic polymer called polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), creating a product that is virtually transparent.

Wood becomes transparent, like glass, but it also has the properties of plastic – it bends upon impact and crumbles like wood instead of breaking into sharp pieces like glass. According to the developers, the new material is stronger than ordinary glass, safer, more economical, and more efficient in terms of thermal protection.

The researcher team also noted in their paper that heat easily transfers through the conventional glass, especially single pane, and amounts to higher energy bills when it escapes during cold weather and pours in when it’s warm. Glass production in construction also comes with a heavy carbon footprint. Replacing conventional glass with wood glass can significantly reduce energy consumption and CO2 emission. The process of making new materials is also more environmentally friendly.

At present, the researchers are focusing primarily on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 September 2021 at 10:43 am

When Wall Street came to coal country: how a big-money gamble scarred Appalachia

leave a comment »

Mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia

Evan Osnos reports in the Guardian:

Once or twice a generation, Americans rediscover Appalachia. Sometimes, they come to it through caricature – the cartoon strip Li’l Abner or the child beauty pageant star Honey Boo Boo or, more recently, Buckwild, a reality show about West Virginia teenagers, which MTV broadcast with subtitles. Occasionally, the encounter is more compassionate. In 1962, the social critic Michael Harrington published The Other America, which called attention to what he described as a “vicious circle of poverty” that “twists and deforms the spirit”.

Around the turn of this century, hedge funds in New York and its environs took a growing interest in coalmines. Coal never had huge appeal to Wall Street investors – mines were dirty, old-fashioned and bound up by union contracts that made them difficult to buy and sell. But in the late 1990s, the growing economies of Asia began to consume more and more energy, which investors predicted would drive up demand halfway around the world, in Appalachia. In 1997, the Hobet mine, a 25-year-old operation in rural West Virginia, was acquired for the first time by a public company, Arch Coal. It embarked on a major expansion, dynamiting mountaintops and dumping the debris into rivers and streams. As the Hobet mine grew, it consumed the ridges and communities around it. Seen from the air, the mine came to resemble a giant grey amoeba – 22 miles from end to end – eating its way across the mountains.

Up close, the effects were far more intimate. When Wall Street came to coal country, it triggered a cascade of repercussions that were largely invisible to the outside world but of existential importance to people nearby.

Down a hillside from the Hobet mine, the Caudill family had lived and hunted and farmed for a century. Their homeplace, as they called it, was 30 hectares (75 acres) of woods and water. The Caudills were hardly critics of mining; many were miners themselves. John Caudill was an explosives expert until one day, in the 30s, a blast went off early and left him blind. His mining days were over, but his land was abundant, and John and his wife went on to have 10 children. They grew potatoes, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, beets and beans; they hunted game in the forests and foraged for berries and ginseng. Behind the house, a hill was dense with hemlocks, ferns and peach trees.

One by one, the Caudill kids grew up and left for school and work. They settled into the surrounding towns, but stayed close enough to return to the homeplace on weekends. John’s grandson, Jerry Thompson, grew up a half-hour down a dirt road. “I could probably count on one hand the number of Sundays I missed,” he said. His grandmother’s menu never changed: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn and cake. “You’d just wander the property for hours. I would have a lot of cousins there, and we would ramble through the barns and climb up the mountains and wade in the creek and hunt for crawdads.”

Before long, the Hobet mine surrounded the land on three sides, and Arch Coal wanted to buy the Caudills out. Some were eager to sell. “We’re not wealthy people, and some of us are better off than others,” Thompson said. One cousin told him, “I’ve got two boys I got to put through college. I can’t pass this up because I’ll never see $50,000 again.” He thought, “He’s right; it was a good decision for him.”

In the end, nine family members agreed to sell, but six refused, and Jerry was one of them. Arch sued all of them, arguing that storing coalmine debris constituted, in legal terms, “the highest and best use of the property”. The case reached the West Virginia supreme court, where a justice asked, sceptically, “The highest and best use of the land is dumping?”

Phil Melick, a lawyer for the company, replied: “It has become that.” He added: “The use of land changes over time. The value of land changes over time.”

Surely, the justice said, the family’s value of the property was not simply economic? It was, Melick maintained. “It has to be measured economically,” he said, “or it can’t be measured at all.”


.
To their surprise, the Caudills won their case, after a fashion. They could keep 10 hectares – but the victory was fleeting. Beneath their feet, the land was becoming unrecognisable. Chemicals produced by the mountaintop mine were redrawing the landscape in a bizarre tableau. In streams, the leaves and sticks developed a thick copper crust from the buildup of carbonate, and rocks turned an inky black from deposits of manganese. In the Mud River, which ran beside the Caudills’ property, a US Forest Service biologist collected fish larvae with two eyes on one side of the head. He traced the disfigurements to selenium, a byproduct of mining, and warned, in a report, of an ecosystem “on the brink of a major toxic event”. (In 2010, the journal Science published a study of 78 West Virginia streams near mountaintop-removal mines, which found that nearly all of them had elevated levels of selenium.)

This was more than just the usual tradeoff between profit and pollution, another turn in the cycle of industry and cleanup. Mountaintop removal was, fundamentally, a more destructive realm of technology. It had barely existed until the 90s, and it took some time before scientists could measure the effects on the land and the people. For ecologists, the southern Appalachians was a singular domain – one of the most productive, diverse temperate hardwood forests on the planet. For aeons, the hills had contained more species of salamander than anywhere else, and a lush canopy that attracts neotropical migratory birds across thousands of miles to hatch their next generation. But a mountaintop mine altered the land from top to bottom: after blasting off the peaks – which miners call the “overburden” – bulldozers pushed the debris down the hillsides, where it blanketed the streams and rivers. Rainwater filtered down through a strange human-made stew of metal, pyrite, sulphur, silica, salts and coal, exposed to the air for the first time. The rain mingled with the chemicals and percolated down the hills, funnelling into the brooks and streams and, finally, into the rivers on the valley floor, which sustained the people of southern West Virginia. 

Emily Bernhardt, a Duke University biologist, who spent years tracking the effects of the Hobet mine, told me: “The aquatic insects coming out of these streams are loaded with selenium, and then the spiders that are eating them become loaded with selenium, and it causes deformities in fish and birds.” The effects distorted the food chain. Normally, tiny insects hatched in the water would fly into the woods, sustaining toads, turtles and birds. But downstream, scientists discovered that some species had been replaced by flies usually found in wastewater treatment plants. By 2009, the damage was impossible to ignore. In a typical study, biologists tracking a migratory bird called the cerulean warbler found that its population had fallen by 82% in 40 years. The 2010 report in Science concluded that the impacts of mountaintop-removal mining on water, biodiversity and forest productivity were “pervasive and irreversible”. Mountaintop mines had buried more than 1,000 miles of streams across Appalachia, and, according to the EPA, altered 2,200 sq miles of land – an area bigger than Delaware.

Before long, scientists discovered impacts on the people, too. Each explosion at the top of a mountain released elements usually kept underground – lead, arsenic, selenium, manganese. The dust floated down on to the drinking water, the back-yard furniture, and through the open windows. Researchers led by Michael Hendryx, a professor of public health at West Virginia University, published startling links between mountaintop mines and health problems of those in proximity to it, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects. Between 1979 and 2005, the 70 Appalachian counties that relied most on mining had recorded, on average, more than 2,000 excess deaths each year. Viewed one way, those deaths were the cost of progress, the price of prosperity that coal could bring. But Hendryx also debunked that argument: the deaths cost $41bn a year in expenses and lost income, which was $18bn more than coal had earned the counties in salaries, tax revenue and other economic benefits. Even in the pure economic terms that the companies used, Hendryx observed, mountaintop mining had been a terrible deal for the people who lived there.


.
O
ne afternoon, I hiked up through the woods behind the Caudills’ house to see the changes in the land. By law, mines are required to “remediate” their terrain, returning it to an approximation of its former condition. But, far from the public eye, the standards can be comically lax. After climbing through the trees for a while, I emerged into a sun-drenched bowl of . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2021 at 11:26 am

No wish to disturb, but civilization will crumble within a generation: Not a single G20 country is in line with the Paris Agreement on climate

leave a comment »

It’s very much as if large organizations — governments and major corporations — are not concerned that climate change is going to decimate the civilized world. And the reason is pretty clear: they don’t care. Note that I am not saying that the persons do not care. It’s the organizations that do not care. Organizations are memeplexes — complex structures made of memes, with their own imperatives and goals, independent of the collection of hosts (human persons) whose minds together make up the meme structure.

3M is a very old company (founded 119 years ago), and it has an distinct culture. That company and culture has persisted/lived through several generations of managers and employees because — just as “you” exist independent of the cells in your body, which are live, die, and are replaced as years go by — the organization exists independent of the specific personnel in it at any particular time. Memes (and memplexes) have their own drives and directions, and those are not always beneficial to their human hosts.

So it seems to be with climate change: we humans will suffer greatly, but we seem powerless to change the direction of the memes that have evolved in human culture. (A good read in this connection is Susan Blackmore’s talk “Dangerous Memes; or, What the Pandorans let loose.”)

Ivana Kottasová reports for CNN:

None of the world’s major economies — including the entire G20 — have a climate plan that meets their obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to an analysis published Wednesday, despite scientists’ warning that deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are needed now.

The watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analyzed the policies of 36 countries, as well as the 27-nation European Union, and found that all major economies were off track to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The countries together make up 80% of the world’s emissions.

The analysis also included some low-emissions countries, and found that the Gambia was the only nation among all 37 to be “1.5 compatible.” As the study only included a few smaller emitters, it’s possible there are other developing countries in the world on track as well.

Under the 2015 Paris accord, more than 190 countries agreed to limit the increase in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures — ideally to 1.5 degrees. Scientists have said 2 degrees is a critical threshold for some of the Earth’s ecosystems, and is one that would also trigger more catastrophic extreme weather events.

The report comes less than two months ahead of UN-brokered international climate talks in Glasgow, known as COP26. The event’s president, British MP Alok Sharma, has said he hopes to “keep 1.5 alive” as a global warming limit.

CAT reported that progress had stalled after dozens of world leaders made ambitious new pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions during the US President Joe Biden’s Climate Leaders’ Summit in April.
“In May, after the Climate Leaders’ Summit and the Petersburg dialogue, we reported that there appeared to be good momentum with new climate action commitments,” said Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, a CAT partner.

“But since then, there has been little to no improvement: nothing is moving,” he said. “Anyone would think they have all the time in the world, when in fact the opposite is the case.”

Six countries, including the UK, have an overall climate policy that is “nearly sufficient,” according to the report, meaning they are not yet consistent with 1.5-degree alignment but could be with small improvements. The UK’s targets are in line with 1.5 degrees, but its policies in practice don’t meet the benchmark.
The overall climate plans of the US, European Union and Japan are not sufficient to reach the 1.5-degree goal, the analysis found, saying that while their domestic targets are relatively close to where they need to be, their international policies are not.

CAT had previously categorized the US as “critically insufficient” — the worst category — under former President Donald Trump, who formally withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement shortly before the end of his term.
The United States’ domestic emission-cutting target has since been upgraded to “almost sufficient.” However, the US is still insufficient in CAT’s “fair share” target rating, which takes into account the country’s “responsibility and capability.” . . .

Continue reading, though it’s depressing. There’s quite a bit more.

See also “Global Update: Climate target updates slow as science demands action,” which offers technical detail of our approaching doom.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2021 at 4:57 pm

World’s biggest ‘direct air capture’ plant starts pulling in CO2

leave a comment »

Jan Wurzbacher, co-chief of Climeworks, left, with his counterpart Christoph Gebald. Wurzbacher said commercial demand had been so high that the Orca plant was nearly sold out of credits for its entire 12-year lifespan

Leslie Hook reports in Financial Times:

The start-up behind the world’s biggest direct carbon capture plant said it would build a much larger facility in the next few years that would permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As Zurich-based Climeworks opened its Orca “direct air capture” project in Iceland on Wednesday, co-chief executive Jan Wurzbacher told the Financial Times it had started design work on a facility 10 times larger that would be completed in the next few years. Orca will collect about 4,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and store it underground — a tiny fraction of the 33bn tonnes of the gas forecast by the IEA to be emitted worldwide this year, but a demonstration of the technology’s viability. “This is the first time we are extracting CO2 from the air commercially and combining it with underground storage,” Wurzbacher said. The Orca plant sells the most expensive carbon offset in the world, costing as much as €1,000 a tonne of CO2 removed and counting Microsoft founder Bill Gates among its customers.

Wurzbacher said commercial demand had been so high that the plant was nearly sold out of credits for its entire 12-year lifespan, prompting the accelerated development of the much larger plant using the same technology. Orca’s other customers . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and this report is encouraging news.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 10:23 am

China prepares to test thorium-fuelled nuclear reactor

leave a comment »

Smriti Mallapaty has an interesting article in Nature:

Scientists are excited about an experimental nuclear reactor using thorium as fuel, which is about to begin tests in China. Although this radioactive element has been trialled in reactors before, experts say that China is the first to have a shot at commercializing the technology.

The reactor is unusual in that it has molten salts circulating inside it instead of water. It has the potential to produce nuclear energy that is relatively safe and cheap, while also generating a much smaller amount of very long-lived radioactive waste than conventional reactors.

Construction of the experimental thorium reactor in Wuwei, on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, was due to be completed by the end of August — with trial runs scheduled for this month, according to the government of Gansu province.

Thorium is a weakly radioactive, silvery metal found naturally in rocks, and currently has little industrial use. It is a waste product of the growing rare-earth mining industry in China, and is therefore an attractive alternative to imported uranium, say researchers.

Powerful potential

“Thorium is much more plentiful than uranium and so it would be a very useful technology to have in 50 or 100 years’ time,” when uranium reserves start to run low, says Lyndon Edwards, a nuclear engineer at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation in Sydney. But the technology will take many decades to realize, so we need to start now, he adds.

China launched its molten-salt reactor programme in 2011, investing some 3 billion yuan (US$500 million), according to Ritsuo Yoshioka, former president of the International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum in Oiso, Japan, who has worked closely with Chinese researchers.

Operated by the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics (SINAP), the Wuwei reactor is designed to produce just 2 megawatts of thermal energy, which is only enough to power up to 1,000 homes. But if the experiments are a success, China hopes to build a 373-megawatt reactor by 2030, which could power hundreds of thousands of homes.

These reactors are among the “perfect technologies” for helping China to achieve its goal of zero carbon emissions by around 2050, says energy modeller Jiang Kejun at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission in Beijing.

The naturally occurring isotope thorium-232 cannot undergo fission, but when irradiated in a reactor, it absorbs neutrons to form uranium-233, which is a fissile material that generates heat.

Thorium has been tested as a fuel in other types of nuclear reactor in countries including the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, and is part of a nuclear programme in India. But it has so far not proved cost effective because it is more expensive to extract than uranium and, unlike some naturally occurring isotopes of uranium, needs to be converted into a fissile material.

Some researchers support thorium as a fuel because they say its waste products have less chance of being weaponized than do those of uranium, but others have argued that risks still exist.

Blast from the past

When China switches on its experimental reactor, it will be the first molten-salt reactor operating since 1969, when US researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee shut theirs down. And it will be the first molten-salt reactor to be fuelled by thorium. Researchers who have collaborated with SINAP say the Chinese design copies that of Oak Ridge, but improves on it by calling on decades of innovation in manufacturing, materials and instrumentation.

Researchers in China directly involved with the reactor . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

One good use of nuclear power is the production of hydrogen (used in cars that use fuel cells). Producing hydrogen through electrolysis is energy-intensive, so power plants using fossil fuels are a bad idea. That leaves electricity from sustainable sources (hydroelectricity, solar, wind, tides) and nuclear power plants. Thus having an efficient and relatively clean nuclear power technology would be a great boon. 

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 9:55 am

From climate crisis to Brexit, alarmists have been proved right. It’s time to start listening

leave a comment »

Arwa Mahdawi writes in the Guardian:

After a week of apocalyptic weather and dystopian laws, the internet has been ringing out with unusual amounts of praise for “alarmists”. “The alarmists were right, about pretty much everything,” tweeted NBC News reporter Ben Collins on 2 September, after the US supreme court voted not to interfere with Texas’s extreme abortion laws. “Since the so-called alarmists have been right about everything, can we concede that they weren’t, in fact, being alarmists?” tweeted Mary Trump (who has amassed more than 1 million Twitter followers by being rude about her uncle Donald Trump) on the same day.

But alas, it looks as if some people would rather revise history than concede they were wrong. Only hours after Texas’s new abortion policy became law, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter deleted a tweet from 2018 in which he had mocked the activist Amy Siskind for saying that the US under Trump was just “a few steps from The Handmaid’s Tale”. Not only was this comparison way off, Stelter opined, “this kind of fear-mongering” doesn’t help anyone.

Siskind is far from the only activist to have had valid concerns dismissed as “hysterical” by a Reasonable and Objective White Man (and the occasional Sensible Woman in Power). Reproductive rights activists in the US have been warning about the end of nationwide legal abortion for decades; during the Trump years, when the supreme court was ruthlessly pushed to the right, these warnings reached fever pitch. But the powers that be didn’t bother listening until it was too late. You can’t just blame the Texas abortion laws on rightwing scheming; they’re also a result of “moderate” complacency.

Alarmists haven’t just been vindicated when it comes to the erosion of reproductive rights. Warnings that Brexit would be disastrous, for example, were dismissed by many conservatives as “Project Fear”. Now that we’re seeing empty supermarket shelves, and there are constant threats of food shortages, it’s hard to argue that those fears were unwarranted. Brexit is obviously not the only reason for shortages – the entire world is grappling with pandemic-induced supply chain issues – but it certainly exacerbated them.

And then, of course, there’s the environment. It feels as if . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 2:03 pm

Joe Manchin’s Dirty Empire

leave a comment »

Daniel Bogusaw reports in The Intercept:

In the early hours of August 11, the Senate voted to approve a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would mark the nation’s most significant investment in the fight against climate change ever undertaken in the United States. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., cast the tie-breaking vote.

The resolution’s approval kicked off a legislative process likely to last months, all of it hinging on Manchin’s continued support. Not long after casting his vote, he issued a public statement warning the bill’s backers not to take him for granted.

“Adding trillions of dollars more to nearly $29 trillion of national debt, without any consideration of the negative effects on our children and grandchildren, is one of those decisions that has become far too easy in Washington,” Manchin said. The month prior, he had specified that some of the climate-related provisions were “very, very disturbing.”

“If you’re sticking your head in the sand, and saying that fossil [fuel] has to be eliminated in America, and they want to get rid of it, and thinking that’s going to clean up the global climate, it won’t clean it up all,” Manchin told CNN after a private meeting with President Joe Biden and his fellow Senate Democrats. “If anything, it would be worse.”

Manchin’s claim that climate pollution would be worsened by the elimination of fossil fuels — or by the resolution’s actual, more incremental climate provisions — is highly dubious, if not outright false. What would unquestionably be impacted, however, is Manchin’s own personal wealth.

Though Manchin’s motivations are often ascribed to the conservative, coal-friendly politics of West Virginia, it is also the case that the state’s senior senator is heavily invested in the industry — and owes much of his considerable fortune to it.

For decades, Manchin has profited from a series of coal companies that he founded during the 1980s. His son, Joe Manchin IV, has since assumed leadership roles in the firms, and the senator says his ownership is held in a blind trust. Yet between the time he joined the Senate and today, Manchin has personally grossed more than $4.5 million from those firms, according to financial disclosures. He also holds stock options in Enersystems Inc., the larger of the two firms, valued between $1 and $5 million.

Those two companies are Enersystems Inc. and Farmington Resources Inc., the latter of which was created by the rapid merging of two other firms, Manchin’s Transcon and Farmington Energy in 2005. Enersystems purchases low-quality waste coal from mines and resells it to power plants as fuel, while Farmington Resources provides “support activities for mining” and holds coal reserves in the Fairmont area. Over the decades, whether feeding tens of thousands of tons of dirty waste coal into the power plants in northern West Virginia or subjecting workers to unsafe conditions, Manchin’s family coal business has almost entirely avoided public scrutiny.

Manchin did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In 1987, the man who is now the senior senator from West Virginia chose his hometown as the fulcrum for his enterprise. He and his brothers centered their business dealings near Farmington, where their grandfather served as mayor, and established headquarters for Enersystems and Farmington Resources in the nearby city of Fairmont, on the banks of the Monongahela River. Manchin’s brokerage firm has failed to attract the same attention as the scalped mountains and blackened tap water in the southeast region of the state, where mountaintop removal mining has radically altered the once pristine landscape. But in the northern political enclave of Marion County, Manchin’s businesses are fueling environmental degradation and impacting public health with severe consequences.

Farmington is surrounded by some of West Virginia’s oldest mines, dirtiest power plants, and sprawling coal ash dumping grounds. Through these operations Manchin receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue every year.

For the first time, a Type Investigations and Intercept analysis of public records reveals the impact of Manchin’s coal firms. For decades, they have relied on mines and refuse piles cited for dozens of Mine Safety and Health Agency violations, multiple deaths, and wastewater discharging that has poisoned tributaries feeding into the Monongahela River, as hundreds of thousands of tons of carcinogenic coal ash are dumped across Marion County.

While Manchin does not own the mines, refuse piles, and power plants that have polluted Marion County, he continues to reap their financial rewards. In tracing the life cycle of Manchin’s coal, from its origin at refuse sites, to the looming plants it powers, down into the water and soil of northern West Virginia, the steep and complex cost of Manchin’s empire begins to take shape.

Deadly Work

Outside Fairmont in Barrackville, West Virginia, the Barrackville mine lies buried in the ridge rising over an outcropping of abandoned buildings in what was once the town’s bustling mining camp. In 1925, 33 miners lost their lives to a gas explosion in a mine that once supplied coal to the forges of Bethlehem Steel. As of 2019, when the latest comprehensive data was released by the Energy Information Administration, the refuse piles of low-quality coal those miners left behind serve as the second-largest coal source for Manchin’s Enersystems. (The firm moves less coal than the giants of the industry but still sold well over half a million tons from the site between 2008 and 2019.) The dangers of the Barrackville mine didn’t end with the 1925 explosion. Since 2000, the Barrackville site has been cited for five accidents and one death, when a heavy machinery operator was crushed by a bulldozer.

Over the past two decades, the Barrackville refuse pile was cited and fined for more than 30 safety violations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. The charges include unsafe equipment, unsafe material storage, dangerous lack of lighting, unsafe brakes, failure to adequately inspect electrical equipment, failure to maintain automatic warning devices, unsafe vehicle storage, failure to complete daily safety inspections, failure to mark hazardous chemicals, failure to maintain miner training records, and failure to adequately train miners.

North of Barrackville, on the banks of the Monongahela River, is Enersystems’ largest supplier of waste coal as of 2019, the Humphrey No.7 mine, where over 40 safety violations have been recorded with the MSHA since 2000. These include  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2021 at 4:29 pm

America’s watershed moment

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson:

America is in a watershed moment. Since the 1980s, the country has focused on individualism: the idea that the expansion of the federal government after the Depression in the 1930s created a form of collectivism that we must destroy by cutting taxes and slashing regulation to leave individuals free to do as they wish.

Domestically, that ideology meant dismantling government regulation, social safety networks, and public infrastructure projects. Internationally, it meant a form of “cowboy diplomacy” in which the U.S. usually acted on its own to rebuild nations in our image.

Now, President Joe Biden appears to be trying to bring back a focus on the common good.

For all that Republicans today insist that individualism is the heart of Americanism, in fact the history of federal protection of the common good began in the 1860s with their own ancestors, led by Abraham Lincoln, who wrote: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.”

The contrast between these two ideologies has been stark this week.

On the one hand are those who insist that the government cannot limit an individual’s rights by mandating either masks or vaccines, even in the face of the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus that is, once again, taking more than 1000 American lives a day.

In New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has required teachers to be vaccinated, the city’s largest police union has said it will sue if a vaccine is mandated for its members.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued an executive order prohibiting any government office or any private entity receiving government funds from requiring vaccines.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has also forbidden mask mandates, but today Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that DeSantis’s order is unconstitutional. Cooper pointed out that in 1914 and 1939, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual rights take a back seat to public safety: individuals can drink alcohol, for example, but not drive drunk. DeSantis was scathing of the opinion and has vowed to appeal. Meanwhile, NBC News reported this week that information about the coronavirus in Florida, as well as Georgia, is no longer easily available on government websites.

On the other hand, as predicted, the full approval of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration has prompted a flood of vaccine mandates.

The investigation into the events of January 6, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, also showcases the tension between individualism and community.

Yesterday, after months in which Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, called for the release of the identity of the officer who shot Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt, Capitol Police officer Lieutenant Michael Byrd, the 28-year veteran of the force who shot Babbitt, gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News.

Right-wing activists have called Babbitt a martyr murdered by the government, but Byrd explained that he was responsible for protecting 60 to 80 members of the House and their staffers. As rioters smashed the glass doors leading into the House chamber, Byrd repeatedly called for them to get back. When Ashli Babbitt climbed through the broken door, he shot her in the shoulder. She later died from her injuries. Byrd said he was doing his job to protect our government. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told Holt. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”

The conflict between individualism and society also became clear today as the House select committee looking into the attack asked social media giants to turn over “all reviews, studies, reports, data, analyses, and communications” they had gathered about disinformation distributed by both foreign and domestic actors, as well as information about “domestic violent extremists” who participated in the attack.

Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) immediately responded that “Congress has no general power to inquire into private affairs and to compel disclosure….” He urged telecommunications companies and Facebook not to hand over any materials, calling their effort an “authoritarian undertaking.” Banks told Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson that Republicans should punish every lawmaker investigating the January 6 insurrection if they retake control of Congress in 2022.

Biden’s new turn is especially obvious tonight in international affairs. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a country we entered almost 20 years ago with a clear mission that became muddied almost immediately, has sparked Republican criticism for what many describe as a U.S. defeat.

Since he took office, Biden has insisted on shifting American foreign policy away from U.S. troops alone on the ground toward multilateral pressure using finances and technology.

After yesterday’s bombing in Kabul took the lives of 160 Afghans and 13 American military personnel, Biden warned ISIS-K: “We will hunt you down and make you pay.”

Tonight, a new warning from . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s worth reading.

Her comments on how the Right has embraced malignant individualism and rejected working as a community for the common good, are IMO accurate. It’s narcissism run amok.

The great migrations will soon begin: 40 Million People Rely on the Colorado River. It’s Drying Up Fast.

leave a comment »

I had thought migrations would begin because of food shortages, but water shortages are even more forceful. Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

On a 110-degree day several years ago, surrounded by piles of sand and rock in the desert outside of Las Vegas, I stepped into a yellow cage large enough to fit three standing adults and was lowered 600 feet through a black hole into the ground. There, at the bottom, amid pooling water and dripping rock, was an enormous machine driving a cone-shaped drill bit into the earth. The machine was carving a cavernous, 3-mile tunnel beneath the bottom of the nation’s largest freshwater reservoir, Lake Mead.

Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure on the Colorado River, supplying fresh water to Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico. The reservoir hasn’t been full since 1983. In 2000, it began a steady decline caused by epochal drought. On my visit in 2015, the lake was just about 40% full. A chalky ring on the surrounding cliffs marked where the waterline once reached, like the residue on an empty bathtub. The tunnel far below represented Nevada’s latest salvo in a simmering water war: the construction of a $1.4 billion drainage hole to ensure that if the lake ever ran dry, Las Vegas could get the very last drop.

For years, experts in the American West have predicted that, unless the steady overuse of water was brought under control, the Colorado River would no longer be able to support all of the 40 million people who depend on it. Over the past two decades, Western states took incremental steps to save water, signed agreements to share what was left and then, like Las Vegas, did what they could to protect themselves. But they believed the tipping point was still a long way off.

Like the record-breaking heat waves and the ceaseless mega-fires, the decline of the Colorado River has been faster than expected. This year, even though rainfall and snowpack high up in the Rocky Mountains were at near-normal levels, the parched soils and plants stricken by intense heat absorbed much of the water, and inflows to Lake Powell were around one-fourth of their usual amount. The Colorado’s flow has already declined by nearly 20%, on average, from its flow throughout the 1900s, and if the current rate of warming continues, the loss could well be 50% by the end of this century.

Earlier this month, federal officials declared an emergency water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time. The shortage declaration forces reductions in water deliveries to specific states, beginning with the abrupt cutoff of nearly one-fifth of Arizona’s supply from the river, and modest cuts for Nevada and Mexico, with more negotiations and cuts to follow. But it also sounded an alarm: one of the country’s most important sources of fresh water is in peril, another victim of the accelerating climate crisis.

Americans are about to face all sorts of difficult choices about how and where to live as the climate continues to heat up. States will be forced to choose which coastlines to abandon as sea levels rise, which wildfire-prone suburbs to retreat from and which small towns cannot afford new infrastructure to protect against floods or heat. What to do in the parts of the country that are losing their essential supply of water may turn out to be the first among those choices.

The Colorado River’s enormous significance extends well beyond the American West. In addition to providing water for the people of seven states, 29 federally recognized tribes and northern Mexico, its water is used to grow everything from the carrots stacked on supermarket shelves in New Jersey to the beef in a hamburger served at a Massachusetts diner. The power generated by its two biggest dams — the Hoover and Glen Canyon — is marketed across an electricity grid that reaches from Arizona to Wyoming.

The formal declaration of the water crisis arrived days after the Census Bureau released numbers showing that, even as the drought worsened over recent decades, hundreds of thousands more people have moved to the regions that depend on the Colorado. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Meanwhile, of course, we continue to burn fossil fuels at an increasing rate. Not enough CO2 in the air, apparently.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2021 at 5:19 pm

World’s first autonomous, 7MWh electric cargo ship to make voyage with zero crew onboard

leave a comment »

Scooter Doll writes in Electrek:

A Norwegian company called Yara International claims to have created the world’s first zero-emission ship that can also transport cargo autonomously. The Yara Birkeland electric cargo ship was first conceptualized in 2017 but now looks to make its first voyage with no crew members onboard later this year in Norway.

Yara International is a Norwegian company that was founded in 1905 to combat the rising famine in Europe at the time. The company created the world’s first nitrogen fertilizer, which remains its largest business focus today.

In addition to its perpetual battle against hunger, Yara focuses on emissions abatement and sustainable agricultural practices. While the company wants to continue finding success in feeding the planet, it believes it can also do so sustainably.

To combat toxic Sulfur Oxides (SOx) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) emissions from diesel engines on ships, the Norwegian company created Yara Marine Technologies. In 2017, the company began conceptualizing the possibility of an autonomous, fully electric ship to rid of toxic emissions altogether.

Today, the Yara Birkeland is afloat in Norway, named after the Norwegian researcher who discovered the ability to add nitrogen to fertilizer. Now, the electric cargo ship looks to complete its first journey without a single crew member onboard.

According to a report from CNN, the Yara Birkeland electric cargo ship will make its first autonomous voyage between two Norwegian towns (Herøya to Brevik) later this year. While there will be no crew onboard the cargo ship, it will still be closely monitored from three control centers onshore.

To begin, the loading and unloading of the ship will require humans. However, according to Jon Sletten, plant manager for Yara’s factory in Porsgrunn, Norway, most all operations will eventually operate through autonomous technology. This will eventually include autonomous cranes and straddle carriers that help move containers on and off the ship.

The focus on autonomy lowers to cost of operation for those transporting goods, while the fully electric cargo ship simultaneously battles carbon emissions.

The electric cargo ship features a 7 MWh battery capacity, powering two 900 kW Azipull pods, as well as two 700 kW tunnel thrusters, delivering a top speed of 13 knots (~15 mph). The current cargo capacity on the Yara Birkeland is 120 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) or sixty 40′ shipping containers.

The zero-emission ship was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2021 at 9:01 am

US Senate actually REQUIRES that some buses be polluting

leave a comment »

The US Senate is astonishing, and I mean that in the pejorative sense. Michael Laris reports in the Washington Post:

The Senate infrastructure bill approved last week includes an unprecedented boost in funds for a Transportation Department program to reduce harmful emissions from buses.

But the provision adding billions to the Low or No Emission Vehicle Program has an unusual requirement: At least $1.4 billion must be spent on buses that pollute.

In a legislative turn of phrase with far-reaching implications, the bill says that for at least a quarter of spending in the $5.6 billion program, the secretary of transportation shall “only consider eligible projects related to the acquisition of low or no emission buses or bus facilities other than zero emission vehicles and related facilities.”

That would represent a sharp break from recent practice. Over the past two years under Presidents Biden and Donald Trump, at least 95 percent of funds in the program went toward electric buses, which have zero tailpipe emissions. Canada launched a $2.2 billion Zero Emission Transit Fund last week with no money for polluting buses. And California has mandated that transit agencies purchase only zero-emission buses starting in 2029.

The provision appears about halfway into a 2,702-page infrastructure bill released to the public nine days before it was approved Aug. 10, leaving little time for those outside closed-door negotiations to learn of its existence. But a closer look at the origin of the 42-word passage shows the difficulty of getting the federal government fully behind efforts to address emissions and climate change in a politically divided nation deeply reliant on fossil fuels.

The inclusion of the provision requiring polluting buses followed lobbying to shape the program by the natural gas industry — which wants to fuel dramatically more U.S. vehicles in the coming decades — and the insistence of an enthusiastic industry advocate, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), according to federal disclosures and interviews.

Natural Gas Vehicles for America, a group representing major utilities and others in the industry, said in a statement that its lobbying on the Low or No Emission program was meant to help transit agencies quickly purchase the “cleanest available technologies that suit their needs. Natural gas buses are more affordable, more reliable and deliver greater environmental benefit than electric buses,” the advocacy group said.

Members of Toomey’s staff said he was responsible for the 25 percent mandate for emitting buses. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

I have a strong sense that Natural Gas Vehicles for America is highly biased and guilty of motivated reasoning — and much more concerned about corporate profits than climate change.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2021 at 3:07 pm

%d bloggers like this: