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Archive for the ‘Global warming’ Category

What’s Behind the U.S. War on Science?

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Vincent Ialenti, formerly a MacArthur postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and now MacArthur Assistant Research Professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and author of Deep Time Reckoning: How Future Thinking Can Help Earth Now has an interesting article in Sapiens. It begins:

In U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s victory speech last November, he vowed his administration would “marshal the forces of science” to take bold action against climate change and the pandemic. Describing his election as a “great day” for American educators, he drafted a national coronavirus strategy with a clear mandate: “Listen to science.”

Biden, now halfway through his first year as president, has mostly followed through. He appointed a leading geneticist as his top science adviser and elevated his role to the Cabinet rank. He established a new position—deputy director for science and society at the Office of Science and Technology Policy—and filled it with a renowned sociologist. He reengaged the World Health Organization and issued a detailed pandemic plan focused on health equity and higher vaccination rates. He rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and set an ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around 50 percent by 2030.

This all broke with his predecessor. Under former President Donald Trump, more than two-thirds of scientists across 16 federal agencies reported that hiring freezes and departures interfered with their work. Federal funding was cut for expertise on matters ranging from invasive insect risk to the effects of chemicals on pregnant women. The White House attempted to undermine the National Climate Assessment and even sent a “cease and desist” order to a top National Park Service scientist for testifying to Congress about climate change. The Trump administration moved coronavirus data collection away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic.

Biden has a historic opportunity to reverse Trump’s regressive science policies. Yet to achieve a more fundamental change in how American political culture approaches science, Biden has to go further to confront an unsettling reality: Current suspicions of science did not begin with the election of one man in 2016. They have often been symptomatic of frustrations and critiques that gained relevance decades prior to Trump’s inauguration, leading many critics to write off scientists as just another untrustworthy, out-of-touch group of elites.

In my new book, Deep Time Reckoning, I refer to this as a “deflation of expertise.” To understand its origins, I first had to leave my home country and experience everyday life in a society that approaches scientific and other forms of expertise differently: Finland. Reflecting on these contrasts can reveal some of the societal disillusionments that fueled Trump’s war on science—and help the U.S. move beyond them.

From 2012 to 2014, I lived in Helsinki. I was conducting anthropological fieldwork among experts developing what will likely become the world’s first deep geological repository for high-level nuclear energy waste. I often asked these experts how Finland was able to keep so closely to the disposal schedules it set back in the early 1980s. The United States’ now-defunct nuclear repository project at Yucca Mountain had, in contrast, been stymied by decades of fierce litigation, political stagnation, and scientific uncertainty.

The Finnish experts attributed their project’s comparatively smooth rollout to Finland’s broad public trust in the competence of their domestic engineers, technocrats, and scientists.

Finns from many walks of life told me of their country’s fondness of large, centralized, hierarchical organizations like public transport systems, government ministries, and the welfare state. They pointed me toward polls casting Finland as unique in its high levels of trust in its domestic civil servantspolice officerseducatorsjournalists, and scientists. For sure, I met Finns who did not fit neatly with these generalizations. But on the whole, my findings lined up with the conclusions of Finnish social scientists: Finns generally “count on expertise, technology, and authorities.”

When I returned to home in August 2014, my mild reverse culture shock revealed Finland’s approach to expertise to be a world apart from the United States’.

Without realizing it at first, I found myself continuing my field research—but now it was the U.S. that looked unfamiliar. I asked my compatriots about trust in science while living in Upstate New York, then in Washington D.C., and when visiting my hometown in Central Massachusetts. I encountered a deep suspicion of experts that, in Finland, would have seemed almost paranoid.

American distrust of science is not new. Yet in recent decades, moral and religious critiques of science have fueled the growth of an anti-elite fervor against scientists and other experts, especially among conservatives. Why?

Some Americans I met told me how their trust in high-ranking military leaders had been shaken when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 based on false pretenses about weapons of mass destruction. Others told me that their trust in economists had been damaged after the 2007–2008 global financial crisis. Still others expressed that their trust in Silicon Valley had given way to concerns about digital privacy losses, big data cybersecurity hacks, and U.S. National Security Agency surveillance.

After multiple breaches of public trust by powerful state institutions and trained experts, some people felt that suspicion of any kind of person in an elite position seemed reasonable. A trust gap was widening between the general public and elites.

Come the 2016 election, all sorts of claims to expert authority were written off as mere pompous elitism. Right-wing populists clamored loudly against technocrats, globalists, and the deep state. The Trump administration openly questioned established science on topics ranging from climate change to human evolution.

Meanwhile, deluges of online misinformation left millions of Americans—on both the political left and right—siloed in algorithmically generated, increasingly extreme social media echo chambers.

But the reasons behind this intensification of anti-science political fervor, especially among conservatives, the majority of whom are White people, are complex and multifaceted.

I will focus on a few that I see as particularly relevant to the intensification of anti-elitism in the U.S. For one thing, some White Americans have had to reckon with a crumbling American DreamOver the past two decades, working-class White people have seen decreased life expectancies and increased rates of suicide and opioid overdoses. Meanwhile, middle-class White males’ wages have stagnated or, in some cases, declined.

These economic changes, alongside other factors, have led some conservatives to feel that “establishment” institutions—not just in media and government, but also in science and technology—have abandoned them. Some also say they’ve lost faith in the country’s higher education system. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, Republican or Republican-leaning voters tend to be concerned that these institutions are “too liberal/political” and don’t allow students to “think for themselves.” Some critics fear conservative students are marginalized by far-left faculty and administrators, a critique that hasn’t been borne out by the research.

Today only 37 percent of conservative Republicans believe in global warming—down from 49 percent in 2008. Many reject peer-reviewed findings on COVID-19 or view public health guidance as a threat to their sense of self-determination. Only 27 percent of Republicans—compared to 43 percent of respondents who are or lean Democrat—report “a great deal” of confidence in the scientific community as a whole.

Science advocates can find hope in Biden’s political appointments and policy initiatives. However, Biden faces a grander challenge: regaining trust in science among those who have lost faith in expertise itself.

Sociologist Bruno Latour has observed that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it offers insights into the breakdown of the US social compact.

How Do You Convince People to Eat Less Meat?

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Jan Dutkiewicz has an interesting article in The New Republic with the subheading:

A recent fracas in Spain shows that simply telling people to reduce meat consumption in the name of climate and personal health won’t work.

I’m not a good source on this: I dropped meat, dairy, and eggs (except for an occasional rare exception) exactly for reasons of health, and of course it was difficult at first — as I write in my (lengthy and detailed) post about my diet,

It takes a few weeks to get the hang of a new approach to food when you change your diet, so I would recommend you stick with this approach for two months and then take stock, evaluating it in the light of your own experience. Changing your diet is difficult because it requires revising patterns of eating that you have learned so well you use them unconsciously. Just as you don’t have to think much to get around your own town or neighborhood, the diet you already know is easy because it’s based on established dishes and established routines.

And just as moving to a new city requires a lot of work and attention at first just to find your way around, moving to a new way of eating requires thought and attention to figure out a new repertoire of “standard” dishes and meals. But over time, both become easy once again as new patterns are figured out, learned, and become familiar, and easy routines again emerge.

You gain the new knowledge and regain the old comfort more readily if you have the mindset and attitude of a new permanent resident rather than a visitor, because as a permanent resident you’re more motivated to explore and discover what all it has to offer beyond the obvious tourist attractions (or obvious recipes) See this post: “Finding pleasure in the learning of new skills.”

So my method would be to focus on the health benefits plus the interesting new foods — the new dishes, tastes, and textures — that a whole-food plant-based diet offers. But here’s the article:

In early July, Spain’s minister of consumer affairs, Alberto Garzón, posted a short video on Twitter urging Spaniards to decrease their meat consumption. From a political communication perspective, it was flawless. He listed the many ways large-scale meat production and consumption harm humans, the environment, and animals, all backed by peer-reviewed science. He focused on reducing meat intake, not eliminating it—he praised nonindustrial livestock systems and family barbecues. He acknowledged that changing diets is hard for those without access to cheap, accessible, and diverse food choices. He explained that the government would launch food education campaigns and implement regulations to incentivize more sustainable diets. He even added a hashtag: #MenosCarneMasVida (Less Meat More Life).

Spanish politics exploded. While Garzón’s nuanced, well-researched message received some support (the number of Spaniards who claim to want to reduce their meat consumption is rising), several fellow politicians turned to juvenile trolling. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, of Spain’s socialist party, gushed about his love of the chuletón steak to a press conference, and Teodoro García Egea of the right-wing People’s Party tweeted out a picture of a grill packed with slabs of meat with the caption, “To your health.”

The affair brilliantly displayed the fraught politics of dietary change. The average Western diet—prevalent in Spain, just as it is in the United States and the United Kingdom—is high in meat, fat, and sugar, its production and consumption an environmental and public health disaster. This has been true for decades. But in the past few years, a growing chorus of voices have begun to call for major dietary changes in the interest of human and planetary health. The EAT-Lancet report published in February 2019 called for a global shift to a primarily plant-based diet if we are to keep agricultural production within planetary limits. The problem, however, is that actually changing what people eat is extremely difficult. Who should drive this change: individuals, governments, or corporations? Can a balance be struck between consumer freedom and regulation? And how can rational policymaking be squared with food’s significant cultural, nationalist, and personal meaning?

Beef is where this kind of discussion usually starts because it’s where the scientific consensus is particularly strong. The world’s one billion cows contribute about 6 percent of all greenhouse gases through their methane-rich burps, require vast amounts of grazing land, and are often fattened for slaughter on industrial feedlots where they are fed a diet of monocrops like corn and soy, whose planting in turn contributes to widespread deforestation and pesticide use. Overconsumption of red meat has also been linked to a range of health issues.

Steaks, in other words, are the SUVs of meat: expensive, unnecessary, environmentally noxious status symbols that do far more harm than good. There’s a good case for eliminating beef consumption entirely, and drastically reducing it ought to be a no-brainer: The EAT-Lancet model diet, for instance, suggests limiting beef to 98 grams per week (and all meat to under 500 grams). That amounts to a 60 percent decrease, relative to a Spaniard’s average diet, and a massive 86 percent decrease in the USA.

The traditional way for NGOs, companies, and governments to approach dietary change is through information campaigns and so-called nudges that don’t impinge on individual choice or risk regulatory and legislative battles. They’re nonintrusive ways of suggesting more healthy or ethical choices to consumers—like releasing EAT-Lancet recommendations or national dietary guidelines, slapping “fair trade” labels on coffee or “humanely raised” labels on meat. It can also mean deciding not to promote a product, as the food website Epicurious did when it vowed to stop running beef recipes for many of the reasons mentioned by Garzón.

The problem with these interventions is that they are not all that effective. While consumers may claim they want to make more informed or sustainable decisions, they tend to default to their usual habits in the supermarket aisles. And information doesn’t necessarily shift behavior; it may even have the opposite effect. Psychologists argue that when consumers face the “meat paradox” of eating meat while being opposed to the harms caused by it, they will often create justificatory narratives and rationalizations that deny harm or personal responsibility rather than actually halting meat consumption.

These mild, less effective policy efforts also tend to be attacked by critics as if they were actually reducing consumer choice. EAT-Lancet was met with a coordinated online countercampaign under the hashtag #yes2meat. Epicurious was lambasted by pro-beef critics, including foodies and food writers, in the wake of its decision. When the United Nations tried to call for meat reduction to mitigate climate change, it too was brutally critiqued, including by pro-meat climate scholars.

Changing the scope and availability of choices in any given situation may be more productive. This is called changing “choice architecture,” and there’s good evidence for its efficacy. For instance, removing beef jerky from among the impulse-buy items in a checkout line disincentivizes jerky purchases just by moving them out of sight and out of mind. Major opportunities for choice-architecture manipulation exist in supermarkets and restaurants, which could commit to selling less beef, promoting more healthful options, or replacing meat with alternative proteins, as a growing number of fast-food joints are doing.

These changes can have an even bigger impact in institutional spaces like schools that have large provisioning budgets and feed large numbers of people; such changes can shift both individuals’ habits and influence the economics of food distribution. Studies have shown that simply increasing the number of vegetarian options or making plant-based meals the default instead of meat massively increases more sustainable eating. And shifting food patterns in schools can build the next generation of more sustainable eaters.

But there’s stiff opposition here, too. When schools in Lyon, France, moved to make lunches plant-forward (albeit with fish and egg and dairy options available), farmers stormed the city in protest and the French minister of agriculture clamored against anti-meat “ideology.” In the U.S., Joni Ernst, the infamously meat-industry-friendly senator from Iowa whose campaign advertising included boasts about pig castrationhas introduced an act to preemptively preclude federal institutions from engaging in nudges like “Meatless Monday.”

That brings us to state intervention. Government has tremendous power to address collective action problems through incentives, regulations, and taxation. In the world of public health, these interventions are ranked on a scale called the Nuffield Ladder, with gentle nudges at the bottom and outright bans at the top. One of the most commonly used tools is taxation. In particular, governments can implement what are known as Pigouvian taxes on things like sugary drinks, tobacco, or polluting factories—the idea is to force producers to cover the cost of the harms their products do. They can also slap so-called “sin taxes” on products to increase direct costs for consumers. These taxes work. Numerous studies show that these are very effective in decreasing consumption, leading groups like the World Health Organization to strongly support them. The academic case for such taxes on meat is robust and convincing. But taxes in general are massively politically unpopular and lead to accusations of a nanny state interfering in consumers’ free choice, as the battles over sugar taxes around the world have shown.

On July 15, the U.K. released its Food Strategy, a well-researched document urging a reshaping of the British food system in the interest of health and sustainability. It called for reductions in sugar, salt, and meat. But the authors only suggested a tax on sugar and salt, shying away from a “politically impossible” meat tax. Instead, they recommended plant-forward dietary nudges and subsidies for the development of alternative proteins.

It’s a good illustration of the way policymakers often self-edit when it comes to such a fraught topic. The problem is that, while this approach is politically pragmatic, it is naïve to expect that clinging to the lower rungs of the Nuffield Ladder can lead to even the Food Strategy’s suggested 30 percent reduction in meat consumption, let alone the EAT-Lancet standard.

But the problem isn’t only that policymakers are wary of inviting pro-meat backlash. It’s also that virtually all governments subsidize and promote meat production and consumption. The EU, despite its Green Deal commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050, has spent millions of Euros on a “Beefatarian” advertising campaign, and both Europe and the USA support animal agriculture through extensive subsidies and supports. Changing this dynamic—a status quo in which politicians pick up points by slamming vegetarians while support for the meat industry is baked into countless national budgets—will require a multifaceted approach.

Incentivizing the production of alternatives in addition to, or ideally instead of, harmful products like beef, as the U.K. Food Strategy does with its support for alternative proteins, is one good option. But such support should include not only plant-based or cell-based “meat alternatives” but also plants as alternatives to meat. A recent study published in Global Food Security, for instance, shows that humble legumes, with the right government push, could provide a far more sustainable and diverse source of protein than meat. Creating opportunities for food access is also . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

And note this interesting map of land-use in the UK from the recently published National Food Strategy, which can be download at the link and which has some very interesting information (for those who make decisions in that way):

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2021 at 3:24 pm

A Soil-Science Revolution Upends Plans to Fight Climate Change

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Gabriel Popkin writes in Quanta:

The hope was that the soil might save us. With civilization continuing to pump ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, perhaps plants — nature’s carbon scrubbers — might be able to package up some of that excess carbon and bury it underground for centuries or longer.

That hope has fueled increasingly ambitious climate change–mitigation plans. Researchers at the Salk Institute, for example, hope to bioengineer plants whose roots will churn out huge amounts of a carbon-rich, cork-like substance called suberin. Even after the plant dies, the thinking goes, the carbon in the suberin should stay buried for centuries. This Harnessing Plants Initiative is perhaps the brightest star in a crowded firmament of climate change solutions based on the brown stuff beneath our feet.

Such plans depend critically on the existence of large, stable, carbon-rich molecules that can last hundreds or thousands of years underground. Such molecules, collectively called humus, have long been a keystone of soil science; major agricultural practices and sophisticated climate models are built on them.

But over the past 10 years or so, soil science has undergone a quiet revolution, akin to what would happen if, in physics, relativity or quantum mechanics were overthrown. Except in this case, almost nobody has heard about it — including many who hope soils can rescue the climate. “There are a lot of people who are interested in sequestration who haven’t caught up yet,” said Margaret Torn, a soil scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A new generation of soil studies powered by modern microscopes and imaging technologies has revealed that whatever humus is, it is not the long-lasting substance scientists believed it to be. Soil researchers have concluded that even the largest, most complex molecules can be quickly devoured by soil’s abundant and voracious microbes. The magic molecule you can just stick in the soil and expect to stay there may not exist.

“I have The Nature and Properties of Soils in front of me — the standard textbook,” said Gregg Sanford, a soil researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The theory of soil organic carbon accumulation that’s in that textbook has been proven mostly false … and we’re still teaching it.”

The consequences go far beyond carbon sequestration strategies. Major climate models such as those produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are based on this outdated understanding of soil. Several recent studies indicate that those models are underestimating the total amount of carbon that will be released from soil in a warming climate. In addition, computer models that predict the greenhouse gas impacts of farming practices — predictions that are being used in carbon markets — are probably overly optimistic about soil’s ability to trap and hold on to carbon.

It may still be possible to store carbon underground long term.  Indeed, radioactive dating measurements suggest that some amount of carbon can stay in the soil for centuries. But until soil scientists build a new paradigm to replace the old — a process now underway — no one will fully understand why.

The Death of Humus

Soil doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Its constituents are tiny, varied and outrageously numerous. At a bare minimum, it consists of minerals, decaying organic matter, air, water, and enormously complex ecosystems of microorganisms. One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more bacteria, fungi and other microbes than there are humans on Earth.

The German biologist Franz Karl Achard was an early pioneer in making sense of the chaos. In a seminal 1786 study, he used alkalis to extract molecules made of long carbon chains from peat soils. Over the centuries, scientists came to believe that such long chains, collectively called humus, constituted a large pool of soil carbon that resists decomposition and pretty much just sits there. A smaller fraction consisting of shorter molecules was thought to feed microbes, which respired carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

This view was occasionally challenged, but by the mid-20th century, the humus paradigm was “the only game in town,” said Johannes Lehmann, a soil scientist at Cornell University. Farmers were instructed to adopt practices that were supposed to build humus. Indeed, the existence of humus is probably one of the few soil science facts that many non-scientists could recite.

What helped break humus’s hold on soil science was physics. In the second half of the 20th century, powerful new microscopes and techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray spectroscopy allowed soil scientists for the first time to peer directly into soil and see what was there, rather than pull things out and then look at them.

What they found — or, more specifically, what they didn’t find — was shocking: there were few or no long “recalcitrant” carbon molecules — the kind that don’t break down. Almost everything seemed to be small and, in principle, digestible.

“We don’t see any molecules in soil that are so recalcitrant that they can’t be broken down,” said Jennifer Pett-Ridge, a soil scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “Microbes will learn to break anything down — even really nasty chemicals.”

Lehmann, whose studies using advanced microscopy and spectroscopy were among the first to reveal the absence of humus, has become the concept’s debunker-in-chief. A 2015 Nature paper he co-authored states that “the available evidence does not support the formation of large-molecular-size and persistent ‘humic substances’ in soils.” In 2019, he gave a talk with a slide containing a mock death announcement for “our friend, the concept of Humus.”

Over the past decade or so, most soil scientists have come to accept this view. Yes, soil is enormously varied. And it contains a lot of carbon. But there’s no carbon in soil that can’t, in principle, be broken down by microorganisms and released into the atmosphere. The latest edition of The Nature and Properties of Soils, published in 2016, cites Lehmann’s 2015 paper and acknowledges that “our understanding of the nature and genesis of soil humus has advanced greatly since the turn of the century, requiring that some long-accepted concepts be revised or abandoned.”

Old ideas, however, can be very recalcitrant. Few outside the field of soil science have heard of humus’s demise.

Buried Promises

At the same time that soil scientists were rediscovering what exactly soil is, climate researchers were revealing that  . . .

Continue reading. The payoff is further down.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 4:28 pm

Up in Smoke

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Debra Kahn, Lorraine Woellert and Catherine Boudreau write in Politico:

Massive wildfires in Oregon and Washington are torching more than vegetation. They’re also burning through the very policies states and businesses are using to fight climate change.

The Bootleg Fire is raging through a carbon storage project in southern Oregon, where 400,000 acres of forest owned by Green Diamond Resource Co. are being preserved to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Microsoft in February paid Green Diamond to offset a quarter million tons of the tech giant’s 2021 carbon emissions.

Two other wildfires are active within a Colville Indian Reservation carbon project in eastern Washington.

Here’s how it works. Carbon offsets — which are created by planting trees, preserving mangroves, buying renewable energy and other activities — are bought and sold as a tool to reduce emissions.

Landowners pledge to keep their forests healthy enough to store carbon for at least 100 years. They sell the resulting credits to refineries, factories and other big emitters, which use them as a substitute for reducing their own emissions.

But if trees are burning less than 10 years into their projected lifetimes, that’s a problem for landowners, industry and policymakers — not to mention the forests, which are estimated to store about twice as much carbon than they emit and are a crucial component of global plans to address climate change. The increasing severity and frequency of wildfires could reverse their role.

The Bootleg Fire so far has covered 23.9 percent of Green Diamond’s project area, according to data provider CarbonPlan.

The Colville Indian Reservation project is one of the largest sellers of credits under a California cap-and-trade program. The Summit Trail and Chuweah Creek fires have covered about 3.5 percent of its 453,000 acres, CarbonPlan estimates.

Rules governing offsets anticipate damage from fires. Landowners are required to store a certain percent of a project’s credits in a buffer pool they can tap if acreage is lost to wildfires, disease or insect outbreaks.

For now, the buffer pool, with about 28.5 million credits, is large enough to absorb the recent fires, said Dan McGraw, head of Americas at Carbon Pulse, a market analysis firm. But if acreage keeps burning, the carbon accounting system could find itself in the red.

“We’ve had two projects be affected by fires, and it’s July,” McGraw said. “It’s only going to get worse.”

Debra Kahn has the details.

While we’re here: California is moving to cut off water to farmers as the drought dries up rivers and streams in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds. The Water Resources Control Board will vote on the emergency order Aug. 3.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led the United Nations from 2007 to 2016, an era that saw the rise of multilateral climate action culminating in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Since leaving the U.N., he has used his leadership positions at civil society groups to continue his campaign against climate change. One of his driving messages is that the U.S. and other rich nations need to do more individually and collectively through the World Bank and other international institutions. He spoke to POLITICO about skeptics, former President Trump and Pope Francis.

Is it time to ban financing and subsidies of fossil fuels, especially where the World Bank and IMF are concerned?

I think it is necessary. There are many countries who have been financing [fossil fuels] through public financial organizations. Unfortunately, my own country, Korea, was one of them. I raised this issue very strongly with the office of the president of Korea and other ministers. Now, Korea has decided not to provide any public financial support, except those which are now going on.

And you think the U.S. is not doing enough to help.

That’s right.

In the U.S. during the Trump administration, a lot of private companies made a lot of promises. Are they delivering?

In fact, the private sectors are doing better and more than government. Government has their restrictions and laws and opposition parties. But corporations, when the owners, presidents or chairmen have conviction, they can do more.

Lorraine has the full interview.

Continue reading. There’s more.

Climate change has hit and hit hard. And we’re just getting started.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 10:23 am

Long-Duration Batteries Using Iron-Air Technology

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Russell Gold reports in the Wall Street Journal:

A four-year-old startup says it has built an inexpensive battery that can discharge power for days using one of the most common elements on Earth: iron.

Form Energy Inc.’s batteries are far too heavy for electric cars. But it says they will be capable of solving one of the most elusive problems facing renewable energy: cheaply storing large amounts of electricity to power grids when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing.

The work of the Somerville, Mass., company has long been shrouded in secrecy and nondisclosure agreements. It recently shared its progress with The Wall Street Journal, saying it wants to make regulators and utilities aware that if all continues to go according to plan, its iron-air batteries will be capable of affordable, long-duration power storage by 2025.

Its backers include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate investment fund whose investors include Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos. Form recently initiated a $200 million funding round, led by a strategic investment from steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal SA, MT 1.07% one of the world’s leading iron-ore producers.

Form is preparing to soon be in production of the “kind of battery you need to fully retire thermal assets like coal and natural gas” power plants, said the company’s chief executive, Mateo Jaramillo, who developed Tesla Inc.’s Powerwall battery and worked on some of its earliest automotive powertrains.

On a recent tour of Form’s windowless laboratory, Mr. Jaramillo gestured to barrels filled with low-cost iron pellets as its key advantage in the rapidly evolving battery space. Its prototype battery, nicknamed Big Jim, is filled with 18,000 pebble-size gray pieces of iron, an abundant, nontoxic and nonflammable mineral.

For a lithium-ion battery cell, the workhorse of electric vehicles and today’s grid-scale batteries, the nickel, cobalt, lithium and manganese minerals used currently cost between $50 and $80 per kilowatt-hour of storage, according to analysts.

Using iron, Form believes it will spend less than $6 per kilowatt-hour of storage on materials for each cell. Packaging the cells together into a full battery system will raise the price to less than $20 per kilowatt-hour, a level at which academics have said renewables plus storage could fully replace traditional fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

A battery capable of cheaply discharging power for days has been a holy grail in the energy industry, due to the problem that it solves and the potential market it creates.

Regulators and power companies are under growing pressure to deliver affordable, reliable, and carbon-free electricity, as countries world-wide seek to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change. Most electricity generation delivers two out of three. A long-duration battery could enable renewable energy—wind and solar—to deliver all three.

The Biden administration is pushing for a carbon-free power grid in the U.S. by 2035, and several states and electric utilities have similar pledges. There is widespread agreement that a combination of wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear power mixed with short-duration lithium-ion batteries can generate 80% of electricity. The final 20% will require some type of multiday storage.

“That first 80% we know the technology pathway, and it is already cost competitive,” said Jeremiah Baumann, deputy chief of staff at the Energy Department. “We have a good sense of the technology for the final piece. The real question is which technology is going to get its cost down and get into the marketplace.”

Form’s battery will compete with numerous other approaches in what is becoming a crowded space, as an array of startups race to develop more advanced, cost-effective energy-storage techniques.

Several companies are heading to market with different battery configurations, such as solid-state designs. Some think pumped water storage or compressed air can be used more widely to bank energy. The European Union is pushing the use of hydrogen to store and generate power. . .

Continue reading.

See also “A Review of the Iron–Air Secondary Battery for Energy Storage” and “The Iron Age: Opportunities and Challenges of Iron-Air Batteries.”

And note:

Iron-air batteries are attractive for several reasons. We have plenty of iron, we know how to extract it, it is cheap (about $200 per tonne of ore compared to $12-15k per tonne for lithium salts), and iron extraction, while full of environmental degradation, may not be as complex as the cobalt supply chain needed in Li-ion batteries. Iron-air batteries have appealing technical characteristics too. The theoretical energy density, at 764 Wh/kg is higher than that of Lithium-Ion batteries (about 265 Wh/kg), and in volumetric terms, they do well too (9700 Wh/l compared to 2000 Wh/l). Current estimates are that Form’s batteries should be able to operate at around $20 per kWh, sufficient to compete with fossil fuel systems.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 10:28 am

MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule.

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Nafeez Ahmed reports in Vice Motherboard:

A remarkable new study by a director at one of the largest accounting firms in the world has found that a famous, decades-old warning from MIT about the risk of industrial civilization collapsing appears to be accurate based on new empirical data. 

As the world looks forward to a rebound in economic growth following the devastation wrought by the pandemic, the research raises urgent questions about the risks of attempting to simply return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal.’

In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse. Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources.

The controversial MIT analysis generated heated debate, and was widely derided at the time by pundits who misrepresented its findings and methods. But the analysis has now received stunning vindication from a study written by a senior director at professional services giant KPMG, one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms as measured by global revenue.

Limits to growth

The study was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020 and is available on the KPMG website. It concludes that the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and at worst, could trigger societal collapse by around 2040.

The study represents the first time a top analyst working within a mainstream global corporate entity has taken the ‘limits to growth’ model seriously. Its author, Gaya Herrington, is Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead at KPMG in the United States. However, she decided to undertake the research as a personal project to understand how well the MIT model stood the test of time. 

The study itself is not affiliated or conducted on behalf of KPMG, and does not necessarily reflect the views of KPMG. Herrington performed the research as an extension of her Masters thesis at Harvard University in her capacity as an advisor to the Club of Rome. However, she is quoted explaining her project on the KPMG website as follows: 

“Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today. After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”

Titled ‘Update to limits to growth: Comparing the World3 model with empirical data’, the study attempts to assess how MIT’s ‘World3’ model stacks up against new empirical data. Previous studies that attempted to do this found that the model’s worst-case scenarios accurately reflected real-world developments. However, the last study of this nature was completed in 2014. 

The risk of collapse 

Herrington’s new analysis examines data across 10 key variables, namely population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint. She found that the latest data most closely aligns with two particular scenarios, ‘BAU2’ (business-as-usual) and ‘CT’ (comprehensive technology). 

“BAU2 and CT scenarios show a halt in growth within a decade or so from now,” the study concludes. “Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible. Even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, business as usual as modelled by LtG would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century.”

Study author Gaya Herrington told Motherboard that in the MIT World3 models, collapse “does not mean that humanity will cease to exist,” but rather that “economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living… In terms of timing, the BAU2 scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040.”

The end of growth? 

In the comprehensive technology (CT) scenario, economic decline still sets in around this date with a range of possible negative consequences, but this does not lead to societal collapse.

Unfortunately, the scenario which was the least closest fit to the latest empirical data happens to be the most optimistic pathway known as ‘SW’ (stabilized world), in which civilization follows a sustainable path and experiences the smallest declines in economic growth—based on a combination of technological innovation and widespread investment in public health and education.

Although both the business-as-usual and comprehensive technology scenarios point to the coming end of economic growth in around 10 years, only the BAU2 scenario “shows a clear collapse pattern, whereas CT suggests the possibility of future declines being relatively soft landings, at least for humanity in general.” 

Both scenarios currently “seem to align quite closely not just with observed data,” Herrington concludes in her study, indicating that the future is open.   

A window of opportunity 

While focusing on the pursuit of continued economic growth for its own sake will be futile, the study finds that technological progress and increased investments in public services could not just avoid the risk of collapse, but lead to a new stable and prosperous civilization operating safely within planetary boundaries. But we really have only the next decade to change course. 

“At this point therefore, the data most aligns with the CT and BAU2 scenarios which indicate a slowdown and eventual halt in growth within the next decade or so, but World3 leaves open whether the subsequent decline will constitute a collapse,” the study concludes. Although the ‘stabilized world’ scenario “tracks least closely, a deliberate trajectory change brought about by society turning toward another goal than growth is still possible. The LtG work implies that this window of opportunity is closing fast.” 

In a presentation at the World Economic Forum in 2020 delivered in her capacity as a KPMG director, Herrington argued for ‘agrowth’—an agnostic approach to growth which focuses on other economic goals and priorities.  

“Changing our societal priorities hardly needs to be a capitulation to grim necessity,” she said. “Human activity can be regenerative and our productive capacities can be transformed. In fact, we are seeing examples of that happening right now. Expanding those efforts now creates a world full of opportunity that is also sustainable.” 

She noted how the rapid development and deployment of vaccines at unprecedented rates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that we are capable of responding rapidly and constructively to global challenges if we choose to act. We need exactly such a determined approach to the environmental crisis. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by Leisureguy

14 July 2021 at 2:32 pm

Sixty years of climate change warnings: the signs that were missed (and ignored)

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Homes destroyed by a storm in New York state in 1962

The dangers and the cause of climate change have been well-known for decades. Now we are reaping what we sowed by our neglect. The Guardian has a lengthy edited extract from the book Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis, by Alice Bell. It begins:

In August 1974, the CIA produced a study on “climatological research as it pertains to intelligence problems”. The diagnosis was dramatic. It warned of the emergence of a new era of weird weather, leading to political unrest and mass migration (which, in turn, would cause more unrest). The new era the agency imagined wasn’t necessarily one of hotter temperatures; the CIA had heard from scientists warning of global cooling as well as warming. But the direction in which the thermometer was travelling wasn’t their immediate concern; it was the political impact. They knew that the so-called “little ice age”, a series of cold snaps between, roughly, 1350 and 1850, had brought not only drought and famine, but also war – and so could these new climatic changes.

“The climate change began in 1960,” the report’s first page informs us, “but no one, including the climatologists, recognised it.” Crop failures in the Soviet Union and India in the early 1960s had been attributed to standard unlucky weather. The US shipped grain to India and the Soviets killed off livestock to eat, “and premier Nikita Khrushchev was quietly deposed”.

But, the report argued, the world ignored this warning, as the global population continued to grow and states made massive investments in energy, technology and medicine.

Meanwhile, the weird weather rolled on, shifting to a collection of west African countries just below the Sahara. People in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad “became the first victims of the climate change”, the report argued, but their suffering was masked by other struggles – or the richer parts of the world simply weren’t paying attention. As the effects of climate change started to spread to other parts of the world, the early 1970s saw reports of droughts, crop failures and floods from Burma, Pakistan, North Korea, Costa Rica, Honduras, Japan, Manila, Ecuador, USSR, China, India and the US. But few people seemed willing to see a pattern: “The headlines from around the world told a story still not fully understood or one we don’t want to face,” the report said.

This claim that no one was paying attention was not entirely fair. Some scientists had been talking about the issue for a while. It had been in newspapers and on television, and was even mentioned in a speech by US president Lyndon Johnson in 1965. A few months before the CIA report was issued, the US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had addressed the UN under a banner of applying science to “the problems that science has helped to create”, including his worry that the poorest nations were now threatened with “the possibility of climatic changes in the monsoon belt and perhaps throughout the world”.

Still, the report’s authors had a point: climate change wasn’t getting the attention it could have, and there was a lack of urgency in discussions. There was no large public outcry, nor did anyone seem to be trying to generate one.

Although initially prepared as a classified working paper, the report ended up in the New York Times a few years later. By this point, February 1977, the problem of burning fossil fuels was seen more through the lens of the domestic oil crisis rather than overseas famine. The climate crisis might still feel remote, the New York Times mused, but as Americans feel the difficulties of unusual weather combined with shortages of oil, perhaps this might unlock some change? The paper reported that both energy and climate experts shared the hope “that the current crisis is severe enough and close enough to home to encourage the interest and planning required to deal with these long-range issues before the problems get too much worse”.

And yet, if anything, debate about climate change in the last third of the 20th century would be characterised as much by delay as concern, not least because of something the political analysts at the CIA seem to have missed: fightback from the fossil fuel industries.


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hen it came to constructing that delay, the spin doctors could find building materials readily available within the scientific community itself. In 1976, a young climate modeller named Stephen Schneider decided it was time for someone in the climate science community to make a splash. As a graduate student at Columbia University, Schneider wanted to find a research project that could make a difference. While hanging out at the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, he stumbled across a talk on climate models. He was inspired: “How exciting it was that you could actually simulate something as crazy as the Earth, and then pollute the model, and figure out what might happen – and have some influence on policy in a positive way,” he later recalled.

After years of headlines about droughts and famine, Schneider figured the time was right for a popular science book on the danger climate change could cause. The result was his 1976 book, The Genesis Strategy. Although he wanted to avoid positioning himself alongside either what he called the “prophets of doom” on one side or the “Pollyannas” on the other, he felt it was important to impart the gravity of climate change and catch people’s attention.

And attention it got, with a jacket endorsement from physicist Carl Sagan, reviews in the Washington Post and New York Times, and an invitation to appear on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. This rankled some of the old guard, who felt this just wasn’t the way to do science. Schneider’s book drew an especially scathing attack from Helmut Landsberg, who had been director of the Weather Bureau’s office of climatology, and was now a well-respected professor at the University of Maryland.

Landsberg reviewed the book for the American Geophysical Union, calling it a “wide-ranging potpourri of science, nature and politics”, and “multidisciplinary, as promised, but also very undisciplined”. Landsberg disliked what he saw as an activist spirit in Schneider, believing that climate scientists should stay out of the public spotlight, especially when it came to the uncertainties of climate modelling. He would only endanger the credibility of climatologists, Landsberg worried; much better to stay collecting data to iron out as many uncertainties as possible, only guardedly briefing politicians behind closed doors when absolutely needed. In an example of first-class scientific bitching, Landsberg concluded his review by noting that Schneider advocated scientists running for public office, and that perhaps he had better try that himself – but that if he did want to be a serious scientist, “one might suggest that he spend less time going to the large number of meetings and workshops that he seems to frequent” and join a scientific library.

In part, it was a generational clash. Schneider belonged to a younger, more rebellious cohort, happy to take science to the streets. In contrast, Landsberg had spent a career working carefully with government and the military, generally behind closed doors, and was scared that public involvement might disrupt the delicate balance of this relationship. What’s more, the cultural norms of scientific behaviour that expect a “good” scientist to be guarded and avoid anything that smells remotely of drama were deeply embedded – even when, like any deeply embedded cultural norm, they can skew the science. Landsberg was far from the only established meteorologist bristling at all this new attention given to climate change. Some felt uneasy about the drama, while others didn’t trust the new technologies, disciplines and approaches being used.

In the UK, the head of the Met Office, John Mason, called concern about climate change a “bandwagon” and set about trying to “debunk alarmist US views”. In 1977 he gave a public talk at the Royal Society of Arts, stressing that there were always fluctuations in climate, and that the recent droughts were not unprecedented.

He agreed that if we were to continue to burn fossil fuels at the rate we were, we might have 1C warming, which he thought was “significant”, in the next 50-100 years; but on the whole, he thought, the atmosphere was a system that would take whatever we threw at it. Plus, like many of his contemporaries, he figured we would all move over to nuclear power, anyway. Writing up the talk for Nature, John Gribbin described the overall message as “don’t panic”. He reassured readers there was no need to listen to “the prophets of doom”.


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hange was coming, though, and it would be a combination of an establishment scientist and an activist that would kick it off . An obscure 1978 US Environmental Protection Agency report on coal ended up on the desk of Rafe Pomerance, a lobbyist at the DC offices of Friends of the Earth. It mentioned the “greenhouse effect”, noting that fossil fuels could have significant and damaging impacts on the atmosphere in the next few decades.

He asked around the office and someone handed him a recent newspaper article by a geophysicist called Gordon MacDonald. MacDonald was a high-ranking American scientist who had worked on weather modification in the 1960s as an advisor to Johnson. In 1968 he had written an essay called How to Wreck the Environment, imagining a future in which we had resolved threats of nuclear war but instead weaponised the weather. Since then he had watched people do this – not deliberately, as a means of war, but more carelessly, simply by continuing to burn fossil fuels.

More importantly, MacDonald was also a “Jason” – a member of a secret group of elite scientists who met regularly to give the government advice, outside of the public eye. The Jason group had met to discuss carbon dioxide and climate change in the summers of 1977 and 1978, and MacDonald had appeared on US TV to argue that the earth was warming.

You might imagine there was some culture clash between Pomerance, a Friends of the Earth lobbyist, and MacDonald, a secret military scientist, but they made a powerful team. They got a meeting with Frank Press, the president’s science advisor, who brought along the entire senior staff of the US Office of Science and Technology. After MacDonald outlined his case, Press said he would ask the former head of the meteorology department at MIT, Jule Charney, to look into it. If Charney said a climate apocalypse was coming, the president would act.

Charney summoned a team of scientists and officials, along with their families, to a large mansion at Woods Hole, on the south-western spur of Cape Cod. Charney’s brief was to assemble atmospheric scientists to check the Jasons’ report, and he invited two leading climate modellers to present the results of their more detailed, richer models: James Hansen at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University in New York, and Syukuro Manabe of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab in Princeton.

The scientific proceedings were held in the old carriage house of the mansion, with the scientists on a rectangle of desks in the middle and political observers around the side. They dryly reviewed principles of atmospheric science and dialled in Hansen and Manabe. The two models offered slightly different warnings about the future, and in the end, Charney’s group decided to split the difference. They felt able to say with confidence that the Earth would warm by about 3C in the next century, plus or minus 50% (that is, we would see warming between 1.5C or 4C). In their report of November 1979, Science magazine declared: “Gloomsday predictions have no fault.”


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y the mid-1970s, the biggest oil company in the world, Exxon, was starting to wonder if climate change might finally be about to arrive on the political agenda and start messing with its business model. Maybe it was the reference in the Kissinger speech, or Schneider’s appearance on the Tonight Show. Or maybe it was just that the year 2000 – the point after which scientists warned things were going to start to hurt – didn’t seem quite so far off.

In the summer of 1977, James Black, one of the top science advisors at Exxon, made a presentation on the greenhouse effect to the company’s most senior staff. This was a big deal: executives at that level would only want to know about science that would affect the bottom line. The same year, the company hired Edward David Jr to head up their research labs. He had learned about climate change while working as an advisor to Nixon. Under David, Exxon started to build a small research project on carbon dioxide. Small, at least, by Exxon standards – at $1m a year, it was a good chunk of cash, just not much compared with the $300m a year the company spent on research at large.

In December 1978, Henry Shaw, the scientist leading Exxon’s carbon dioxide research, wrote in a letter to David that Exxon “must develop a credible scientific team” one that can critically evaluate science that comes in on the topic, and “be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation”.

Exxon fitted out one of its largest supertankers with custom-made instruments to do ocean research. Exxon wanted to be taken seriously as a credible player, so wanted leading scientists on board, and was willing to ensure they had scientific freedom. Indeed, some of the work they undertook with oceanographer Taro Takahashi would be later used in a 2009 paper concluding that the oceans absorb only 20% of carbon dioxide emitted from human activities. This work earned Takahashi a Champion of the Earth prize from the UN.

In October 1982, David told a global warming conference financed by Exxon: “Few people doubt that the world has entered an energy transition, away from dependence upon fossil fuels and toward some mix of renewable resources that will not pose problems of CO2 accumulation.”

The only question, he said, was how fast this would happen. Maybe he really saw Exxon as about to lead the way on innovation to zero-carbon fuels, with his R&D lab at the centre of it. Or maybe the enormity of the challenge hadn’t really sunk in. Either way, by the mid-1980s the carbon dioxide research had largely dried up.


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hen Ronald Reagan was elected in November 1980, he appointed lawyer James G Watt to run the Department of the Interior. Watt had headed a legal firm that fought to open public lands for drilling and mining, and already had a reputation for hating conservation projects, as a matter of policy and of faith. He once famously described environmentalism as “a leftwing cult dedicated to bringing down the type of government I believe in”. The head of the National Coal Association pronounced himself “deliriously happy” at the appointment, and corporate lobbyists started joking: “How much power does it take to stop a million environmentalists? One Watt.”

Watt didn’t close the EPA, as people initially feared he would, but he did . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. It’s a lengthy extract. And Anne Gorsuch, mentioned in the next paragraph, has a famous son, Neil, who is a current Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Starving cattle roam a cracked landscape in Mauritania in search of water, 1978.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2021 at 10:23 am

Homeowner and Condo Associations Are In Over Their Heads

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Evan McKenzie, who teaches in the political science department and the law school at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is the author of two books about condominium and homeowner associations, writes in the Washington Post:

The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., is a terrible tragedy. Besides the stories of the victims and their grieving loved ones, early attention has focused on the causes of the collapse, such as how the building was constructed, the effects of saltwater on reinforced concrete and whether the condominium association was properly maintaining the high-rise.

Those are important matters, but the disaster exemplifies a bigger problem, one that will still loom once we have answers about what went wrong in Surfside: The untrained, unpaid and unsupervised volunteer directors of the nation’s more than 350,000 condo and homeowners’ associations, armed with limited financial resources, are expected to deal with the unprecedented infrastructure challenges that climate change poses to their communities. And there is no reason to believe that they are up to that task.

More than 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in property administered by condominium and homeowners’ associations, nonprofits run by volunteers elected by the owners. These directors and officers are responsible for an estimated $7 trillion worth of private property and infrastructure, including high-rise buildings, private streets, parks, pools, sewer and water systems, lakes, garages, and many other building systems and amenities.

As condos and HOAs blossomed across the country in the last 50 years, little or no thought was given to the eventual effects of climate change, in terms of location or construction quality. The common-interest housing sector emerged in the 1960s as a way to put more people on less land, increasing developer profits and local property tax revenue. The model spread rapidly, and condos and HOAs are now the default options for new construction in many states, not just across the Sun Belt where they originated but in older metro areas as well.

Many locations are problematic from the outset. Developers often build in places that appeal to buyers but pose environmental challenges — such as on reclaimed wetlands or beaches next to rising seas, as in Surfside. Other developers place subdivisions at the top of artificial slopes that turn into mudslides in hundred-year storms, which now occur more often than they used to. Terrible disasters have struck neighborhoods built in areas that are prone to drought-induced wildfires. Local governments may approve these location decisions because they are great for sales and the property tax base, but they drop environmental issues right in the laps of condo and HOA boards.

Condo and homeowners’ associations were never designed or empowered to handle such conditions. These associations are essentially on their own, with virtually no support from any level of government. Although most of them operate well most of the time, paying for routine maintenance and repair has always been a challenge, long before climate change made things worse. For years, industry insiders have pointed out that although directors and officers are responsible for maintaining the property, most unit owners are notoriously unwilling to see their housing costs go up now to sock away funds for repairs in the future. Why, they ask, should they pay today so someone else can have a new roof long after they’ve moved out? Yet that is precisely what they are expected to do. Somehow, dozens, hundreds or even thousands of owners are supposed to overcome their self-interest and collective-action problems and commit to maintaining their private infrastructure in perpetuity.

Now the maintenance and repair responsibilities that condo boards struggle with every day, with varying degrees of success, are being amplified by the effects of global climate change. It is increasingly clear that owner resources and volunteer expertise are inadequate to meet the challenge of maintaining buildings, preventing and mitigating climate-related damage, and restoring property that is severely harmed or even destroyed.

The Surfside disaster is an instructive example of an association faced with environmental challenges beyond its means. The 12-story condo tower with 136 units was built 40 years ago on reclaimed beachfront wetlands, where the proximity of a rising ocean, saltwater and gradual land subsidence have been constant threats to structural integrity. A few years ago, engineers told the condo board that they had an expensive problem on their hands with deteriorating reinforced concrete. After much internal back-and-forth, the board recently assessed a total repair cost on the owners of $15 million. That averages out to more than $110,000 per unit for this midsize association, an eye-popping figure for any homeowner and one that would undoubtedly put many into foreclosure for failure to pay. Repairs were set to begin soon; residents were initially supposed to decide whether to pay their share of the assessment at once or in monthly installments by this past Thursday.

Some are claiming that the collapse could have been avoided if better maintenance had been done earlier. Maybe. But there are thousands of beachfront condos on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. We cannot expect all of them to be maintained consistently to industry standards with sea level rise, storm surge, land subsidence and a host of other coastal climate issues in mind. We know there will always be some that risk skipping maintenance, thinking the worst won’t happen there.

Sea level rise is not the only climate-related problem that places owners in harm’s way and that local governments and developers never anticipated. It is clear by now that climate change produces heavy rainfall, including hurricanes and so-called 100-year storms, that can cause major floodinglandslides and other stormwater-related disasters. Condo and homeowners’ associations have been severely affected by such events, and developers have been sued from coast to coast over their failure to anticipate them and build accordingly. Expensive litigation after the fact is no substitute for prevention, but it is unrealistic to expect condominium and homeowner associations to undertake costly anticipatory measures. They have neither the expertise nor the resources to do so. In most cases, they don’t even know where to begin.

Many other communities have been built near places prone to wildfires, which have taken on new ferocity in drought conditions fueled by global warming. The costs of safeguarding neighborhoods against these fires are daunting for owners and associations, and prevention is almost entirely out of their hands. In 2003, wildfires destroyed 331 homes in Scripps Ranch, an upscale San Diego-area neighborhood where developer-created HOA requirements for wooden “shake” shingle roofs accelerated the destruction. The San Diego City Council banned these roofs in new construction, including for people who wanted to rebuild their homes. Yet they faced intense resistance from Scripps Ranch owners over proposed building code changes intended to protect their homes against future wildfires, because implementing those changes would have been expensive. Owners in a fire-prone area might be understandably angry if their association required them to pay for new roofs, elaborate sprinkler systems, doors and windows with heat-resistant double-glazed material, and special fire-retardant house paint. If local governments encounter pushback when they require such measures, it seems unlikely that condo and homeowners’ associations would adopt them voluntarily.

In effect, condo and HOA developments are a huge experiment in privatization of local government functions, and sometimes the offloading of government responsibilities goes too far. We can expect a condo or HOA board to handle garbage collection, get the leaves and snow removed from private streets, and broadly live up to its responsibilities to residents. But when private communities took off in the 1960s, we didn’t even know what climate change was. We cannot . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2021 at 9:34 am

10 tips for coping with wildfire smoke, from a public health expert

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Sarah Henderson, Associate Professor (Partner), School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, writes in The Conversation:

Wildfires have burned millions of acres in the western United States this year. Tens of thousands have been evacuated and thousands of buildings and other structures destroyed. Thick smoke blankets much of the region — colouring the skies red and orange — and is flowing north into British Columbia and Alberta. Tens of millions of people have been exposed to these hazardous conditions.

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of fine particulate matter, called PM 2.5, and gases, such as volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. The composition of the mixture depends on many variables, including the fuels that are burning, the temperature of combustion, the weather and the distance from the fire. Although wildfire smoke is different from the air pollution caused by traffic and industry, it is also harmful to human health.

Wildfires cause episodes of the worst air quality that many people will ever experience. Fine particulate matter can be inhaled deep into the lungs, where it may lead to systemic inflammation that affects other parts of the body.

On smoky days, more people visit emergency rooms, more people are admitted to hospital and some people will die because of the smoke exposure. We also know that PM 2.5 can affect the immune system, which may make some people more susceptible to acute respiratory infections such as influenza and COVID-19.

Coping with intense and prolonged wildfire smoke is difficult, both physically and mentally. I have been studying how this unpredictable and extreme type of air pollution affects the respiratory and cardiovascular health of exposed populations for many years. Here are 10 tips to protect yourself and your family from the risks of wildfire smoke.

1. Understand your susceptibility

Some people are at higher risk of experiencing health effects from smoke, especially those who have asthma, COPD, heart disease, diabetes, other chronic conditions or acute infections such as COVID-19.

Pregnant women, infants, young children, older adults and people who work or live outdoors are also more susceptible. Anyone who uses rescue medications should carry them at all times.

2. Listen to your body

Different people can have very different reactions to the same amount of smoke. If you feel unwell, listen to your body and take actions to reduce your exposure.

The most common symptoms include eye irritation, sore throat, cough and headache, which usually disappear when the smoke disperses. Anyone who has more severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or heart palpitations should seek medical attention.

Smoke is an environment hazard to be respected, not a personal challenge to be overcome.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2021 at 5:07 pm

Canada is a warning: more and more of the world will soon be too hot for humans

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A few decades ago I read that global warming, if unchecked, would result in the region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn being uninhabitable. I think we are on track to see that happen in another decade, two at the most. Simon Lewis writes in the Guardian:

The climate crisis means that summer is a time of increasingly dangerous heat. This week in the Pacific north-west, temperature records are not just being broken, they are being obliterated. Temperatures reached a shocking 47.9ºC [118ºF] in British Columbia, Canada. [That temperature record was measured in the small town of Lytton (pop ~1000), most of whose residences and businesses burned to the ground yesterday as a result of wildfire (see photo above). – LG] Amid temperatures more typically found in the Sahara desert, dozens have died of heat stress, with “roads buckling and power cables melting”. [In BC, there were 486 sudden deaths during the heat wave, triple the normal average, and the number is expected to increase as more reports are filed. – LG]

Another heatwave earlier in June saw five Middle East countries top 50°C [122ºF]. The extreme heat reached Pakistan, where 20 children in one class were reported to have fallen unconscious and needed hospital treatment for heat stress. Thankfully, they all survived.

Additional warming from greenhouse gas emissions means that such extreme heatwaves are more likely and scientists can now calculate the increase in their probability. For example, the 2019 European heatwave that killed 2,500 people was five times more likely than it would have been without global warming.

In most places, extreme heatwaves outside the usual range for a region will cause problems, from disrupting the economy to widespread mortality, particularly among the young and old. Yet in places in the Middle East and Asia something truly terrifying is emerging: the creation of unliveable heat.

While humans can survive temperatures of well over 50C when humidity is low, when both temperatures and humidity are high, neither sweating nor soaking ourselves can cool us. What matters is the “wet-bulb” temperature – given by a thermometer covered in a wet cloth – which shows the temperature at which evaporative cooling from sweat or water occurs. Humans cannot survive prolonged exposure to a wet-bulb temperature beyond 35C because there is no way to cool our bodies. Not even in the shade, and not even with unlimited water.

A 35C wet-bulb temperature was once thought impossible. But last year scientists reported that locations in the Persian Gulf and Pakistan’s Indus river valley had already reached this threshold, although only for an hour or two, and only over small areas. As climate change drives temperatures upwards, heatwaves and accompanying unliveable temperatures are predicted to last longer and occur over larger areas and in new locations, including parts of Africa and the US south-east, over the decades to come.

What can governments, companies and citizens do? First, cut off the supply of ever more extreme heatwaves by halving carbon dioxide emission this decade, then reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Second, prepare for the inevitable heatwaves of the future. Emergency public health planning is the initial priority: getting essential information to people and moving vulnerable people into air-conditioned locations. Heatwave forecasts should include wet-bulb temperatures so that people can learn to understand the dangers.

Plans should account for the fact that heatwaves intensify structural inequalities. Poorer neighbourhoods typically have fewer green spaces and so heat up more, while outdoor workers, often poorly paid, are especially vulnerable. The rich also buy up cooling equipment at high prices once a heatwave is underway and have many more options to flee, underscoring the importance of public health planning.

Beyond crisis management, governments need to invest in making countries function in the new climate we are creating, including the extremes. In climate policy terms this is known as “adaptation”.

Of paramount importance is energy supplies being resilient to heatwaves, as people will be relying on electricity for cooling from air-conditioning units, fans and freezers, which are all life-savers in a heatwave. Similarly, internet communications and data centres need to be future-proofed, as these are essential services that can struggle in the heat.

Beyond this, new regulations are needed to allow buildings to keep cool and for transport systems, from roads to trains, to be able to operate under much higher temperature extremes.

Many of these changes can meet other challenges. Retro-fitting homes to be energy-efficient is also the perfect opportunity to modify them to also keep us cool. For example, installing electric heat pumps to warm houses in the winter means that in the summer they can also be switched to run in reverse to work as a cooling system. Cities can be kept cooler with green roofs and more green spaces, which also make them better places to live.

The final task is future-proofing agriculture and the wider ecosystems we all ultimately rely on. Heat can cause havoc with crop production. In Bangladesh, just two days of hot air in April this year destroyed 68,000 hectares of rice, affecting . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

In the meantime, the GOP and fossil fuel companies and working together to get more CO2 in the atmosphere so it will become hotter and hotter.

I fear for my children and especially for my grandchildren. The world will not be a good place in the future because humans as a species seem incapable of taking effective action, betrayed in many instances by the efforts of the wealthy to increase their wealth whatever the cost to others.

Written by Leisureguy

2 July 2021 at 10:43 am

Wildfires reflect human folly

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An article in The Conversation points out the dangers that humans pose to themselves and their houses. The article begins:

The heat wave hitting the northwestern U.S. and Canada has been shattering records, with temperatures 30 degrees Fahrenheit or more above normal. With drought already gripping the West, the intense heat has helped suck even more moisture from millions of acres of forests and grasslands, bringing dead vegetation in many regions to record-dry levels and elevating the fire danger to its highest categories.

With this combination of extreme drought, heat and dry vegetation, all it takes is a spark to ignite a wildfire.

That’s why over 100 fire scientistsincluding us, along with fire officials across the West, are urging people to skip the fireworks this Fourth of July and to avoid other activities that could start a blaze.

Humans start the most wildfires on July Fourth

For decades, one of the most striking and predictable patterns of human behavior in the western U.S. has been people accidentally starting fires on the Fourth of July. From 1992 to 2015, more than 7,000 wildfires started in the U.S. on July 4 – the most wildfires ignited on any day during the year. And most of these are near homes.

With this year’s tinder-dry grasslands and parched forests, sparks from anything – a cigarette, a campfire, a power line, even a mower blade hitting a rock – could ignite a wildfire, with deadly consequences.

Year-round, humans extend the fire season by igniting fires when and where lightning is rare. And it is these very fires that pose the greatest threat to lives and homes: Over 95% of the wildfires that threatened homes in recent decades were started by people. Farther from human development – beyond the “wildland-urban interface” – the majority of area burned by wildfires in the West is still due to lightning.

Whether ignited by people or lightning, human-caused climate change is making fires easier to start and grow larger due to increasingly warm, dry conditions. The western U.S. saw these consequences during 2020’s record fire season – and the 2021 fire season has the ingredients to be just as devastating.

Here’s how to stay safe

We’ve spent years studying the causes and impacts of wildfires across North America and around the globe, and working with managers and citizens to envision how best to adapt to our increasingly flammable world. We’ve outlined strategies to manage flammable landscapes and thought carefully about how communities can become more resilient to wildfires.

When asked “What can we do?” many of our suggestions require long-term investments and political will. But there are things you can do right now to make a difference and potentially save lives.

Around your home, move . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s useful advice.

 

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 11:35 am

It’s Some of America’s Richest Farmland. But What Is It Without Water?

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A farm in San Joaquin County, California.Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Years ago I blogged about the likelihood of famine and food wars as climate change decimated our food supply. It seemed obviously to me that widespread crop failures were likely. It’s now becoming more evident. Somini Sengupta reports in the NY Times:

In America’s fruit and nut basket, water is now the most precious crop of all.

It explains why, amid a historic drought parching much of the American West, a grower of premium sushi rice has concluded that it makes better business sense to sell the water he would have used to grow rice than to actually grow rice. Or why a melon farmer has left a third of his fields fallow. Or why a large landholder farther south is thinking of planting a solar array on his fields rather than the thirsty almonds that delivered steady profit for years.

“You want to sit there and say, ‘We want to monetize the water?’ No, we don’t,” said Seth Fiack, a rice grower here in Ordbend, on the banks of the Sacramento River, who this year sowed virtually no rice and instead sold his unused water for desperate farmers farther south. “It’s not what we prefer to do, but it’s what we kind of need to, have to.”

These are among the signs of a huge transformation up and down California’s Central Valley, the country’s most lucrative agricultural belt, as it confronts both an exceptional drought and the consequences of years of pumping far too much water out of its aquifers. Across the state, reservoir levels are dropping and electric grids are at risk if hydroelectric dams don’t get enough water to produce power.

Climate change is supercharging the scarcity. Rising temperatures dry out the soil, which in turn can worsen heat waves. This week, temperatures in parts of California and the Pacific Northwest have been shattering records.

By 2040, the San Joaquin Valley is projected to lose at least 535,000 acres of agricultural production. That’s more than a tenth of the area farmed.

And if the drought perseveres and no new water can be found, nearly double that amount of land is projected to go idle, with potentially dire consequences for the nation’s food supply. California’s $50 billion agricultural sector supplies two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of America’s vegetables — the tomatoes, pistachios, grapes and strawberries that line grocery store shelves from coast to coast.

Glimpses of that future are evident now. Vast stretches of land are fallow because there’s no water. New calculations are being made about what crops to grow, how much, where. Millions of dollars are being spent on replenishing the aquifer that has been depleted for so long.

“Each time we have a drought you’re seeing a little glimpse into what will happen more frequently in our climate future,” said Morgan Levy, a professor specializing in water science and policy at the University of California, San Diego.

California’s fertile Central Valley begins in the north, where the water begins. In normal times, winter rain and spring snowmelt swell the Sacramento River, nourishing one of the country’s most important rice belts. On an average year, growers around the Sacramento River produce 500,000 acres of sticky, medium-grain rice vital to sushi. Some 40 percent is exported to Asia.

But these are not normal times. There’s less snowpack, and, this year, much less water in the reservoirs and rivers that ultimately irrigate fields, provide spawning places for fish and supply drinking water for 39 million Californians.

That crisis presents rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley, which forms the northern part of the Central Valley, with a tricky choice: Should they plant rice with what water they have, or save themselves the toil and stress and sell their water instead?

Mr. Fiack, a second-generation rice farmer, chose to sell almost all of it.

His one 30-acre field of rice glistens green in the June sunshine, guzzling water that pours out of a wide-mouthed spigot. His remaining 500 acres are bare and brown. What water he would have used to grow rice he has signed away for sale to growers of thirsty crops hundreds of miles south, where water is even more scarce.

At $575 per acre-foot (a volume of water one acre in size, one foot deep) the revenue compares favorably to what he would have made growing rice — without the headaches. It makes “economic sense,” Mr. Fiack said flatly.

Rice is far less lucrative than, say, almonds and walnuts, which is why Mr. Fiack’s fields are surrounded by nut trees and even he is dabbling in walnuts. But rice farmers are uniquely advantaged. Because their lands have been in production for so long, they tend to have first dibs on water that comes out of the Sacramento River, before it is channeled through canals and tunnels down south.

Also, unlike the owners of fruit and nut trees, whose investments would wither in a few weeks without water, rice farmers can leave a field fallow for a year, even two. In the era of climate change, when water can be unreliable, that flexibility is an asset. Rice water transfers have been an important part of California’s drought coping strategy.

This year, rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley will produce around 20 percent less rice. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s grim.

And just a reminder: when supply drops and demand remains, prices move up — sometimes sharply. The grocery bill will be growing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2021 at 10:21 am

GOP: “Let’s hold off on addressing climate change until it is too late”

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Last week, Florida governor Ron DeSantis became the latest Republican governor to sign a bill making it harder for citizens to shift away from the fossil fuels that are changing the climate. The move came after Miami, which is in danger as sea levels rise, proposed cutting carbon emissions by banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings. The bill was written by lawyers for utility companies, based on a pattern written by the American Gas Association. Lobbyists for the Florida Petroleum Association, the Florida Natural Gas Association and the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Home Builders Association, and the National Utility Contractors Association of Florida supported the bill.

Nine other Republican states have already passed similar legislation.

Republican-led states are defending the use of fossil fuels in other ways. News that President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was urging major U.S. banks to invest responsibly with an eye to the climate crisis, led the state treasurers of West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota to write to him expressing their “deep concern” that he, along with other members of the Biden administration, was pressuring banks “to refuse to lend to or invest in coal, oil, and natural gas companies, as a part of a misguided strategy to eliminate the fossil fuel industry in our country.” They accused the Biden administration of “picking economic winners and losers” according to “Biden’s own radical political preferences,” and thus depriving “the people” of agency.

Coal, oil, and natural gas are crucial to their states’ economies, they said, providing “jobs, health insurance, critical tax revenue, and quality of life.” They warned that they would withhold public funds from any banks that refused to lend to fossil fuel industries.

And yet, historically, the government has picked fossil fuels as a winner that outranks any other energy source. While Republicans tend to claim any spending for alternative energies is wasteful, a recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute, a nonprofit think tank, says that U.S. subsidies to new oil and gas projects inflate their value by up to $20 billion per year. This would seem to fly in the face of Republican complaints about “socialism” in which the government picks winners and losers.

A recent Morning Consult poll shows that 50% of voters say climate change is a critical threat to America. Another 26% think it is important, but not critical. Among Democrats, 75% think climate change is crucial, while another 17% say it is important. Among Republicans, 21% say that climate change is crucial, while another 37% say it is important, but not crucial.

With this support for addressing climate change, why do Republicans appear to be dead set against dealing with it in a meaningful way and instead are propping up the fossil fuels that feed that change?

At the nomination hearing for now–Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who has promised to protect our lands, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Haaland that his state collects more than a billion dollars a year in royalties and taxes from the oil, gas, and coal produced on federal lands in the state, and warned that the Biden administration is “taking a sledgehammer to Western states’ economies.”

Oil produces the most revenue for Texas, which earned $16.3 billion from oil in 2019, an amount that made up 7% of the state’s revenue. Oil revenues accounted for 70% of state revenues ($1.1 billion) in Alaska in 2019, 52% of state revenues ($2.2 billion) in Wyoming in 2017, and 45% of the revenues ($1.6 billion) in North Dakota in 2017.

But production declines in the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic have hurt these fossil fuel states. Wyoming expects to have 29% less money than it expected in 2021–2022. Alaska expects an estimated 18% budget deficit in fiscal 2021. Without money coming in from fossil fuels, people will have to make up the difference by paying taxes, an unpopular outcome, especially in Republican-dominated states, or by losing even more services.

Reducing dependence on fossil fuels will also cost current jobs, and one of the hallmarks of an economy developed around an extractive industry is that it tends to have little flexibility. The rural American West was developed around extractive economies, with a few wealthy men employing lots of workers, and its limited economy means that workers cannot transition easily into other fields.

Fossil fuel advocates also contribute mightily to Republican campaigns, adding financial interest to party members’ general dislike of regulation. In Florida, utility companies employ an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators. “It’s no secret we play an active role in public policy,” a spokesman for a Florida utility told Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson in 2016.

This week, in the Pacific Northwest, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2021 at 5:53 am

Gov. Greg Abbot of Texas will have blood on his hands

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That phrase means that he is responsible for unnecessary deaths (cf. Donald J. Trump). Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, made good on his threat to defund the legislature after Democrats walked out on May 30 in order to deny the Republicans the number of people they needed to hold a vote on a bill that dramatically reworked Texas elections.

In part, Abbott is likely trying to distract Texans from yet another crisis in the state’s independent energy grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Four months ago, the electric grid failed during a cold wave, leaving more than 3 million people without electricity or heat. More than 100 people died. Now, mechanical failures during a heat wave have pushed the state to the verge of blackouts and have prompted ERCOT to ask people to turn their AC to higher temperatures, turn off their lights, and avoid using appliances that take a lot of electricity.

To make matters worse, yesterday the Public Utility Commission of Texas lifted a moratorium on electricity disconnections put in place on private utilities because of the pandemic and extended because of the February storm. It is not clear how many people will be affected by this change, but two public utilities in Austin and San Antonio say that in late May a quarter of a million households owed an average of $600 on past-due bills.

So it makes sense for Abbott—who has been throwing himself behind Trump-like causes anyway these days—to stir up headlines by defunding the legislature and blaming Democrats, even though, once the election bill failed, a number of Republicans told political journalist Judd Legum, who writes at Popular Information, that they did not know where some of the measures in it had come from and did not like them. For example, one lawmaker said that the provision to enable Texas judges to declare an election “void” at their discretion if someone charged that it had been fraudulent, “would be horrendous policy.” (That section of the bill was actually titled “OVERTURNING ELECTIONS.”) In any case, Abbott’s gesture will hit not legislators, but staffers.

But Abbott’s attack on voting rights in Texas identifies the crux of the current crisis in American democracy. For thirty years, Republicans have strengthened their hand in elections not by adjusting their message to win more voters but by gaming the system: suppressing the vote and gerrymandering.

When voters put the Democrats in charge of the federal government in 2020, Republicans responded by trying to game the system at the state level even more completely. First, when former president Trump refused to accept his loss in the election, he and some of his cronies tried to pressure Republicans in state governments to “find” the votes he needed to win, count out Democratic ballots, or, failing either of those things, allow state legislatures to choose their own electors rather than the ones that reflected the will of the voters. Their justification was the Big Lie: that Trump had won the election but had been cheated of the White House by fraud.

Their attempts led to the January 6 insurrection but did not succeed in putting Trump back into the White House. Since then, in Republican-dominated states across the country, legislatures have used the Big Lie to justify the sort of election “reform” that cuts back voting rights and enables state officials to overturn the popular vote. If those rules go into effect, it will be virtually impossible for Democrats to win a majority in the future. And a one-party government is not a democracy.

The conflict over elections, then, is a conflict over  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 June 2021 at 9:48 pm

Climate Change Batters the West Before Summer Even Begins

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And still there are people who deny that it’s happening and fight against efforts to combat it.  Brad Plumer, Jack Healy, Winston Choi-Schagrin, and Henry Fountain report in the NY Times:

A heat dome is baking Arizona and Nevada, where temperatures have soared past 115 degrees this week and doctors are warning that people can get third-degree burns from the sizzling asphalt.

At Lake Mead, which supplies water for 25 million people in three southwestern states and Mexico, water levels have plunged to their lowest point since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. In California, farmers are abandoning their thirstiest crops to save others, and communities are debating whether to ration tap water.

In Texas, electricity grids are under strain as residents crank their air-conditioners, with utilities begging customers to turn off appliances to help avert blackouts. In Arizona, Montana and Utah, wildfires are blazing.

And it’s not even summer yet.

“We’re still a long way out from the peak of the wildfire season and the peak of the dry season,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Things are likely to get worse before they get better.”

Global warming, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, has been heating up and drying out the American West for years. Now the region is broiling under a combination of a drought that is the worst in two decades and a record-breaking heat wave.

“The Southwest is getting hammered by climate change harder than almost any other part of the country, apart from perhaps coastal cities,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan. “And as bad as it might seem today, this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”

With temperatures expected to keep rising as nations struggle to rein in their planet-warming emissions, the Western United States will need to take difficult and costly measures to adapt. That includes redesigning cities to endure punishing heat, conserving water, and engineering grids that don’t fail during extreme weather.

This month has offered glimpses of whether states and cities are up to that task and has shown they still have far to go.

From Montana to Southern California, much of the West is suffering from unusually high temperatures. Some 50 million Americans face heat-related warnings. Records have been tied or broken in places like Palm SpringsSalt Lake City and Billings, Montana.

As 115-degree temperatures cooked Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row Arts District on Tuesday, Timothy Medina, 58, was perched on a black metal platform 12 feet above the sidewalk, finishing the blue lettering of a sign for a coffee shop. “It’s brutal — that heat against the wall,” he said. “Let me take a quick swig of water.”

Construction workers, landscapers and outdoor painters like Mr. Medina have few options but to bear the heat. He wore jeans to avoid burning his skin, along with a long sleeve fluorescent yellow shirt and a $2 woven hat. But soon the heat was winning.

“I start feeling out of breath, fatigued,” he said.

Extreme heat is the clearest signal of global warming, and the most deadly. Last year heat killed at least 323 people in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, a record by far. . .

Continue reading. There is a lot more, and many photographs.

And from here on, it’s going to get worse. What we’re seeing now is mild compared to what’s coming. But inaction seems attractive to most. An article by Catherine Garcia in Yahoo News, “NASA: Earth is trapping ‘unprecedented’ amount of heat, warming ‘faster than expected’,” spells it out. From the article:

Since 2005, the amount of heat trapped by the Earth has roughly doubled, according to a new study by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers.

This is contributing to warming oceans, air, and land, the scientists write in the study, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented,” NASA scientist and lead author of the study Norman Loeb told The Washington Post. “The Earth is warming faster than expected.”

Using satellite data, the researchers measured the planet’s energy imbalance, which is the difference between how much energy the planet absorbs from the sun and how much is radiated back into space. If there is a positive imbalance, the Earth is absorbing more heat than it is losing; in 2005, there was a positive imbalance of about half a watt per square meter of energy from the sun, and in 2019, the positive imbalance was one watt per square meter, the Post reports.

“It is a massive amount of energy,” NOAA oceanographer Gregory Johnson, a co-author of the study, told the Post, adding that this energy increase is equivalent to everyone on Earth using 20 electric tea kettles at the same time. The team needs to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 5:19 pm

This season’s must-have Hermès bag is made from fungus

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Alice Fisher writes in the Guardian:

It’s fair to say that Hermès knows handbags. The luxury fashion house’s Birkin and Kelly bags are among the most expensive ever sold; demand outstrips supply by so much that you can’t even join a waiting list. Acquiring one is a matter of luck and contacts. So when Hermès announced this season’s handbag would be made from plant leather, it marked a new era in designer accessories.

The autumn/winter 2021 Hermès Victoria (prices start from about £3,500 for its previous leather version) will be made from Sylvania, a leather grown from fungus, before being crafted in France into a perfect Hermès handbag.

Mushrooms, pineapples, grapes, cactus and apples are just some of the plants on the receiving end of billions of dollars of research and development funding to create leather and plastic replacements. Many of the first generation of vegan alternatives used plastic – which also has devastating environmental consequences and can take hundreds of years to decompose. The new materials are made using biotechnology.

The growth of plant leather is driven by the fashion industry’s efforts to improve sustainability, though it’s also used in the car and furniture industries. Fashion creates a high level of pollution – from overproduction of clothing and synthetic fibres, and also from animal leather production.

“Cattle ranching is already the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon,” says Carry Somers, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism organisation. “We urgently need to fix our relationship with fashion to halt unsustainable agricultural practices. We need to look towards circular economy alternatives, including the use of agricultural residues to create bio-leathers.”

Although conventional leather makes use of animal byproducts, production also involves toxic chemicals.

“Even in fully modernised tanneries it’s nearly impossible to reclaim pollutants generated by the tanning process,” says Adrián López Velarde, co-founder of Desserto, a Mexican company that makes cactus leather. “As a rule of thumb, tanning one tonne of hide results in 20-80 cubic metres of polluted waste water, not to mention the offal effluence from preparation, and pesticides to stop mould growth during transportation.”

There’s also been an attitude shift among consumers. Customer concern about supply chains and methods of production was growing before the pandemic, but has accelerated in the past 18 months.

“There’s a huge drive for transparency,” says Carmen Hijosa, founder of Ananas Anam, a company that makes pineapple leather. “It’s especially important to young people, but we’re all becoming more empathic, we understand that we have to respect nature and be kind to each other.”

This change in priorities is the motivation for many of the companies developing bio-leathers. The people behind these new materials come from diverse backgrounds – fashion and art, science and business – and they bring fresh perspective to the world of textiles.

Dan Widmaier, chief executive of the biotextile company Bolt Threads, says: “This is personal for me. Bolt is based in northern California. I, and our employees, have been massively impacted by climate change and fires. The truth is, the challenges are so great right now, that the demand for innovative solutions far outstrips the supply.”

Bio-leathers are made either from agricultural byproducts or specially grown crops. Mycelium, the root structure of fungus, has become a favourite in the luxury industry.

Hermès worked with the Californian company MycoWorks to make Sylvania, which uses a technology called Fine Mycelium. This produces a strong cellular material that can be processed to become a luxury leather. “It’s more than a new material – it’s a manufacturing breakthrough that gives designers new levels of customisation and creative control,” says MycoWorks co-founder Sophia Wang. “Our materials are essentially made to order and there’s complete transparency into what is being made and how. We control each sheet’s size, strength, flexibility, thickness. This customisation creates a range of design possibilities, minimises waste and ensures consistent quality.”

Because these companies have been formed with sustainability in their DNA, good agricultural practice is front and centre. Desserto’s organic cactus plantations in Zacatecas, Mexico, use 164,650% less water compared with animal leather and 190% compared with polyurethane.

Bolt Threads developed and produces Mylo, a mycelium leather used by designers including Stella McCartney. Widmaier is proud of his product and says: “Mylo’s processing and finishing chemistries are evaluated and selected using green chemistry principles and are free of substances such as chromium and DMFa, two of the most noxious chemicals used in animal and synthetic leather respectively.”

For advocates of the circular economy, bio-leathers using byproducts are of particular interest. Piñatex, leather, made by UK-based Ananas Anam from pineapple leaves, is one of the best established. Hijosa, the company’s founder, had been a consultant for . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

12 June 2021 at 1:39 pm

Why electric cars will take over sooner than you think

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Launched in 1998, the EV1 was GM’s first attempt at an electric car and failed to take off.

Justiin Rowlatt has a very interesting report at BBC on why electric cars really are going to dominate Real Soon Now. The article has many charts, so I encourage you to click the link. The article begins:

I know, you probably haven’t even driven one yet, let alone seriously contemplated buying one, so the prediction may sound a bit bold, but bear with me.

We are in the middle of the biggest revolution in motoring since Henry Ford’s first production line started turning back in 1913.

And it is likely to happen much more quickly than you imagine.

Many industry observers believe we have already passed the tipping point where sales of electric vehicles (EVs) will very rapidly overwhelm petrol and diesel cars.

It is certainly what the world’s big car makers think.

Jaguar plans to sell only electric cars from 2025, Volvo from 2030 and last week the British sportscar company Lotus said it would follow suit, selling only electric models from 2028.

And it isn’t just premium brands.

General Motors says it will make only electric vehicles by 2035, Ford says all vehicles sold in Europe will be electric by 2030 and VW says 70% of its sales will be electric by 2030.

This isn’t a fad, this isn’t greenwashing.

Yes, the fact many governments around the world are setting targets to ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles gives impetus to the process.

But what makes the end of the internal combustion engine inevitable is a technological revolution. And technological revolutions tend to happen very quickly.

This revolution will be electric

Look at the internet.

By my reckoning, the EV market is about where the internet was around the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Back then, there was a big buzz about this new thing with computers talking to each other.

Jeff Bezos had set up Amazon, and Google was beginning to take over from the likes of Altavista, Ask Jeeves and Yahoo. Some of the companies involved had racked up eye-popping valuations.

For those who hadn’t yet logged on it all seemed exciting and interesting but irrelevant – how useful could communicating by computer be? After all, we’ve got phones!

But the internet, like all successful new technologies, did not follow a linear path to world domination. It didn’t gradually evolve, giving us all time to plan ahead.

Its growth was explosive and disruptive, crushing existing businesses and changing the way we do almost everything. And it followed a familiar pattern, known to technologists as an S-curve.

Riding the internet S-curve

It’s actually an elongated S.

The idea is that innovations start slowly, of interest only to the very nerdiest of nerds. EVs are on the shallow sloping bottom end of the S here.

For the internet, the graph begins at 22:30 on 29 October 1969. That’s when a computer at the University of California in LA made contact with another in Stanford University a few hundred miles away.

The researchers typed an L, then an O, then a G. The system crashed before they could complete the word “login”.

Like I said, nerds only.

A decade later there were still only a few hundred computers on the network but the pace of change was accelerating.

As the market grew, prices fell rapidly and performance improved in leaps and bounds – encouraging more and more people to log on to the internet.

The S is beginning to sweep upwards here, growth is becoming exponential. By 1995 there were some 16 million people online. By 2001, there were 513 million people.

Now there are more than three billion. What happens next is our S begins to slope back towards the horizontal.

The rate of growth slows as virtually everybody who wants to be is now online.

Jeremy Clarkson’s disdain

We saw the same pattern of a slow start, exponential growth and then a slowdown to a mature market with smartphones, photography, even antibiotics.

The internal combustion engine at the turn of the last century followed the same trajectory.

So did steam engines and printing presses. And electric vehicles will do the same.

In fact they have a more venerable lineage than the internet.

The first crude electric car was developed by the Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in the 1830s.

But it is only in the last few years that the technology has been available at the kind of prices that make it competitive.

The former Top Gear presenter and used car dealer Quentin Willson should know. He’s been driving electric vehicles for well over a decade.

He test-drove General Motors’ now infamous EV1 20 years ago. It cost a billion dollars to develop but was considered a dud by GM, which crushed all but a handful of the 1,000 or so vehicles it produced.

The EV1’s range was dreadful – about 50 miles for a normal driver – but Mr Willson was won over. “I remember thinking this is the future,” he told me.

He says he will never forget the disdain that radiated from fellow Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson when he showed him his first electric car, a Citroen C-Zero, a decade later.

“It was just completely: ‘You have done the most unspeakable thing and you have disgraced us all. Leave!’,” he says. Though he now concedes that you couldn’t have the heater on in the car because it decimated the range.

How things have changed. Mr Willson says he has no range anxiety with his latest electric car, a Tesla Model 3.

He says it will do almost 300 miles on a single charge and accelerates from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds.

“It is supremely comfortable, it’s airy, it’s bright. It’s just a complete joy. And I would unequivocally say to you now that I would never ever go back.”

We’ve seen massive improvements in the motors that drive electric vehicles, the computers that control them, charging systems and car design.

But the sea-change in performance Mr Willson has experienced is largely possible because of the improvements in the non-beating heart of the vehicles, the battery.

Continue reading. There’s more — and it’s the important stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2021 at 10:13 am

The Lost Prophet of California Agriculture

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Charlie Siler has a well-illustrated and very interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine. He writes:

  1. Lessons of The Dust Bowl
  2. The Joys of Tinkering
  3. The Search For The Perfect Machine
  4. What Could Have Been

Al Ruozi, age 97, is a high-school dropout from Bakersfield, California, who made his living selling farm machinery that he designed and welded together, using handmade machinery that he built himself, in a building that he and his brother assembled. His primary invention, created in the 1950s, was a machine that gave cotton farmers a better way to clear their land. While little-known in the U.S., Ruozi’s invention has been emulated around the world, leading the way to a new generation of farm equipment that can save water, improve soil quality, and maybe even fight climate change.

“Al Ruozi was the inspiration for much of the innovation that happened over the next 30 years,” says Jeff Mitchell, a conservation specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Bakersfield was a harsh place in the 1930s, when Ruozi quit school to help out on the family farm. The dust storms of the U.S. prairies had sent thousands of farmers west to California in search of jobs and land. The country was still recovering from the Great Depression, with unemployment improving only after 1933, when it peaked at 25 percent.

The Okies in the shantytowns of Bakersfield had to contend with hostile locals and inadequate sanitation that sometimes led to dysentery, impetigo or hookworm. In December 1936, concern about disease led a group of Bakersfield citizens to burn down an Okie slum that housed 1,500 people.

LESSONS OF THE DUST BOWL

We now know that the seeds of the Dust Bowl were sown in the 1920s, when the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains was broken by gasoline-driven plows, destroying native grasses and ruining the ability of the land to hold itself together, and thus retain moisture. In the 1930s, the ecological payback of the disaster wasn’t as clear as it is today. Yet somehow, the lessons of the prairies’ raging dust storms were not completely lost on a teenaged Ruozi. He saw that land could be ruined, and he suspected that the plow was to blame.

He nursed his concerns as he worked behind a horse-drawn plow, tilling his family’s land by slashing into the compacted dirt with the very practice that had contributed to the plight of the refugees huddled in squalid camps a few miles away. “The idea hit me,” he recalled during a recent conversation in his Bakersfield office. “I thought, why is the ground so hard?” Ruozi resolved to find a way to make it more “pliable.”

He got his chance about a decade later, when he returned to Bakersfield following some time in welding school and a stint in the Army during World War II. In 1948, Ruozi and his brother Gilbert bought and assembled a Quonset hut, one of the semi-cylindrical pre-fabricated structures that were used by the U.S. military in World War II and sold as surplus to the public afterward.

THE JOYS OF TINKERING

Ruozi called the new company Interstate Equipment and Manufacturing Corp. He worked there with his torch, using his welding skills to make potato-tillage equipment for a nearby manufacturer. All the while, he kept tinkering. “I’d pick up an old machine here or there, any time there was a scrap machine, and see if I could make it work,” Ruozi says. “I started out that way. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”

By the early 1950s, he was making his own patented machine. He called it the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including some good photos.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 10:46 am

For the First Time, Big Oil Is Held Liable for Climate Change

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Paola Rosa-Aquino writes in New York:

A Dutch court on Wednesday ruled Royal Dutch Shell must dramatically reduce its carbon emissions because of its contributions to climate change, the first time a fossil-fuel company has been held legally liable for its role in heating up the planet. The landmark decision could set a precedent for similar cases against oil, gas, and coal industries.

The Hague District Court ruled that the energy giant has a “duty of care” to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and that its current reduction plans are not concrete enough. According to the court’s judgment, the company must slash its emissions by 45 percent by 2030, from 2019 levels, to meet global climate goals under the Paris Agreement — a much higher reduction than Shell’s current aim of lowering its emissions 20 percent in that same amount of time. The Paris Agreement “applies to the entire world, so also to Shell,” the judge said. “Royal Dutch Shell has to implement this decision at once.”

The lawsuit was filed in April 2019 by seven groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, on behalf of 17,200 Dutch citizens who say Shell is threatening human rights as it continues to invest billions in the production of fossil fuels. According to the Guardian, the court heard that Shell’s production and sale of oil are responsible for about 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions every year.

“This is a turning point in history,” Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands, told the Guardian. “This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting corporation to comply with the Paris climate agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters.”

Indeed, while only legally binding in the Netherlands, the ruling may have a ripple effect on other climate litigation seeking action to rein in emissions and hold oil companies financially liable. Most climate-lawsuit cases focus on claiming damages for past harm caused by climate change, such as the “Kid’s Climate Case” where plaintiffs argued the U.S. government violated their constitutional right to a stable climate, whereas the Shell case looks into the future. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2021 at 5:08 pm

Price of lithium-ion batteries

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The price of lithium-ion batteries has fallen 97% since 1991. That may have something to do with the burst of interest in electric cars.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2021 at 3:49 pm

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