Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Paul Krugman - deniers of global warming are betraying the planet

On June 29th NYT columnist and 2008 Nobel Prize winner in economics "contends the denial displayed by climate-change opponents amounts to treason against the health of the Earth." (From the sub-head of the column in the June 30th Houston Chronicle.)

In his column entitled "Betraying the Planet," he makes his point clear:

"To appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by climate research.

"The planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: Icae caps are shrinking, and arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe - a rise in temperature so large as to be considered almost unthinkable - can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the ost likely outcome if we continue along our present course."

MIT researchers were predicting a temperature rise of four degrees. That number has been amended to nine degrees. One of the reasons for this is that the oceans, once considered the best natural source of CO2 absorption, are not performing at formerly predicted levels.

Further the process is an oroborus, feeding off itself. As temperatures rise, Arctic tundra will defrost, releasing more, formerly frozen, CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to the Greenhouse Effect responsible for the heating up of the planet.

A recent government document puts it in a more human perspective:

"By the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country, extreme, deadly heat waves - the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation - may become annual or biannual events.

Krugman points his finger:

"People...show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don't like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they've decided not to believe in it - and they'll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

"Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia [said] climate change is nothing but a 'hoax' that has been 'perpertrated out of the scientific community.' I'd call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists."

Heh Heh.

Yeah, an international cabal of thousands of scientists have all set aside their research to come together and scare the pants off of everyone.

However silly this may seem (and absolutely is), the declaration was met by applause.

Also misrepresented by these naysayers is the economic impact. All studies show that the economic impact will be "relatively low."

This is coming from, as I said, the 2008 Nobel Prize winner in economics. Hello?!?

"The deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore [the] threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it's in their political interest to pretend that there's nothing to worry about," Krugman writes in the closing paragraphs.

"If that's not betrayal, I don't know what is."

Monday, June 29, 2009

New head of TCEQ

Bryan Shaw, the new head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has his doubts that humans contribute to global warming.


Oh, he was appointed by Rick Perry. That explains it.

How stupid (or easily bought) can people be?

By that token no one is starving in the world, no one is being tortured or murdered and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong Il are all good guys.

What makes people decide they can believe some aspects of reality yet nay-say others? How greedy and ignorant can people be?

Mr. Shaw, please give James Hansen at GISS a call. He is obviously more informed, intelligent and free of politician's money and favors than you are.

The Catastrophist

The June 29th issue of The New Yorker contains a feature on James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in NYC. He is also one of the leading experts on climate change on the planet.

He earned the job through the Ph.D. in physics he received from the University of Iowa where he wrote his dissertation on the atmosphere of Venus, a planet that illustrates the Greenhouse Effect to the nth degree.

Beginning in 1981 he became the director of GISS and later that year forecast that the decade would be peculiarly warm. That prediction came true. He went further to say that the 90s would be even warmer. Right again.

Narrowing the issue, he bet a roomful of scientist that 1990 or one of the two following years would be the warmest on record. According to the article, "Withing nine months, he had won the bet."

During the Bush administration, the White House "insisted that all communications between GISS and the outside world be routed through political appointees at the agency." This is one of the policies that led Howard Dean to accuse the administration of bullying scientists when it came to discussing gloabal warming or the milder term, climate change. He was also forbidden from giving a "routine interview" on NPR.

Not that the Obama administration is doing much better. He gave a letter to John Holdren, a friendly acquaintance of Hansen's and Obama's chief science advisor.

The letter read, in part:

"'A stark scientific conclusion, the we must reduce greenhouse gases below present amounts to preserve nature and humanity has become clear. It is still feasible to avert climate disasters, but only if policies are consisitent with what science indicates to be required.'"

In a later email, Holdren stated he could not discuss "'what I have or haven't given or said to the President.'"

Hansen said he hopes that Obama grasped "the reality of the issue and would seize the opportunity to marry the energy and climate and national-security issues and make a very strong program."

"'Maybe he still will, but I'm getting bad feelings about it.'"

Yes, the Earth has undergone climate fluctuations, but what is happening now "is that climate history is being run in reverse and at high speed, like a cassette tape on rewind.'" (I won't go into the obscolence of that statement.) It continues: "Carbon dioxide is being pumped into the air some ten thousand times faster than natural weathering processes can remove it."

While ice sheets won't melt overnight, when they do, "sea levels will go up two hundred and fifty feet. So [it can't happen] without producing a different planet."

There is no specific term for the human footprint on the environment, but scientists and policy-makers have come up with "dangerous anthropogenic interference."

CO2 is already at a dangerous level - 385 parts per million, 35 ppm over the hazardous level. One way to fight this is to cut off coal. Clean coal plants could curb this but "for a combination of technological and economic reasons, it's not clear that [this will ever happen]."

The amount of summer ice on the Arctic ice cap is "only a little over half what it was just 40 years ago."

As a result, "highly populated areas, including the Southwest and the Mediterranean basin, are likely to suffer more and more frequent droughts." I live in Texas. I can testify to this firsthand.

And although John Holdren has been wishy-washy on his communication (or lack thereof) with the president, he does say:

"'Any reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date look at the evidence makes clear that civilization has already generated dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system."

And Steven Chu, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and current Energy Secretary, said in a speech, "'There's enough carbon in the ground to really cook us. Coal is my worst nightmare.'"

Hansen also states that "'Almost everyone in the scientific community is prepared to say that if we don't do something now to reverse the direction we're going in we either already are or will very, very soon be in the danger zone.'"

Rather than the current cap-and-trade system now facing a Senate vote, he suggests direct taxes on emissions and distributed back to Americans on a per-capita basis. This would mean that "households that use less energy would actually make money." Those that use more would soon find it prohibitively expensive. (This would be a good place to encourage solar panels or wind generators for the home and business.)

Hansen feels the best thing to happen to the cap-and-trade bill would be to fail so that Congress would have to "'come back and do it more sensibly.'"

He argues that politicians "willfully misunderstand climate change." By the same token, "it could be argued that Hansen just willfully misunderstands politics."

A conumdrum either way, a sympathetic lawmaker recently approached Hansen and said, "'I assume you're used to telling policy-makers the truth and then having them ignore you.'"

'"You're right,'" was Hansen's reply.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What does the climate bill mean?

The Associated Press' Dina Cappiello and Eric Carvin have given readers a brief overview of what cap-and-trade, offsets and pollution credits actually mean. Rather than re-word it here, I direct you to the Houston Chronicle's site:

Questions and answers about the US climate bill

Tomorrow, a rundown of a New Yorker article about James Hanson, NASA's climate expert and a scientist that predicted the current warming trends over 30 years ago, starting when he working on his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Iowa. His dissertation? The atmosphere of Venus. (Hint: it's primarily CO2 and HOT! - even hotter than its proximity to the sun would explain and a prime example of the greenhouse effect.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a couple years old now....

but I wrote this for a UT Libertarian magazine in 2007. It was in the wake of Molly Ivins' death and was meant to capture her spirit but it addresses the theme of this blog:

He actually said it.

During January’s State of the Union address, the current president of the United States [George H.W. Bush] actually admitted that the doomsayers, dirty stinking hippies and celebrity pundits may just be right about this whole crazy global warming thing. After years of denying statistics, the administration is finally opening its eyes to the signs of climate change.

The [then] president stated goals that included cutting oil consumption by a fifth by 2017, which would reduce our independence on foreign oil by a projected 75%. The math seems a little wonky to me, but I ain’t no economist, so I’ll take it at face value.

Ignoring ambiguity, the proclamation does make sense. After all, most major oil companies have begun extensive research into alternative energy, so as the titular head of both the country and the oil community, the [then] current president of the United States was sure to follow.

Such was not always the case, however. In a [not so] recent report to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, it was alleged that pressure had been placed on scientists to avoid apparently loaded phrases like “global warming” and “climate change” when reporting findings.

Democratic Party Chairman, Howard “Scrappy” Dean, went so far as to accuse the current administration of “bullying scientists” on CNN’s “Situation Room”.

So, until [not so] recently, the administration wanted, sometimes forced, scientists to lie to Americans and the world. Over 150 countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations sponsored agreement designed to reduce fossil fuel emissions to their pre-1990 levels. The US signed the accord, but did not ratify it.

The worst part of it is, the decision to fly in the face of facts had nothing to do with public safety - it wasn’t a safeguard against mass hysteria. They just wanted America to keep consuming.

This isn’t the first time a scientist’s findings have been suppressed by the arrogant and power-mad to protect their power. Nicolaus Copernicus was branded a heretic in the 16th century for making the blasphemous assertion that the Earth was not the center of the known universe.

Such hubris was not unheard of; he wasn’t the first person to make this claim. Normally one who did so would be punished forthwith and severely, but Copernicus came from a good enough family that he was somewhat protected and even enjoyed readership by Catholic luminaries until it caused dissension.

He died, disgraced among students and friends before seeing the final edition of his works published.

Even though the Church recognized the validity of Copernicus’s claims, to make them public would mean admitting it was wrong. How, after hundreds of years, could the Pontiff approach the flock and say, “Well, actually, we were wrong about being the center of the universe, but everything else we say is right on”?

However, the Church knew that sooner or later someone with one of those new-fangled telescopes would wise up, so it changed its tune.

Fortunately, the only real crisis the Church was facing then was one of pride.

Unfortunately, the crisis we are facing now is more material than that.

In March 2002, a chunk of ice the size of Rhode Island broke off the Thwaite Glacier in Antarctica and melted into the sea. Since there were no reports of mass amounts of whiskey introduced to the aquatic segment of the ecosphere, I would assume heat was the cause. Yet nothing was done to minimize consumption.

Granted, Antarctica is far from a vacation spot and barely qualifies for extended research visits, so one may be tempted to ask, “Who cares?”

Well, probable penguin protesters aside, what about Greenland? Earth’s northernmost independent landmass worth mention is shedding its icy shield like gran’ma and her panties under the spell of Wayne Newton. That must be heat, ‘cuz there ain’t no Caesar’s in Greenland.

Not yet.

I don’t think.

Although I hold the secret hypothesis that an ice castle in Greenland belonging to a major player in the current administration melted and ruined all her fun [that would be Condee], the fact of the matter is that oil reserves are dwindling. That, I’m sure, was the big wake up call for the current executive branch.

Just as the Catholic church was forced to change its dogma in the face of advancing scientific knowledge in order to save its mug from blistering in the shifting winds of public opinion and an increasingly hostile Mother Nature, this [then] administration had no choice but to call for a decrease in fossil fuel consumption.

It may a case of too little, too late, however. Even if all the accords of the Kyoto Protocol are met and Americans begin walking to the corner store today, scientists estimate that sea levels will rise 7-23 inches by the end of this century.

Well, it’s about time you woke up, sleepyheads. Sorry, the coffee is cold and stale. Me, I’m going out to buy some beachfront property just south of College Station.

[Unfortunately, nothing was ever really done by said administration and this one seems flummoxed by political wrangling.]

Solar-powered plane

Check this out:

The Swiss have developed a plane that uses no fuel other than the sun and rechargeable lithium batteries that power four electric motors.

It's called the Solar Impulse and it's badass.

It's begun

The House of Representatives narrowly passed an energy and climate change bill designed to revamp the nation's industrial economy.

But it barely passed by a vote of 219-212, which does not bode well for the fate of the bill in the senate where it is expected to undergo changes and rewrites. Even with Democrats holding the majority vote, 44 of them voted against the bill, although only three Texas dems voted against it.

Going back to what I said about pawns of the petroleum industry, Texas Republicans called the bill a "'monstrosity' that would result in 'epic job losses' and 'largest tax increase in history'," according to an article in the June 27th Houston Chronicle. To those and their ilk, I refer them to yesterday's column about cap-and-trade that distinguishes between cost and price.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, on the other hand stated that the result "is a reasonable first step to protecting our energy infrasructure and keeping good-paying jobs here at home." This seems more consistent with the projections of non-partisan experts.

Only time, of course, will tell. But here's to hoping the Democrats and the experts are right.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Now this is pretty @#*!ing cool.

In the July 2009 issue of Scientific American, the cover story explores the already-tested practice of using second generation bio-fuels (ethanol would be considered first generation) made from the inedible parts of plants like corn stalks, scrap wood (including sawdust) and plants like switchgrass (which grows in sandy, low water areas that are not suited to agriculture) to create viable bio-fuels.

By using heat or chemical processes to break down cellulose, the plant waste can be converted into fuels such as bio-diesel, reducing our dependence on foreign (and declining domestic) oil without reducing the amount of biomass for food (a problem with ethanol, which is primarily made from corn).

This "scrap" biomass has the potential to produce more than 100 billion gallons of grassoline per annum - "about half the current annual consumption of gasoline and diesel in the U.S."

In addition this biomass can be converted into a vast array of fuel - "ethanol, ordinary gasoline, diesel, even jet fuel."

As a bonus, some plants "such as the short-rotation willow coppice, will decontaminate soil that has been polluted with wastewater or heavy meatals as it grows." This means that not only will carbon emissions be reduced (bio-fuels burn cleaner than petroleum based propellents), but damaged land can eventually be restored to an agriculturally sound state.

And while one of the by-products of the rendering process is CO2, the emissions are negligible in comparison to the burning of fossil fuels. Plus, agriculture jobs could be created in areas of the country where they did not exist before.

Win, win, win, win and WIN again.

Cap and trade

In a June 26th column in the Houston Chronicle, Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund and Andrew M. Liveris, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Dow Chemical Company lay out the benefits of such a policy.

Cap-and-trade is a free market way of ensuring environmentally and economically sound ways of reducing our dependence on carbon-emitting fuels while allowing companies to continue their business almost as usual. Companies are given carbon credits.

The column explains it thus:

"Companies that are under their emission targets can sell their allowances on a new carbon market. Companies that cannot meet their targets can buy extra allowances from the same carbon market. Cap-and-trade uses the efficiency of the marketplace to drive innovation, creating new carbon-reducing technologies at the lowest possible cost."

When acid rain became a true menace in the '80s, the Clean Air Act was instituted and "the cap-and-trade approach reduced emissions faster, and more cheaply, than anyone predicted. Under cap and trade, government doesn’t pick winners and losers — private markets do that job."

The tag team columnists go on to say, "This is how it should be."

For those who argue that this could be crippling to the economy, especially in its current state, the pair clarify:

"Opponents claim that this bill will result in higher energy costs. They are confusing price with cost. Although this legislation will lead to modestly higher energy prices, this, in turn, will lead to greater energy efficiency and new, cleaner energy technologies. This will, in all likelihood, result in lower overall energy costs. A true win, win, win — lower energy costs, greater energy security and fewer carbon emissions!"

Not only that, but the policy has the potential of creating new jobs in the lagging manufacturing industry.

"A single wind turbine, for example, contains 250 tons of steel and 8,000 parts, from ball bearings and electronic controls to gearboxes. Jobs manufacturing those parts can be created right here in America, especially in our manufacturing heartland, the Midwest. Ohio has lost more than 213,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. For Michigan, the figure is almost 497,000 jobs lost. One way to jump-start our economy is with a cap-and-trade bill."

Another win, making it a win, win, win, WIN situation.

And keep in mind, one of the co-authors is the head of Dow Chemical, a company not exactly renowned for its environmental and social responsibility.

Wake up, America!

Climate Change

IS a reality. The only ones denying it are the politicians with their hands in the petroleum pocket and their pundits. The Bush administration is no longer in power and therefore not bullying scientists anymore but idiots like Rush Limbaugh are still in denial.

Today he stated that average temperatures have decreased over the last seven years. This is in direct conflict with scientific findings. Not only is that just plain dumb, it's tragically irresponsible. Take some more oxycontin and crawl in a hole, jackass.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thomas Friedman has it right on (almost)

In his June 24th column, three time Pulitzer winner Thomas Friedman of the New York Times suggests that the "Green Revolution" in Iran could be best supported by a Green Revolution in the western world, particularly the US.

His column, titled The Green Revolution(s), states simply and directly that the student- and reformer-led revolution in the divided country would have the best support from the west if we would only lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

Despite our protestations of the treatment of his people, Jews, foreigners and anyone else not falling into the conservative Islamic line, the theologically backed Ahmadinejad's arrogant anti-western stance is only fueled by the fact that we need Iranian oil more than the Iranians need anything from us.

He proposes a $1 "Freedom Tax" on gasoline (with "rebates for the poor and elderly") that would have a three-fold effect:

"It would stimulate more investment in renewable energy now; it would stimulate more consumer demand for the energy-efficient vehicles that the reborn General Motors and Chrysler are supposed to make; and, it would reduce our oil imports in a way that would surely affect the global price and weaken every petro-dictator," he writes.

This is all well and good but there is one Leviathan-sized caveat that I can see: the current economy.

If Obama - who, in my humble opinion is doing the best he can with the huge pile of dinosaur dung that the Bush administration left him - even so much as proposed such a tax, the lynch mobs in front of the White House would not be far behind.

Some auto manufacturers are offering incentives and deals on hybrids and fuel effiecient vehicles (as well as not so efficient) and at this point, that's really all they can do.

While I agree with Friedman's assessment that reducing our dependency on foreign oil would pull the rug out from under said "petro-dictators", such a proposed tax is utterly unfeasible in this beleaguered economy.

Not everyone makes the kind of money a prize-winning NYT columnist pulls down.

It's like I've always said:

Idealism is great but usually falls only within the demesne of the weak and the rich. Those living paycheck to paycheck, the un- and underemployed simply cannot afford such lofty Utopian goals. Not now. But they (we as I'm among the jobless currently) CAN do something: use public transportation, walk to the corner store, use our bikes for short trips and do anything else to reduce our carbon footprint.

That said, Ahmadinejad is the truly evil one and, to quote Cpl. Maxwell Klinger of M*A*S*H, may the fleas of a thousand camels nest in his armpits.

And may the ghost of Neda Agha-Soltan haunt him in both this life and the next.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Houston recycling...

Is practically non-existent as far as the municipality goes. There are plenty of places to take recyclable materials (most schools have dumpster-sized paper recycling bins and private establishments exist) but there is no curbside service.

According to an article last year in the New York Times, Houston ranks last among the nation's largest cities in recycling, reprocessing only 2.6% of waste. San Francisco and New York (New York!) recycle 69 and 34 percent respectively.

While certain sections of Houston have been provided with bins, most have not and the outlying suburbs (where I currently reside) don't even seem to know what recycling is.

Houston has long been considered the "world's energy capital" (let not the ghost of Enron malinger too long in our memories) yet creates an abominable amount of waste. This is a city of culture - of museums, music, theatre and big business - yet still has the mentality of an over-consuming America of the '50s.

C'mon, people now!!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I'm back

Things have not been going well but I'm in a better place and getting my $h1+ together. Now I'm trying to decide whether I want a hybrid or a clean diesel car. Leaning toward a clean diesel VW. CDVW, yeah.