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Dancing on the Head of a Pin

July 26, 2018

Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow with the Post Carbon Institute, has written a rebuttal to a recent article by Ted Nordhaus, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute. Nordhaus's theory of planetary carrying capacity can be summarized as follows: we can engineer our way out of the problem. And he's willing to bet your life and mine that he's right! Nordhaus admits no constraints on human population of the earth, basing his theory on another specious assumption, called decoupling. Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, Nordhaus, and other economists, maintain that "each increment of economic growth in developed economies has brought lower resource and energy use than the last."

Heinberg is quick to point out that an analysis of decoupling thus far is merely the result of an accounting error. In other words, the numbers Nordhaus relies upon are fractions, barely supporting his claims. In order for the developing world to enjoy a standard of livi…
Recent posts

To Bee or Not to Bee - Update

July 8, 2018

I like to walk around each day to look at the flower beds I've planted, always in the morning. It's been an unusual growing year; our weather has been cool and overcast, the lack of sun slowing plant growth considerably. One plant that has kept me guessing since I planted it two years ago is a Blue Sea Holly, which I have in a flower bed facing south. It took forever, but this year it produced flowers - unusual, spiky-looking things that are still, gradually turning a dusty-looking gray-blue. One of the most notable features of the plant has been its ability to attract bees. For the past few weeks I've seen swarms of them hovering around the 3 foot tall mass of clover-like flowers each day.

This makes me happy, because - like all of you, I suspect - I'm aware of the trouble bees are in. In past years, I've seen wooden boxes full of the creatures delivered to various farmers' fields in the area. This year, there were no deliveries; the fields have b…

Who Ya Gonna Call?

May 25, 2018

To be clear, the current Administration in charge of the American government does not accept that human beings are responsible for climate change. Most governments do, of course: 194 signed the Paris Climate Agreement, from which only one - the U.S. - has withdrawn. By my calculation, that leaves 193 participating countries. The reason is clear: the United States believes that the cost of mitigating climate change will fall largely upon its ample shoulders. Given that the majority of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere originated, until quite recently, in the U.S., this would seem just and fair. American business magnates think otherwise.

Europeans, though prone to outbursts of intercontinental fury into which they manage to draw millions of frightened-witless bystanders, frequently view the world in pragmatic terms when not thusly occupied. Copernicus may, in my opinion, be offered as proof of this pragmatism. The name of a program initiated by the European Uni…

Dust to Dust

May 4, 2018
Have you ever experienced a dust storm? I have, only once, decades ago in northern Texas. I recall that, from inside my home, the dust looked like a wall of yellow, moving slowly in our direction. The winds must not have been terribly strong; nothing was dislodged or knocked down. I've always loved storms of any kind, and thought it was pretty exciting.

There was a very powerful dust storm in northern India two days ago. Reports says 125 people were killed, and almost 200 injured. The storm struck at night, resulting in the high number of casualties. This, and the fact that the wind blew in an intense downward direction, demolishing buildings and knocking down trees in its wake. As is frequently the case with storms of this variety, it followed a period of extraordinarily high temperatures. Nearby, across the border in Pakistan,  the town of Nawabshah had just suffered through temperatures reported at 122F.

Astonishingly, there are supposed to have been 41,000 lightnin…

Dicamba Drift and the Monsanto Merger

March 15, 2018 -
A lesson in evolution: When farmers spray weed killer on their fields, there will always be a small number of weeds that survive. They have a natural resistance to the weed killer in their genetic makeup. Those are the weeds that go to seed that year, their children producing a crop of herbicide-resistant weeds the following year. By the next year, the farmer's fields are producing more and more herbicide-resistant weeds. What's a farmer to do? For those unwise enough to remain on the chemical treadmill, there's only one solution. Buy a stronger weed killer - to which a small number of weeds will, inevitably, be resistant.

This is precisely what happened to farmers that use Monsanto's weed-killer, RoundUp.  Monsanto's low-cost, highly ineffective solution to RoundUp-resistant weeds was to sell these farmers Dicamba, an old chemical weed killer with a tendency to drift. When pesticides travel on the wind, or drift, they damage crops and human health…

A Carbon-Free Grid

March 3, 2018 - Scientists at the University Of California, Irvine; the California Institute of Technology; and the Carnegie Institution of Science recently published an article stating that the United States could meet 80 percent of its electricity needs with solar and wind power. To sweeten the deal, the price of solar and wind have been dropping rapidly. The remaining 20 percent could be provided by alternate sources of energy such as hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. These sources currently meet 8.5 percent of electrical demand, and can be expanded. The remaining deficit would be met by managing demand.

The larger grid required for transmission of solar and wind power would have to be continental in scale, or 12 hours' worth of the energy would have to be stored in new facilities. This degree of expansion would require hundreds of billions of dollars in investment. Storing the electricity with today's cheapest batteries would cost a trillion dollars, although the price …

The SunShot Initiative

In 2007, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. was 1.1 gigawatts (GW). As of 2017, that amount has increased to 47.1 GW. Enough to power 9.1 million average American homes. If you're thinking "we've still got a long way to go," you'd be right. On the other hand, increasing installed power by 4300% deserves some attention.  How'd we do it?

The Department of Energy played an important role. In 2011, they initiated a program called The SunShot Initiative. They set targets for the years 2020 and 2030, by which times generating solar power would have become more affordable. More affordable on a utility scale, more affordable on a commercial scale, and more affordable on a residential scale. Thus far, they've succeeded in hitting the 2020 goal for utility-scale generation. Needless to mention, they reached that goal three years early. The goals, it should be mentioned, don't take subsidies into account. It's the technology, in the case of util…