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Monday Morning Music - “time has come ~ to say fair’s fair…”

December 31, 2007 Comments off

Meet Australia’s new Minister Of Environment, Heritage, and Arts

Yep, Peter Garrett, the Aussie Labor Party representative best known as the lead singer from Midnight Oil is now the Environment Minister Down Under.  No lightweight celebrity, he actually is qualified to lay down the law and make it stick, a politician who is also a musician.

How did this happen?  Australia is in deep trouble, and climate-change denial has gotten a bloody nose from reality.  They’re only a mile or so ahead of us on the same road we’re traveling.

The view from way up high

October 24, 2007 2 comments

I admit to being a gawker at times, though I am careful to stay the hell out of emergency personnel’s way.  But if you want a clear view of what’s going on, or at least a broader perspective, it’s hard to beat the view from up high somewhere.

Like NASA’s view from orbit, for instance. Be sure to click on the “full view” if you have broadband.
(From Discovering Biology in a digital world)

Blog Action Day

October 15, 2007 1 comment

At first sight, “Blog Action Day” sounds like “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Compassionate Conservative”, but hey, dudes, think about it!!!!!!!!!!!!

I mean, like, if we could, like get all the bloggers at once to blog on ONE topic, all at once, it’d like, totally freak out the man, dude!!!!!

Today’s Blog Action Day is for the environment.  We’re all supposed to ‘blog about the environment’ today.  Well OK, though it makes a hell of an assumption about what “bloggers” think about “the environment”.  So here goes.  I’ll just post a quote:

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.
- Herbert George Wells

There.  I blogged about the environment. 

(OK, I guess it is important to talk about stuff.  As long as we also do stuff.  Recycle an aluminum can today, OK?  And air up the tires on your bicycle.  Try using it for actual transportation once in a while.)

What your parents obviously neglected

October 5, 2007 13 comments


When I was a kid, one of the attitudes I absorbed from my dad was that dropping litter was a sign of slovenly and disreputable character.  Anyone who would just leave their trash lying around was acting like the world belonged to them when plainly, it doesn’t.

So, cigarette-butt tossing person, McDonald’s bag tossing person, Starbucks’ Frappuccino-cup tossing person, KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY!!!  There’s a trash can right over there!!!

The illusion of stability

September 5, 2007 2 comments

The world is full of “spiritual” writers with their deep insights about our connection to this and that, or overworked and misused terminology they’ve stolen, not borrowed, from quantum mechanics.  Reading Deepak Chopra or Gary Zukav waving their incense and auras is like eating cheese puffs – artificial coloring, hydrogenated fats, and not a nutrient in sight.

At the other extreme, some of the most profound and moving written works I have ever read were from real scientists and science writers.  There is a discipline in reality that gives strength to awe.  Chris Clarke of Creek Running North is one of that guild.  He has the discipline to get his facts straight.  He also spends an awful lot of time out in the desert, watching.  Here is an excerpt from his latest session:

“…The desert has been working on me the whole time. It is a matter of thresholds. At some point the pressure becomes too great. Running this morning, the fence lizards that lined my path saw me coming from some yards away, and yet they did not retreat stealthily, methodically. Instead they froze in place until the terror I instilled in them became too great. A trigger reached when the clomping of my clumsy feet became too much to bear, they exploded one by one into noisy flight.

This is the geometry of change in the natural world. Continuous change is uncommon, and where found it is usually part of a cycle, the increase by small increments…”
Excerpted from Chris Clarke’s essay; There is no balance of Nature

The full essay is a scientific meditation on instability and change in the biological world.  It is an antidote to oversimplification.  It is beautiful.

Getting hot in more ways than one

August 21, 2007 5 comments

A comment from Ed on the previous post prompted me to look for news reports on the heat wave.  Apparently US weather is getting global attention: China View reports Heat wave kills 49 in Southeast, Midwest, U.S..

  BEIJING, Aug. 20 (Xinhuanet)—Two more persons in Memphis, Tennessee, were killed by the two-week heat wave, bringing the number of heat wave victims in Southeast and Midwest of the United Sates to at least 49, according to media reports Monday.

  In Memphis, Tennessee, the heat-related death toll in nine days has reached to 12. Most victims were elderly and living in homes without air-conditioning…

I would love to think this is an isolated weather event and not a climate trend – because honestly the latter thought frightens me.  But there’s this report from Phoenix:

Average number of 110+ degree days at Phoenix Sky Harbor per year by decade:
1950s: 6.7
1960s: 10.3
1970s: 17.0
1980s: 19.0
1990s: 13.6
2000s: 21.6

If this trend continues – and it sure ain’t slowing down – it’s going to do us a lot more damage than any terrorist organization ever could.  It’s past time for half-hearted measures; we need change NOW and it’s got to come from individuals, from governments, and from corporations. 

I don’t know if it’s a hopeful sign, or a warning, that even conservatives are finally catching on. Maybe I’ll believe it when I see people moving closer to work, driving less hoggy cars, bicycling, recycling aluminum (which saves a butt-load of energy), etc.  And – oh yeah – voting for candidates who take the environment seriously. 

Reactors being shut down because the river is too hot to cool them

August 20, 2007 9 comments

Here’s one I never thought of: nuclear reactors along the Tennessee river are being shut down because the river is too warm to cool them.

The nation’s largest public utility shut down Unit 2 about 5:42 p.m. CDT because water drawn from the Tennessee River was exceeding a 90-degree average over 24 hours, amid a blistering heat wave across the Southeast. “We don’t believe we’ve ever shut down a nuclear unit because of river temperature,” said John Moulton, spokesman for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based utility.
- Houston Chronicle: TVA reactor shut down: cooling water from river too hot

I’m sort of a fan of nuclear power but… what do you do then?  Redesign the cooling towers, I guess.  “Yes maam, we’ll have those towers redesigned and retrofitted and the reactor back up by next week.”  Maybe they could put massive intake fans along the base of the towers.  It’s an interesting problem in searching out a reduced-carbon energy infrastructure. 

Bigger than Kyoto

July 24, 2007 1 comment

Sometimes you see a problem; the solution appears painfully obvious, and you look at it wondering, “Why don’t they just fix it?” 

Here’s one of those problems: oil-field flares.  We’re talkin’ lots of of gas burnin’ – on the order of 24 billion cubic meters a year from the Niger delta fields alone.

Gas flares emit about 390 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, and experts say eliminating global flaring alone would curb more CO2 emissions than all the projects currently registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

Then you wonder, just what are the political, economic and technical barriers to fixing this problem?  Here’s one project I found, (.pdf) and the technical solution is obviously not all that simple.

It’s not just the CO2 – lots of other environmental and even social problems drift downwind from the oil-field flares.  The solution to the political component might be getting the right person to care.  That’s often a lot harder than the technological part

Conservation: easy and cheap

June 11, 2007 21 comments

No snowflake ever feels any responsibility for an avalanche:

SOME ways of cutting carbon are cheaper than others. So, at different carbon prices, different sorts of methods of abatement become worthwhile. Vattenfall, a Swedish power utility, has tried to quantify which ones would be worth undertaking at what price (see chart 3).

The result is a testament to economic irrationality. The measures below the horizontal line have a negative abatement cost—in other words, by carrying them out, people and companies could both cut emissions and save money. At a macroeconomic level they would boost, rather than reduce, economic growth…

Compared with pursuing greater energy efficiency, the abatement measures into which so much money is now being poured look rather expensive. Carbon capture and storage and wind and solar power, for instance, all have positive, and relatively high, abatement costs.

But the cheapest sources of abatement are difficult for policymakers to get at. Billions of different actors are involved. They cannot be targeted in the way that a few hundred factories can. What is more, a moderate carbon price is not likely to be effective, since people clearly do not care enough about cost…

Energy-efficiency standards, such as building regulations, are another option. Economists generally prefer to avoid rules that specify what companies can produce and how, because they require governments, rather than markets, to allocate resources, and markets tend to do a better job. But if, as in this case, a public as well as a private good is involved, and the market does not seem to be doing its job properly, there is an argument for governments giving it a nudge. (emphasis mine)

There are lots of energy-efficiency regulations in place already, and they are being tightened. Incandescent light bulbs are the top target at the moment. Both the European Union and Australia said earlier this year that they are planning to ban them. But the man in the vanguard of this green revolution is Fidel Castro, who started phasing them out two years ago.
The Economist, 31 May 2007, Irrational Incandescence: People can’t be bothered to make easy energy savings

That’s The Economist calling for government regulation of energy efficiency standards, folks – a real-live conservative magazine.  But they can read the writing on the wall, or in this case on the climate.  They’re not blinded by ideology.

In the meantime, I’m all for windmills, nuclear power plants, biogas generation, and synfuels as long as they’re not made from food crops.  But by FAR the biggest bang for the buck is in conservation.  And these are choices we can make.  Next time you buy a light bulb, get a compact flourescent.  Next time you buy a car, make it one that gets over 30 mpg.  Recycling just three aluminum cans saves over a kilowatt-hour of electricity.  Buying a house? Get close to your job… and so on.  Don’t wait for politicians to act!

Chris Mooney on James Hansen

March 12, 2007 Comments off

Check out the Seed Magazine profile of NASA climate scientist James Hansen written by bestselling author Chris Mooney.  It’s a good object lesson on how not to shut someone up in a democracy.  Might work in a dictatorship, though. 

Kinda reminds me of the old joke that ends; “OK granpaw, I got the wildcat – now tell me how to let go of him!”

UPDATE:  And as if to drive home the fact that they just haven’t learned their lesson, the Bush administration just issued a memo to travelling scientists that basically says; “I won’t mention climate change or polar bears…”