by guest writer Richard Reed:
© 2009 Richard Reed
By Michael Haughey, June 16, 2009
The White House has just released the climate change impact report required by Congress every four years. This certainly is a breath of fresh air (so to speak) compared to the dark office corners where such information might previously have been relegated. It is 196 pages long and probably deserves a detailed read. If you are interested in reading it,
The report is released and discussed on this web site:
The report can be downloaded by chapter or in full at this web site: http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/download-the-report
This report is apparently an update to the draft report released by the previous administration after a lawsuit to enforce the requirement by congress for the report.
Overall, I like what I’m seeing in the report given the intended audience. It collects a wide assortment of the available science and information into one document. It appears to be less constrained than the IPCC report, which needed a consensus from 130 nations for the summary document. A number of graphs are included and are generally quite easy to read and understand. The range of topics discussed is also broad, so it doesn’t appear that there are attempts to hide much, even if the emphasis in certain areas might be less than needed. After perusing the report, I do have some thoughts and comments:
There is a lot to discuss in the report. For starters, in the Executive Summary is included this sentence: “If emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, temperature increases are more likely to be near the upper end of the range.” I find that a little scary because the upper range of impacts should probably be a bit of a business-as-usual, or worst-case approach. If indeed that is the intent (and it may not be as explained in the release, that the scenarios are neither the highest or lowest possible), then it probably is not the upper range of possibility for one simple reason. That reason is that if we continue with business-as-usual, the rates of emissions release will increase. We have only to look at the impending methane crisis to see that. The release of methane from the Arctic is not really highlighted in the Summary (at least I didn’t find it), and that will be a powerful positive feedback mechanism. It is alluded to as “carbon” under the title “Carbon release and uptake” on page 16 of the summary. There is also this qualifier on page 26: “While analyses suggest that an abrupt release of methane is very unlikely to occur within 100 years, it is very likely that warming will accelerate the pace of chronic methane emissions from these sources, potentially increasing the rate of global temperature rise.” That is a bit like saying we don’t want to say it will happen, but don’t hold us to that. Maybe it will, or not.
The report summary mentions that methane is a shorter-lived gas in the atmosphere, or at least implies that. That leaves me wondering how much methane can be released and converted naturally to something else, and of course where does it go? Does that mean that eventually the carbon stored as methane can be released and converted into something relatively harmless? How long (in centuries or more I presume) would that take?
This statement is telling: “The European heat wave of 2003 is an example of the type of extreme heat event that is likely to become much more common. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, by the 2040s more than half of European summers will be hotter than the summer of 2003, and by the end of this century, a summer as hot as that of 2003 will be considered unusually cool.” I would not look forward to a world like that.
Regarding possible sea level rise, on page 25 I found this comment “There is some evidence to suggest that it would be virtually impossible to have a rise of sea level higher than about 6.5 feet by the end of this century.” The referenced study is “Pfeffer, W.T., J.T. Harper, and S. O’Neel, 2008: Kinematic constraints on glacier contributions to 21st-century sea-level rise. Science, 321(5894), 1340-1343.”
This is not so reassuring when one realizes that Kinematic (or rather kinematics) means, from Dictionary.com:
” – noun (used with a singular verb) Physics. 1. the branch of mechanics that deals with pure motion, without reference to the masses or forces involved in it.
2. Also called applied kinematics. the theory of mechanical contrivance for converting one kind of motion into another.”
I have to wonder if there was an assumption that water could only travel from glaciers to the sea as ice (in other words, mechanically). Further I wonder if the study only covered glaciers as implied in the title, and not the huge ice sheets on Greenland and the Antarctic. The authors could have assumed that the ice sheets just can’t melt that fast and proceeded from there. What we would be seeing, then, is a bit of circular logic. Certainly if the ice on Greenland or on the Antarctic were to melt, the resulting water would find a path to the sea. The big question here would be what is the temperature at the land-ice interface two miles or so down where the ice sheets meet the land. Perhaps someone can find a copy of that article and review it?
This is somewhat acknowledged in the statement on page 26: “Rapid ice sheet collapse with related sea-level rise is another type of abrupt change that is not well understood or modeled and that poses a risk for the future.”
Hurricanes are also afforded some summary discussion in the report. This statement on page 36 would make a good highlight of that section: “Even without further coastal development, storm surge levels and hurricane damages are likely to increase because of increasing hurricane intensity coupled with sea-level rise, the latter being a virtually certain outcome of the warming global climate.”
There is a lot that is known about hurricanes, and even more that is not. Clearly global warming will create conditions for stronger hurricanes, and sea level rise will increase the potential for greater storm surge damage. I have noticed, however, that hurricanes are very fickle. They seem easily torn apart by what is known as wind sheer, or basically a cross wind that disrupts the circulation of the storm. I would expect global warming to also increase the winds that tear apart hurricanes. The question I have, then, is will there come a point where the hurricanes are torn apart faster than they get stronger? Even if that occurs, will there still be some monster storms that get through and make devastating landfall?
The Gulf coast is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and the associated impacts of global warming. Consider this statement (regarding the Gulf coast) on page 63: “27 percent of the major roads, 9 percent of the rail lines, and 72 percent of the ports in the area shown on the map on the previous page are built on land at or below 4 feet in elevation, a level within the range of projections for relative sea-level rise in this region in this century.” Additional discussion of the amount of infrastructure and the value of commerce conducted in the region really highlights the potential severe disruptions. Considering how little of New Orleans has been rebuilt, one can only imagine the extent of this area that might eventually be abandoned due to climate change impacts.
My overall impression of this report is that it is a hopeful step in the right direction. It may seem gloomy, mostly because that is the reality. However we must keep in mind that the first step in solving any problem is to fully understand the problem. The more the problem is understood, the more the solution becomes self-evident.
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By Michael Haughey, June 12, 2009
We are in the middle of an epic struggle in the U.S. between The People and Corporate Insurance. The People, or We The People as used in the U.S. Constitution, is basically comprised of the humans who inhabit the United States of America. Depending upon how the issue is ultimately decided, the group may or may not include visitors and/or residents who are not citizens. Corporate Insurance is an odd one. It doesn’t really have as constituents any real people. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that corporations have the rights of people including the right to say just about anything they want even if it is not true, and that the use of money is essentially the equivalent to the use of a voice. The health insurance system as evolved in the U.S. has become primarily a health care denial system.
Recent rate increases coupled with higher “out-of-pocket” annual maximums, coupled also with lower percentages paid by insurance, and further coupled with fewer and fewer categories and specifics of care that are actually covered, have resulted in a system that fewer and fewer people can actually afford to use even if they DO have the insurance. Pay for preventive care? Forget it. So who, really, are the constituents? Would that include the upper level managers and executives? Perhaps some can afford their part of the health care costs when something serious happens, but they’ll find they are paying through the nose for something they thought the insurance company would cover. Those at the top? They probably can afford to pay for their health care even without the insurance. So neither of these groups are really constituents. What about employees of insurance companies? Do they get a good health care plan, like the one the U.S. Congress gets? So who are the constituents? How about the uber-wealthy owners of and investors in the insurance corporations? Wealthy owners do stand to make profits from denial care. Investors, such as 401k and retirement account customers are also potential recipients of the health care denial system. So while one hand giveth the other taketh away. Thus a few uber-wealthy and the non-human person of the corporation are the only identifiable true constituents. Yet to watch Congress you would think that ALL of their constituents are screaming that they must not consider the one system that would actually be good for We The People.
Could it be that political donations and financial threats are the real constituents? That tells us one thing. Our voices in demanding Universal Public-Funded Single-Payer User-Selected Provider Basic Health Care must be so loud and so insistent that members of congress can’t even hear the money talking above the din.
What about a Public Insurance Option? I listened (briefly due to my schedule) to Thom Hartmann and Bernie Sanders discussing the issue on the radio (Thom Hartmann & Bernie Sanders on Single-Payer: http://www.thomhartmann.com/2009/06/08/june-12th-2009-friday/ ). And let me say for the record that I am eternally grateful for the knowledge and insight and courage of both individuals. One idea they seemed to support (and I’m paraphrasing) is that a Public Insurance Option now would lead to the obvious result that single-payer would come to be better understood and seen as very favorable to the out-competed insurance options. My expectation is this: the forces of corporate Insurance, with their Supreme Court-given “right” to speak with money and to speak less than the truth, and with their substantial financial resources, will do what is necessary to “win”. The humans they hire are very bright and will be formidable adversaries in this struggle. Further, they will find a way to skim the better-off individuals from the public option, thus making the public option appear to be less effective.
Now is the time, perhaps the only time in the life of the members of We The People living today, to finally enact a health care system worthy of a developed country, just as all other developed countries have done. Lose this opportunity now and we lose the opportunity for generations of Americans to have reasonable health care. Remember that the corporate media will be of little help, even though most of their employees, just like the insurance company employees, are also at the mercy of the health denial system
For a discussion of the Single Payer option as it might be gaining traction in Congress, and others who support it, see the article “The Rise of Single-Payer Health Care”, by David Swanson, truthout: http://www.truthout.org/061209R . As the article explains, it is especially important to apply pressure to the U.S. Senate. Phone calls may be the most effective, but don’t discount standing on street corners. Attend town hall meetings and more. But if you stand on a street corner, make sure a photographer gets video posted on the Internet. Don’t expect any favorable coverage from corporate media. Note to corporate media – please prove me wrong! Do what is right.
Let me repeat: Our voices in demanding Universal Public-Funded Single-Payer User-Selected Provider Basic Health Care must be so loud and so insistent that members of congress can’t even hear the money talking above the din. We must act now.
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By Michael Haughey, June 10, 2009
Things are not well in the U.S. or in the rest of the world today. Yet two media events signal a reason for a glimmer of hope. No doubt there are many, many other reasons for hope. These two events, however, seem to signal the possible shift that so many have worked so hard to effect. But don’t get your hopes up too fast or without keeping your eyes, ears, and other senses wide open.
One media event was the broadcast, on live corporate media, ABC, of the media presentation Earth2100. I’m not sure if it is intended by the makers to be a documentary, a film, a marketing event, a way to gradually lull the populace into acceptance of the nearly inevitable, or perhaps some other motive. I’ll just refer to it as a media event. If you have not seen it, here is the link: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Earth2100/Â . I recommend viewing it for yourself, and I’m assuming that can be done on the Internet (someone please respond with the easiest way to do that).
The event, in brief, shows a scenario through the year 2100 of climate change and the impact on a fictitious character Lucy, and others. It is in part, or largely, animation. The picture it paints is not pretty. It depicts a turning point in the year 2015 when a world assembly is unable to agree on a path for dealing with climate change. The choice to deal with climate change, as I recall, is something like a 30% reduction in carbon energy use by something like the year 2030. This is a bit of a straw man that is put up and might give the impression that a goal to save 30% (through some unspecified measures and compared to some unspecified baseline consumption) by 2030 might avert the worst consequences to humans of climate change. My sense from following this issue is that we have already passed a turning point in terms of CO2 (carbon dioxide) concentration (when it was 350 PPM (parts per million) per James Hansen). Physical processes tend to have a hysteresis, so I would expect that to undo that turning point, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere would have to drop far below that turning point value. Maybe it needs to drop below 250 PPM or some other level. Pre-industrial levels were about 280 PPM and now it is 387 PPM and rising fast.
CO2 is unfortunately not the only climate change driver now. Another turning point may be in the works in the form of methane release. Huge amounts of methane are sequestered in frozen tundra (permafrost) and under the Arctic Ocean bottom in a sub-sea layer of permafrost. That methane is now releasing at an accelerating rate from thawing tundra and bubbling up from the ocean and other places as well. Methane has a global warming potential that is said to be from 21 to 30 times greater than that of CO2. The amount of methane in the atmosphere is relatively small, but enough to have an effect even at present levels. We will be hearing more of the term CO2 equivalent, which means a concentration of CO2 that is equivalent in terms of global warming impact to the actual mix of gasses in the atmosphere. CO2 and methane are the biggies, but there are others. I read in 2006 that methane and other gasses accounted for a CO2 equivalent of about 50 PPM in addition to the CO2. You can find some information about that in the Stern Report. “The amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the total amount of carbon locked up in global coal reserves” (from Independent.co.uk ,Exclusive: The methane time bomb, By Steve Connor, Science Editor, Tuesday, 23 September 2008). So it could be serious. Very serious.
The Earth 2100 media event mentions methane, however does not really put it in full perspective. The media event is predicated on the assumption that sea level rise will be about 6 feet by 2100 in this particular scenario. No one really knows, but it is worth mentioning that it could be a lot higher. There are basically three major sources of water for sea level rise. The one we have heard most about, and the only one accounted for in the IPCC 2007 report, is not really new water to the oceans, but water that is less dense due to warming. That is at most likely to account for just a few meters of sea level rise. Next is melting of glaciers on mountains, currently in progress, and worth a total potential of about 10 feet. The next source that has seen a lot of press recently, but is not included in the sea level rise predictions for the year 2100 is the melting of the land-based ice on Greenland, a potential of another 20 feet. Similarly, West Antarctica could account for another 20 feet. Finally, East Antarctica has enough land-based ice to account for another 170 feet of sea level rise. Many scientists don’t expect that to melt anytime soon, however we have to ask the question “what if” because all the previous predictions are now being exceeded. None of those predictions accounted for even the melting on Greenland let alone the potential release of methane or the melting of the land-based ice on East Antarctica. We, and I say we lightly as I probably won’t be around then, but “we” might wish the sea level rise would only be 6 feet.
The Earth2100 media event does “break the ice” in terms of corporate media exposure. Yet we must remain vigilant and make sure the corporate media does not put out a false scenario of what needs to be done that is likely in fact to be far, far less than what really needs to be done. What is really needed in my opinion is to reduce carbon output to less than 1990 levels about 5 years ago, to make all buildings net energy producers via aggressive energy conservation and use of renewable energy technologies, and to make all other energy uses very efficient and using only renewable energy. A tall order, yes. But also necessary in my opinion.
Press For Truth on KBDI Channel 12 in Broomfield, Colorado:
The other media event that gives rise to a glimmer of hope was the presentation of the documentary film “Press For Truth” on KBDI Channel 12 in Broomfield, Colorado. It was presented on television during their fund-raiser. Here is the link: http://www.kbdi.org/tv_schedule/program_details.cfm?series_id=27672920. While not corporate media, the presentation on KBDI was a first for a major TV broadcast. The documentary raises questions about the World Trade Center Tower demolitions on September 11, 2001. Questions that need to be answered and that so far have been seriously covered up.
The importance of this event lies in the implications of the forces that remain and that unless exposed are likely to continue to wreak havoc. This is not necessarily to say that individuals must be prosecuted, although certainly in some cases that will be appropriate and just. Lets just say the hippies of the 60’s got it right. It is the system. In spite of changes to the U.S. presidency and administration, the forces of that system remain fully in place. The unchecked “profit motive” and the fiduciary requirement of corporations to make a profit for shareholders above all other considerations remains in place. The granting of personhood and associated “free speech” rights to corporations that the U.S. Supreme Court has extended to allow lying as protected free speech has put the incredible power of corporate money ahead of the public good. That remains in place. The influence and power of both the wealthy and their paid lobbyists also remains. All this and more, taken together, has throughout history, and again on September 11, 2001, resulted in an event of unbelievable magnitude and implication. The World Trade Center Towers 1, 2, and 7 were brought down by controlled demolition. By whom and for what specific reasons? That is why we need an investigation that is complete, thorough, transparent, and independent. To find out. To learn. To make changes. The list of possible suspects is long indeed. The investigation may need to be international due to the probable conflicts of interest that will be difficult to know in advance of knowing the results.
The documentary “Press For Truth” lays out a small part of the case for a true investigation. There are many other films as well that make different parts of the case. It is a cause for optimism that KBDI Channel 12 Colorado has found the courage to air this film. We can hope many more TV networks will also find that same courage.
Remember that “9/11” has been the rallying cry for just about anything that those in power wanted to do to others that had no reasonable justification ever since. Two undeclared wars plus a “war on terror”, a war against a strategy, have been so justified. The loss of freedoms in the U.S. through the “Patriot Act” has been so justified. The U.S. lost its reputation in the court of world opinion because of the actions of the U.S. administration justified by “9/11”. Denouncement of dissent is another, although false patriotism has always been used toward that end. The list is long. Time is short.
The cause for optimism? The truth is leaking out, and more and more people are demanding answers.
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By Michael Haughey, April 23, 2009
Yes, the Greens are weak – and that is an understatement, but not necessarily an insult. They’ll get stronger, and when they are as strong as the Dems they will also fall to the money and it will be time for another party to step up. It is the system that must be fixed – get money out of politics, enforce the Sherman Anti-trust act, return to the successful progressive tax, and let corporations serve the community again, not the other way around. The Dems don’t have a bad platform, however they continue to ignore it in favor of the money interests. The Dems showed their true colors when they refused to fight for open debates in the 2008 election. Not only would they not allow Greens and others (they were complicent if not worse), but even Kucinich and eventually Edwards were booted. No question Obama is light years better than the previous White House occupant, but that is no standard – Bush’s was the worst administration ever perhaps in the history of the world (when measured by the cumulative world-wide damage). And that is simply not good enough. Unless the “system” is fixed and the weeds pulled, it will revert to where it was when the next nut takes office. Pandering to the folks who made the messes and gamed the system rather than the people who elected him makes it clear the money is still in charge.
I could go on, but I thought I’d just stir the hornets nest a little.
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By Michael Haughey, May 24, 2009
Pardon the long title. There are so many misconceptions and intentional deceptions about single-payer health care that a detailed title seems necessary. The biggest misconception is that single-payer necessarily means single provider. It doesn’t. It could, but that would not be the best idea. We like choice, and choice provides some incentive for competition on quality.
Notice that Insurance is NOT in this title, but basic health care is. The intent is to reserve insurance for the stuff many of us might be able to agree is extra. That could include single-occupancy hospital beds, or unnecessary cosmetic procedures. Public-funded single-payer means that we the people own and pay for the health care. The added costs for insurance procedures to process claims, deny care, cover risk, and make a profit are removed. That alone probably accounts for 30% of our present costs. We the people will also be protected from rates being raised if we get sick, or actually use the health care. We can collectively save cost by improving preventive care.
Universal Public-Funded Single-Payer User-Selected-Provider Basic Health Care is essential. Trusting the insurance companies to voluntarily “cut” 10% of the costs, as suggested by Obama, would seem most likely to result in services being cut by far more than 10% to achieve the 10% cuts. That is if costs are actually reduced at all. It is voluntary after all. Service is so poor right now, that any cut in service or quality is unacceptable.
A system that allows everyone to buy health insurance is subject to the same abuses as the present system. It still has the potential to break the bank for many of us. It still has insurance company accountants making medical decisions by deciding what they will and will not pay for. We still have an endless battle to get bills covered. It is still unacceptable. This is the one chance to get it right for present generations. If we don’t get it right now, most of us will never see a decent system. Universal Public-Funded Single-Payer User-Selected-Provider Basic Health Care. Accept nothing less.
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By: Michael D. Haughey, September 29, 2008
Thank-you to those in Congress who voted against the bailout. I hope you had the people of America in mind when casting that vote. Now the hard work of fixing the system must begin. A bailout without fixing the system, to allow more loans to be made using the existing system, to allow derivatives and hedge funds to drag the economy further into a hole, will accomplish nothing for the average American. The regulations that worked 30 years ago must be re-instated, and new regulations are needed to accommodate new technologies. It took 30 years of implementing a flawed philosophy to create the current financial mess and no simple solution will solve it. Pretending that a bailout will solve this mess is only pandering for votes. It is way past time for that to stop. Unregulated capitalism doesn’t work in the long run, and there is no invisible hand.
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By Michael D. Haughey, May 15, 2009
CIA Director Leon Panetta said, according to an Earthlink article, “We are an agency of high integrity, professionalism and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is – even if that’s not what people always want to hear.”
If that is true, then it is high time for the CIA to come clean, starting with their activities in South America for the last 40 years and more.
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By Michael Haughey, June 28, 2007
Does a vacation need a theme? One needs to be able to answer “what did you do?; or, what did you see?” So our 2007 vacation began with the theme of seeing the glaciers before they melt. We headed to GlacierNational Park on a road trip. One side effect of backpacking over the years is wearing the knees out, so this year there would be no backpacking – just day hikes, about 30 to 40 miles of them.
We headed Northward to Billings figuring that would make a good stop on the road. However, there was no room at the Inn. “Montana Days” was in full swing, but from talking to the locals, it just wasn’t enough to fill all the hotels. No, there was something else taking over the places to lay down your head. We learned later that the energy industry – gas and oil exploration and production that is – had gobbled up most of the available hotel rooms. It was booming. It seemed that everywhere you looked on the horizon there was a construction site – clearing off a pad for wells or processing equipment, trucks riding the silhouette of the sunset leaving a trail of dust.
That wasn’t all. There was haze from fire smoke everywhere. Fire is a natural part of the Western landscape, yet ever since the Yellowstone fires they just seem to be bigger and more frequent.
I remember going through Glacier long ago (4 decades ago?) on a family car-trip. That is about all I remember. I imagined that it would be cold, what with all those glaciers. Denver has been in a warm spell, so cold is sounding good. Yet driving across Wyoming and Montana it was anything but cold, in fact getting warmer and warmer as we drove further north.
Getting closer now as we visit Browning, then southwest to East Glacier, and then northeast toward LowerTwoMedicineLake.
Finally after a few days we are approaching Glacier, yet still outside the official Park boundary, and expecting at any minute to enter a magical realm for the heart of our vacation where ice-capped mountains are everywhere and cool mountain streams grace the landscape. And cooler – much cooler. As we traversed the rolling hills and passes on the east side the vista of the valley below opened up. What we saw was certainly not what we expected. Not what I expected. And it was still hot. Instead of the long-anticipated lush green forests with the snow and ice-capped mountain peaks, before us lay a brown blight on the trees for miles and miles, pretty much as far as the eye could see. It looked like the entire forest had rusted. I saw some moths and figured it might be pine beetles, like the ones devastating forests in Colorado. We later inquired at various ranger stations and it turned out to be a Douglas fir moth that came in this year and essentially exploded after a warm winter. It was nature at its fiercest, adapting to changing conditions, and yet it was depressing.
We finally entered the official Park during the final road to Many Glacier.
With a name like Glacier, I was hoping for some relief from the hot weather in Denver this summer. But it was 99F even in East Glacier, so no such relief. We stayed in the grand Many Glacier hotel on SwiftcurrentLake, which was not air conditioned and it was hot. It was indeed a grand hotel, and the largest in the Park. One evening brought a very impressive lightening storm that we watched from the porch along with a number of hotel guests.
And where were the glaciers? How long until this is the “Park Formerly Known as Glacier”? Even now the glaciers are a mere wisp of their former grandeur. The rangers expect they will last only a few more years, so if you haven’t seen them yet, don’t delay. The glaciers are, indeed, almost gone and a mere shadow of their former selves – ½ to 1/3 of their former area, 1/3 of their former depth, and melting rapidly. Using a little math, that is 1/6th to 1/9th of their former volume, which is why it is said they are almost gone.
It was time to get out on foot, up the Swiftcurrent trail toward Swiftcurrent Glacier, sore joints and all. I hoped to finally see a grizzly in the wild and it seemed we were in luck with reports of sightings just ahead on the very trail we were hiking. Another trail nearby was closed due to grizzly activity – just what I was hoping to see. But they need their privacy when feeding, especially with the stress of the warmer weather. We missed the griz on our trail too. We looked around a bit, but no luck. Someone said it charged a young guy, and others said he was embellishing the story. We passed a ranger on our way out who was carrying in a shotgun and going in to check on the bear, so we told him we thought the stories might be exaggerated and he said he was not expecting to have to harm the bear – he’s just required to carry the gun when responding to such reports. We did see a large moose a few hundred yards away in the middle of a pond and a younger one about ten feet away all on that same trail. That was quite a thrill. At the end of our hike, just a few hundred yards from the parking lot, we saw a baby black bear with a crowd of humans watching, and then a ranger came charging up in his pickup truck, got out and shoed off the humans and then the bear. He just charged it yelling like a wild cowboy. I’d like to see him do that with Pooh and Yogi! (see the page “Bear Stories”). No really, I would. We wanted to chase them (Yogi and Pooh) away, but they were just so big! Not to mention their fight over our food left the ground shaking.
This phase of the journey nearing an end, we headed up the Going to the Sun Road. There are lots of places to stop and watch the big horn sheep, waterfalls, little rodents, and marvel at how quickly the glaciers are melting.
On the way toward Yellowstone, the next stop, we were in a curve on the highway, one lane each way, about 70 miles per hour, and suddenly as a semi-trailer passes going the other way, a car also going the other way is passing the semi and in our lane heading straight for us! The semi is on the left and the shoulder of the road, guardrail, and steep embankment on the right. Without even thinking I had steered onto the shoulder in what seemed like ½ of a second and the car passed on our left missing us by barely and inch and the guard rail by about the same. It happened so quickly I didn’t even have time for the usual one-finger salute. Was that driver even awake? There was a double yellow line and passing there should have been suicidal. At this point in my life it seems I have surpassed the allotted 9 lives of a cat.
In BozemanMontana, at the Food Coop, there are signs of hope for the future. Their solar system has an educational display to explain the process to visitors.
We stop at Signal Mountain Lodge for breakfast and encounter more hope for sustainability. There are bulletin boards near the restrooms talking about all their sustainability initiatives. Quite impressive.
Next stop is TetonNational Park. The Teton glaciers are down from a count of 12 ten years ago to 9 today (2007), and they are much smaller.
Even while on vacation, I have to feed my addiction to reading newspapers. The message of sustainability is everywhere – even in newspapers in the outbacks of Montana and Wyoming – along with the influence of the fossil fuel industry. The year 2006 appears to have been the great awakening, that momentous shift where suddenly the world seems to get it – the people anyway. The leaders will follow shortly, we can only hope that happens in time.
On the road home now we pass what seem like endless wisps of diesel smoke and dust on the ridge-tops where pads are constructed for gas wells. Then finally, in the Medicine Bow range, windmills on the horizon and silhouetted against the sky.
Congress is now debating getting 20% of our energy from renewables by 2020. While barely a start, it is good that they are now at least joining the discussion.
Most of us in the energy-conservation and sustainability industry understand that reducing world-wide fossil energy consumption by even 90% in ten years may not be enough. Certainly it is too late to avoid many of the consequences of climate change and global warming. That 90% reduction was probably needed by the end of 1990. Just take a road trip and keep your eyes open. You just can’t miss the signs.
Has the sleeping giant awakened soon enough? Lets hope so.
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By Michael D. Haughey, August 7, 2008
Pharmaceutical adds have gotten really interesting. A significant part of the ad is devoted to a listing of all the possible side effects, per FDA rules, and presented in a tone of voice that makes them sound desirable. We all want rashes in private places, right? I’ll take a gross. One of the biggest selling drugs was recently pulled because it does nothing helpful and lots of harm. We hear 5% of a study had improved results and 4% of the placebo group had good results. I’ll take a gross! They didn’t mention how many studies it took to come up with a study with a slightly positive bent or that perhaps the margin of error was 5 times the difference between the test subjects and the control subjects.
Ads – if we like one part, we swallow the whole pill – and don’t even hear the rest. The Percentage with positive results – how many studies – the margin of error – all of that is ignored and we focus on the one implied promise that is most likely not true.
And now with elections approaching and all the Flak that is hitting the media – how do you discern the truth? One subject has a simple test, that of the myriad choices in energy supply. So let’s explore that test and how to apply it.
T-Boone Pickens is getting a lot of press lately for an idea intended to be a step in the sustainable direction. I think that is because he is paying for the press, but now he is getting some free via the media. He says he has a new grand idea for solving our energy crisis. It involves using natural gas in vehicles as an “interim” solution and large-scale wind power “plants” for a long term solution. While his heart is probably in the right place, this new idea isn’t really breaking new territory. He did make $billions from oil and gas. There were no doubt some good jobs involved in that. I suspect there was also quite a bit of trickle up – our money trickled up into his accounts when we bought gas or paid our utility bills. We have to ask ourselves if this grand new idea will really be a departure that is a greater benefit for â€œthe peopleâ€ and mitigating climate change, or mostly a financial benefit for another big corporation that may or may not benefit society and the environment. One clue to the answer lies in looking closely at the proposal and who will benefit the most. Bill Gates made a “buck” selling stuff that certainly resulted in huge changes , but also makes many of us want to jump out of windows (pun intended). And now as a philanthropist – giving away money that came from us! It is an interesting philosophical question – are all the progress and additional tasks we can do with the computer really worth all the costs? Remember that data centers are becoming a significant consumer of electricity, and we never did get that 30-hour workweek with an improved lifestyle from machines doing what was humans’ work. The stakes with the climate crisis are far higher than a 30-hour work week. We cannot afford many more mistakes, so how do we evaluate such proposals?
Now T-Boone has a plan to combine wind and gas (and not from eating beans). He too has turned philanthropist. And yet in sticking too close to what he knows (natural gas) is he missing the big picture? There are two simple tests we can apply to possible energy sources that will go a long way toward helping evaluate a proposal. First is to ask if the carbon released into the atmosphere, if any, is current or old (fossil-based). Second is whether the energy production is close to the energy consumption, in other words local. So we ask is it current and local.
How do we discern the truth in the message? Coupling gas with wind implies renewable and sustainable and clean. T-Boone says that gas is clean. But doesn’t gas combustion produce many byproducts? In complete combustion, the products are mostly carbon dioxide and water. But combustion is rarely complete, especially if it is burned, which is kinda the whole point of combustion. Other products of combustion include carbon monoxide, soot, and formaldehyde. Natural gas is a gaseous fossil fuel consisting primarily of methane but including significant quantities of ethane, propane, butane, and pentane – heavier hydrocarbons mostly (but not entirely) removed prior to use as a consumer fuel – as well as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, helium and hydrogen sulfide (source: Wikipedia – go ahead, look it up yourself). Methane combustion produces very small amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, virtually no ash or particulate matter, and lower levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other reactive hydrocarbons. But some. So cleaner than coal or oil, but not clean clean.
The real problem the proposal implies that it addresses is this: too much carbon in the atmosphere and too much CO2 in the oceans (making carbonic acid which in turn threatens most life in the oceans). The result: changing the climate and the chemistry of the oceans, both for the worse as far as humans are concerned.
Lets take a look at some basics. What made gas, oil, and coal? Fossilization. Here is a crude summary:
Fossilization: 50 – 100 million years ago
Plants are made by photosynthesis of energy from the sun
Animals eat some of the plants
Both decompose partially, but are covered before decomposing completely
Coal: plant & animal matter under swamps, mixed with dirt, and then dirt and water pressure.
Oil & Gas: ocean plants & animals, under sand & silt & ocean, then under sand, silt, and rock pressure
Heat & pressure made the gas & oil or coal
The carbon was made by energy from the sun and sequestered for 50 to 100 million years
Imagine – put money under your mattress all your life. Then there is a fire. In a few blinks of an eye, a lifetime of savings is gone. Now think of burning coil, oil, and gas. It took roughly 50 to 100 million years to save and cook, and in 200 years humans have burned about half of it. In the next fifty years, humans will try to burn the other half, in a geologic blink of an eye.
All of it is old, sequestered, “fossilized” carbon.
Wind is coupled to gas in T-Boone’s proposal mostly, I think, because wind is renewable and makes the gas sound good. Just like in the pharmaceutical ads. Wind is created directly by heat from the sun. No carbon cycle necessary. It doesn’t always blow in a given place, but it is always blowing somewhere. When we use wind power, we are using current, renewable energy.
Biofuels, generally, are made by photosynthesis using energy from the sun. If we use the biofuels reasonably soon after they are grown and processed without sequestering them for millions of years, then we are using current carbon. The carbon is returned to the atmosphere and then goes right back into making plants. This is a closed carbon cycle with nominally a zero net gain, although some carbon is actually sequestered in the soil. Thus biofuels use a current carbon cycle, which does not over time add carbon to the atmosphere or CO2 to the oceans.
Coal, oil, and gas are fossil, or old carbon that releases carbon stored millions of years ago and does increase carbon in the atmosphere and CO2 in the oceans.
Now what about these large, centralized wind power plants?
Remember the last time you drove on a major highway during a massive traffic jam? It took a long time and your mileage was terrible. Think of that as friction between and among many cars on the road. Now drive the same road at 4 AM on a Sunday. Few cars, very little friction, much better mileage. Think of Gas in a pipe line or electrons in a long-distance electrical wire. Same thing. During peak usage, high friction and low efficiency. Wastes fuel. The longer the distance, the more fuel wasted.
Thus the second concept is local vs. long-distance transportation. Old carbon takes sophisticated technology to recover, refine, and use. Large, centralized mines (coal) or refineries (oil) and long pipelines (gas) are needed to get the fuel to the users. That is large and centralized.
Wind blows in many places. You can put a windmill in your backyard and connect by wires to others across the country for those times when backup is needed. That is mostly local with some distance transportation when the wind is not blowing in your area. The overall efficiency is now improved if we can assume that production efficiency is similar. We can store excess electricity in batteries, or using other storage technologies. Perhaps we could use excess electricity to pump water into a tower, tank, or small reservoir and then use a microturbine to make electricity when the wind is not blowing. Do this on a local community scale, and you have local and high efficiency.
Biofuels are presently a combination. Some can be made locally, some in centralized processing plants. In time, the technologies are expected to be usable in small scale, on a local level. Development is needed for specific bacteria and enzymes. So in time, it can probably be local.
Direct solar is inherently local in many places. The sun shines about everywhere, at varying amounts. Large solar power plants are centralized and require long distance distribution, but we don’t always need large and centralized, although sometimes the collection efficiency can be improved. The large corporations need large centralized to be able to sell it to us at a profit and to fit into their, well, large systems. We don’t need it to be centralized. Solar is inherently a decentralized energy source just like wind.
An important test for energy policy, therefore, is current and local.
To simplify, if a technology uses old, fossilized carbon, that is bad.
If a technology uses current carbon, that is good. Nearly as good as using no carbon at all, except for any harmful byproducts of combustion.
If a technology is by nature centralized, then that is a poorer solution.
If a technology is available locally, but someone wants to make it centralized and sell it to you as a convenience, then again, poor solution environmentally.
A technology that both uses current carbon and is local, well, now we’re talking!
T-Boones proposal? Mostly old, fossilized carbon, with some current wind energy promised as a teaser, and centralized. The wind energy part of his proposal is current energy, but it is not local. The gas part, well – that is old carbon and centralized. But at least we are now talking about potential solutions and learning to apply a simple test! Look for current and local in your energy supplies.
Geologists view crude oil and natural gas as the product of compression and heating of ancient organic materials (i.e. kerogen) over geological time. Formation of petroleum occurs from hydrocarbon pyrolysis, in a variety of mostly endothermic reactions at high temperature and/or pressure. Today’s oil formed from the preserved remains of prehistoric zooplankton and algae, which had settled to a sea or lake bottom in large quantities under anoxic conditions (the remains of prehistoric terrestrial plants, on the other hand, tended to form coal). Over geological time the organic matter mixed with mud, and was buried under heavy layers of sediment resulting in high levels of heat and pressure (known as diagenesis). This caused the organic matter to chemically change, first into a waxy material known as kerogen which is found in various oil shales around the world, and then with more heat into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons in a process known as catagenesis.
Geologists often refer to the temperature range in which oil forms as an “oil window” – below the minimum temperature oil remains trapped in the form of kerogen, and above the maximum temperature the oil is converted to natural gas through the process of thermal cracking. Although this temperature range is found at different depths below the surface throughout the world, a typical depth for the oil window is 4 – 6 km. Sometimes, oil which is formed at extreme depths may migrate and become trapped at much shallower depths than where it was formed. The Athabasca Oil Sands is one example of this.
Crude oil reservoirs
Three conditions must be present for oil reservoirs to form: a source rock rich in hydrocarbon material buried deep enough for subterranean heat to cook it into oil; a porous and permeable reservoir rock for it to accumulate in; and a cap rock (seal) or other mechanism that prevents it from escaping to the surface. Within these reservoirs, fluids will typically organize themselves like a three-layer cake with a layer of water below the oil layer and a layer of gas above it, although the different layers vary in size between reservoirs.
Because most hydrocarbons are lighter than rock or water, they often migrate upward through adjacent rock layers until either reaching the surface or becoming trapped within porous rocks (known as reservoirs) by impermeable rocks above. However, the process is influenced by underground water flows, causing oil to migrate hundreds of kilometres horizontally or even short distances downward before becoming trapped in a reservoir. When hydrocarbons are concentrated in a trap, an oil field forms, from which the liquid can be extracted by drilling and pumping.
The reactions that produce oil and natural gas are often modeled as first order breakdown reactions, where hydrocarbons are broken down to oil and natural gas by a set of parallel reactions, and oil eventually breaks down to natural gas by another set of reactions. The latter set is regularly used in petrochemical plants and oil refineries.
Non-conventional oil reservoirs
Oil-eating bacteria biodegrades oil that has escaped to the surface. Oil sands are reservoirs of partially biodegraded oil still in the process of escaping and being biodegraded, but they contain so much migrating oil that, although most of it has escaped, vast amounts are still present – more than can be found in conventional oil reservoirs. The lighter fractions of the crude oil are destroyed first, resulting in reservoirs containing an extremely heavy form of crude oil, called crude bitumen in Canada, or extra-heavy crude oil in Venezuela. These two countries have the world’s largest deposits of oil sands.
On the other hand, oil shales are source rocks that have not been exposed to heat or pressure long enough to convert their trapped hydrocarbons into crude oil. Technically speaking, oil shales are not really shales and do not really contain oil, but are usually relatively hard rocks called marls containing a waxy substance called kerogen. The kerogen trapped in the rock can be converted into crude oil using heat and pressure to simulate natural processes. The method has been known for centuries and was patented in 1694 under British Crown Patent No. 330 covering, “A way to extract and make great quantityes of pitch, tarr, and oyle out of a sort of stone.” Although oil shales are found in many countries, the United States has the world’s largest deposits.
Coal is a fossil fuel formed in ecosystems where plant remains were preserved by water and mud from oxidization and biodegradation, thus sequestering atmospheric carbon. Coal is a readily combustible black or brownish-black rock. It is a sedimentary rock, but the harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rocks because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure. It is composed primarily of carbon and hydrogen along with small quantities of other elements, notably sulfur. It is the largest source of fuel for generation of electricity world-wide, as well as the largest world-wide source of carbon dioxide emissions, which according to the IPCC, contribute to climate change and global warming. In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, coal is slightly ahead of petroleum and about double that of natural gas. Coal is extracted from the ground by coal mining, either underground mining or open pit mining (surface mining).
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