July 10, 2013

This is why we can’t (or shouldn’t) have nice things…

Filed under: Environment,Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 10:26 pm

A few weeks ago I took (public) umbrage with the faux-fact based facebook post:

My issue with it was (and remains) the distorted use of facts taken out of context (not to mention the poor methodology and small sample size of the actual study cited). Rearing it’s face again, the over simplification and reduction to a few choice, targeted words of a complex topic so that is is digestible and easy to repeat for the ignorant masses.

Note: I am not saying everyone who read or repeated this post is ignorant… I am simply talking about the objectives of its creators

If that notions offends you, I’m sorry… but unless you read the entire study (I did, for the record) you really shouldn’t be quoting it… let alone passing on someone else’s quote from it. Bottom line, you don’t understand it and shouldn’t be passing it off as fact (or anything else for that matter).

But this is just background for what I want to talk about today. More of the same to be sure, but on this one I can actually chime in with my opinion. You see, on most issues, like abortion, because I work for a non-partisan office, I cannot share my views (which has made for some interesting reading of some of the comments I have received… as people have assumed quite incorrectly what side of the fence I am on regarding some issues and railed against “people like me” when in fact “people like me” are “people like them” since we share the same view).

Alas, once again, I digress…

Today I saw this juicy tidbit on Facebook (take note of the highlighted text and the circled link in the image):

As I am prone to do before commenting, sharing, or even liking something on Facebook, I clicked on the available link (the one circled in the image above) to read the background and detailed information about the post. So, imagine my surprise when I read, less than half way through the article, the following:

It is a very natural process and scientists say it should not be tied directly to the very real climate changes that are also affecting this part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

You read that right… in the article referenced by the post stating “the time for half measures is over — we need climate action now” we are told in no uncertain terms that what we are reading about is “very natural” and that it shouldn’t be linked to climate changes.

Seriously, people???!?!??!?!??!?!?

This is particularly galling to me because I happen to believe in “Global Warming” and happen to agree with the folks that think we are creating our own extinction event on carbon emission at a time. And I don’t even care (…gasp…) how it effect profits (profits are of little concern to a uninhabited world, IMO). In other words… I completely agree with the message, and want to be able to re-post this. But I can’t, because it is rubbish (with regard to global warming… it’s still interesting from a purely scientific standpoint).

Simple minds are easily swayed, and I realize the path to political success is paved with mass ideological conscription. However, I can’t help feeling that with every Facebook post and Pinterest pin (of this ilk), we are chipping away our national intelligence quotient. And I’m not sure that’s a price worth paying to acquire a vote, or even an election, here and there. Democracy (representative or not) is based on an informed electorate casting informed responsible votes. When was the last time we could say that was the case for the majority of our voters? When was the last time we were even trending in that direction?

I don’t think the propaganda machines are going to stop any time soon (there is too much money and power to be accumulated), so it’s up to us, the “consumers” of this drivel to do our part. Read the underlying stories, research the so called facts, and most important… call people out on false or misleading statements (even, as is the case with the ice berg above) it runs contrary to your point of view.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

March 25, 2010

Know when to run…

A friend of mine came up to me the other day and lobbied me to lend my voice to the fight against nuclear energy.  She argued well that despite my beliefs that nuclear is the “bridge technology” required to get “us” from petroleum based energy consumers to renewable based energy consumers, nuclear energy may well not be the best solution.  Well enough for me to take a closer look, anyway.

First a little background.

My basic thinking going into the conversation goes a little something like this:

1.  Oil, as an energy source is simultaneously running out and necessary (for certain vital purposes). Not only should the use of oil be curtailed – for the sake of the environment etc. – but conservation of the resource should be a priority.  Therefore, some substitute must be put in place, and this alternate energy source needs to be implemented (or at least begin getting implemented) very soon.

2. Nuclear power, and related infrastructure, currently exists to a degree that can support the transition between petroleum and renewable energy sources.  Further (and possibly more importantly), the existing – non-depreciated – investment in nuclear energy, and the corresponding stakeholders interest in seeing their investment through to maturity, create a formidable barrier to entry for new technology.

3. I believe that ultimately, nuclear energy is not a safe solution for the planet.  Nuclear waste is unstable and dangerous for roughly 10,000 years (scientists tell us, obviously, this is an untested number).  On a planet with swiftly dwindling open spaces due to rapid population growth, there is no reasonable way to expect we will be able to co-exist with the volume of nuclear waste for the next few hundred years, let alone the 10,000 it will take before the first batch is considered a non-biohazard.  Further, based on the afore mentioned rapid population growth, non-renewable (i.e nuke) solutions are rapidly ceasing to be an alternative in long range planning.

As such, I have been left with my existing mindset that nuclear power is the logical bridge (but only a bridge (read: a transitory connector) to renewable energy).

The problem with my thought process and conclusion (in my mind), and the barrier to me really entering the conversation, is two fold.  First of all – and I can admit this – I am generally ignorant on the topic.  For the most part I am dealing with a very small sub-set of the data available on this topic.  Secondly… in a word… money.

I find it hard to believe the money necessary to implement a nuclear bridge will be invested in something that is a known temporary solution, making the entire idea of nukes as a bridge technology a non-starter.  If we start down the path of increasing the footprint of nuclear power on the national energy supply, I do not see that tack changing until forced by some critical, probably life threatening, situation.  This course, to me, is untenable based on point #3 above.

My uncle, one of the most intelligent people I know, once told me (and I have since heard the same thing said many times) that people will not make substantive change until there is an actual need to do so. Until a critical mass of people believe a problem has reached the point where it is a threat to them, that problem will not be a barrier to the status quo. (Note: that is my paraphrase of the concept, not a direct quote… sorry if I butchered your message Pat :) )

In just the past few years, we have seen this with the internet bubble and with sub-prime mortgages. Many argue we are seeing this very phenomenon at work as the world wrestles with global warming. While Just In Time (JIT) practices work well in some business situations I think it is pretty obvious that when the stakes are high enough, brinkmanship should not be the order of the day.

If Al Gore is right about Global Warming (and I’m not here to say he is or isn’t… that is a topic for another day), hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people may be put in harms way before we have time to react to the mess we are creating.

Nuclear waste gives me the same reason for pause.  Can we afford to be wrong about this?  Can we afford to wait however long it takes for a critical mass of people to be threatened by it? 

Being wrong about company valuations and mortgages cost people money; being wrong about the potential dangers of nuclear waste (or global warming) could cost people their lives.

I teach my kids the concept of the “one time mistake.”  The fact that there are certain mistakes that are so large, you only make them once… and then all (relating to that mistake) is lost.  When you face a choice that includes an option that, if you are wrong, is a one time mistake; you had better be damn sure you are right before following that path.

I fear that nuclear energy (specifically nuclear waste), en mass, might be such a mistake. I am not absolutely certain that we won’t contaminate our planet beyond habitability before enough of us even realize we are doing it to make a necessary course correction.

There is no one capable of deeming humanity “to big to fail” should we make a fatal mistake; there cannot and will not be any “bail outs.”  If we mess this up we live (read: die) with the consequences.  With that in mind, and knowing there are safe, sustainable, renewable options… does it really make sense to roll those dice?

I love to gamble, as an of my friends (especially the ones who have been to Vegas with me) can attest. However, as Kenny Rogers would say, “you gotta know when to fold ‘em” and when it comes to nuclear energy, I think its time to run…

March 30, 2009

I’m number 7!!! I’m number 7!!!!

Filed under: Environment,Observations — sbj @ 7:38 pm

Recently a friend was over at my house and noticed a computer humming along in the corner of my living room. When she asked if I turned if off every night I said no. She then, politely pointed out that I was wasting energy, and as a person who so often pontificates (my words not hers) about energy issues (amongst others) I might want to rethink my position on shutting the little beast down.

Since then I have turned the computer off, if I had to hazard a guess, three or four times. Better than before, but, not exactly exemplary. Today, I received a link (from her, coincidence… I think not) to a study that reveals that every year, in the US alone, $2.8 billion in energy resources are wasted on computers that are left on overnight. For those with a less budgetary and more environmental mindset that is the equivalent of 20 million tons of carbon dioxide (the amount produced by 4 million cars on the road).

When I did the math it seems like it costs roughly 8 cents per night per computer (although the author of the article said 25 cents… one of us struggles with math). Obviously, this is not much, on a individual basis. An argument can certainly be made along the “what difference can I make” lines.

However, using the same logic I gave to this same friend regarding recycling a few months ago, you cannot get 7 million people to recycle until person #1 does it. In fact you cannot get person #8 to do it until person #7 has. These things build on each other. In matters such as these, it takes a series (a very large series) of insignificant events or action to create a significant result.

Will me turning off my computer curb global warming, reduce our dependence on foreign resources or result in significant costs savings on my monthly power bill? No. However, if I am one of thousands who do, the answer becomes “maybe”; tens of thousands and it becomes “possibly”; and if millions make the same choice… “probably”.

So I’m gonna start turning off that computer every night, and I’m going to be #7. Which means the doors now open for one of you to be #8… any takers?

September 25, 2008

Something you can do for your country, and your progeny…

Filed under: Environment,Make the world better,Observations — sbj @ 4:07 pm

By Tomorrow, Congress will decide if they intend to extend or let expire (at the end of 2008) the clean air tax credits (AKA Production Tax Credit or PTC). The PTC is a per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources. It gets adjusted for inflation, but it is in the area of 2 cents per kWh (currently 2.1). The credit can be taken for the first 10 years of production, so, in essence, it is a financial boost to get renewable energy facilities up and running, but not a indefinite tax benefit.  This is a bi-partisan bill that made it easily through the Senate with support from both sides of the isle.

Since the process of extending the PTC began it has been allowed to expire three times. Each time with a significant reduction in new installations (for wind alone: 2000 – 93% drop in installation; 2002 – 73%; 2004 – 77%; estimates for 2009 if the PTC is not extended are in the area of 90%).

What does this mean, financially? The raw numbers (as calculated by Navagant Consulting in February of this year) are 116,000 jobs and $19 Billion in clean energy investment between wind and solar for the year 2009. Of course, just like the interest in your savings account, these numbers grow exponentially over the years due to the lost year (or more) of “principle investment.”

Our country is currently overly dependent on foreign energy supplies. This one of the major issues of our current presidential elections, and an ugly shadow that looms over our society as a whole. We have fought wars over oil and, so long as our dependency is in place, will have commitments to foreign nations that handcuff our ability to conduct business and form foreign policy freely and without restriction.

Our world is currently feeling the effects of global warming. Regardless of whether you think it is a mostly man made phenomenon or is a natural cycle that we are only magnifying with our green house gas emissions; there is no dispute over the fact that our current energy practices are having a measurable effect on the environment.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar can dramatically reduce both foreign energy dependence and green house gas emissions. Both are completely renewable, and freely available within our own borders. The new wind installations in 2007 alone (which, by the way, represented 35% of the nations new electrical capacity for that year) provide enough energy to power the equivalent of 1.5 millions U.S. homes.

This is a growing, thriving industry, with the potential to not only power our homes, but prevent us from continuing to be beholden to nations who do not share our beliefs and ideologies while simultaneously helping to ensure a stable environmental future for our children and grand-children.

Its hard to imagine the downside to extending the PTC, however, the numbers are very clear about the dangers of allowing it to expire; increased unemployment rates, and an economy further dragged down by stunted investment.

So what can you do? You can write your Legislators and tell them how important the PTC extension is to you and your country. It will only take a minute, because you can go to this site (http://capwiz.com/windenergy/home) Enter your zip code and send a letter to all of your federal elected officials at once. Even better, I have acquired a sample letter (below). You can copy and paste it into the box, use portions of it in a letter of your own creation, or, of course, ignore it and simply do your own thing.

Whatever avenue you choose, however, please write them today. The time to act is now, tomorrow will, literally, be too late.

Sample letter:

Dear Congressperson,

I am writing to urge your affirmative vote in the passage of H.R. 6049, The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008.  This bi-partisan bill allows for the continued growth of renewable energy in the U.S. and clears a path for a cleaner, energy independent future. The Senate overwhelmingly passed this resolution and now it’s up to the House to relay the message to renewable energy industries and the world that we want clean energy, green jobs and thriving rural economies.

Without the extension of the Production Tax Credit for renewable energy, development and construction will come to a halt. This not only hurts industry, but it also increases our dependence on greenhouse gas emitting energy sources and foreign fuel. As our appetite for energy grows, so must our dedication to clean, secure energy sources.

In addition, the renewable energy industry benefits the American economy by creating jobs in manufacturing, construction and engineering. Local taxes invigorate rural economies already struggling to stay afloat. Farmers and ranchers receive royalty payments on their land, while still engaging in their livelihoods. In these tumultuous times, renewable energy is a constant; energy does not fluctuate in cost due to volatile fuel prices.

Please, take the time to speak with your fellow Representatives in support of H.R. 6049. The people want renewable energy, and this is your chance to see that we receive it.


August 5, 2008

Three hundred million crack addicts can’t be wrong…

Filed under: Environment,Observations — sbj @ 3:41 pm

I read a terrific quote the other day by New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman.  When discussing the nations energy crisis he said:

When a person is addicted to crack cocaine, his problem is not that the price of crack is going up. … The cure is not cheaper crack, which would only perpetuate the addictions and all the problems it is creating.  The cure is to break the addiction.

I love this analogy.  As you may be aware, I am not an advocate of finding ways to drop the price of gas, in fact it was not long ago that, in this very space, I suggested raising gas prices significantly (at the risk of touting myself, if you have not read that entry, I *highly* recommend that you do) via more taxes.  I completely agree that gas prices are not the problem, gas addiction is.

We use around 1 million years of natural energy (the energy the earth is capable of creating on its own) per year.  This does not bode well for sustainability.  More to the point, it is a horrible investment. We are a nation completely dependent on a rapidly deprecating resource.  In the next 100 years or so (a relatively short period of time given the ground we need to cover) we will live in a world where oil is not the primary means of producing energy.  It will not fuel our cars, it will not provide our power, or much of anything else, because it simply will not exist in a great enough volume to accommodate the worlds needs.  This is an undeniable, irrefutable fact.

We are actively trying to reduce the price, and encourage (or at least enable) the use of something that is not going to be here in the very near future.  How does this make sense?  What business person, in their right mind would invest this way, and, would you give that person your money to steward (if so, I’ve got some ocean frotn property I’d like to talk to you about)?

Regardless of what long term renewable solution you prefer, oil is not the answer.  Neither is spending money or passing legislation to decrease the cost of oil.

After reading the quote above I glanced at the traits of a crack addict and was frightened by what I saw.

1. Paranoia
2. Hyper vigilance
3. Compulsive behavior
4. Hyper sexuality
5. Anxiety, irritability; argumentative
6. Transient panic
7. Impaired judgement

In my view, our national “personality” is exhibiting every one of these signs.  If our nation was your teen age son or daughter, and you were an observant, responsible parent, you would suspect something was wrong.  In this case, I think we know what the dependency is… the question becomes, what are we going to do about it?  I tend agree with Mr Friedman, a cheaper dime bag is not the answer.

May 27, 2008

Oil: Fixing the inconvenience to avoid the crisis…

Filed under: Environment,Observations — sbj @ 8:08 pm

The question I keep hearing asked is this “what should we do about the oil crisis”, which is, of course, secret code for “what should someone else do about the price I’m paying for a gallon of gas.” If you look at things from an objective standpoint, there is nothing to be done about the “oil crisis.” Bottom line, in a few years (relative to the span of mans existence),say 50 to 100, based on current consumption , there will not be any oil… crisis over.

Only, not really. In reality, that is when we will actually have a crisis. Right now, we have an inconvenience, not fun, but not a crisis. A crisis is a tsunami ripping through the Indian Ocean and taking thousands of lives with it… and having no way to transport aide across the globe to people subsequently without food or water killing tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands more. A crisis is a massive earthquake tearing apart inner China… and having no gas/petrol to drive rescue workers and medical equipment to the area, again costing untold numbers of further casualties. That is the reality (AKA crisis) our grandchildren face.

Why? Because we are burning through this natural resource like it was renewable. To be fair, it is renewable… all we need is about million years and we are back in business. Well, we are in business for a year. That’s right, every year we use over a million years worth of carbon (stored solar energy). Once it is all used, it takes another million years to make the same about we typically use each year. That’s a long time to wait for the next episode of “Dancing with the Stars”.

So, what crucial functions are our oil reserves sustaining today. I took my question to the street (so to speak) and did a survey. Here are some of the responses:

“I last drove my daughter back to school after having her home for lunch.”

“To the grocery store to get bread for dinner”

“Seriously, the last trip in my car was to the gas station for an $80 fill-up.” (Two other people replied “to get gas”)

“To [or from] work” (six people gave me that response)

“To grab a bite to eat”

“To the bank to make a deposit”

“16 miles to a job interview”

“about an hour away, for social engagement”

“To the dentist”

You get the idea. While “important” to these people individually, and certainly not awful acts of waste, none of these uses are quite on par with delivering food or medical supplies to natural disaster victims. In the four quadrants that comprise the Eisenhower Method of time management, or prioritization, these are all, at best, quadrant II and most often quadrant IV items.

I am just as guilty. My last three times behind the wheel of my car were as follows:

Met the rest of the family (in separate car) at a movie

Ran to work over the weekend

Drove to work this morning

So where does this leave us, getting back to the original question. “What are we going to do about the oil crisis.” Here is my answer (assume the upright and booing position):

Jack the price of a gallon of gas through the roof. Tax the hell out of it, mark it up to beat the band, and put all of that money into alternative energy research and mass transportation (preferably running on some sort of renewable electric power). I’d like to see gas top $10, maybe $15 bucks a gallon very soon, eventually $25, or whatever it takes to drive people out of their cars and into mass transportation.

At some point, it will not longer be convenient to meet the family at the movies in two cars, run to the office on the weekend (or at all????), or drive somewhere to grab lunch, because it will be too expensive to do so. I’m getting to the point where I no longer think that will be a bad day. Because we are dealing with a dwindling supply and an ever increasing demand, it *IS* going to happen one way or another. I’m simply advocating doing it pro-actively and getting some needed capital for alternative transportation and energy research out of the deal; while simultaneously extending the life expectancy of the existing resources.

It will be a royal pain in my spoiled entitled arse, but, when push comes to shove, I’d rather there be a little gas left for whatever mother nature throws at us in 2155. Oh yeah… and its better for the environment we need for our survival… that too.

If you have a better solution to the oil crisis (read: the ever dwindling supply of the resource) as opposed to the “oil crisis” (read: the cost of a gallon of gas) please leave comments… I’d love to be able to continue running to the store at 10:00pm to satisfy my craving’s!! Until I hear something else though… I think perhaps I’ll walk (you didn’t seriously think I was giving up my raspberry sorbet did you????)

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