War and economics: where is Bernie Sanders’ 12th step?

There’s much to like about Bernie Sanders, but can he really help us kick the war habit?

Occupy Democrats and US Uncut have a handy macro going around that highlights Bernie’s 11 point economic agenda. It’s big. It’s important. It’s to be lauded. And if we’re not to have Bernie, it’s to be emulated. But we’ve also seen the devastating effect war has had on our economy, to say nothing of the lives lost to our wayward military adventurism. Below you’ll find my own reasons for supporting this 11-point economic plan as well as some serious consideration of his missing 12th point. Continue reading

NC Senator Bob Rucho Stabs Democracy, Leaves It Bleeding On Senate Floor

Image courtesy of the Raleigh News & Observer

The following is a Facebook post from NC Senator Josh Stein.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Bob Rucho flouted the democratic process yesterday to ram an anti-clean tech bill through committee.

We considered a House bill to curtail the development of solar and other renewables. Before we took the voice vote, Sen. Blue called for division, which is a process where members raise their hands to be counted. The Senate Rules are explicit. When a member calls for division, the chair “shall” do so.

Sen. Rucho refused saying he was exercising his authority as chair. He has no such authority. It was a rank abuse of power. Continue reading


The Tesla Powerwall – Renewable Journal for 5/1/2015

Three ways that the Tesla Powerwall might be a big deal – load shifting, battery backup, and solar storage.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

I’ve been reading about Elon Musk’s newest introduction into the world of renewable technologies – the Tesla Powerwall. Here’s the basics – for $3500 you get a 10 kWh battery for your home that mounts to your wall. There’s a 7 kWh version for $3000, and installation costs extra. And if you’ve got a home or business that consumes lots of electricity, you can mount several of these units in parallel to get even more battery storage.

At this point I see a few different ways that this could be a big deal. Continue reading

Hillary announces, Progressives already getting thrown under bus

It’s not even damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s just damned.

Of course you’ve probably heard that Hillary has finally announced, on Twitter no less.

Continue reading


Looking forward to more electrics on the road – Renewable Journal for 2/17/2014

For more posts in this series, please click here.

In the next several years we’re going to start seeing a lot more fully electric vehicles on the roads than we do today. The price of oil isn’t going to stay low forever, and car companies will soon be producing vehicles that are more versatile than the few electrics on the road today. Ranges will increase, charging times will drop, and van, crossover, and SUV models with four-wheel drive will be designed and brought to market. Continue reading

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Keystone XL: weaponized greed

If one wanted, hypothetically, to win a world war, and studied the previous world wars to glean what relevant information might be revealed, one would be struck by the fact that America is a formidable foe, with tremendous natural resources. Americans habitually throw away enough food to feed another continent. Or a war effort. It would be advantageous to remove this fertile ground from the equasion. What if Rome had salted the fields before waging war on Carthage? Continue reading


Open letter to America: the endless war for oil

What if I told you that all wars were waged over resources, that at the moment the most important resource in the world is oil, and that the war in the middle east and the trade war over the Alberta tar sands, seemingly different conflicts involving different parties, are actually the same war, waged by the same economic force and subject to the same economic necessities, one of which is within your control? Continue reading


The solar panels are up, but not yet on – Renewable Journal for 10/1/2014

The SolarCity solar panels took six weeks to schedule, two days to install, and it may be another two months before they’re finally turned on.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

Six weeks ago my family got back from a vacation and my wife called SolarCity to schedule the installation of solar panels on our roof. She and I expected it to be a week or two, but were surprised to find that SolarCity is busy enough in the Denver metro area that it would be six weeks before their installers could get to our roof. We weren’t exactly thrilled – we’d been hoping to get the system operational as fast as possible to start saving up energy credits for the winter, when we’ll generate less electricity and yet consume more.

We were quite happy to see the SolarCity installers when they showed up yesterday, and over the last two days my home went from having a bare roof to having a full set of solar panels. In addition, all they upgraded the electrical box and installed all the electrical systems required to support the system. While I spent most of that time at work, it was still cool to come home today to find out that they were done and that we were now waiting on Xcel Energy – the electricity supplier for most of Colorado – to come out and install the net meter.

It was less cool to find out that it could take Xcel as much as two months to get to us. Again, we’d really like to store up some electricity credits before winter. Unfortunately, I’m no longer convinced that’ll happen. It’s not like we were banking on it or needed it financially, it just would have been even nicer financially than having a solar on the roof will be regardless.

If you look at it from Xcel’s perspective, they have no incentive to come out and hook up the solar system any sooner than they absolutely have to. Sure, they’ll want to have it hooked up before the end of the year so they can claim the system for their renewable energy requirement, but they more they can delay it without breaking the law, the more money they make from my utility bills. Still, maybe we’ll be one of the lucky ones that get hooked up faster than that.

I’m not holding my breath.


I may never buy another internal combustion engine vehicle – Renewable Journal for 7/23/2014

Tesla expects to release their all-wheel drive, 7-passenger SUV/minivan crossover in Fall 2015. Others will follow, prices will fall, and going all-electric will soon be more viable.

00.jpgFor more posts in this series, please click here.

A week after we bought my all electric Nissan Leaf, my wife and I also purchased a brand new Nissan Pathfinder. We needed one vehicle capable of supporting a family road trip and with all-wheel or 4-wheel drive so we could use it as our primary skiing vehicle this winter. The Leaf isn’t capable of either at this point.

A few weeks ago my wife pointed out something that I hadn’t really thought about, but have since thought about a lot. Given how long we tend to keep our cars (10 years or so) and the pace of both development and deployment of all-electric vehicles, the Pathfinder may well be the last internal combustion engine vehicle we ever buy.
Continue reading


What rough beast slouches toward Yellowstone?

Pop quiz: where is just about the last place you would like to punch a deep hole in the earth’s crust?

Drat. The headline gave it away, didn’t it? Well, yes. I would think Yellowstone would come readily to mind. As it turns out, if we’re worried about triggering the eruption of a supervolcano, we’re probably worried too much. For that matter, it seems there must be plenty of places to drill that don’t even involve the Sisyphusian futility of trying to drill through earth so hot it just seals the well, else this wouldn’t even be an issue. Oil giants don’t get to hoard obscene wealth by squandering it stupidly. It’s the environment they squander, and that, rapaciously. Continue reading


Talking about my electric car – Renewable Journal for 7/11/2014

For more posts in this series, please click here.

I was eating lunch with some coworkers recently when the topic of cars came up. As someone who has recently purchased a new car, I mentioned that I had bought an all electric Nissan Leaf, and that kicked off a 10-15 minute discussion of the particulars of charging, the economics of it, pollution, how quiet it is, why I bought it over a Volt or some other electric, expectations for bad weather driving, the confusion between a 100% electric vs. a hybrid, and so on. Continue reading

CATEGORY: AmericanCulture

Rollin’ coal: a trend that must, nay, will end

If poisoning is the answer, I don’t want to know the question.

There’s this thing going around now called “rollin’ coal.” You’ve probably heard of it. On a small scale I don’t think it makes that much of a difference, but here’s what those folks think is funny…pouring out thick carcinogenic diesel exhaust at people they don’t like.

Not liking people I understand. Bumper stickers mocking people you don’t like I understand. Essentially fumigating them with poison because you don’t like them? That I don’t understand.

With great freedom comes great power. With great power comes great responsibility. One of those great responsibilities is to engage in civic life like civilized people. Freedoms abused should absolutely be restricted since the people abusing them are clearly not to be trusted with the power they were born into. What one does on their own land and behind their own doors is of no concern of society’s unless and until that behavior affects someone else in an infringing capacity. Continue reading


Why I chose the Leaf over the Jetta TDI – Renewable Journal for 7/4/2014

Tax credits and rebates, low cost of operation, and reduced air pollution all made the Leaf the better choice for my family.

[MotorTrend]For more posts in this series, please click here.

I know I’m going to get asked why I spent over 30k (before all the crazy tax rebates) on a car that only goes 80 miles. My father especially will ask at some point, and he’s already called it a “toy” car.

He’s not entirely wrong, either. I’m in my 40s now, and it’s actually quite a bit of fun to drive around in a car that can go from 0 to 60 in just a tad over 6 seconds. I’ve never had a car that has this kind of acceleration. Continue reading


Electric vehicles are everywhere! – Renewable Journal for 6/28/2014

Tesla Model S [from Motor Trend]For more posts in this series, please click here.

Actually, they really aren’t everywhere. The fact that I’m seeing electrics all over the place now is actually a simple psychological phenomenon related to familiarity. I own an electric car, and so I’m more in tune with what other electric cars look like, and so simply happen to notice them more.

I did drive by a nice red one on my way home from the dealership, however – the two twenty-something women in it were laughing and pointing at mine as I zipped by them. Continue reading


The Nissan Leaf and SolarCity – Renewable Journal for 6/8/2014

On June 7, one Colorado family took a leap into unfamiliar waters with both solar panels and a Nissan Leaf.

NissanLeafBAFor more posts in this series, please click here.

Yesterday morning, my wife and I bought a new Nissan Leaf. And yesterday afternoon, after careful review of the terms, we signed a solar power lease contract with SolarCity.

Talk about diving into renewable energy head first. What the hell are we – I – doing? Continue reading


Fracking in the UK? Don’t hold your breath.

Lord MacGregor’s silly Telegraph op-ed is little more than a recitation of energy industry talking points.

The worthies over at the House of Lords—some of them, anyway—have issued a report deploring the fact that fracking has made virtually no progress in the UK, and that it should be an “urgent national priority,” noting that exploratory drilling hasn’t even really begun.

This is a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee—no, I didn’t know they had one either. Continue reading

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Global warming debate is a waste of time

Climate disruption is a result of human nature, and human nature isn’t going to change.

Here’s what I learned visiting St. Eustatius. The debate over global warming is a waste of time.

St. Eustatius is a tiny Caribbean Island. In its day, the place was a big deal, one of the world’s busiest trading ports with 3500 ships a year. It’s best known for being the first place to acknowledge U.S. sovereignty, but it also played a key role in the Revolution. Most of the guns used by the Continental Army came through Statia, as it’s now known. Continue reading

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Arctic development: I’ll have that with ice, please

Ah, summertime—iced tea, the girls in their summer dresses, butterflies by day and lightning bugs at night, late summer evenings in moonlight, children staying up late, increased shipping in the polar seas…wait, what? Well, yes. For the fourth or fifth straight year, enough polar ice has melted so that the number of ships traversing the Northeast Passage—say, from the Bering Straits to around the northern tip of Norway, specifically from Kobe to Rotterdam—has increased. In fact, as of 30 July, some 270 vessels had received permits to make this trip. Specifically, 391 permit applications had been received by Russia’s NSR (Northern Sea Route) administration, and 52 of these were not approved. The difference in permitted approvals and the 270 is that not all ships will be doing the full route—quite a few stop off at various Russian ports. Not that there are all that many of them, but there are enough. This is up from 46 in 2012 doing the whole route, and just four in 2010.

Something transformational is happening here, at least for some. The NSR route shaves about ten days off of doing the traditional route through the Suez Canal. And it’s becoming more popular, obviously. China in particular has an interest here—its first ship just left for this route last week. Russia, which for centuries has had a foreign policy premised, in part, on a search for a permanent warm weather port, has an interest as well. Surprise, surprise, global warming is handing several ports to them at once. The fact that they’re not available year round yet doesn’t really matter—at the current rate of melting, that won’t be a problem in a couple of decades. The Russians can wait for this. Russia, of course, is a long-standing member of the Arctic Council—China only recently got observer status, but has made its polar intentions known. And that’s just one part of the world. On top of the other continent, an increasing number of ships are seeking to make the Northwest Passage a regular route—nearly 20 vessels in this case. Granted, it’s a more difficult route. But still, that’s nearly 20 more than there were a couple of years ago.

We’ve flagged this issue before. And it’s actually not as straightforward as the above implies—there’s still lots of ice, and therefore risk, in waters that are pretty far from anything like mainstream shipping routes, and where any environmental mishap (like a significant spill) is days away for any emergency cleanup operation. But still, a trend is a trend, and there’s no reason to think this will change. We certainly don’t expect the warming trend to reverse itself any time soon—certainly the shipping companies don’t, nor do the governments affected (except for the US, of course, where one of the two major political parties is still gripped by an insane global warming denialism.)

Because in addition to opening up a potentially valuable new trade route, melting arctic seas open up a lot more—mainly mineral resources in the sea bed, including lots and lots of oil and gas for development. If the statistics that industry analysts and reporters have any truth to them, we’re told that the Arctic alone (leaving aside the Antarctic) contains perhaps 30% of “the world’s undiscovered gas” and 13% of undiscovered oil. (“Undiscovered” simply means that gas and/or oil are expected to be there based on the known geology, but actual testing hasn’t been done to pinpoint the location.) And, in an often-repeated factoid, we are constantly being assured that Lloyd’s of London is estimating that investment in the Arctic “could reach $100 billion within ten years.”

Well, yes, this all seems like it might actually happen. But then there’s the methane issue, which could be significant—conceptually it’s an issue, but I suppose it depends on how development takes place. Sadly, experience tells us that it won’t proceed without some sort of large screw-up. We don’t really know how many oil spills or nuclear accidents have occurred in the past that are lost to memory and the Arctic seas. But with every environmental group paying close attention, you can be that any new screw-ups will receive at least some attention—just consider Shell’s disastrous and ultimately farcical attempts to do some test drilling in offshore Arctic waters in 2012. If the media coverage of the spills associated with the proposed Keystone Pipeline is anything to go by, there won’t be broad media coverage, but someone will at least be paying attention. And the numbers are potentially and wildly scary—as the authors of a recent paper in Nature pointed out, economic costs of methane released in Arctic areas could approach $60 trillion, yes, trillion—which would be about the size of the global economy in 2012. Is this alarmist? Probably, and hopefully. But still, methane hydrates are genuinely scary, as the authors point out:

As the amount of Arctic sea ice declines at an unprecedented rate, the thawing of offshore permafrost releases methane. A 50-gigatonne (Gt) reservoir of methane, stored in the form of hydrates, exists on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. It is likely to be emitted as the seabed warms, either steadily over 50 years or suddenly. Higher meth­ane concentrations in the atmosphere will accelerate global warming and hasten local changes in the Arctic, speeding up sea-ice retreat, reducing the reflection of solar energy and accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The ramifications will be felt far from the poles.


The methane pulse will bring forward by 15–35 years the average date at which the global mean temperature rise exceeds 2°C above pre-industrial levels — to 2035 for the business-as-usual scenario and to 2040 for the low-emissions case (see ‘Arctic methane’). This will lead to an extra $60 trillion (net pre­sent value) of mean climate-change impacts for the scenario with no mitigation, or 15% of the mean total predicted cost of climate-change impacts (about $400 trillion). In the low-emissions case, the mean net present value of global climate-change impacts is $82 trillion without the methane release; with the pulse, an extra $37 trillion, or 45% is added….

Nor will development be inexpensive. Americans, and much of the world, have gotten so used to the idea of energy being cheap that they now seem to feel it’s an inalienable right. We see this here in the UK as well—every time the cost of gas bills go up, there are cries that the government should “do something” to reduce them. But that’s not the way it should work—we’re in energy trouble, especially in the US, largely because we’ve been lulled into thinking it’s ok to not pay the full cost of energy. Instead we defer the cost of the externalities, and pretend that they don’t exist. Shale gas may be the exception, but let’s reserve judgment there for a couple of more years. About the only thing we know about those “undiscovered” reserves that the Arctic may contain is that getting the oil and gas out of there is a daunting task, and one that will cost money. Shell has spent $4.5 billion over seven years to develop its Arctic drilling infrastructure, and it still doesn’t work. And China is certainly interested in drilling as well. What their track record is on oil development I can’t say, so I suppose I should cut CNOOC and other Chinese oil companies some slack on the grounds that they haven’t screwed up yet. Strangely enough, I’m not prepared to do that.

So once again we face some questions about the massive experiment we are conducting on Planet Earth—mainly, do we want to go there? Well, that’s not exactly the question any more—we seem to be going there regardless. Next year we’ll probably see a doubling yet again of the number of ships crossing the Arctic. And I suppose that someone will derive some economic benefit from the fact that whatever it is they’re shipping from Kobe to Rotterdam will get there ten days earlier. Still, it may be a trend, but it’s not one I would want to encourage.

The above stamp, of the icebreaker “Lenin,” is one of a set of four icebreaker stamps issued by Russia in 2009. Of course, I don’t think anything is named after Lenin any more. The ship was commissioned in 1959, de-commissioned in 1989, and is now a floating museum. It was the world’s first nuclear-powered surface ship.

CATEGORY: SchadenFriday

It’s SchadenFriday: three maybes and a real winner

A toast! Here’s to Mr. Corti!

It’s SchadenFriday!

We’ve got four unlucky contenders for this week’s most deserved expression of schadenfreude. Three are heavy hitters, but honestly I don’t think their problems are nearly big enough yet.

The winner is actually a solid case of someone getting their due in an epic fashion.

This week’s runners-up:

Probe of Keystone Contractor Energizes U.S. Pipeline Foes

Unfortunately, this is just a case of the Department of State following up with an inquiry. I see nothing to indicate that they will drop ERM and start over in hopes of receiving a less tainted assessment. Even so, I’m happy any time TransCanada runs into another obstacle.

McConnell Campaign Manager: ‘I’m Sorta Holding My Nose For Two Years’

As with TransCanada, I’m delighted any time McConnell even stands a chance of taking some lumps. In this case, I can’t imagine McConnell actually has any trouble personally with Benton’s “holding my nose” comment. That doesn’t keep me from snickering, though.

Virginia’s ‘Gov. Ultrasound’ facing possible criminal charges

This one is another near miss with too many maybes for me to dance a jig. I’d settle for nearly any reason to see him out office. Jail would be just fine.

Didn’t anybody actually get what was coming to them, though? Just once, didn’t the iron fist of come-uppance smack a deserving soul all toward our greater amusement? Why, yes. At least this one time.

Burglar left bruised and bleeding by retired boxer, 72

Does a burglar need a beating? Maybe. Maybe no. What about a knife-wielding burglar that attacks an old man? Absolutely! And who better to bust open that can of whoop-ass than the old man himself? Icing on the cake: I’m sure McCalium’s new buddies will give hm lots of reminders of that awesome time he got his ass beat for breaking into the wrong damned house.  Here’s to you, Mr. Iron Fist, and your demonstration of how to stand your ground.


Image credit: YellowDog @ Licensed under Creative Commons.