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

CATEGORY: Climate

The Daily Caller distorts the results of the latest CNN/Gallup poll on global warming

The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastach published another superficial and oversimplified story about global warming, this time about the latest CNN/Gallup poll.

The Daily Caller, a right-wing website founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, has a history of misleading its readers when it comes to the subject of industrial climate disruption1 (aka global warming or climate change). They have published error-filled commentaries by an established liar, Steve Milloy. They have misrepresented legal filings with the Supreme Court of the United States and when they were criticized for their blatant errors, the managing editor refused to correct or retract the false claims. And they have published shallow and oversimplified stories about global warming science, research, funding, and economics.

Today, one of their climate and energy contributors, Michael Bastach, published another story that either missed or ignored important details of the story. S&R looked at the actual poll questions and detailed results (linked from the global warming section of the CNN article) and found that the detailed results contained not just how answers from December 2014, but from prior polls going back to 2007 in one case and back to 1997 in the other. When considered in context, the detailed results paint a very different picture than that painted by Bastach. Continue reading

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Solar panels on cloudy vs. clear days – Renewable Journal for 1/4/2015

My solar panels face east and west instead of south, giving me an opportunity to see how cloudy days compare to clear days for electricity production.

For more posts in this series, please click here.

My home is a tri-level, and given how it’s oriented in my neighborhood, its multilevel roof faces due north, south, east, and west. After reviewing the rooflines and nearby trees, SolarCity’s engineers concluded that the best roofs to put the panels on were the east and west facing roofs, rather than the south facing roof. After watching how the solar panels generate electricity for several months now, I’ve noticed something interesting. My panels generate electricity more equally on days with high, hazy, light clouds as compared to days of direct sunlight. I found this fascinating, because it’s essentially the same effect as something scientists have observed with respect to plants.

Imagine for a moment you’re sitting under your favorite tree on a clear, sunny day. You look down at the ground and you see well defined shadows from all the tree’s leaves. Now, imagine you’re sitting under that same tree on a day when there are hazy, light clouds across the sky. When you look down at the ground, you don’t really see individual shadows, but rather it’s somewhat darker under the tree than it is out in the open. Years ago scientists hypothesized that plants might photosynthesize better on hazy days with diffuse light than they do under heavy cloud or even in bright sun, and after a bunch of tests, scientists found that the plants they studied did, in fact, photosynthesize better on hazy days.1, 2 Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

Too many people + unbridled consumption = trauma for billions

Does disaster loom, brought on by population increases and a governing economic system predicated on ever more growth?

Scratch a problem involving homo sapiens. Smog choking cities. Carbon dioxide and methane warming atmosphere or ocean. Forests rapaciously slashed. No fish where fish used to be. Nuclear waste with no safe home (ever). Pollution everywhere. Children without education. Billions of poor without hope or safe drinking water or adequate food. Disease and death induced by the absence of health care.

And wars. Plenty of wars.

In such examples of human trauma amid conflicts over life-sustaining resources, there’s a centrality rarely discussed.

Too. Many. People.

When I was born, in 1946, America housed just over 141 million people. Today, the 50 states approach 320 million people. Despite a declining birth rate, America gains a person every 16 seconds, thanks largely to the admission of about 1.5 million legal foreign workers each year.

When I was born, the Earth had about 2.5 billion people. The Census Bureau anticipates 9.3 billion people globally in 2050. That would be almost a four-fold increase in the people Earth would seek but likely fail to adequately support.
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CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative

Hiking in the woods: I’m unstuck from time

A couple of weeks ago I bought a pair of hunting boots so I could walk in the woods again. The woods stand right across the street, a narrow strip bordering the south side of a farm field of some 60 acres. The north and west sides of the field end at the bottoms of tree-filled hills I used to scramble up and down with my dog, King, but King died many years ago, and I couldn’t bring myself to visit the woods without him.

I’ve been going back, though, since buying the boots, and I was happy to see the terrain is all but unrecognizable. Countless beech trees have been felled by winds, crashing across paths King and I used to walk on. There are new ways up the hillside now, though: the worn paths of deer. The deer population is much larger than before. Their paths crisscross the hillsides.

I used clamber from bottom to top without thinking about it. Continue reading

Holidays

Denmark makes a claim for the North Pole—Santa has a sad

Denmark surprised the world—well, maybe not the world, but a number of interested northern countries—with a slightly audacious claim this week for ownership of the North Pole. As we detailed in previous posts, the prospect of global warming opening up the Arctic region to various sorts of development has tantalized countries in the region—and not just the US, Canada and Russia, but also smaller countries such as Denmark and Norway. All have reasons to make claims; but all also have reasons to proceed under established protocols of international negotiations. In this case, that’s the UN Law of the Seas treaty, which the US still has not signed, which may or may not put it at some disadvantage at some nebulous point in the future.

Santa is probably unhappy about this. It’s his home, after all, and suddenly here come these countries, to all of which he distributes millions of presents annually to their children, clanging around and making claims right and left to his home. International negotiations over the allocation of the Arctic seabed are expected to take decades, something which Santa is definitely not looking forward to—especially since he suspects he won’t even be invited.
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Immigration

At the border, an arbitrary fate

Desert grasslands reveal a more nuanced view of illegal immigration

by Bruce Lindwall

A journal entry from a February day during an Expedition Education Institute semester in the Desert Southwest

I went out this morning and found some pictures down in the wash. This is how it happened and why it was so very important.

We were five altogether. Bill is the director of the grasslands research center here in southern Arizona; it’s his job to look after all 8,000 of the acres in his care. Four of us who had come to study up a bit on the ecology of desert grasslands: Thomas from my home state of New Hampshire, Antony from Montreal, and Khiet who was born in Vietnam but grew up in Pennsylvania. This morning we were all headed off a couple miles from the headquarters to pick up trash that falls by the wayside as immigrants slip across the border covered by darkness and becomes hidden in the folds and creases of the borderlands.

Bouncing along the dirt road we asked Bill about grassland ecology, successional stages, and alien species, thinking that we were pursuing the most important learning of the day. Little did we know how close that was to the truth. It was a short ride that ended at a seemingly random spot at the edge of the road. Our little crew outfitted itself with gloves, trash bags, and bottles of water.

It felt liberating to walk freely through the grassland. We had been limited to the roads these last few days for fear of trampling the many experiments laid out amongst the tawny brown stalks of sacaton and lovegrass. But now we were free to wander, and wander we did. Held together at first by habit and conversation, we gradually spread out to explore the small washes and gullies that so thoroughly wrinkle this land. Slowly our bags began to fill with the odd bits jettisoned by those who had come this way. There were empty food tins, torn trash bags, endless water jugs and lots of toilet paper, both used and unused.
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Greetings from Brisbane, California

My town of Brisbane, California is a suburb of San Francisco, butting right up against The City’s southern border. And Brisbane has a lagoon, and Caltrain railroad tracks, which are nice to have…

(Picture taken at sunrise in Brisbane, California on October 22nd, 2014)

Book-Review

Book Review: The Day the Mirror Cried by Saundra Kelley

An interesting olio of tales, vignettes, and short stories with poetry used as a gloss…Kelley’s collection offers nods to Faulkner, Capote, O’Connor, and other Southern legends….

The Day the Mirror Cried by Saundra Kelley (image courtesy Goodreads)

Saundra Kelley’s new book The Day the Mirror Cried reflects a couple of facets of her professional life. Kelley is a professional storyteller, a member of the Storytellers’ Guild, based in one of the capitals of that oral art form, Jonesborough, Tennessee. But Kelley also has a student of literature, and this work, a rambling collection of what she calls “reflections,” “odd memories,” and “ruminations,” shows that while she has a deep understanding of the folkloric character of storytelling, she also has a deep appreciation of great writing. The Day the Mirror Cried is laced with allusions to the work of great Southern writers even as it offers its own fascinating insights into the culture of native Floridians.

Unlike the typical story collection which often progresses towards a key centerpiece work that gives the collection its name, Kelley begins with  the piece that gives her work its title. “The Day the Mirror Cried” will remind readers of one of Faulkner’s most widely known stories, “A Rose for Emily,” and Kelley does a fine job of nodding to the great Mississippian while keeping true to her own tale. This story, which opens the first section of The Day the Mirror Cried, sets up some of the other nods to Southern Gothic tale telling that appear with it such as “The Ship’s Lantern” and “Laugh at the Moon No More.” One other story, “Emerald Forest,” is affecting in the same way as a Truman Capote tale: what begins as curiosity ends up in a sinister situation, changed in Kelley’s story by the intercession of a protective relative (and here the story echoes the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood with the main character’s brother acting the role of the woodsman). Continue reading

CATEGORY: WordsDay

Book Review: Mercedes Wore Black, by Andrea Brunais

Mercedes Wore Black is either a romantic political thriller or a political thriller romance – that’s for the reader to decide…

Mercedes Wore Black by Andrea Brunais (image courtesy Goodreads)

Andrea Brunais is a highly decorated former investigative reporter in Florida. Her new novel, Mercedes Wore Black, reflects her knowledge of Florida politics,investigative journalism, and the changing media climate for reporters who want to write – and writers who want to report.  It’s an interesting book, always lively, at times funny, at times deeply troubling, at times a little frustrating.

Like the Florida politics it depicts with pointed insight, it’s kind of a hot mess.

The novel concerns an investigative journalist, Janis Hawk, who is fired by her newspaper – seemingly as part of the wholesale downsizing of newspapers that goes on apace – but Hawk’s firing has, as one would guess from the introduction, political motives. She’s been stepping on the toes of the rich and powerful: developers who want to ruin delicate sea grass beds to gouge out a deep water docking area at a port only a few miles from plenty of deep water anchorage; an unscrupulous gaming management company trying to take over the Florida lottery business; and, of course, politicians whose greed, lust, and general smarminess they would prefer not to have discussed in public.
Luckily – for both Hawk and the plot – Janis has a wealthy and powerful 2nd wave feminist mentor and friend who puts her into business as a journalist blogger which allows Hawk to continue her investigative reporting. This brings her into contact with both friends (the Mercedes of the title, for example, is an old college friend working for the gubernatorial campaign of a maverick politician with high ideals) and enemies (see above).  From those connections, as the old saw goes, things get interesting.

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Conspiracy

Conspiracies against progress: why the rise of the modern conspiracy theory should concern us all

by David Lambert

Contrails are the wispy white clouds of frozen water vapor that streak across the sky in the wake of jet engines. But according to 17 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds—my generation—contrails are actually “chemtrails,” poisonous chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. As the world becomes an increasingly scary and complex place with no simple answers, the temptation to create narratives explaining all of its evil will grow. And here lies the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. Yet when fantasy overtakes reality, progress suffers.

Whenever anything bad happens in the world today, from September 11th to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there is a growing gaggle quick to cry, “wake up sheeple!” Continue reading

Energy

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

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Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive? – Renewable Journal for 7/14/2014

Electric motors provide instant torque. So yes, the Leaf is one hell of a lot of fun to drive.

leaf-dash-display-610.jpgFor more posts in this series, please click here.

FAQ #1: Is the Nissan Leaf fun to drive?

Hell yes. In fact, it’s by far the zippiest car I’ve ever owned. Able to go 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, it is more than capable of getting out of its own way merging into traffic, unlike some cars I’ve driven and/or owned in the past.

Having a car that could accelerate into traffic was important for me. At this point there’s so much road construction on my commute every day that I wanted to be able to put my foot down and fit into traffic going at 55+ MPH even when contending with a short merge lane. I had to do that this morning, in fact, since I got stuck behind two big trucks and needed to get out and around them and then up to highway speed quickly.
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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: Climate

BBC wises up on Climate Science

Last year we bemoaned the fact that the BBC, which we do love dearly in spite of its occasional faults, was consistently blowing it on its climate change coverage. This has been, in the past, for reasons of “balance.” It may also have been the direct or indirect result of the political and “scientific” views of David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, reputed to be a climate change “skeptic.” At least this was the theory put forward by Guardian commentator John Ashton. Whatever the case, it was embarrassing, and starting to compromise the BBC’s reputation for scientific coverage.

Hah. It turns out some folks at the BBC Trust seem to feel the same way as we do. And The Telegraph, in a story that Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton obviously enjoyed writing, and that the headline writer had a fun time with as well, provides us with the scoop: “BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes.” 200 staffers are now going to training on issues where the scientific consensus is settled, and to learn “not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious.” And the BBC trust was not alone. In April, the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee came to a similar conclusion—the BBC’s coverage of climate change science was lamentable. As Jim Meyer over at Grist points out, the British Government has long accepted climate science, and the BBC was out there looking foolish.

So we’re glad to see that the old regime, if that’s actually what it was, will longer be acceptable, at least at the BBC. This has led to more hilarity, of course. Nigel Lawson, who used to routinely make an appearance to challenge climate scientists, is now complaining that the BBC not inviting him around any more to prattle away is censorship, dammit. Really, just shut up, Nigel, you old crank. You’ve still got The Mail.

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

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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

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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

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Two weeks of owning an electric car – Renewable Journal for 6/21/2014

NissanLeafBAFor more posts in this series, please click here.

Today I had what can only be described as an “electric car moment.” I was driving back home from my kung fu lesson and passed by a gas station that’s under construction. As I passed it, I thought was “hey, that’s getting close. I’ll be able to get gas there… wait a second….”

No. No, I won’t need to get gas at that station. Continue reading

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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