Sunday, August 30, 2009

"The Next 25 Years"

Not exactly breaking Metro Green news, but this fascinating conversation between Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman and Rocky Mountain Institute's Amory Lovins 2 years ago (8/07) is an extraordinary look at what the future may hold and how to approach - and support - the kinds of changes necessary for a sustainable global community.

An intensely thought-provoking 19 minutes of video:

If you find this as interesting as I did, you might browse the RMI video catalog. For more on this ground-breaking scientific think-tank cum research facility, visit the Rocky Mountain Institute online.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant."(h/t)

World leaders pay tribute...

The Telegraph reminds us of the divides EMK was able, in part, to bridge and of the disparate forces he was able to unify.

Good night, sweet prince,
and flights of angels
sing thee to thy rest.

UPDATE: At 8:59 (PST) this evening the following note from President Obama ( hit my inbox:
Terry -- Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy. For nearly five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity; in families that know new opportunity; in children who know education's promise; and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including me. In the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth and good cheer.

He battled passionately on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintained warm friendships across party lines. And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy. I personally valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've benefited as President from his encouragement and wisdom. His fight gave us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye.

The outpouring of love, gratitude and fond memories to which we've all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. For America, he was a defender of a dream. For his family, he was a guardian. Our hearts and prayers go out to them today -- to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family. Today, our country mourns. We say goodbye to a friend and a true leader who challenged us all to live out our noblest values.

And we give thanks for his memory, which inspires us still.

President Barack Obama
A touching and appropriate tribute.

A very stirring Kennedy retrospective from The Boston Globe (published in 2003 - marking EMK's 70th birthday) by Charles S. Pierce: Kennedy Unbound. (h/t)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So, go on then, Professor... (or, "Torturing the data until it finally confesses")

More from Ian Plimer/Interviewed:

So go on then, Professor: What makes you sure that you’re right and all those scientists out there saying the opposite are wrong? ‘I’m a geologist. We geologists have always recognised that climate changes over time. Where we differ from a lot of people pushing AGW is in our understanding of scale. They’re only interested in the last 150 years. Our time frame is 4,567 million years. So what they’re doing is the equivalent of trying to extrapolate the plot of Casablanca from one tiny bit of the love scene. And you can’t. It doesn’t work.’

What Heaven And Earth sets out to do is restore a sense of scientific perspective to a debate which has been hijacked by ‘politicians, environmental activists and opportunists’. It points out, for example, that polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time; that extinctions of life are normal; that climate changes are cyclical and random; that the CO2 in the atmosphere — to which human activity contributes the tiniest fraction — is only 0.001 per cent of the total CO2 held in the oceans, surface rocks, air, soils and life; that CO2 is not a pollutant but a plant food; that the earth’s warmer periods — such as when the Romans grew grapes and citrus trees as far north as Hadrian’s Wall — were times of wealth and plenty.

All this is scientific fact — which is more than you can say for any of the computer models turning out doomsday scenarios about inexorably rising temperatures, sinking islands and collapsing ice shelves. Plimer doesn’t trust them because they seem to have little if any basis in observed reality.

‘I’m a natural scientist. I’m out there every day, buried up to my neck in sh**, collecting raw data. And that’s why I’m so sceptical of these models, which have nothing to do with science or empiricism but are about torturing the data till it finally confesses. None of them predicted this current period we’re in of global cooling. There is no problem with global warming. It stopped in 1998. The last two years of global cooling have erased nearly 30 years of temperature increase.’

This from the above caught me: "polar ice has been present on earth for less than 20 per cent of geological time;" Is there significance and meaning to that statistic? Clearly, Plimer is attempting to minimize (with geological perspective) the drama of the current glacial-polar-ice-melt phenomenon to which we are bearing witness.

Since I promised to share the fruits of my exploration with Metro Green readers, I must here say that, frankly, something comforted me about the notion that for 80% of the geologic time since our nascent planet heaved into existence, we didn't even have polar ice caps. So how big of a deal could the current "crisis" really be?

Not so fast there, Copernicus... Before you put your feet up on the Barca-lounger's foot rest and crank down the AC, how comforting is it really? Here's the beginning of a really interesting scientific piece on the history and geology of the polar ice caps. The article can be found at Polar Ice Caps - Polar Ice Caps And Geologic History:

Although the polar ice caps

have been in existence for millions of years, scientists disagree over exactly how long they have survived in their present form. It is generally agreed that the polar cap north of the Arctic Circle, which covers the Arctic Ocean, has undergone contraction and expansion through some 26 different glaciations in just the past few million years. Parts of the Arctic have been covered by the polar ice cap for at least the last five million years, with estimates ranging up to 15 million. The Antarctic ice cap is more controversial; although many scientists believe extensive ice has existed there for 15 million years, others suggest that volcanic activity on the western half of the continent it covers causes the ice to decay, and the current south polar ice cap is therefore no more than about three million years old.

At least five times since the formation of the earth, because of changes in global climate, the polar ice has expanded north and south toward the equator and has stayed there for at least a million years. The earliest of these known ice ages was some two billion years ago, during the Huronian epoch of the Precambrian era. The most recent ice age began about 1.7 million years in the Pleistocene epoch. It was characterized by a number of fluctuations in North polar ice, some of which expanded over much of modern North America and Europe, covered up to half of the existing continents, and measured as much as 1.8 mi (3 km) deep in some places. These glacial expansions locked up even more water, dropping sea levels

worldwide by more than 300 ft (100 m). Animal species that had adapted to cold weather, like the mammoth, thrived in the polar conditions of the Pleistocene glaciations, and their ranges stretched south into what is now the southern United States.

Not all that comforted yet? Me either. If, as is generally accepted, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, that 20% (stipulating Plimer's claim) of geologic time that the polar ice caps have been existence still represents roughly a billion years. More time even than it's been since the Cubs won the world Series. And, if you recall, according to Ed Mazria author of the 2030 challenge, a +2 to +6 deg. Celsius rise in global temperatures would melt enough polar ice to inundate the major population centers on both the east and west coasts of the United States. New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc., etc.

Unless Plimer is dead on about his statistical interpretation that the current and much-ballyhooed global warming trend ended in 1998, there's really not a great deal of comfort to be gleaned from the science.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Geology, Carbon and Metro Green (e.g. Mr. Non-Science-Guy) Trying to Sort Stuff Out

Every now and then we at Metro Green (well, actually, "I") become seized with an overwhelming urge to separate (or at least to educate myself enough to be able to separate) political propaganda from scientific fact. The last time I was so moved was during a hotly contested political campaign involving the uses of Colorado River water supplied by federal contract via the 335-mile-long Central Arizona Project canal to southern Arizona. The side I supported proposed enacting local legislation - The Water Consumer Protection Act - which would ban the direct delivery of chemically treated Central Arizona Project water to the potable water supply in the Tucson Metropolitan service area.

The Act allowed for numerous other productive uses of this important natural resource - including farming and agriculture, mining and industry, stream-bed and basin recharge - just not for direct delivery to water-users' taps and faucets for drinking.

The various campaigns (1995, 1997, 1999) in which I was involved and in which I played an important advocacy role were waged at ever-higher emotional pitches (as the carte blanche formerly enjoyed by the real estate development and business community began to evaporate and as its members felt more and more threatened) and by the time the issue was more or less settled about $1.5M had been spent by interests on both sides of the questions.

The goal - to once and for all settle the issue of surface water use in a region blessed with one of the largest and purest fresh-water aquifers in the world - was not achieved easily nor without lots of hard feelings on both sides; there were lots of political and bureaucratic casualties and - despite having essentially duked it out three different times - the subject to many remains as raw and unpleasant today as it was when the first experiment with direct delivery went horribly wrong in the Tucson service area back in 1992. (For some background, see here.)

We who have lived here all our lives can do little but resign ourselves to the axiomatic wisdom that in the desert, "Whiskey's fer drinkin' and water's fer fightin.'"

This is a somewhat long introduction to the topic at hand: With all this chatter about carbon pollution and the consequences of unchecked carbon emissions and minimizing carbon footprints, etc., etc., what scientific data is available about carbon to the average blogger-type person and can anything useful be learned from it?

I don't know much (e.g. "zero") about the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) but I did find their web page entitled "Frequently Asked Global Change Questions" quite instructive. It includes question such as:
Q. What percentage of the CO2 in the atmosphere has been produced by human beings through the burning of fossil fuels?
Q. Why is the sum of all national and regional CO2 emission estimates less than the global totals?
Q. What is the greenhouse effect? Is it the same as the ozone hole issue?
Q. Is it possible to reduce CO2 emissions without cutting back on the burning of fossil fuels? In other words, can higher efficiency or better technology reduce the impact of the consumption of fossil fuels?
And the question I was particularly interested in:
Q. Is it possible to separate the carbon and oxygen from CO2 as is possible with other molecules?
So, if at this point you find yourself inclined to do more of your own research, this is not a bad place to start. My questions have simply led to more questions which is, to me, the ideal nature of any intellectual inquiry.

Next, what about real scientists who dispute AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming)? Is it possible that the globe is warming (in cycle with phases of cooling - as it has for all of recorded geologic time) and it has absolutely nothing to do with what mankind does or doesn't do, burns or doesn't burn, drives or doesn't drive, etc?

Is that possible? Let's ask Australian geologist and best-selling author (Heaven and Earth - Global Warming, The Missing Science) Ian Plimer. Here are a couple of interviews with Plimer which I found arresting to the point of feeling compelled to wrestle these science questions to the mat prior to proceeding with the good fight.

Particularly the following of Plimer's assertions, quoted from a piece by James Delingpole writing for
"‘The hypothesis that human activity can create global warming is extraordinary because it is contrary to validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archaeology and geology,’ says Plimer, and while his thesis is not new, you’re unlikely to have heard it expressed with quite such vigour, certitude or wide-ranging scientific authority. Where fellow sceptics like Bjorn Lomborg or Lord Lawson of Blaby are prepared cautiously to endorse the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) more modest predictions, Plimer will cede no ground whatsoever. Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory, he argues, is the biggest, most dangerous and ruinously expensive con trick in history."
Obviously, I'm still exploring. And I will continue the exploration. After all, what's the use of advocating a major political sea-change if your position won't stand up to some good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed scientific scrutiny?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Smartest people in the country - Chu, Gore, Wm. Clinton, Boone Pickens, Reid, etc - nod in agreement... America's six million plus 18-wheelers on natural gas.

According to the eponymously-titled Pickens Plan, to do so could cut foreign oil imports in half. Here's a video clip from the recent Natural Clean Energy Summit 2.0. The momentum appears to be building. Despite the long-term promise of electric vehicles, it's gratifying to see, at this summit, that none are promoting conversion of the trucking industry to electric power just yet. Today's electric motors will not power an 18-wheeler. But, apparently, natural gas will.

An impressive collection of luminaries at this table seem to concur. See what you think:

If you're up for some exploration, additional info on T. Boone Pickens and The Pickens Plan is available here and here.

For what it's worth, Boone Pickens impresed me enough to sign up for emails from his "Army headquarters" (All his emails all start: "Hey Army!")

My kinda guy.

UPDATE: Here's the latest propaganda... if you're so inclined:

: Are the possibilities for real? Here's a press release from last May issued by Kenworth Truck Company regarding it's client Border Valley Trading, a California agri-trucking company, that just replaced it's diesel fleet with 15 new Kenworth LNG(liquefied natural gas)-powered T-800s. Judge for yourself.

UPDATE 3: The Austin Statesman (newspaper) weighs in on T. Boone, The Pickens Plan and the Nat Gas Act with its September 16th editorial "Break the Curse of Oil Addiction." From the editorial:
Big rigs are constantly on the move, spewing fossil fuel emissions in their wake. Incentives for trucking companies to buy natural gas-burning vehicles would lessen dependence on foreign oil and contribute to cleaner air. Transmission and delivery costs would be miniscule when compared to the savings, Pickens said.

Though battery powered vehicles are hailed as the transportation future, batteries aren't practical for powering 18-wheelers, Pickens says, and there are transportation experts who concur...

Like the junkies we are, we promise to get clean after just one more fix. And so it goes until the next time OPEC dries up the supply and drives up the price of U.S. energy.

Rigs that burn natural gas may not be the whole solution, but that certainly is a move in the right direction.

UPDATE #4: From the Arizona Daily Star, October 16:

New compressed-natural-gas station opens

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 10.16.2009

A Tucson Unified School District bus gets a fill-up with gas literally in gaseous form. On Thursday, Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the school district and the Pima Association of Governments/Tucson Clean Cities Coalition debuted the new natural-gas station at 1744 E. Winsett St., near South Kino Parkway. It's open to the public. At front, from left, bus driver Verlin Mosley, Jeff Ell of Tucson Young Professionals and county schools staff members Vaughn Croft and Curtis Dutiel observe the fueling process. The district, which has 70 CNG buses, is expected to be a large customer for the relatively clean-burning fuel, which is sometimes cheaper than gasoline. The station is operated by Clean Energy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Chevy Volt for 2010... 230 MPG?

Take a look at this item from CNN It's a feature on the 2010 Chevy Volt. A promising sounding new automotive product combining the best in electric car technology with the most miserly and fuel efficient of traditional internal combustion engines. It's designed to begin using gas only after the car has gone around 40 miles. And with most day-to-day road trips averaging fewer than 40 miles round trip, the gas in this car's tank could last a long, long time.

(There's also a brief video presentation at the above link but, as of this posting, the embed function was disabled. If/when it returns, I'll embed the video for easier viewing.) Meantime, here's a YouTube info piece:

Being an old time ad guy I admit to having swooned a bit over GM's recent ad campaign with the tag line: "We're not going OUT OF BUSINESS, we're GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS."

Read the story. I guess some ad campaigns aren't all fluff and hooey after all. We at Metro Green wish GM all success with the new Volt and hope (and encourage) other car manufacturers to follow their lead.

Chevy Volt... the optional humor upgrade: