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By Robert Rapier on Nov 27, 2012 with 40 responses

Hofmeister: Treat Climate Change as a Waste Management Problem

I, along with my editor Sam Avro, recently conducted a broad-ranging interview with John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil and currently the head of Citizens for Affordable Energy, a non-profit group whose aim is to promote sound U.S. energy security solutions for the nation. Previous interview with Mr. Hofmeister were:

A Difficult Decade Ahead For Oil Prices and Supplies

An Energy Plan for America

Surging Demand and Flat Production Equals High Oil Prices

In the current installment, he outlines his ideas for what would constitute a sound plan of attack on climate change.

Global Warming Debate is Settled — With a Twist

I began by asking Mr. Hofmeister whether he agreed that the debate on global warming is over. He responded that he is not a scientist or climatologist, but said that once a critical mass of public officials has determined that something is a problem, then the debate is effectively settled. He also agrees that humans create significant waste, and that if this waste is cleaned up, that would address the climate change issue:

The debate for me is over because I believe we have the technology available to us today to develop hydrocarbons and to use those hydrocarbons in ways in which we can use them fully and clean up after ourselves; with respect to physical waste, liquid waste, and gaseous waste.

So if we approach the issue of global warming/climate change as an issue of waste management – which I would prefer to do – rather than some kind of global crisis which remains undefined and unresolved. Let’s deal with what we know how to deal with. We know how to deal with waste.

This is certainly an unconventional view of the climate change issue. Most environmentalists approach this issue from the viewpoint that if ancient carbon is never burned, the carbon dioxide does not add to the atmospheric carbon dioxide inventory. Mr. Hofmeister’s position is that we should continue to develop and use our fossil carbon resources, but that we also must control the wastes which come about from using those resources. (Read More: Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions — Facts and Figures)

Some of the uses suggested by Mr. Hofmeister for carbon dioxide are in the production of vegetables and other plants, for enhanced oil production, or to simply capture, liquify it, and bury it.

He concluded his answer by saying that the issue is really not that of a warming planet, but rather the failure to manage wastes. By managing those wastes, he suggested that the climate change issue would ultimately fade away.

Because what we are really dealing with are the waste issues – not the issue of the planet warming but the issues that eliminate the wastes that may contribute to global warming.

My own view is that this problem is much more intractable than that. Certainly in the short term that is the case. There is no technology on the horizon that will allow us to capture the waste from automobiles. A widespread move toward electric cars — and then capture of the carbon dioxide at a central power plant — could address this issue. But adoption of electric cars is expected to be slow. Further, I believe it is likely that commercial viability of carbon capture and sequestration at power plants also remains at least a decade away, so for now I don’t view capture of the carbon we burn a realistic option.

I (Robert Rapier) am in attendance at the Total Energy USA conference, November 27-29 in Houston, Texas. More information is available at www.TotalEnergyUSA.com. Feel free to email me if you’re in the area and would like to meet: rapier [at] consumerenergyreport [dot] com

Link to Original Article: Hofmeister: Treat Climate Change as a Waste Management Problem
By Robert Rapier

  1. By TimC on November 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Sorry, but the issue is warming, not “waste management”.   If greenhouse warming were not a problem, then CO2 emissions would be no more of an issue than management of O2 waste from photosynthesis.  And if CO2 were not a greenhouse gas, no one would care if the concentration in the atmosphere went to 500 ppm or even higher.   

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  2. By GreenEngineer on November 28, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    So if we approach the issue of global warming/climate change as an issue of waste management – which I would prefer to do – rather than some kind of global crisis which remains undefined and unresolved. Let’s deal with what we know how to deal with. We know how to deal with waste.

    I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous to the point of absurdity.  It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious, in that it reflects a profound and dangerous misunderstanding of how humans interact with their environment.

    The fact of the matter is that from an ecological perspective – i.e. our ability to maintain a livable planet – we are terrible at managing our wastes.  I’ll give a few examples:

    • Landfill fees sometimes cover the cost of operation of the landfill.  They NEVER cover the marginal cost of replacing the landfill space.  Establishing new landfills is a political process, not a business-driven one, which means that price and cost are dis-correlated and opportunities abound to externalize costs.
    • In most cities, organic (i.e. food) waste is thrown out with the regular trash.  Rather than being recovered and composted, it’s left to fester in a landfill where it will contribute to water table contamination when (not if) the landfill liner leaks.
    • Did I mention that landfill liners ALWAYS leak?  It’s just a matter of time, and the landfill isn’t going anywhere.
    • In some cities, stormwater is mixed with sewage and sent to the treatment plant.  This is fine until a storm drives the system beyond capacity, at which point raw sewage is dumped into whatever waterway is conveniently nearby. This is called CSO: combined sewer outflow
    • In other cities, stormwater has it’s own separate system.  This avoid the CSO problem, but means that stormwater is carrying pollutants (mostly oil and rubber dust) to the waterways with no treatment.
    • In almost all cities, stormwater is shunted for disposal, rather than being treated like the precious resource that it is.  Infiltration for groundwater recharge is rarely practiced.
    • Conventional sewage treatment does not remove hormones or antibiotics (which are continually injected by the toilet-using population), so that all goes straight to the waterways.
    • The Gulf dead zone is an area, up to 7,000 square miles, of hypoxic ocean that forms annually in the Gulf of Mexico.  This is caused by runoff of fertilizer from farms and lawns – i.e. unmanaged waste streams.
    • Air pollution: aside from CO2, you’ve also got mercury, lead, PM-2.5 particulates.  None of these pollutants are managed well, and to the extent they are managed, it is done grudgingly (when forced by laws that were pushed by activists engaged in the Sisyphean task of trying to reduce the rate at which industry poisons people for profit).

     

    That’s just what I come up with off the top of my head.  There are certainly more examples, if you need them.

    Unfortunately, industrial humans have always “managed” their wastes by throwing it away. This works well in a world with low population, or with a largely poor population that can’t object to living in someone else’s toilet.  In the modern world, though, “away” is going away.  (It’s worth noting that it does NOT have to be this way.  Current conditions pertain because it is convenient/profitable, not because responsible waste management is impossible.  But that’s another topic entirely.)  

    Hofmeister is proposing that we apply the same approach that we use for other industrial wastes – one which is failing, which preferentially exploits the poor, and is damaging our planetary life support system – to CO2.  This is not a recipe for success or even survival – this is apologia for continuing business as usual.

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    • By Optimist on November 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      Oh, let’s not be so idealistic, Green E,

      Landfill fees sometimes cover the cost of operation of the landfill.  They NEVER cover the marginal cost of replacing the landfill space.  Establishing new landfills is a political process, not a business-driven one, which means that price and cost are dis-correlated and opportunities abound to externalize costs.

      And that will change over time. Hopefully we will soon figure out that the most sensible feedstock for a renewable fuel system is our wastes.

      In most cities, organic (i.e. food) waste is thrown out with the regular trash.  Rather than being recovered and composted, it’s left to fester in a landfill where it will contribute to water table contamination when (not if) the landfill liner leaks.

      Why the obsession with composting? Can we afford to just toss out the energy value of the wastes? This would go against the spirit of your entire post. And since the topic is GHG, how much of that does composting produce? Much better to produce renewable fuel AND fertilizer. I know, I know. I’m just thinking decades (or more) ahead.

      Did I mention that landfill liners ALWAYS leak?  It’s just a matter of time, and the landfill isn’t going anywhere.

      What you failed to mention is that wastewater can be treated, usually fairly cheaply.

      In some cities, stormwater is mixed with sewage and sent to the treatment plant.  This is fine until a storm drives the system beyond capacity, at which point raw sewage is dumped into whatever waterway is conveniently nearby. This is called CSO: combined sewer outflow.

      Yucky stuff. But at least there is a lot of dilution water available when this happens. CSOs are the subject of much discussion and planning. It is also not the cause behind any recent epidemics that I know of. You?

      In other cities, stormwater has it’s own separate system.  This avoid the CSO problem, but means that stormwater is carrying pollutants (mostly oil and rubber dust) to the waterways with no treatment.

      Again dilution saves the day. Oil and rubber dust can be removed pretty easily.

      In almost all cities, stormwater is shunted for disposal, rather than being treated like the precious resource that it is.  Infiltration for groundwater recharge is rarely practiced.

      And the reason is cost. Maybe in future, with water ever more precious, we’ll see more of that. Maybe not. Storing water is not always practical, or economical. Direct potable reuse. Mark my words…

      Conventional sewage treatment does not remove hormones or antibiotics (which are continually injected by the toilet-using population), so that all goes straight to the waterways.

      Sure its a problem, but the research is ongoing. Advanced oxidation is currently mostly unaffordable, but who knows if that will be true in future. And if you’re concerned about antibiotics, what about ‘em CAFOs?

      The Gulf dead zone is an area, up to 7,000 square miles, of hypoxic ocean that forms annually in the Gulf of Mexico.  This is caused by runoff of fertilizer from farms and lawns – i.e. unmanaged waste streams.

      Yes, the dead zone. The only place where algal-based fuels might make sense, if we can just figure out a cost effective way to harvest free-swimming algae. We’d even get back the nutrients…

      Air pollution: aside from CO2, you’ve also got mercury, lead, PM-2.5 particulates.  None of these pollutants are managed well, and to the extent they are managed, it is done grudgingly (when forced by laws that were pushed by activists engaged in the Sisyphean task of trying to reduce the rate at which industry poisons people for profit).

      Wait, are you claiming that industry are poisoning more people? That’s a strong accusation. Any facts to back up that statement? You should be happy that nat gas is killing the coal industry.

      IMHO you are missing the big picture: as technologies improve we get better at everything, including waste management.

      FWIW, I think Hoffmeister is exactly right: treat it as a waste. Step 1: develop some sensible regulations. That should take at least a decade or three…

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      • By GreenEngineer on November 30, 2012 at 8:16 pm

        Wow.  You are so astoundingly disconnected from reality that it boggles the mind.

        I don’t have time for a point-by-point right now, but fallacy number one comes up again and again: We do not have decades to figure this out.  We are, right now, this minute, impoverishing the future for the sake of present convenience and profit.  Ecosystems are under extreme stress right now, and that has a direct impact on our current and (especially) future prosperity.  If you don’t believe me, go talk to an ecologist, or really any organism biologist (as opposed to the molecular and genetic guys who often know little or nothing about biology outside the lab).  We have to solve this now, with the tools at hand.  Punting to the future is the worst sort of abdication of responsibility.

         

        Also: It is usually easier to avoid making a mess in the first place, than it is to clean one up.  This is thermodynamically obvious, and is borne out by experience.  If someone tells you otherwise, it’s because they are profiting on either the mess-making stage or the cleanup stage.  But the net cost is always higher to clean up the mess than to avoid making it.

         

        Also: Surface water is not particularly cheap or easy to treat.  It takes either massive infrastructure and energy inputs, or a LOT of land and careful management (i.e. constructed wetlands, like Arcata’s waste treatment system).  Ground water (which is what is contaminated by landfills, and by fracking) is much, much harder – essentially impossible at scale.  The usual solution is to stop using the groundwater, and import from elsewhere.

         

        I have to ask: Do you actually have any technical qualifications or experience with real world infrastructure at all?  Your wild optimism suggests that you get your opinions from the pop-science media rather than any actual experience.

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        • By Optimist on November 30, 2012 at 8:43 pm

          Maybe I just tend to see the glass half full.

          We don’t have decades to figure this out? What we have 24 hours? That’s horse manure. You seem to miss the fact that much of the improvements that happen out there are incremental, almost impossible to percieve.

          As a specialist in technology, you’d apreciate that research comes before implementation, and that both steps take time, if done right. You can call that punting, if you wish.

          For your information: I happen to make a living designing infrastructure. So cut the lecture on reality, and stick to the discussion at hand.

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          • By GreenEngineer on November 30, 2012 at 9:24 pm

            If we want to leave our grandchildren with a planet as rich, healthy, diverse and prosperous as the one we were born into, we have something on the order of negative 30 years to get it together.

            That ship has sailed, obviously.  And it’s not clear where the hard limits are, the point after which technological civilization fails, but there’s plenty of misery to be had short of that point.  I would see us avoid that fate, if we can.

            The point you seem to be missing (dodging) is that the problem is not a shortage of technology.  It’s a misapplication of technology.  Better technology can make the problems easier to solve, but it can equally well facilitate making the problems worse – it all depends on how we use it.

            We can, if we choose, start addressing these problems now.  Our failure to do so reflects extreme short-sightedness and the basest sort of greed.  We can and should continue to develop better technological solutions, but the idea that we need to wait on better technology is just more apologia for business as usual: burn the future for the sake of convenience and profit today.

            What kind of infrastructure do you design, anyway?  Digital?

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          • By GreenEngineer on November 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm

            Maybe an analogy will help here.

            Natural systems are like a trust fund.  They pay dividends continuously (ecosystem services), if capital is maintained.  

            For most of history, humans lived off that dividend.  Usually we did not touch the principal (because we could not).   When we did, we did so locally, and that population got trimmed as its available dividends dropped below the requirements of sustenance.

            Lately (last couple of centuries) we’ve figured out how to access the principal directly, and at scale.  Most (though not all) advancement in non-virtual technology is based on increasing the rate at which we can withdraw from that principal fund.  This has made us apparently very wealthy.  For the most part, we cannot tell the difference between wealth-from-dividends and wealth-from-principal.  And why would we?  Viscerally they don’t feel much different, and evolution has not equipped us to make that distinction because mostly we never had the option.

            We’re now at a point where the global dividend is dropping noticeably as a result of these withdrawals, with every reason to expect that trend to continue.

             

            Your solution is

            1) wait, and keep doing what we’ve been doing.

            2) develop more technology, which in many cases increases our ability to drain the principal.

             

            Do you see the problem here?

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            • By Optimist on December 4, 2012 at 8:07 pm

              Green E,

              I just don’t see what you see, I guess.

              That ship has sailed, obviously…

              What ship is that? What has changes so irrevocably? Negative 30 years? How did you come up with that number?

              Where do you see technology being misapplied to make problems worse? Agreed technology is a tool, to be used for good or bad. But to support 9 billion people we are going to need a few more tools.

              We’re now at a point where the global dividend is dropping noticeably as a result of these withdrawals, with every reason to expect that trend to continue.

              We are? Any real world examples to confirm this? You know, other than climate change models predicting disaster…

              More tools does not mean drawing down the pricipal faster, more tools can be used to save or rebuild.

              Hate to disappoint you, but mankind does not turn on a dime. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing for a while yet. Even if we do somehow find the leadership who wants to lead us to a cleaner, greener future. Better make your peace with the ICE.

              You sound like you think there are a bunch of great ideas/technologies/strategies out there that the ignoramusii just keep ignoring. Care to name a few?

              Nope. Not digital infrastructure. Ha ha ha…

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  3. By Nick de Cusa on November 30, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Temperature have gone up around 0,5C since 1880, in line with the exit from the little ice age. It is now no warmer than 1000 years ago, 2000 years ago and 3000 ago. The rate and speed of warming gives no indication of an added human influence (at planet level, locally is another matter). The computer models which were used to “prove” the anthropic influence on the temperature increase never predicted the current ongoing 16 year period without warming. Please, I entreat you. Can you take a break and just rationally observe the facts?

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    • By Ed Reid on November 30, 2012 at 7:47 am

      Nick,

      Don’t you think that is asking an awful lot? :-)

      Actually, there is reason to believe that about half of that temperature increase is not in the data, but in the adjustments to the data.

      There are many models, but no consensus on any one model; or, any one set of sensitivities and forcings.

      There is not even any unique position on the maximum “safe” atmospheric concentration of CO2; or, on the “safe” annual rate of anthropogenic emissions.

      Because of this absence of a unique GOAL, there is also no PLAN to achieve the GOAL.

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      • By Optimist on November 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm

        You two remind me why I, as a conservative, was relieved to see the spanking voters handed out to the elephants in the recent election.

        Keep it up guys. The party is not completely irrelevant just yet. Only in California so far…

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        • By Ed Reid on December 1, 2012 at 10:09 am

          The “Road to Serfdom” is littered with the carcasses of frustrated conservatives who allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

           

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          • By Optimist on December 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

            Not the way I see it: the road to serfdom is lined with guys wearing teabags, shouting “Socialism!” every time somebody tries to strengthen the safety net…

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            • By Ed Reid on December 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm

              The “safety net” has long since become a hammock. I see no need to turn it into a king size four poster bed.

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    • By KoopinVA on December 4, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Nick,

      I’m going to assume that you know the difference between an opinion and a peer reviewed scientific paper.  With that assumption, and since you apparently like observable facts, can you state how many peer reviewed papers have been presented on the subject of AGW?  Can you state how many of the papers support AGW and how many contradict AGW?  If you can’t can you give a rough estimate of the ratio of the peer reviewed papers that support AGW to those that contradict it?

      I guess the main problem I have with people spouting your line is that it almost invariably is driven by the person’s politics and has almost zip to do with the actual science.   Personally, I’m a lifelong Republican and I still call myself “conservative” and I think the denial on my side is just unbearable.

      Science is a process.  If the scientists are wrong on any particularly aspect of AGW it can be amply debated and eventually corrected.  But somehow study after study comfirms the basic tenets of AGW and yet year after year “conservatives” claim, despite all the new incoming scientific work that is confirmed by other (ego driven) scientists, that the whole theory is a hoax.

      Let’s face it, there isn’t much political opposition to the science produced by the LHC because it doesn’t really impact our day to day lives.  The only reason that the science of AGW is impugned is because there are some very powerful interests that are threatened by the implications of that science.  As a conservative I’ll take my science cues from the sciencetists not from the politicians nor the right wing entertainers and it saddens me that this is the exact opposite of all too many of my fellow Republicans.

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      • By notKit P on December 4, 2012 at 3:06 pm

        As a liberal lifelong Republican let me as ask a question. Do you think we should destroy our economy based on the number of peer reviewed papers? What if the peer reviewed papers say that AGW say that that the magnitude of AGW is one degree a century?

         

        Should we destroy out economy while India and China build new coal plants as fast as they can? Should we listen to the Germans who are replacing base load nukes with new coal plants?

         

        The role of scientist is to identify the magnitude of of a potential problem. It is the job of engineers to solve those problems.

         

        It ir easy to run around and say the sky is falling. As liberal Republican I do not have a problem with regulations to solve a problem. I just think we should consider the consequence. Maybe the sky is not falling, maybe it is just an acorn falling from a tree.

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        • By Optimist on December 4, 2012 at 8:18 pm

          Who said anything about destroying our economy?

          There is a lot of low hanging fruit out there. Capturing methane from landfills and other sources would be one. This was one of the Bush administration’s good ideas.

          Another way to reduce GHG emissions is to improve efficiency. When you improve efficiency all consumers save money, and we get to import less oil. Where’s the downside to increased efficiency? Oh, I forgot, it’s going to force companies into bankrupcy… Same as NEVER happened before.

          If somebody is going to invent feasible renewable energy, would you rather have that happen elsewhere? Would you rather buy green fuel and technology from old Europe or China and India?

          It’s the Republican position that’s nonsense…

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          • By Ed Reid on December 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm

            Optimist,

            Dr. James Hansen of NASA GISS, the principal US climate researcher, insists that avoiding CAGW requires the complete elimination of GHG emissions globally; and, a reduction in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to ~350 ppm.

            There is no way that requirement could be achieved by picking “low hanging fruit”, even if the process began immediately and globally. You only get to pick the “low hanging fruit” once. Also, any effort to improve the efficiency of fossil fuel use is a total waste, if elimination of fossil fuel use is  the ultimate goal.

            More than 75% of US energy consumption is fossil fuel based. All of the available alternatives are more expensive. The investment required to eliminate US fossil  use and replace the energy supplied with renewables would be ~$30 trillion. The total global investment requirement would be ~$150 trillion. If you assume, as Hansen does, that the changes must be complete by ~2050, the investment requirement in the US alone would be ~$750 billion per year. That does not include the impact of any carbon tax which might be imposed. It also does not include any US share of the investments required in other countries which could not afford to make the investments on their own.

            While investments on that level might not destroy the economy, they would sure cause a lot of pain, especially in competition with a federal borrowing requirement of ~$1 trillion per year.

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        • By Kup on December 6, 2012 at 2:21 pm

          Well, we agree on somethings.  Of course we shouldn’t crash the economy but it’s funny that you seem to think that the people that side with science are saying the sky is falling and yet you repeat the Republican talking point that if we take action against AGW that, well, the sky will be falling (as in the economy will be destroyed).  It sounds eerily familiar with the conversation back in the early 1990′s when us Republicans stated that the economy would crash if we went up to a 39.6% top marginal rate.  I was a true believer back then and spouted that point of view quite a bit but I can admit I was wrong.  It’s sad to see so many leaders of “my” party spouting the same nonsense 20 years after “we” were proven wrong on this very point.

          Anyway, back to the issue at hand, I agree that scientists give us the scope of the problem and that others give us the solutions.  I also realize that government has a large role to play in something this big.  BUT I also realize that the most efficient way to make the changes necessary is to harness the power of the “free” market to make these changes.  This was the Republican position in the early 1990′s but “we” have gone way off the deep end since then.

          So my suggestion is to use price mechanisms to cost in externalities as best as possible.   On top of that go ahead and add a carbon tax and fund research for possible solutions (but by and large, don’t pick winners).    If you want to offset some of these taxes with tax cuts at the middle and lower ends of the income brackets, then that will be fine too.  Finally, if you need to raise tariffs according to carbon impacts so that India and China can’t get off scot free, then that should be discussed as well.

          The result would be a society that would value our fossil fuels much more than we currently do and we could expect to see a large effort at conservation.  We could also minimize the effects of Peak Lite, as RR likes to put it.  All in all a reasonable plan that doesn’t come anywhere close to destroying the economy.

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          • By notKit P on December 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm

            Who is this guy Mr. Science? Sounds like a swell guy and I would like to be on his side too. It is certainly not Dr. Hansen. What a crack pot! The problem is that there is all kinds of science. AGW is just a theory on this point.

            “India and China can’t get off scot free ”

             

             

            KUP please to your electrical panel and pop the main breaker so you live like a billion or so in India and China. The problem is that every person that is concerned about AGW lives a consumptive live style and is unwilling to change. People in California think that Kentucky should stop mining coal. If California stopped driving so much it would have the same effect.

             

            Why is Obama going after the coal industry rather than the drive to the beach, or drive to the casino, or drive to the movie industry. Then there is the fly your party jet to AGW conference industry.

             

            I think all the people who talk about science never read any of it, but if it was their livelihood going away they would have a different opinion about what the science actually say.

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      • By Nick de Cusa on December 5, 2012 at 7:40 am

        Which of the facts I stated do you see as wrong ?

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  4. By Cheryl on December 1, 2012 at 9:30 am
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  5. By notKit P on December 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    “Wow.  You are so astoundingly disconnected from reality that it boggles the mind. ”

    Wow, I thought Optimist did fairly good job.

    “Air pollution: aside from CO2, you’ve also got mercury, lead, PM-2.5 particulates.  None of these pollutants are managed well, and to the extent they are managed, ”

    The real problem for greenengineer is that my generation has already saved the planet.

    Here is a link for those who might be seriously interested in environmental pollutants.

     

    http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/

     

    The discussion on lead starts on page 143. We took the lead out of paint and gasoline a long time ago. There are still children as risk as a result of living in old housing with lead based paint.

     

    This is an example of a well managed problem that is very close to being no problems at all.

     

    The discussion on mercury starts on page 147. There are no children or pregnant as risk as a result environmental mercury as can be seen by the tables. CDC still maintains a monitoring program because there are a few above the threshold of for monitoring which is the threshold of harm level divided by 100.

     

    This is an example of a well managed problem that is no problems at all now. Regulating coal plants for mercury will not benefit Americans but will make our electricity more expensive.

     

    The source of information on PM-2.5 would be the AIRNOW web stite. The US has very good air quality and very rarely does PM-2.5 exceed a threshold of harm even thought the regulatory limit has been lowered in the last 10 years.

     

    This is an example of a well managed problem that is very close to being no problems at all.

     

    There is reason to be optimistic. A systematic approach to solving environmental problems works. When you compare the numbers to many years ago, we have made huge progress. When you compare the numbers to goals that indicate a clean environment, we have exceeded the goals in many cases.

     

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    • By GreenEngineer on December 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      The average air quality in America is quite good.  The air quality in economically disadvantaged areas, however, is frequently terrible.  E.g. the childhood asthma rate in West Oakland is 6x the national average, largely because of the air quality issues created by the Port.  Similar things happen in coal country, with water pollution, and along the Gulf coast, for the sake of the oil refineries.  It’s profitable to locate polluting businesses where the locals are too poor to create a fuss over it.

      It’s true that we have largely cleaned up the lead mess – finally.  (Interestingly, there was a precipitous and nation-wide drop in crime about 20 years after lead was banned from gas.  One of the things lead does to the brain is damage impulse control.  Coincidence?)  But if you consider the amount of money that has been and continues to be spent on lead paint removal, soil testing for lead, legal issues (being forced to move because the paint is unsafe and there are small kids), etc, etc, there is no way you can claim that it makes more sense to use the lead and then clean it up, than to avoid its use in the first place.  Technologically speaking, we could have phased lead out of paint and gas both decades earlier than we did – but the industries in question ran around with their hair on fire claiming it would put them out of business.

      Nowdays you’ve got the exact same dynamic going on with BFRs (brominated fire retardants) in furniture foam.  In another 5-20 years, those compounds will be banned, I’m sure.  But in the meantime, we’re poisoning our kids.

      And then there are the hormone mimics (of which BPA is the most well known, but hardly the only one).  Those things are dangerous on a parts-per-billion level, and they are totally ubiquitous.  (Why are we having an epidemic of obesity among 6 month old babies??  No one knows, yet, but hormone disruption is a leading candidate.)

       

      Do not flatter yourself that your generation “saved the world”.  You have, at best, addressed a few of the most obvious and gross pollutants.

      And none of this speaks to the basic issue, which is that it is always harder to clean up a mess, than to avoid making it in the first place.  Waste management should be our last strategy to deploy, not our first one.  It’s just that it’s usually more profitable to make the mess, because then someone else has to pay to clean it up.

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      • By notKit P on December 2, 2012 at 10:15 pm

        The air quality in west Oakland is very good. I lived there on my sailboat for several years.

        “The air quality in economically disadvantaged areas, however, is frequently terrible. ”

        Since greenengineer implies being an environmental engineer, I am interested in the theory of selective diffusion.

         

        Since we do not know the cause of asthma and rate have been increasing as air quality getting better, I suspect it is unrelated.

         

        Just for the record water is not polluted in coal country.

         

        “we’re poisoning our kids ”

         

        There is no evidence of that. Again look at the CDC report. There is some confusion over junk science claims and actually harming children. I can recall a time when we worried about malnutrition and not obesity.

         

        “You have, at best, addressed a few of the most obvious and gross pollutants. ”

         

        I only addressed only the ones you listed. Showing you that you were mistaken. I will be happy to discuss SOx, NOx, PCB, DDT, rivers catching fire, and raw sewage making Lake Erie off limits to fishing and swimming.

         

        “And none of this speaks to the basic issue, ”

         

        Ii seem that either your education was lacking or you are 40 years out of date. RCRA (1976) and CERCLA (1980) address those issues.

         

        Not to belittle youth but you are not going to solve environmental problems playing video games. We have made great progress cleaning up the environment. Saving the planted may be a little bit of an exaggeration because it did not need saving in the first place. The next generation can not build on the progress if they do not learn how we did it and just keep blaming practices from a different time.

         

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        • By GreenEngineer on December 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm

          The air quality in west Oakland is very good. I lived there on my sailboat for several years.

          Well, that says it all right there.  You lived in West Oakland… on your sailboat.

          Most of the people who live in West Oakland do not have that privilege - they live and work near major freeways and the port itself, where hundreds of trucks idle for hours at a time.

          On your sailboat, you were breathing the relatively clean air coming in off the Bay.  That same breeze carries the port pollutants out over the city.

          I am interested in the theory of selective diffusion

          Distribution of pollutants depends on many factors, but it is well established by epidemiological researchers that the concentration of harmful particulates and pollutants is much higher in the near vicinity (a few hundred meters) of the source.  Most of the city that is hemmed in by the 580, 880, and 980 is within 500 meters of a major freeway, or the port itself.

          There are real-time air quality maps that I could point you to, which would normally illustrate this.  However, we just came off a week of epic rain, so for once the air is pretty uniformly good.

          Just for the record water is not polluted in coal country.

          What planet do you live on?  Mountaintop removal mining doesn’t exist in your version of America?  Give me a frickin break, dude.

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          • By notKit P on December 3, 2012 at 11:24 pm

            Please share ‘real-time air quality maps’. I love data, it is the first step to solving the problem.

            Greenengineer seems conflicted. He can not decide who to blame, industry that provides jobs so people will not be poor or the millions of people who drive the cars to get to work. The sad thing about California is that too many people moving to paradise results in lost.

            I have been to Wise, Virginia and Hazard, Kentucky. Very beautiful places to live.

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            • By Optimist on December 4, 2012 at 8:41 pm

              Green E,

              You’re a bit too idealistic when you state: it is always harder to clean up a mess, than to avoid making it in the first place. That’s great on paper. In the real world you only find out something’s shortcomings and dangers by using it. It would be great if researchers could find every product’s dangers before it gets used, but in the real world that is just not going to happen. As an engineer you should understand that better than anyone else.

              You also seem to subscribe to a general conspiracy theory where every wrong is perpuated by a bunch of shady characters (the Koch brothers?) in a smoke-filled room, making fists full of money from others’ misery. You’re overlooking the obvious: usually misery is caused by incompetence. It might seem criminal from the outside, but on the inside things usually aren’t so simple.

              To pick a random example: your concern with air quality in poor neighborhoods located close to ports: the state of California now require ships in port to purchase electricity, as opposed to running their ICEs. Air quality in those neighborhoods are about to improve…

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  6. By mac on December 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    “Regulating coal plants for mercury will not benefit Americans but will make our electricity more expensive.”

    YES……………… it will……

    Not to worry, we will make up for any lack of poisonous Mercury coming from coal fired power plants with “life giving” mercury from Tuna.

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  7. By mac on December 2, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me that the obvious solution (according to oil interests).  to a world-wide liquid fuels crisis is simply to drill for more oil.

    Amazing….

    Gee Whiz……,  Does this have anything to do with $$ Money $$ and profits for Western oil companies and middle-east  NOCs ?

    The longer the world stays strung out on oil alone to power the transportation sector, the more money the oil companies make.

    “We need the oil because we need the oil because we need the oil”  chant the oil companies.

    This is a bizarre, nonsensical, circuitous  argument at best.

    It merely prolongs any real alternatives to oil.

    This “oil only and forever” lobbying effort simply makes the oil companies tons of money while doing absolutely nothing to resolve the liquid fuels dilemma.

     

     

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  8. By mac on December 2, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Let’s make Money Dollars  $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. from this liquid fuels crisis.

    We assume that the oil companies will successfully fend off any real alternatives to oil coming to market int the near term future.

    Go ahead, and get  fabulously wealthy off  oil investments….

    With some luck, you might be able to leave enough money to your children so that they can eventually buy an electric car.

     

     

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  9. By mac on December 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    “With some luck, you might be able to leave enough money to your children so that they can eventually buy an electric car.” — mac

     

    Oops…..

    I made a mistake. I am way behind the times. 

    You can actually buy an electric car today…..  Sorry…………

    No need to wait until you die and leave your oil profits to the children.

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  10. By mac on December 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm

     

    The Most Magnificent Automotive Failure of all time ?

    The answer is simple.  It’s Hybrids………….

    ————————————————————————————–

    Oh, wait a minute !!!

    Ooops…………

    Toyota has already sold 1.1 million hybrids this year, not including Nov./Dec. 2012 sales still to be registered.

    There are 42 hybrid models sold in the U.S., as of October 2012 and also 11 plug-in vehicles for sale, including the Nissan Leaf,  Chevy Volt,  Mitsubishi  i-Miev, Ford Focus electric, etc.

    Go back to sleep for 30 years Rip Van Winkle.

    When you awake in 30 years, the world will be vastly different.

     

     

     

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  11. By Biocrude on December 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    At least Hoff has come around that GW is happening.  In my opinion the debate is over, and if anyone didn’t get their ass handed to them by Sandy, and still needs some additional convincing, go see the movie Chasing Ice.  It has real time documentation of the glaciers melting all over the world, and I fear a “tipping point” that we are nearing that will put the melt into high gear with no chance to right the ship.

    With that being said, I do think the future is bright and that technology and the reduction of consumption can save us, but only if we stop arguing that GW is happening and start collectively working on how to solve it.

    @Kit, not to be unproductive, but you haven’t saved anything or anyone.  You are the biggest ‘watermelon’ of them all…

     

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  12. By mac on December 5, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Hofmeister proposed a three prong approach to “energy independence”

    1. Increased U.S. oil production to 10 million bbl/day.

    2. Increased use of natural gas for trucks hauling goodies to eager consumers.

    3. And maybe some electric cars thrown into the mix, just for fun.

    All of them will end up creating more CO2, merely a waste product according to Hof.

    Let’s pretend for just a moment that all vehicles in the U.S. or world wide run off electricity.  Wouldn’t it be far easier to capture carbon emissions at centralized fossil fueled electric power plants than to hopelessly attempt to capture CO2 at the tail pipes of the over 1 Billion internal combustion engined vehicles on the road today ?

     

     

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  13. By Jim Takchess on December 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm
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    • By RBM on December 8, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      Jim,

      Given your link …

      By any chance have you seen a plot by anyone of the elements of oil production loss levels when the Libya events occurred, the SA statements to keep the market supplied, and actual SA production, all overlaid on a timeline ?

      Thanks in advance.

       

       

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  14. By mac on December 6, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    The Great Western Oil Companies, OPEC and various other National Oil Companies can produce or not produce according to their whim.

    Since there are (supposedly)  no viable alternative to oil,  the oil megopoly, (whether represented by the NOCs or Western Oil Companies) is basically free to set production quota and charge the public according to artificially created shortages (production shortfalls) instituted by someone  simply walking out into an oil field and turning off a valve.

    U.S. reliance on crude oil ?   98% for the transportation sector,

    EU subservience to oil ?  Just 97%

    Free and transparent oil markets ???

    Hilarious !!!!

    There are (of course) alternatives to oil.  Both electricity and natural gas are cheaper by the mile (as we speak) than diesel or gasoline derived from crude oil.

    Nevertheless, we must perpetually bow down to oil , and so all these erudite analyses are based on the the idea that marginal increases in oil production  by way of natural gas condensates and fracking will really change anything.

    I suspect that any marginal contributions from fracking will affect the price of gasoline at the pump very little,  Especially, when any NOC can short circuit the OIL FOOD CHAIN at will, by simply sending out some witless guy to turn off a valve.

    mac

    .

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  15. By ben on December 7, 2012 at 5:48 am

    Word out of the Middle East is that the leading players within OPEC continue to view the maintenance of oil production as key to avoiding any triggering of influences that may add additional risk to the fragility of the international monetary system.   There is little altruism involved in such an assessment on the part of the oil ministries, a sthey recognize thier self-interests in sustaining world energy demand to safeguard the life-blood of their national budgets in the hope of keeping a lid on the Arab Spring that threatens domestic and regional stability.    

    What are the likely implications for prices in the event that supplies remain steady against the backdrop of shifting economic conditions in the US, Europe and in Asia?  Over the near-term, it means that the much-needed relief enjoyed by consumers and businesses during the second half of this year will continue into 2013 and likely remain until global economic activity begins to test pre-recession levels of growth (an arguably dubious proposition given the Long Recession theory of R-Squared’s author and a point of view shared by many others). 

    So, what sort of price adjustments might we witness in the coming months?  One particularly credible (and not just because he’s filty rich:) source in the OPEC community cited “a 20% correction in the prices as a benchmark until there is evidence of economic stability leading to sustainable growth.”  This may be wishful thinkling on his (not to mention and our) part.  The point worth noting on this has less to do with the actual size of any price fluctuation and much more an understanding of what the “new normal” might be for economic growth among the western economies for the balance of the decade and beyond.   We might anticipate that the systemic deleveraging in progress combining with other demographic/labor-related constraints may result in incrementally lower average growth than during the past half-century.  There is a great deal of discussion among economists and within the investment/finance community on this key issue.  Indeed, one might argue that the very presumptions of economic growth itself has reached a critical juncture in the evolving deliberations of democratic capitalism.   In short, does a consensus now exist on the merits or indispensibility of economic growth to our collective welfare and security?   One senses that the answer is a lot more problematic as we soon begin a new year than it was just a short generation ago.   Limits to Growth remains an active debate and the current transition to new energy sources (albeit at a glacial pace) will bear significantly on the eventual resolution.              

     Thanks for the lively exchanges, as where there is heat there is often light.

    Ben   

      

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  16. By Sean Ahner on January 6, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Climatology is a science dealing with a complex system. It is by no way settled or complete. We are learning new facts, launching more satellites, getting better computers. But I do know that whether or not climate change is partly or completely anthropogenic and whether the net effect is positive or negative, I don’t trust governments to correct the problem any more than I trust them to manage the economy or to deliver efficient healthcare.

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