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By Russ Finley on Apr 20, 2016 with 5 responses

Terrorists, Nuclear Powerplants, and Snakes

Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times a few weeks ago titled: Terrorists, bathtubs, and snakes.

It was about how our evolved abilities to assess risk (which worked great when we were hunter-gatherers) can fail us pretty miserably in the modern industrial world–a point that has been made over and over again by lesser known writers over the last decade about the safety of nuclear powerplants.

In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today. If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!

Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes. So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment — so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake.

CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Apr 13, 2016 with 12 responses

Natural Gas Bankrupted The U.S. Coal Industry

Coal Goes Bust

Today, as had been expected, Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) — the largest coal producer in the United States — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Following the announcement I immediately began to receive press releases from various environmental organizations crediting the rise of renewable energy and/or the campaigns to divest investments from fossil fuels for the decline in the U.S. coal industry.

A press release from 350.org declared Peabody’s bankruptcy “A harbinger of the end of the fossil fuel era.” While I applaud a transition away from coal, these organizations are falling all over themselves to give credit to everything except the primary culprit behind the demise of the U.S. coal industry, which is natural gas (as I demonstrate below). In fact, many of these organizations have circulated stories — usually from those with clear vested interests — intended to discredit the indisputable role that natural gas has played. So let’s take a closer look.  CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 25, 2016 with 50 responses

Magical Thinking On Climate Change

In my previous article — Leonardo DiCaprio’s Huge Carbon Footprint — I discussed the seeming inconsistency of Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change activism and his excessive fossil fuel consumption. My argument was that with his own large carbon footprint, DiCaprio is undermining his message and making himself an easy target for critics.

My argument wasn’t specifically that he is a hypocrite, although that has indeed been the argument of many. But others have argued that DiCaprio isn’t a hypocrite at all, because he isn’t actually asking anyone to sacrifice. This is the position articulated well by David Roberts at Vox in Rich climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio lives a carbon-intensive lifestyle, and that’s (mostly) fine. I generally find a lot of truth in what David writes, even when I disagree with him. But here I kind of think David misses the point.

Roberts acknowledges the appeal of the critiques against DiCaprio, noting that there are even plenty of liberals and environmentalists who are quick to criticize climate activists with high-carbon lifestyles. He believes there are two arguments that DiCaprio’s critics make, and then he sets out to debunk them. My intention today is to challenge his debunking. CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on Mar 15, 2016 with 6 responses

Update on the Progress of the Electrification of Transportation

HypeGraphMod

Graph from Study in Nature Energy Modified by Me to Add Timeline

I found this study on Nature Energy, which I subscribe to: Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportation.

Although I disagree with the study’s main conclusion, the above chart they put together (which I have modified) was of interest to me because it suggests that things are finally starting to happen when it comes to electrification of transportation. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 8, 2016 with 9 responses

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Huge Carbon Footprint

Leonardo DiCaprio recently won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant. I saw the movie, and to my layman’s eye it certainly seemed like an Oscar-worthy performance. I was rooting for him to win, as was, it seems, most of America. His victory reportedly set a social-media record, with 440,000 posts in about a minute to become the single-most Tweeted minute during an Oscar telecast.

While I applauded his victory, I took exception to part of his acceptance speech. Here is an excerpt:

“Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this.”

The problem isn’t the message. I believe we are engaging in a dangerous experiment by dumping ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I don’t think there is an easy fix to the problem, but I agree with his characterization that it is an urgent threat. CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on Feb 24, 2016 with 2 responses

Ecosystem Restoration Takes Precedence Over Renewable Energy Projects

The front page of last Sunday’s edition of the Seattle Times had an article titled Elwha: Roaring Back to Life. It’s an update on the many positive impacts to the river ecosystem after removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha hydroelectric dams, writes Russ Finley.

By Robert Rapier on Feb 23, 2016 with 26 responses

A Critical Review of the 2015 Energy Balance for Corn Ethanol

The USDA recently updated the numbers on the energy balance of corn ethanol in 2015 Energy Balance for the Corn-Ethanol Industry. Today returning guest Todd “Ike” Kiefer scrutinizes the numbers in the report and he raises some critical questions about the data and methodology.

Previously Mr. Kiefer wrote an article critical of the Navy’s efforts to promote biofuels in a periodical that is sent to Congress and top military leaders. The article was entitled Energy Insecurity: The False Promise of Liquid Biofuels (discussed here). He also wrote a guest article here in the past called EPA’s Sleight of Hand on Cellulosic Fuel Rule Change. His biography can be found at the end of the article.

I would remind readers that while I may agree with much, if not most of what Mr. Kiefer writes, these are his opinions. I have not taken a close look at this USDA paper myself, so it is possible that we could have a difference of opinion on some element(s) of the analysis. I don’t know that to be the case, but until I read the paper myself I offer up that caveat. CONTINUE»

By Robert Rapier on Feb 13, 2016 with 39 responses

Cellulosic Ethanol Falls A Few Billion Gallons Short

Ten years ago a visionary named Vinod Khosla gave a presentation called Biofuels: Think Outside the Barrel. It seems to have disappeared from his Khosla Ventures website, but you can find an archived version here. In that presentation Mr. Khosla outlined his vision for biofuels. He projected that ethanol produced from biomass – aka “cellulosic ethanol” – would scale up rapidly. From zero commercial production in 2006, Khosla foresaw the first 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol hitting the market in 2008 (see Slide 78), ramping rapidly to 2.5 billion gallons in 2011, 14.6 billion gallons in 2015, and ultimately 173 billion gallons per year by 2030. Combined with corn ethanol production, he believed cellulosic ethanol could totally end U.S. dependence on petroleum for transportation fuel – but he needed to get the government on board to foot some costs.

Khosla addressed potential obstacles in his presentation. Certainly cellulosic ethanol wouldn’t fail because of technology. There were too many companies working on it. The magic of Moore’s Law and black swans would be the ticket to success. (As an aside, he doesn’t seem to understand the black swan theory, as he frequently cites these “high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events” as an expected outcome). The only real barrier he could identify was those despicable oil companies, who had to be shaking in their boots that this 100-year old upstart technology would spell their demise.

But he would deal with the oil companies through legislation by forcing them to purchase this product that had yet to be commercialized. So he lobbied, and he testified before Congress. He lost a vote or two, but he was instrumental in getting cellulosic ethanol mandates included in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The EPA was charged with implementing the RFS, and they based the mandated volumes on the amount that potential cellulosic ethanol producers claimed they would be able to produce. For 2010 the EPA was counting on 100 million gallons of cellulosic fuels based on claims primarily from two companies associated with Vinod Khosla: Range Fuels and Cello Energy. CONTINUE»

By Russ Finley on Feb 4, 2016 with 34 responses

Parsing Bill Nye’s Anti-Nuclear Energy Keynote Speech

My previous article was about Bill Nye’s choice to ignore the science when it comes to nuclear energy safety. I’m not picking on Bill. My critiques are in response to Nye’s decision to use his celebrity status to publicly air his anti-nuclear energy beliefs. This is likely the last article I’ll write about his views …depending I suppose, on what else he has to say in public about nuclear energy.

By Robert Rapier on Jan 22, 2016 with 144 responses

It Really Was A Trillion Dollar Blunder

A few days after Christmas I appeared on CNBC Asia’s Squawk Box to discuss the volatility in the oil market. Bernie Lo asked a question about OPEC’s strategy, and I characterized their decision to defend market share as “a big, costly mistake” that had already cost the group over $500 billion in 2015 and would likely cost them that much again in 2016.

I followed that appearance up with an article for Forbes called OPEC’s Trillion-Dollar Miscalculation (which went viral and received more than 100 times the traffic of their typical energy article). In that article I detailed the numbers behind my assertion.

Two weeks later, Continental Resources CEO and shale drilling pioneer Harold Hamm went on CNBC and reiterated my argument. He called OPEC’s strategy “a monumental mistake for them, I might add, a trillion-dollar mistake.” While there were a number of responses to Hamm’s comments that displayed varying degrees of schadenfreude over the huge decline in his net worth, I didn’t see much acknowledgement that the point is correct. So let’s review. CONTINUE»