Posts tagged “Biodiversivist”
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.
An article last week in Business Insider discussed Bill Nye’s conversion from anti-GMO to pro-GMO (genetically modified organisms). According to Nye, while attending a political rally in NYC:
“…one speaker insisted that the US president Barack Obama was part of a conspiracy sponsored by large agriculture companies to control minds — and received a great many cheers — somehow that passionate man at the microphone crossed a line for me.”
Was it a desire to distance himself from conspiracy theorist nut-balls or was it the result of his exposure to facts by real scientists at Monsanto that finally convinced him to change his mind? If it was the latter then his stance was largely based on a lack of knowledge. Some are hoping that because Nye was convinced to distance himself from anti-GMO ideologues that he may also one day distance himself from their anti-nuclear energy counterparts, as several highly visible environmentalists have managed to do over the last few years, but I’m skeptical. Nye was not nearly as invested in his GMO stance as he is in his anti-nuclear energy belief. CONTINUE»
Photo Credit The Environmental Blog
Volkswagen was just caught cheating on emissions tests for some of its diesel-powered cars. As a result, their stock price has plummeted. I no longer have to deal with emissions tests because we own a 2006 Prius and a 2011 Leaf, neither of which require testing because one has a SULE (Super Ultra Low Emissions) rating and the the other doesn’t have a tail pipe.
You can’t fake acceleration or gas mileage, but apparently you can fake out emissions tests by installing software capable of detecting when an emissions test is being conducted (via the diagnostic plug in your dash board) that will lean out the fuel mixture and alter the timing (among other things) so the car will pass the test, returning it to normal when the test ends.
I was fooled. Following is a comment I made last year on this subject:
These are all valid points but controlling pollution is mostly a matter of innovation and engineering. You are not necessarily limited by thermodynamics. For example, compare the mileage of the very dirty 2006 diesel Jetta to the very clean 2014 diesel Jetta.
The July announcement from Chevy of its upcoming $38K, 200-mile range Bolt electric car may be of similar historical importance to Nissan’s announcement back in 2011 of the Leaf.
I recently recieved two emails on the same day; one about more palm oil plantations usurping yet another tropical ecosystem, this time for highly endangered African Gorillas instead of Indonesian Orangutans, and the other from my local Sierra Club asking me to urge my elected representatives to reject a transportation funding bill that would not allow our Governor to mandate the consumption of biofuels. Instead, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times expressing my opposition to a biofuel mandate (which, of course, wasn’t published). I put a copy of that rejected submission at the end of this post as an example of what not to send to the Seattle Times Op Ed department. CONTINUE»
I’ve recently discovered the reasonably priced LED shop light. “Big whoop” you may be thinking. It’s a bigger whoop than many realize, especially for me. Just for the fun of it, I measured the current draw of one of my old shop lights and one of the new LED versions. The LED lights use 66% less energy. This won’t make a meaningful, or possibly even a measurable difference in my electric bill but to put this into perspective, if you could achieve that level of efficiency improvement for all lighting in the country, from a CO2 emission perspective, it would be roughly equivalent to replacing about 7% of our fossil fuel power plants with renewable green lower CO2 emitting electrical energy sources, without having to build a single nuclear, wind, hydro, or solar power plant. That’s more than today’s total for wind and solar combined. Put yet another way, that is equivalent to about 1,000 utility scale wind projects (48,000 wind turbines), or about 36 nuclear power plants. But before you toss back that shot of whiskey in celebration, understand that the 66% reduction I achieved with my shop lights would not apply to all lighting across the country.
Just last year the Nobel Prize was awarded to the three Japanese scientists responsible for creating the version of diodes that is used for lighting today.
The only downsides of note I found (and I’m sure there are more) are the fact that insects are more attracted to diode lights and that they don’t generate enough heat to melt the snow when used as traffic lights (easily resolved by not using diodes). The insect problem appears to be potentially serious because insects are the key to nature’s food webs and I would hope that laws could be made to minimize their use outdoors where that is a concern.
Thanks to Tesla’s new battery packs, Russ Finley asks if we can not only stop building more hydro electric dams, but also remove the existing ones to save what remains of the last river ecosystems, restore the world’s salmon runs.
In his article, The Corrections: Jonathan Franzen’s Deeply Irresponsible Climate Change Article, Joe Romm, climate hawk, uses the nonsensical graphic shown below borrowed from U.S.News & World Report (also used here) in an attempt to stifle criticism of renewable energy.
One could predict that Franzen’s blasphemous epiphany in the New Yorker that we are not going to stop climate change by blighting “…every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines” would light Romm’s hair on fire. However, it was Franzen’s suggestion that conservation organizations like the Audubon society should be doubling down on what they do best, preservation of what remains, instead of diverting resources to climate change issues which they can’t do anything about, that got the Audubon society’s feathers in a bunch.
- Franzen is probably right about it being too late to stop climate change, although there is always hope.
- Because conservation groups tend to take their cues from the most vociferous climate hawks, who are also anti-nuclear energy, they are under the false impression that renewable energy can save the day.
[Updated 5/4/2015 to delete potentially incorrect information about storage space and battery size.]
Nissan recently released the results of a five year study that found 99.99 percent of its battery packs are still operating as warrantied (battery not having less than 80 percent capacity after five years). Using that information, a study conducted by Warranty Direct (an independent British insurance specialist) found that the Leaf drive train is 0.255/0.01 =25 times more reliable than internal combustion engines. This is, however, somewhat misleading because today’s conventional cars are amazingly reliable, especially compared to a 1973 Pinto. They found that out of 50,000 conventional cars aged 3-6 years old, only a quarter of one percent “had an issue that led to an immobilization of the internal combustion engine.” This finding appears to have led Glass’s (Britain’s used car guide) to conclude:
“They [Leafs] are good enough that, as an expert in this field, we will be looking again at our residual value forecasts for LEAF and probably revising them upwards. Long-term battery life has been a definite concern for used EV buyers but the new figures from Nissan effectively remove this worry.
“Really, Nissan has gone through a process with the LEAF similar to Toyota with the first generation Prius several years ago, where the cars had to be proven in real life conditions before used buyers could feel confident. Now, the Prius enjoys excellent residuals and the LEAF should start to find a similar level of market acceptance.”
Back in 2007, Google assembled a team of engineers to investigate the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The effort ended in 2011 with the conclusion that it can’t be done with existing technology. Two of the engineers on that team wrote about their efforts in Spectrum IEEE.org. Some excerpts from that article:
Google’s boldest energy move was an effort known as RE<C [Renewables less than Coal], which aimed to develop renewable energy sources that would generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants do. The company announced that Google would help promising technologies mature by investing in start-ups and conducting its own internal R&D.
At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope—but that doesn’t mean the planet is doomed.
As we reflected on the project, we came to the conclusion that even if Google and others had led the way toward a wholesale adoption of renewable energy, that switch would not have resulted in significant reductions of carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to combat climate change exclusively with today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.
So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others. Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon.
We’re glad that Google tried something ambitious with the RE<C initiative, and we’re proud to have been part of the project. But with 20/20 hindsight, we see that it didn’t go far enough, and that truly disruptive technologies are what our planet needs. To reverse climate change, our society requires something beyond today’s renewable energy technologies. Fortunately, new discoveries are changing the way we think about physics, nanotechnology, and biology all the time. While humanity is currently on a trajectory to severe climate change, this disaster can be averted if researchers aim for goals that seem nearly impossible.
The key is that as yet invented sources have to be cheaper than fossil fuels. The problem is that existing scalable low carbon energy sources (nuclear and renewables) are all more expensive than fossil fuels, which I’ve been pointing out for years. They make a stab at explaining why wind and solar are more expensive but trust me, their explanation will largely fall on deaf ears when presented to renewable energy enthusiasts who either don’t want to hear it or are incapable of comprehending it. They argue that subsidies for renewables and nuclear to compete with fossil fuels are essentially a financial penalty to fossil fuels which simply shift their use to another part of the planet (export of oil, gas, and coal, along with manufacturing jobs).