Monday, February 4, 2013

Various Concerns with the Climate Movement: 2 Essays

First Essay: Three Points of Contention –

Point 1 – Climate Progress as well as other climate blogs frequently post recent polling information reporting that respondents believe that humans are the prime driver of global warming, they would pay more for electricity to expand deployment of renewables, etc. If this polling information is accurate, then what is stopping the environmental movement from getting what it wants (carbon tax, trace emission energy deployment funding, more efficient buildings, feed-in tariffs, etc.)? Some would argue that the fossil fuel companies and their ‘shills/backers/sycophants’ were somehow responsible, but again how? The system of governance in the U.S. is a Republic or indirect Democracy; some may question the accuracy of such a statement believing instead that governance is instead a plutocratic oligarchy or some other exclusionary elitist structure, but those individuals would be wrong because despite “Citizens United” elections still operate under the principle system of “one person, one vote”. So why are these people who apparently have accurate information pertaining to global warming not voting for individuals who would pass legislation to enhance mitigation possibilities? Is all this polling information wrong?

The simple fact is that people who support the environment enough to spend time posting on message boards need to get out into the streets and start talking one-on-one with others to ensure that everyone realizes how important preserving the environment is for the future and what steps are required to achieve that preservation (i.e. voting for pro-environmental candidates and ordinances). Unfortunately the ones seemingly talking the most about how important the environment is and criticizing those who do not think the same are not taking to the streets, but instead think that one annual “large” protest will get the job done.

Also for those of you who want to cease all fossil fuel emissions in the next year or so congratulations that will collapse the global economy and how is society supposed to massively deploy and develop a trace emission energy infrastructure in a collapsed economy? Oh that is right, they wouldn’t. Even more to the point how would one cease all fossil fuel emissions? Suppose a law is passed, what is the government going to do arrest every single worker at Duke Energy if Duke Energy doesn’t immediately decommission its fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) energy providers? Will they have to do that for every energy company? The logistics of such a methodology is insane. It is akin to those who say the government should round up all illegal aliens and deport them all back to their respective countries of origin. What about China, think China is going to ban fossil fuels just because the U.S. does? Do these individuals advocate going to war against China… if so I’m sure those who feel this way are already enlisted or on the way to an enlistment office right after reading this comment, right?

Point 2 – Some individuals have frequently referenced individuals like Kevin Anderson and Guy McPherson with regards to describing the “reality” of the global warming situation. The problem with citing these individuals is that neither one has any plan to solve the global warming problem. Instead they simply focus on how bad the situation is, which serves no genuine purpose because people need both the truth (assuming they are correct) and a means to act on that truth. This detriment is especially true for Guy McPherson who seems to have the attitude that the faster the economy can collapse the better it is for humanity. That attitude fails because if the economy is not “decommissioned” practically through an elimination of inefficiency and needlessness, but instead simply collapses then there will be no recovery. In this situation society will not reemerge as “mud huts”, but will never really reemerge.

Those who really support someone like Guy McPherson should demand that he and his supporters propose a step-by-step plan to facilitate the reduction of economic “fat” because if one is simply waiting for the collapse to spontaneously happen and make everything better it will happen after too many tipping points have been passed. If that happens then it does not matter how many Atamai Villages are created because they all get it handed to them by global warming just like everybody else.

Point 3 – For those who think that the major environmental groups and NGOs have become too corporate then why don’t you start your own group? It is difficult to expect organizations that have become “dependent” on the corporate structure and environment to ever remove themselves from it. In founding your own group one must present goals that can be achieved over the short-term that will make positive and significant steps towards environmental remediation and mitigation. For example instead of immediately trying to pass a carbon cap or price focus first on a smaller success like creating a Federal water policy. Also transparency is a key for building trust among the public. When asking for donations state directly what the donation will fund over the simple implication that the money will go towards some ‘general’ fund.

Clearly if one is committed enough to start a new environmental group lobbying for a carbon price and/or cap or even a feed-in tariff (look how much money Germany spent on a technology that has still not proven its worth without fossil fuels) are off the table according to both words and actions currently demonstrated by both the administration and Congress. Therefore, what smaller legislation would this group lobby for passage? That is part of the problem with the environmental movement is that there are numerous paths to take, but almost all of them have committed themselves to the carbon price and lesser extent feed-in tariff.

For example the three smaller, yet important legislative goals that jump immediately to my mind are:

1. Press for the creation of an official Federal government water management strategy with appropriate regulations to reduce water waste and address boundary conflicts between the current system of various overlapping departments. Overall this strategy would include, but not be limited to, the incorporation of drip irrigation to all farms, finalization of water allotment between states with shared water resources, strict management of nitrates and other fertilizer byproduct runoff, consolidation between various federal operations concerning water quality to ensure interdepartmental communication and address how precipitation and temperature changes due to current warming and possible future warming will influence water availability with associated adaptation strategies.

2. Alter farm subsidies from no growth price control to requiring the growth of switchgrass or other fast growing flora that can be pyrolysized into biochar, which can be utilized to reduce soil quality loss as well as slightly reduce existing atmospheric carbon emissions. Even if pyrolysized biochar is not as stable as terra petra there is no current reason to suggest that its stability does not range in 100s of years.

3. A final universal building code, similar to the one included in ACES, which for some reason was never excised from ACES and brought to the floor as a separate bill (at least I don’t think it ever was). More stringent, transparent and required codes are needed beyond ASHRAE 90.1 and IPCC (both typically only updated every 3 years). This building code legislation must also include price point regulations to ensure that there is no price gouging of specialized materials, which may be utilized to adhere to the code.

One might look at the above goals and claim that they are foolish because they only represent singles instead of the homerun of a carbon cap/price. That mindset is a problem, which complicates the path towards success. There are numerous ways to score runs in a game two being multiple singles or a homerun; however, homeruns are quite difficult to hit against a sinkerball picture and right now the United States has a sinkerball Congress (especially the House). Therefore, one needs to have a strategy shift where the goal is to hit singles and doubles versus homeruns. Generate positive and necessary action with the additional hope that hitting enough singles and doubles will chase the sinkerballer from the game bringing in a more homerun friendly picture. The environmental community needs a plan and stepping up to the plate to swing for the fences against a sinkerballer is not a good plan.

Essay 2 – Adrift without Guidance

Right now the environmental movement relative to addressing global warming reminds me of the South Park Underpants Gnomes. But instead of the list being Step 1: Collect Underpants; Step 2: ???; Step 3: Profit; the list is:

Step 1 – Convince people that the environment is important and taking action against global warming is the most important issue because it encapsulates all other issues.

Step 2 - ???

Step 3 – Prevent a vast majority of the detrimental consequences of global warming.

While Steps 1 and 3 are appropriate, the environmental movement has no clear defined Step 2. Some may take offense to the question marks associated with Step 2 stating that the step is simply “deploy massive amounts of solar and wind power and stop coal immediately”. One problem (of many) with that step is that it is clearly not detailed enough, which demonstrates a complete lack of understanding when it comes to the scale of the problem (i.e. presuming that a nauseating level of details are not required; i.e. that developing a trace emission energy infrastructure is simple). Also another problem is that massive deployment may not actually result in Step 3.

For example look at Germany, the poster country for solar proponents, instead of increasing its billions of dollars in subsidies for solar it is reducing subsidies (due to too much cost both to consumers and government) and is slated to build at least 8 GW of new coal plants with almost 3 GW of it already constructed and operational since 2011 (and an additional 5.5 GW pending approval and that will probably go up with EON shuttering unprofitable gas plants despite new emission rules in 2016). Note that the “increased efficiency” of these new coal plants does little to change their emission profiles.

If solar was working, why build coal plants to offset their stupid decision to retire their nuclear plants (because tsunamis are so prevalent in Germany) over replacing those nuclear plants with solar power? Either German officials are incredibly stupid or they realize that loading up completely on solar/wind is not the appropriate strategy for their country. If the latter is the answer then what should Germany and other low capacity countries (< 11% solar capacity in the winter for Germany) do? In Germany the percentage of electricity derived from solar ranges daily from 0% – 20% with fossil fuel backup… what happens when that range expands to 0.5% (throwing Germany some storage) – 60% without fossil fuel backup? The grid in Germany has already demonstrated and is continuing to demonstrate significant increased complexity since the passage of their Renewable Energy Act so how will further complexity be managed? These are some of the many questions that need detailed and thorough answers by environmentalists (not simply stating “smart grid, next question”) who want to use solar/wind and yet do not have any.

Another question is how will wind and solar solve their intermittency problems? Smart grids will have limited influence when wind is not blowing and/or the sun is not shining. Standard battery storage systems are not economical or even viable from a resource standpoint. Compressed air is not an economic solution and pumped hydro is only selectively available making its ability to scale highly limited. Before anyone yells out Gemasolar or Andasol think about molten salt scale-up. For example Gemasolar’s storage system only accounts for 15 hours of a 19.9 MW system, so how will that system scale up to at least 96 hours of a 1 TW solar/wind network, if not more? Remember when answering to use specific details and costs while making sure to appropriately calculate the global production rate of potassium and sodium nitrate. Spoiler… you will not like the answer you get.

For those who dream of a magical electrical vehicle storage system consider this issue: no one has empirically demonstrated such an EV battery system for a city of 80,000 with 20,000 EVs, let alone a country of 310 million with 100 million EVs. One would think that such a modest experiment would be appropriate before proclaiming the viability of an EV battery system. Negawatts are a nice thought, but overemphasized in United States and non-existent globally due to energy poverty and a lack of specifics on where they come from limiting their value in future calculations at this point. Finally overbuild of capacity is not effective because there are not enough rare earth resources to keep such scale-up economical and overbuild still has the same problems with the general nature of intermittency; in such a system costs will explode to the point where the global community would be stupid not to build a new energy infrastructure using Generation III and/or IV nuclear reactors instead of solar and wind.

While there are numerous other issues that could be addressed, the chief problem encompassing the overall issue is that there is no specific plan, just a lot of generalities thrown around. One of the keys to avoiding fatalistic depression about global warming is to present individuals with the realistic hope of solving the problem. Pointing to Pacala and Socolow and saying, “Look we just need to do x number of wedges and we’re golden.” does almost nothing. Such a statement is just a broad generalization of a solution that does not tell anyone what the plan actually is, just various options of what it could be with no probability measures that anything will actually happen or be successful. The environmental movement needs a defined plan in nauseating detail to present to the global public to tackle global warming; in the creation of this plan it is important that people do not submarine the debate out of fear that their pet solutions will not be accepted because of crippling flaws. Time to grow up and be adults about the situation for global warming demands people be adults; no crying about not getting your way and taking your ball and going home.

Remember specifics solve problems generalities perpetuate them and right now there is a whole expletive load of generalities in the public forum.

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