Overweening Generalist

Monday, September 2, 2013

Modest Proposals: Toward Consciousness and Survival: Global Warming

I catch myself in the everyday flux of thought thinking about human problems and how overwhelming they seem. Problems seem to becoming worse, more unwieldy, and, like politics in general (for me at least): a set-up for frustration. But there are creative minds who, if not offering a way "out" of our monstrous problems, at least they present an edifying discourse. Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote a book called Think On These Things. His "things" were metaphysical and spiritual in nature; my "things" will seem more nitty-gritty.

The effort: creating "reality" by writing and talking, floating our memes, making myself think, and maybe making you think. I seem to be a meliorist; that is, I suspect that we don't "solve" these types of problems so much as create situations in which they do less damage than if we did nothing. Why? Well, for one thing: the Problem of Unforeseen Consequences.

If you think my selections and presentations for edifying discourse seem worthsomewhiles or not, please comment on why. And if there's some ungainly human problem you think worth addressing, mention it and I'll try to see what I can come up with in further installments.

Global Warming
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which does metadata analysis and consists of thousands of climate SCIENTISTS, reads the worldwide research on warming and presents a report every five-six years. Their latest is in the birthing process, but it's already been leaked to numerous outlets. The NYT had a bit on it, among other places. Their last report estimated 50% or more of warming had a 90% chance of anthropogenic (of human origin) cause. This new report: 95%.

"It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures from 1951 to 2010." Or so says this latest draft report.

Warming the planet by five degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 would release just a stupendous amount of energy in the global systems, melting land ice, causing long-term extended heat waves, creating crises in food production, driving extinctions of species, radically altering the availability of fresh water, and causing changes in plant and animal diversity, actuating mass human migrations (Central-Northern Canada, anyone?). Any one of us could add to this litany of horrors, but right now, I can only take so much. Like malaria and other equatorial diseases making their way to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Like Sydney, Miami, New York, New Orleans, Venice, and Shanghai under water.

For today I will adopt a stance of refraining from imputing motives behind climate SCIENCE doubters, but I'll adopt a common posit of three types of global warming doubters:

  1. The most dickish: denies that global warming even exists.
  2. Probably listens to way too much AM talk radio: accepts global warming is real, but denies that humans are responsible in any appreciable way. It seems their favorite trope is to try to shame those of us who think the methods of SCIENCE have anything to say by asserting we're being "arrogant" for thinking puny humans could have any effect on this magisterial Earth.
  3. I consider these people the loyal opposition and find we can have civil conversations: They admit humans are influencing global warming, but assert that SCIENTISTS have overstated the case. Global warming's impacts will be manageable, the damages minimal. The ones from this group I will admit a particular fondness for are those who try to stay current with the latest breakthroughs in technologies in non-dirty renewable sources.
The NYT article states, and in all my reading and studying about this issue I agree: "Every major scientific academy in the world has warned that global warming is a serious problem."

                                                     Bjorn Lomborg

Two Modest Proposals
1.) Bjorn Lomborg scares the shit out of me: I can't dismiss him as a pro-Big Oil shill, as many in the environmental activist community do. He seems too compelling. He's bright as hell, seems to be a major environmentalist himself, but his data, his analysis, his proposals...always read like a Reality Sandwich. He doesn't sugarcoat. Whenever I read him, I find him compelling, provoking and I want to be as smart as him about the topic of warming and what to do, or at least equal the power of his rhetoric. He wakes me up. Hell, maybe he "is" the smartest, most charming amoral shill paid for by Big Oil. (But I really don't think so.)

And recently he argued that we're never going to get to any reasonably optimistic (among scientist-environmentalists and not Pop Kulch environmentalists...RAWphiles: read "Ecology, Malthus and Machiavelli," from Right Where You Are Sitting Now for an interesting look at how things have changed since around 1980 or so) level of non-dirty renewables by 2030 unless we stop subsidizing hi-tech renewables and invest in R&D instead.

I'm dreamy enough to admit I've advocated since 1989 a gradual shift away from spending on "defense" (which amounts to subsidizing R&D by hi-tech in Unistat), to "energy" of the non-nuclear type. Spin-offs from that sort of R&D would seem to offer riches even greater than the missile-making stuff we did from 1950 on...but that's not the argument I want to go into here. Instead: read closely the brilliant Bjorn Lomborg on investing Research and Development of renewable energy rather than subsidizing it.

The Pentagon and Big Oil wouldn't like a shift of this sort, but I'm not worried about those guys starving, are you?

2.) Name devastating hurricanes after prominent global warming deniers.

Soooo...whattya think? It may be a pleasant day "today," but if you're homeless and occupied by cleaning up debris after the devastation of Hurricane James Inhofe, you may think thrice.


Anonymous said...

Nothing like opening a nice wormcan
and climate science is a mess of

People who have actively tried to do
something about it have been dumped
on for tampering with nature..GRIN

So the alarmists have stirred up the
layfolk without achieving anything
except to propose an air tax or a
mad scheme to sell carbon credits.

The cited scientists were all sure
an ice age was coming a few short
years ago. So we seem to have been
lucky enough to avoid the big ice
covering the planet.

When one of the more vocal types
said the sun didn't have anything
to do with the warming trend, I
began to pay a lot less attention
to them. There's an advantage to
looking at all the factors, not
picking and choosing to fit a narrow specialist view.

I think real science (firmly set
into experimental verification) is
the best thing that ever happened
to humans. I also think that a lot
of the fuzzy headed speculation
done by lab smocked priests of
scientism are a stain on the honor
of those who wrestled out what we
learned the hard way.

I also cover my ass every time I
hear that there is an undeniable
census on anything humans do.

Maybe the doomsayers are all psychic
in that case the so-called antropocene
will be a single molecule thick
strata in the fossil shale to mark
the end of homo sapiens.

We have the tech to solve any of
our problems, all we have to do is
stop pissing away all of our
resources on crap like three letter
agencies who think destroying the
world is a reasonable game plan.

Loft a mylar mirror into space, use it to tune the albedo.

Seed the desert portions of the ocean with nano sized iron.

Build a big tritium reactor and
suck the atmosphere into a giant
compressor plant and store
the CO2 as dry Ice.

Until the leadership gets serious
and starts doing something why are
we worrying about it. Of course
electing a bunch of nuts who want
Jeeeze to come down and save us
aren't going to do anything until
they wind up like the Romans did.

All it took was one volcano to
knock them into a 400 year dark
age. Their survivors were surrounded by things they couldn't

The Net will save us because of
people like you trying to spread
some semblance of civilization.
It may seem like too much work
for too little gain but every bit

Above all do not despair, we can
do anything if we work together.
If it takes all our cities drowning
to wake up human decency then let
them drown and say good riddance
to a bad idea...GRIN

michael said...

I appreciate the distinction made between sciences of "experimental verification" vs. those who do science by measuring and observing, mathematizing and theorizing. The origin of life on Earth ideas: there are more than enough interesting guesses based on analogies and simulations. But it can't be re-run again from actual initial conditions. I still see this as legit science, but not the same as doing physics, chemistry and biology experiments, publishing your results, then having other labs try to replicate your experiments.

Studies on dark matter, dark energy, strings, the role of the Higgs, and black holes seem related here, but I think it's more complicated. Each science has slightly different allowable internal latitude by which to publicly speculate...and eye-catching claims by reputable scientists are, despite what the official lines about "Science" say, always a part of that endeavor. They're the smart ones, they know most of us don't understand their numbers or how they got 'em (esp. members of Congress and the Supreme Court), but they know the educated public looks to the marvels of Nature for religio.

So, for example, a dude like Hawking can speculate that "one day we may know the mind of God." (That's about getting FUNDING! Funding to work on some little puzzle-piece projects that are hard to explain if you aren't a specialist in the area.)

I can't not write about this stuff. It's got its own drama and humor built-in. And I love the complexity. If we read a guy like Lomborg - whatever we suspect about his politics - it's sobering...especially when you live amongst the Berkeleyans, who were the first to have signs put up as the enter the city limits: Nuclear Free Zone

And the Bomb was dreamed up...where?

And let's not even talk about whether a container with a 4 inside a triangle on its underside is recyclable on not. Many of the Berkeleyans get really worked up over this.

Also: I appreciate the skepticism about Scientists as High Priests. I find the Intergovernmental Blah Blahs as having compelling rhetoric, even if some of them were dead wrong in the past. (They've been this Org since 1988) New algorithms, much better sensing apparatuses, superior models do come along. But moreso: a logarithmic acceleration of reports from all fields, multi-disciplinary.

Past dissentual data jump-off point?:

But: are we supposed to pretend that these people don't have a sense of their own political power? How many hundreds of billions have been spent on renewables just since 2000, largely spurred by their reports?

The challenge for the generalist types: follow the actual science. There's enormous money to be made by groups who want the public to deny warming just as there are goldmines in the eyes of some groups who want to scare the crap out of us. So: beware the FNORDs. Try to get better and better at assessing claims made, and cheer on those innovators who may have a Wild Card in the works that will make clean renewables ultra cheap.

(Hic sunt leones there, too, among the "We've got the thing that will save the world if you only give us $150 million to get it off the ground" types. And they do exist. And they're perhaps more believable if they believe their own rhetoric completely?)

tony smyth said...

Ah, a topic dear to my heart.I'm writing book called 'Fukushima nd the coming Tokyo Earthquake'. Its mostly finished. Though lots of it is about nuc energy, there's a long chapter on climate change. Basically, there is no debate among scientists:97.5% of them say "yep, its real, its happening and its manmade".It's the fossil fuel companies who benefit enormously from things as they are now that attempt to muddy the waters, and will destroy scientific careers if necessary. This is especially so in the US. A great book to read on CC is 'With speed and Violence' by Fred Pearce. We could very well reach a tipping point where the climate gets out of control. There are number of ways this can happen.

However, rather than all doom and gloom,in next post, I'll paste some good news about renewables, for excellent progress is being made here.

tony smyth said...

Renewables and energy efficiency
In a world of dwindling resources, efficiency must be placed right at the heart of our approach. This would include: weather proofing existing houses and requiring that all new housing be zero carbon, lowering thermostats, introducing more efficient heating, refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, improved automobile mileage via diesel, hybrids and electric engines, and use of more efficient industrial motors. At the moment, only 15% of a car’s energy reaches the wheels. Studies show that aggressive investment in energy efficiency could eliminate the need to construct more than 1,300 power plants in industrialised countries in the next two decades, and result in net savings. In the United States, studies have shown that cost-effective measures could reduce national consumption by between 30% and 75%. Moreover, these measures would be cheaper to implement than purchasing any other form of electricity. To make this work, the introduction of mandatory efficiency standards is imperative.
Secondly, there needs to be a complete ban on construction of new coal power plants worldwide. This would be relatively easy to implement in Europe and North America, but very difficult to get the agreement of the BRIC countries, home to roughly one third of the world’s population. Additionally, existing coal power plants need to be phased out. At the moment, even if the U.S. and Europe were to cut CO2 emissions by far more than the currently targeted 20%, the total increase in Asian emissions would offset this by a wide margin. Couple that with a new Asian middle class - double the entire population of Europe - and you have a recipe for disaster. A coal ban will be very difficult to implement, but is of the utmost necessity if we are to avoid temperatures rising above 3°C.
Thirdly, possibly the quickest and most effective short-term initiative is the removal of market distorting subsidies given to fossil fuel based corporations. Estimates of globally subsidies given in 2012 to production and consumption of fossil fuels amount to $775 million, and possibly as much as $1 trillion. Fortunately, momentum for subsidy reform is now growing. 134 nations have recently declared support for this measure. In addition, we need a rigorously enforced cap and trade system, in which governments set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions. It is unacceptable that the externalities caused by fossil fuel use are dumped upon the taxpayer. From now on, the principle that the polluter must pay must be strictly enforced.
Fourthly, there needs to be an increase in funding for climate change research.
We also need to support family planning worldwide, for our numbers are now beyond the ability of this planet to support us. There may also be a need for geo-engineering and reforestation.
And finally, a vast increase in the use of renewable energy is essential. Let’s look at the pros and cons of renewables in some detail.

tony smyth said...

Solar photovoltaic energy
The cost per watt of solar photovoltaic energy has fallen by 7% per annum during the last 30 years. The price per watt of solar modules has fallen from $22 in 1980 to US$1/W in 2012, a harbinger of cost-competitive solar. What this means is that, by 2021/2022, solar will become as cheap a source of energy as coal, and be half its cost by 2030. Other than module fabrication, there would be no carbon emissions. By 2025, solar power is likely to be cheaper than power from the grid in 90% percent of all countries.
On May 25th 2012, Germany obtained one third of its energy from solar on that day. Solar power's share in the country's electricity production rose to 6.1% from 4.1% the previous year. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, its capital city Beijing wreathed in a miasma of smog, has announced that it will raise its solar energy target from 21 to 35 gigawatts by 2015. India too intends to double its use of solar power.
Behind the scenes, lots of innovative companies and academic labs are involved in Solar PV. Here are some examples:
• An American company V3Solar has a product called the Spin Cell already in production. This solar panel has a conical shape which catches the sun over the course of its entire arc, enabling it to capture more of the sun’s energy than a flat panel. It has another advantage: when solar is concentrated by a lens it creates large amounts of heat, requiring use of expensive heat resistant solar cell materials. This new device avoids this problem because it can spin, thus keeping it cool.
• New methods of printing solar cells on any surface have been developed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team.
• A paper published online in the journal Nature Materials gave details of a solar thermo electric device that produces power with an efficiency roughly eight times greater than current solar panels, yet uses much less material than conventional photovoltaic panels, and thus will likely be cheaper to produce commercially.
• Once again at MIT, a new discovery that can incorporate a layer of new transparent organic PV cells within window glazing would mean that, theoretically, any window of any building would be able to generate electricity during daylight hours with 12% efficiency.
• A joint German- American firm has developed a new silicon-based solar panel with a holographic foil that it claims delivers 28% energy efficiency, against a typical 17% in current panels. The panels need 90% less silicon than standard solar modules, thus reducing costs. If the company’s claims are substantiated, then generation costs may reach grid parity.

tony smyth said...

Concentrating Solar Power
Concentrating solar power (CSP) is a solar thermal system that focuses sunlight, amplifies its intensity, thus creating very high temperatures that can be create steam to drive a turbine. CSP units are already in operation in Spain and the American Southwest. Though only suitable for regions that get reasonably long periods of bright sunlight, they have the advantage of being able, at suitable scale, to produce up to 100MW of electricity.
The Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), a coalition of mostly German companies, has already begun to build a 500MW solar farm near the desert city of Ouarzazate, Morocco. It will use parabolic mirrors to generate heat for conventional steam turbines. This is intended as a first phase of project to build solar and wind farms across North Africa and parts of the Middle East, with the aim of providing 15% of Europe’s electricity supply by 2050.
It has been estimated that, if just 0.3% of the Sahara Desert were used for CSP, it could meet all of Europe’s energy needs. Indeed, in just six hours, the world's deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year. A North Africa to Europe network will be very expensive to build – long transmission lines will have to pass under the Mediterranean and over long distances to the north of the continent – but is it not a project far worthier than subsidising industries that are gradually cooking our planet?
Wind Power
Innovation, subsidies, economies of scale have led to wind power becoming more efficient. The use of carbon fibre, automated production, new airfoil designs, greater blade length, and increased sophistication in airfoil design are leading to wind creeping closer to parity with fossil fuel-derived electricity.

Prices for wind-generated power in Latin America are plummeting. In a few parts of the world – Uruguay and the TWE Carbon Valley Project in Wyoming for example – wind is already priced at $80 per MWh, as against $90 per MWh for coal. That price is without any form of government subsidy. On April 16, 2012, Spanish wind turbines produced 60.5% of power demand within the country.

At Kyushu University, Japan, researchers have found a way to increase the efficiency of wind turbines. The ‘wind lens’ is an inward curving ring that surrounds a turbine's outer blades. This creates low pressure in front of the turbine, thus accelerating the airflow round the blade tips, resulting in an increase of up to three times current wind power output. A working prototype is being tested – so far very successfully. The turbines will eventually be built at scaled up size, Attached to a series on hexagonal-shaped platforms, and then tethered out at sea, where wind velocity is optimal.

Eric Wagner said...

Interesting piece. One ungainly human problem worth addressing: how to make a decent living and lead a reasonably happy life.

michael said...

@ Tony: I hope people can find your thoughts and data elsewhere too: this stuff is valuable and my blog is a really obscure backwater in the Scheme of Things, innit?

Anyway, thanks for the added value!

@Eric: I've long planned to take a stab at your (and my) ungainly human problem. It may take some tinkering. I seem to be most of the time peeking in through the windows on the Q.