US DOD is worried about climate change

Per a Politico article yesterday, the US Department of Defense is concerned about climate change, even if the President denies the risk. It should be noted this concern is not new. Per Politico:

“Flooding, drought and wildfires driven by climate change pose threats to two-thirds of the U.S. military’s installations, the Defense Department said in a new report required by Congress.

The authors of the report, which the Pentagon delivered to Congress on Thursday, note that it probably underestimates the full extent of risk to military facilities because it only looks at likely impacts over the next two decades. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the world needs to become carbon neutral by 2050 to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, which would lock in many of the most catastrophic effects of climate change.”

This DOD report is following previous cautions that climate change is a risk to national security. This echoes the recent US government report and that of the UN. Yet, the US has a President who denies the human influence on climate change, has called it a hoax, announced the US pullout of the Paris Climate Change Accord and has eased regulations to enable the fossil fuel industry.

The larger irony is this President is inventing a crisis at the border and may declare a national emergency, while fiddling away about climate change. I think I will listen to the DOD than this man.

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An unlikely transformative genius

If you watched “60 Minutes” on CBS last night, you may have seen the interview with Lesley Stahl and a game changing self-made scientist named Marshall Medoff. This 81 year-old, eccentric inventor has researched and created a breakthrough idea that will help move the dial on biomass energy, plastics and even sugar. What you might ask?

Medoff has succeeded in the release of cellulose that is ingrained in all plant products in an elegant fashion. Where MIT and others have failed to cost effectively do so, he has developed the concept of using an electron beam accelerator to blast the cellulose out of the plant materials. This is fascinating enough, but this man is a self-taught scientist. And, to add to the story even more, he came to the idea at Walden Pond in Massachusetts, where he lives nearby. What a great place to think of how to unleash the power of plants.

Yet, Medoff’s invention is beyond the idea stage. Investors are so enthralled, they have invested in his company called Xyleco and there is a facility in Moss Lake, WA in production. This place employs trained and educated chemical scientists and engineers. He also has a testing facility in Massachusetts near where he lives, employing many scientists from MIT and elsewhere.

On his Board of Directors are Bob Armstrong, the former head of MIT’s chemistry department and Steven Chu, the former Director of Energy under President Obama, and several other known advisors, including John Jennings, the former CEO of Shell. They all claim this man is an Edison-like genius, who is a tad eccentric. And, as Armstrong pointed out MIT and others have failed to do what he has done.

These Board members echo his enthusiasm to make a 30% or so dent in the energy business with a 77% more efficient biomass fuel than ethanol. Also, with petroleum-based plastic a huge issue on the environment, one of his scientists demonstrated a plant-based plastic that can have a planned disintegration at the end of its usefulness.  And, if that were not enough, a sugar byproduct called xylose, or wood sugar, is less in calories and has a smaller impact on teeth.

If it were April Fool’s Day, this would seem like a great story to fool people with. The exciting part is Medoff is legitimate. A key side bar is fifteen years ago, he decided to work on this problem to fight climate change. So, he read everything on the subject. And, then started putting together ideas and patents. One of his Board members said this eccentric old man had the confidence that he could do this. That can-do attitude is part of a genius’ make-up.

https://www.localbuzzot.com/2019/01/07/marshall-medoff-the-unlikely-eccentric-inventor-turning-inedible-plant-life-into-fuel-60-minutes/

Kudos to Scotland

Last weekend on PBS Newshour, a two-part series called “Scotland is betting on tidal energy” was presented. Per the series, Scotland “is nearly 70% powered by renewable sources already, with the goal of reaching 100% by 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule.” Let that quote sink in a little – by 2020. Their focus has been on offshore wind energy, but the true wave of the future is tidal energy.

A project in the Pentland Firth is called MeyGen which includes three tidal wave turbines each with three thirty foot blades, the apparatus weighing 150 tons. The turbines provide a very predictable amount of energy powering over 1,000 homes each. “As the tide ebbs and flows, the turbines spin between 7 and 15 times a minute generating power to a wind turbine.”

Tim Cornelius, the CEO of SIMEC Atlantis said the tidal turbines have been expensive at first and have required half the cost to be subsidized by the Scottish government. But, he said the costs are coming down and after one year the cost of production is 50% of the year before. The turbines also build off existing technology used in the oil and gas energy, with cranes, ships and equipment to position a new turbine.

Scotland has been the leading edge implementer of these tidal turbines and others are taking notice. Cornelius says SIMEC plans to deploy 250 additional tidal turbines in the next several years. Other coastal countries are taking notice and creating their own pilots. The US is behind others, but will be investing in a testing facility off the Oregon coast.

As discovered with solar and onshore and offshore wind energy, the production costs decline over time so as to be more on par with fossils fuel production costs. But, in my view, when all costs are factored in – maintenance, litigation, environmental degradation, transportation, water loss and health – renewables are far cheaper than fossil fuel. For example, maintaining coal ash is a cost that never goes away.

While good things are happening with renewables in the US, we can all learn from countries like Scotland. We have a few cities like Burlington, VT, Georgetown, TX and Greensburg, KS which are 100% renewable energy powered. And, while California is a solar power and Texas a wind power champion, we have far more ways to go.

So, kudos to Scotland!

 

Small colleges, large growth

This past week my wife and I attended our daughter’s senior project presentation. She did a marvelous job, showing equal parts poise and command of her material, to well-mask her nervousness. Her professors thought so as well giving her an A on her presentation.

Our daughter attends a small college with about 900 students. She has truly come into her own here, knowing her professors and advisors and having a terrific cadre of friends and associates. She has been involved with several campus groups and is now co-captain of the climbing team.

She has done well making the honor roll each semester, even as she modified her majors, minors and concentrations. She is her own person and diplomatically and eloquently pushes back when she does not care for every part of your argument. She has become a keen observer of protecting our environment and civil rights.

We are so very proud of the young woman and person she has become. As high schoolers and their parents look at colleges and universities, I would encourage them to find the right fit for them. Maybe a big place will be the right fit, but for some, they may get lost. For my daughter, a small college has been profound. She has grown immensely.

 

What are we voting for?

So, much of the focus has rightfully been on countering the most divisive US President this Independent voter has witnessed. He has bullied, denigrated, lied and made himself the center of attention on far too many issues.

Yet, let’s look at this record he touts as his reason to give him free rein. His followers say he has done what he promised. To me, therein lie the problems.

While the economy is going well, the economic growth has lasted 9 1/2 years, the second longest in US history. We have also had over 8 years of job growth. The tax law and deregulation have helped make it a little better, but we are doing so on borrowed time with increasing debt and less governance.

We have announced the pull out of the Paris Cilmate Change accord and are an outlier in the world. The President lied to people about climate change being a hoax and has added insult by damaging our environment through enabling industrial polluters. He is borrowing time the world does not have.

The ill-conceived tariffs are bad enough, but bullying and lying to our allies far exceed the damage tariffs will do. We are harming our relationships, which are a key strength of America. We are also less trustworthy. As Trump’s former economic advisor said after telling him he lied to the Australian PM, Trump is a “professional liar.”

We have focused on immigration as a major problem, but it has been sold on fear and is not as big a problem as advertised. We have made immigrants the bogeymen and have lost sight of the impact of domestic terrorists already here. Yes, we should fix immigration, but three promising bills before this President were waylaid for political reasons.

We have allowed a President to build off Republican leadership efforts to sabatoge the Affordable Care Act making premiums higher than they otherwise would be. His party has screwed Americans to win a political argument. And, now the GOP has the unmitigated gall to say they want to protect pre-existing conditions.

We have put in place two very conservative justices, but the President forced the Senate to move away from a super majority to a simple majority. This has made it easier to get a less moderate Justice on the court. I want well-tempered jurisprudence, not partisanship. The most recent Justice lied to the Senate.

We have allowed a President to make money off the Presidency, which he has been sued over. The trial is permitted to move ahead. We have not criticized a President enough for denigrating rhe media. Trump is on record  as lying more than any other politician. Our democracy is at stake because of these two issues. He is President, not King.

Finally, civil rights are under attack with this President. His hate speech and bullying have greased the skids for white supremacists. The President is a racist and misogynist.

This is his record. And, I have not even discussed the Russian issue. I would give him kudos on discussions with North Korea and some deregulation. The tax cut helped some, but went too far and is hurting our debt. And, we have done little to better govern guns or invest in our infrastructure.

That is what I think as an Independent voter, who left the GOP over ten years ago. We need to better govern this President. He certainly is not up to the task.

 

Republican Congressman says the obvious

Per a recent Reuters article, “Speaking at a POLITICO Playbook Elections event in Philadelphia, retiring GOP Rep. Ryan Costello said the polarized political climate is the result of many variables that are ‘shaking up the hornet’s nest’ but that Trump’s rhetoric ‘is certainly one of them’ for people on both sides of the aisle.

“’In the grand scheme of things, if you were to subsequently ask me, does he quell or exacerbate? I would say he oftentimes exacerbates,’ Costello added.”

These are obvious statements. In fact, he could be even more definitive. The divisiveness in America did not start with Trump, but using Costello’s word he has exacerbates it.

It is good to see a Republican saying what others know, including Republican leaders.  Unfortunately, he is retiring. It seems those who are retiring are more emboldened to speak. Others fall in line as sycophants and only rarely risk the wrath of Trump. It will be interesting to see what the election brings. If the GOP retains the House as well as the Senate, my guess is the sycophancy will be far worse. If General Mattis leaves his position, we will also lose a governor on the mercurial President.

In my view as an Independent, former Republican, Trump does far worse than exacerbate the divisiveness. He exploits less informed people to bend to his wishes. He knowingly bullies, lies and demeans. Yet, he does it so much, it is second nature.

His campaign for reelection (which has never ceased) is running a commercial that “America is back.” Really. We have continued economic good news, but we have dug ourselves a hole. We have retrenched from our global leadership using fear, more than diplomacy. We have alienated our allies by bullying them and placing tariffs on them. We have non-white Americans who feel their rights are secondary. We have an environment which is now more threatened.

We must have leaders speak out against these actions and behavior. They will be met with childish ridicule from the self-annointed King, but must continue to lean into the wind. He has more than exacerbated – he is exploiting us.

 

Tired of this who wins and loses reporting

The media is not biased in the way many people think. Their greatest bias by far is toward conflict. Bad news will outsell good news any day. But, to keep readers and viewers interested, the media likes to pit people against one another. This is one of the reasons we are more polarized in America. Conflict sells, too,

This conflict is exacerbated by news outlets that spin the news for a target audience. I am reminded by the old joke when a relative from New England visits his cousins in Alabama. He is asked to kill their dog who has become rabid. Headlines in northern newspapers said “Visiting relative kills rabid dog.” The Alabama newspapers said “Damn Yankee shoots beloved pet.”

I have long been perturbed by TV news who put talking heads side by side on the screen to portray an issue as fifty-fifty. Yet, one side may be supported by a large majority, whereas the other is not. Climate change coverage is a good example. It is not fifty-fifty issue, as in the scientific community it is more like 97 to 3. Yet, when portayed as 50-50, a skillful arguer can win a debate to influence opinion, but that does not make them right.

Yet, another key bugaboo is not covering the impact of an issue, but instead focusing on who wins or loses. I truly think it focuses attention on the wrong thing. Here is a series of examples where we should focus on the issues, not on who benefits by the decision or event.

– It is good that the US is talking to North Korea. It is true we need to be mindful that Kim will likely never give up his nuclear weapons and is using this to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea, but talking is better than the chest-beating  and name-calling that was going on last year.

– It is good the NC minister was released by Turkey. The Senators and President should be applauded for this. I am also certain a lot of behind the scenes folks helped pave the way.

– While it is good the tax law change is helping a pretty good economy be a little better, we should not celebrate we borrowed from our future debt by $1.5 trillion to do so. The increasing debt which is currently at $22 trillion will provide growing headwinds to the economy as annual interest cost eventually becomes one of the biggest budget items.

– We should be mindful of the impact on the economy by tariffs. Supplies and sales pipelines are increasingly impacted and will provide headwinds maybe beginning as early as the quarter that just ended. The second quarter results were positively impacted as companies accelerated purchases before the tariffs became effective.

– Leaving the Paris Climate Change Accord is just an abysmal decision. We stand alone against the world. Coupling that with the significant attempts to make it easier for polluting companies, it will cost us dearly in money, health and lives. Fortunately, others are picking up the baton that our leaders are dropping.

– Civil rights are important for all. Our leaders should be beacions of that message and critical when others feel the rights of one group are more important  than another’s. My rights are important, but not moreso than anyone else. That is how our great country works.

There are so many more that we can draw from such as gun governance, healthcare, human rights, etc. I personally don’t want to hear if some leader or party benefits from a change or event. I want to know how it helps Americans and our world. Read past the conflict to understand the issues. Everything need not be contentious.