Ice on Fire

I encourage people to watch the excellent HBO documentary called “Ice on Fire” on concerns over climate change and remedial actions underway that should and can be leveraged. The documentary is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, but the most impactful voices are the scientists, inventors and trendsetters who are seeing dividends from their actions and investments.

To sum up, we have two major problems facing us – too much carbon in the air along with a growing concern over methane as it is released from beneath melting ice caps and frozen tundra, on top of the venting from natural gas sites. The title comes from researchers lighting methane leaks on fire as it is released from melting ice covered waters. The scientists note with data that it is quite clear man is causing the hastened uptick in temperatures as we leave our carbon fingerprints in the atmosphere.

These are major concerns, but we are not sitting still. Significant efforts are underway. They can be categorized as putting less carbon in the air and capturing more carbon from the air. To avoid a novel, I will touch on some of the ideas, but please do deeper dives and watch the documentary airing now.

Stop putting carbon in the air

We must hasten the move to renewable energy. The costs are more on par and less, in some cases, than fossil fuel energy production. Wind and solar energy are growing at accelerated rates. One CEO noted, the technology is here to make this happen even more than it already is. Here in the US, California gets 25% of its electricity from solar and Texas gets 16% of its electricity from wind energy.

Yet, a very promising start-up off Scotland is tapping tidal energy. There is a company producing electricity today with an offshore platform with two turbines turned by the tides to generate electricity. I have written before about this group as they use existing technologies to harness the sea. Their success is gaining notoriety around the world, as it appears to be replicable.

Two other ideas also help with both recapture and restricting release. The first is reusing depleting biowaste (such as dying trees, plants and compost) in the soils to grow crops and future trees and foliage. The biowaste holds water better, maintains top soil and is straight out of nature’s guidebook.

The other is growing more kelp offshore as it captures carbon like sequoia trees and can also be used as a food source for livestock. Feeding cattle kelp is not a new approach. Feeding cattle is important as it greatly reduces the gases released by animals and preserves more carbon capturing grassland.

Capture more carbon from the air

The documentary spells out several natural ways to capture carbon and a few technological ways. On the former, here are a few ideas:

Maintain forests, especially those with large sequoias, which are huge carbon eaters. There are several places that are nurturing huge forests, but they note we need more of these efforts. We need to be mindful to replace what we cut, but keep some protected forests off limits to cutting.

Another example is to replenish mangroves that offer buffers to oceans. In addition to offering protection against storms, they also are natural born carbon eaters.

Another effort is to grow more urban farms. These farms are usually more organic, but in addition to absorbing carbon in urban areas, they perpetuate a farm to table concept that reduces transportation fumes. Reducing auto fumes is a huge concern of cities around the globe.

The next idea is more compex, but it requires the growing of more shells in the ocean. The dusts off the shells creates “ocean snow” that settles to the bottom and absorbs carbon. The idea is to spread a very small amount of iron in the ocean to cause more shells to grow.

The more technological solutions are designed to pull carbon out of the air. There are two approaches – one is to extract carbon and store it safely underground. The other is to pull it out and reuse it through artificial photosynthesis. Both of these options need more description than I am giving them. I prefer the more natural ways, but all of the above, is a necessary strategy at this late hour.

The scientists have concerns, but they do offer hope. The uncertainty of the ice-covered methane release gives them pause. They did note the methane release from accidental leaks from fossil fuel is visible from space and reduceable with some effort.

Another concern is the well-funded activity behind climate change deniers. A Wyoming rancher scientist standing in front of a visible, leaky methane cap said it plainly – they know this stuffs hurts kids more than adults. If someone came into my home to hurt my kids, it would be over my dead body. So, why is it OK too allow this?

Another scientist was less colorful, but equally plainspoken. He said fossil fuel executives perpetuating climate change denial should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Yet, as the costs have declined, the profit of creating carbon is becoming less palatable than the profit of reducing carbon in the air. People need to know these market forces exist today and not stand for future unhealthy energy creation.

Finally, if you cannot convince a climate change denier that we have a problem, ask them a simple question – if costs were not an issue, would you rather your children and grandchildren breathe methane from vented natural gas or drink coal ash polluted water or have carbon and methane neutral solar, wind or tidal energy? Guess what – costs are not much of an issue anymore and, in an increasing number of cases, less for renewables.

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Rachel Carson, a silent, but forceful hero

It is hard to go against the grain. It is especially hard when you are a 5’4″ woman in a man’s scientific world that boldly said we can tame nature. Yet, when Rachel Carson wrote her provocative book “Silent Spring” in 1962, she rocked the world of the chemical industry. PBS’ “American Experience” has an excellent episode on Carson.

While her book was fiercely discredited by various “throw something against the wall” attacks by the chemical industry, it helped define how we need to proceed with more precaution. It laid bare the hubris of those who felt they could control nature.

It also started a grassroots environmental movement. Within ten years, the toxic chemical DDT would be banned and the Environmental Protection Agency would be created. Her testimony to Congress abetted these efforts. The Cuyahoga river in Cleveland catching fire also was a clarion call. Yet, she would not live to see them. She had cancer when she was being interviewed and testifying to Congress dying in 1964.

“Silent Spring” was her fourth best seller. The first was her “The Sea Around Us” published ten years earlier. Her first topic called upon her marine biology degree and work at the National Wildlife and Fisheries Department. Her first published book in 1941 called “Under the Sea Wind” was re-released after the second one’s success and sold well. Her “The Edge of the Sea” published in 1955 also was a best seller.

Her voice came at a time when “more chemicals” was the answer to any question. She was troubled that our arrogance was getting ahead of our wisdom. Her voice gained footing when it became apparent some fishermen had radiation poisoning from drifted winds from a hydrogen bomb test. But, she had been concerned about the unbridled use of pestiides for years.

A few chapters of “Silent Spring” were printed in The New Yorker and caused such an uproar that a Science Commission was set-up even before the book was released. President Kennedy made reference to Carson in a Q/A with reporters. She understood the use of pesticides is necessary – her main thrust is we need more testing before they are used. The chemical industry went after her and said she was undermining progress. She was called a communist and her data was more anecdotal. And, the fact she was a woman unnerved industry scientists, who felt she was infringing on their turf.

The book was a runaway best seller. It was highlighted in 70 newspapers. When she answered her critics, only then did they realize the power of her calm and informed voice. They were unable to silence her, though they gamely tried to stop a CBS Special Report featuring an interview with Carson. While two sponsors were pressured to drop out, CBS held their ground. For every question answered, there were 100 more raised.

The CBS Special Report was seen by as many as 15 million people. Carson was quite believable.  It was so impactful, a Congressional Committee was set-up the next day. A few months later, the earlier established Kennedy commission verified her findings as vindication.

As she told Congress we must measure the hidden costs against the potential gains. Shouldn’t we do that with every issue? And, for that she was vilified. However, her most telling testimony is our children have been born into this chemical age and we don’t know the full impact on their lives. As one historian noted in the “American Experience” documentary, she caused a “paradigm shift.” Thank you Ms. Carson.

A few odds and ends

Absent a large theme, let me toss out a few odds and ends for your digestion. In no particular order:

– When the pro-Brexit planners were organizing the vote, they tolerated Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson’s efforts, but did not involve them in the planning process. To see those two once again involved is not encouragjng to any future organized departure.

– There is a reason a certain US President does not want people looking down the Deutsche Bank rabbit hole. Malfeasance abounds with all parties, including the bank itself, which has been required to pay fines for money laundering. When you add to the mix a real estate developer who cannot get a US bank to lend him money and no better to place to launder money than in real estate, and it is not hard to fathom unscrupulous behavior.

– The US leaving three agreements will make the world less safe and prosperous, including the US. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed for the eleven participating countries to compete against China; with the US withdrawing, the other ten countries moved ahead, but it lost some clout without the US. Leaving the Iran deal (which they were in compliance with) was unwise. Instead of some stability, we are at risk, as much from Trump as from Iran. And, leaving the Paris Accord on Climate Change made us an outlier at a crucial time for our planet.

– Anti-immigration rhetoric abounds, yet facts are usually casualties in the debate. Rather than have a healthy, data-centric analysis, fear and blame are the selling points. It was succesful in the US, in the UK and in Hungary. People have a right to feel the way they do, but if they heard thoughtful discourse, they may be less zealous with their hatred.

– The ecologist and biologist Sandra Steingraber once wrote environmental impact tests are too geared toward a fifty year-old man, when children are more susceptible being closer to the ground, outdoors more, putting their hands in their mouths and mouth breathing more and without fully developed lungs and brains. I read yesterday, the Trump EPA is defunding tests to perform chemical impact analysis on children. Why? Steingraber, a bladder cancer survivor, notes we do not consider the environment enough as a cause for poor health.

That is enough for now. Let me know your thoughts.

 

The concerns we are not talking enough about

In the US, we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about whatever the President may tweet or say. And, since he is not known for being the most truthful person, we often chase issues that are over-stated, over-simplified or just not true.

Yet, what we are not talking enough about concerns me. Here are a few items that get too little air time.

– With global warming, coral reefs are in jeopardy. Coupled with over fishing due to territorial issues (like in the China Sea), fish populations are diminishing. This should concern us all, and will create conflict along with industry and food loss. *

– Also due to global warming, we are seeing heavier and repetitive weather patterns which are flooding our farmlands, causing more elongated droughts in drought prone areas, and sparking more forest fires. I read a forward-looking report from 2010 sponsored by the largest global pension trustees that predicted global warming causing more of these occurrences and the multiple tens of trillion dollars in costs to remedy them. *

– We also have a global water crisis that is rearing its ugly head in a number of places such as Capetown and Saudi Arabia. Aquifers are diminishing in certain areas and increases in population far exceed the ability for some areas to provide fresh water. Global warming is making the water crisis worse.

– Bee populations around the globe are in decline. The UN reported 37% of bee species are in decline with 9% now extinct. That is 46% of bee species. The bees pollinate many foods which will be in decline as well, which when added to other threats should raise alarm. Certain pesticides are one cause, but it is likely a more holistic problem, including global warmlng.

– Finally, as alluded to above, we need to be concerned about population growth. A scientist said a few years ago that if everyone consumed resources like the average Rwandan, the earth could support 15 billion or so. Yet, if they consumed like the average North American, the number drops to around 2 billion. We have about 7 billion now. Family planning and birth control have to be in the equation.

There are so many more things to discuss, but we need to discuss protecting our species and environment. Call me crazy, but I think that is important.

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* Note: I did see a few stories this morning that were encouraging and concerning. The Central US flooding is a recurrent issue for some towns and even barge shipping traffic on the Mississippi River has shut down until June as a result.

On the coral reef bleaching, I read that Florida and Australian scientists are sharing working approaches to save and try to revitalize dying reefs. That is encouraging, but is it enough?

A science teacher teaching climate change is actively identifying (and teaching her students to do so) the approx. 30,000 internet sources of misinformation on climate change using dated, refuted and untruthful information saying variations that climate change is a hoax. Also, several petroleum companies have provided free teaching materials, which downplay climate change and sell the advantages of petroleum. In contrast, there are about 700 reputable, peer reviewed scientific sites that are worthwhile. That smaller number reveals where the money lies.

Call me crazy

I hope everyone had a great weekend. We are living in interesting times, some would even use the word “crazy.” Here are a few random thoughts to match the times.

– A real hero is someone like Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60 year-old woman who lost her life in this weekend’s synagogue shooting. She lost her life because she threw her body in front of the Rabbi. Please share her story rather than the name of the cold-blooded killer, who not only killed her, but shot two others, including an eight year old girl.

– I agreed with the President when he said people need to get vaccinated for measles.. Then, as I read on, he said during the campaign the measles vaccine is linked to autism. When will this man understand that words matter and people do not realize that the significant majority of the words this man says are untruthful ones?

– Speaking of lies, The Washington Post has recorded 10,000 lies by Trump as President. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich defended the President saying he is a businessman and is allowed to exaggerate. Mr. Gingrich, I am a businessman and if someone in business lied like the President, people would not do business with him very long. Further, why did an independent contractor who dealt with Trump companies say “Word on the street is if you do work for Trump, get paid in advance.”

– A recent poll conducted by Opinium said 55% of Brits now feel the 2016 Brexit vote was a bad idea. They have time for another vote, but not if they wait. A fact based process would help, but it would also help here in the states.

– With the advent of market segmentation in all things, including the pseudo-news and now data, we seem to be moving closer to another Robber Baron period. Now, it is so easy to obfuscate voters, they do not know that elected officials are making changes that help the wealthy. What is also unsurprising is how easily more strident groups can be fooled to go along, provided you play to their fears.  Immigration is being sold as the problem, but the main problems are technology and CEOs chasing cheaper labor costs. In Western countries the haves and have-nots are even more divided. Unless something is tangibly done, this bifurcation is unsustainable.

– Finally, it is amazing how little the US leaders talk about our ticking time bomb problems – job retraining as technology kills more jobs, increasing debt, environmental degradation, global water crisis, stabilizing healthcare costs, crumbling infrastructure and climate change. The GOP is running on building a wall, proliferating gun ownerships, restraining abortions and how bad socialization is. Make all candidates answer questions about these ticking time bomb problems. If they cannot, do not vote for them.

Call me crazy, but maybe, just maybe, the ones who are crazy are the ones not addressing real issues and telling real truths. You be the judge.

 

 

 

Twenty-three kids and a grandma show the way

As a 60 year-old man, I have grown weary of politicians acquiescing to industry funders who want them to permit industry to conduct environmental degradation with impunity.  So, when I see younger folks (or maybe an older one or two) making a difference for the environment, it gives me some hope. They see a future that must change.

Emily Stevenson is a 21 year-old UK woman who has been policing the shores of her country since she was a child gathering up washed up plastic items. Among her many collected items, a frequent item is used plastic chip bags, many made by Walker’s. She advocated successfully to get Walker’s to recycle these bags and look to more bio-degradable materials. One of her ideas to garner notoriety was to make a graduation dress out of Walker’s chip bags. She got Walker’s to partner with a company who recycles items (that previously went unrecycled) into reusable plastic pellets.

Maybe, she was influenced by a 70 year-old British grandmother who has combed 52 beaches in the UK for trash. Pat Smith may have a simple name and have a simple approach, but she is a dedicated exemplar of what we must do to keep our environment clean. Her persistence is refreshing.

Sixteen year-old Greta Thunberg has gotten notoriety for her climate change activism. The Swedish teen parked herself outside of the Stockholm Parliament building advocating more action on climate change. She spawned other teens to do the same around the world. Recently, she spoke eloquently to the UK Parliament. Were they listening? Let’s hope so, but the fact she was there speaks volumes.

Let me close with the twenty-one American kids who have a lawsuit that continues to move forward over all obstacles thrown their way by government and industry. They are suing the US Federal government for denying them due process by obfuscating the impact of climate change for years along with the fossil fuel industry. As reported on “60 Minutes” earlier this year, their case is pretty compelling. Why? It uses the government’s own data and reports against them. It should be noted a separate case against Exxon Mobil by three state AGs uses Exxon’s own data and reports against them. Their case is Exxon misled investors of the impact of climate change on its financials (note a similar case has been brought by Exxon shareholders).

Twenty-three kids and a grandmother are making a difference. We need to listen to what they are saying. As Stevenson noted companies need to pay attention or we simply won’t buy their products. The smarter companies are listening and acting.

Renewable energy has become cheaper than coal

An article in The Guardian caught my eye yesterday, entitled “‘Coal is on the way out’: study finds fossil fuel now pricier than solar or wind.” This is not surprising to me as the production costs of solar and wind energy have significantly dropped over time, yet it likely catches some as a big surprise. Per the article:

“Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

‘Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,’ said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. ‘Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.'”

When all of the costs are factored in, coal is even more expensive than indicated above. For example, coal energy continues to be costly long after it is burned through ash maintenance, leakage and litigation. Yet, now production costs are largely higher for coal than renewables. As the article notes the decline of coal is passed the tipping point.

But, don’t just take the word of this article. In the first two years of the Trump Presidency, more coal plants have been closed than in the entire first four-year term of Obama’s Presidency. This would have happened anyway regardless of who was President, but I mention Trump as even someone who campaigned on keeping coal plants open cannot stave off this trend.

If that is insufficient, note there are currently more than four times the number of solar jobs than coal jobs in the US. And, the wind energy jobs are growing very quickly in the Midwest, with Texas, Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota among others leading the way. In an article called “Will 2019 be the year of the turbine – wind energy continues to surge in Texas” in the Caller Times, in 2017 Texas provided about 15% of its energy through wind and has and will continue to increase that percentage in 2018 and beyond.

I feel for the coal miners, but they are owed the truth and help in retraining for new jobs and some transitional financial support. In the same areas where coal is found, the wind blows and sun shines. I implore legislators to help invest in the new economy in these areas. This should have been happening all along as this trend is not new.