Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fracking by slobs—methane as a bridge fuel

Methane, CH4, is theoretically a very clean-burning fuel.  The carbon atom unites with a couple of oxygen atoms to form CO2 while the hydrogen atoms combine with oxygen to form water vapor.  The benign nature of these combustion products is the reason why natural gas can be safely burned indoors.  Yes, burning methane produces carbon dioxide but compared to burning coal which is almost all carbon, it produces FAR less CO2.

Unfortunately, methane is itself a greenhouse gas.  In fact, it is at 20 times more effective at trapping atmospheric energy than CO2.  So the plan to replace coal with natgas will only work to reduce overall greenhouse gasses IF methane doesn't escape during production. So guess what?  Lots of CH4 is lost in the production process—especially if that process involves fracking.  Why?
  1. Fracking involves forces great enough to fracture underground rock formations.  This is NOT a precision operation.
  2. Fracking is hideously expensive so the incentives to cut corners is almost overwhelming.  Doing anything on the cheap results in sloppy procedures.  In fact, almost all accidents and spills in the oil business can be traced to corner cutting.
If methane will not work as a 'bridge' fuel, the only serious alternative is to speed up the conversion to renewables.  My guess is that should have been the strategy all along.

Huge Methane Leaks Add Doubt on Gas as ‘Bridge’ Fuel

By Bobby Magill  April 15th, 2014

Natural gas as a means to produce electricity is being hailed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the fuel that can act as a "bridge" between carbon-heavy coal and zero-carbon renewables, helping to reduce humans' impact on the climate.

The idea is that burning natural gas involves fewer greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal. The IPCC in its Working Group III report says natural gas as a bridge fuel will only be effective if few gases escape into the atmosphere during natural gas production and distribution.

But a study published Monday adds to the growing evidence those escaping gases, called "fugitive" emissions, are numerous, especially methane emissions while a well is being drilled, a phase of well development previously thought to emit little if any methane. Over a 100-year timeframe, methane is about 35 times as potent as a climate change-driving greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and over 20 years, it's 84 times more potent.

Natural gas drilling could emit up to 1,000 times the methane previously thought, possibly significantly increasing the greenhouse gas footprint of the production of natural gas, the study shows.

The study, conducted by researchers at Purdue and Cornell universities and other institutions, is one of numerous studies conducted over the past several years that have discovered methane leaking from oil and natural gas wells, pipelines and hydraulic fracturing operations. The studies generally agree that methane leakage is significant in many areas, but some question the overall impact to the climate.

A University of Texas study found last year that natural gas wells leak methane at about the rate reported in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency methane emission inventories, and the leaks can be contained with emissions control technology. The author of that study, University of Texas-Austin chemical engineering professor David T. Allen, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

EPA inventories are compiled using the industry’s own measurements of emissions at well sites. Using those numbers, the EPA extrapolates to estimate total methane emissions for an entire region without actually measuring emissions throughout the area.

The EPA estimated in 2011 that natural gas drilling accounts for about 1,200 gigagrams, or 2.6 billion pounds, of methane emissions each year from well completions, equipment leaks and pneumatic controllers. “Flowback,” one of the final stages in well development after fracking, is estimated to emit an average of 81 megagrams of methane per operation. The EPA's most recent geenhouse gas inventories show that natural gas production and distribution is the second largest source of methane emissions nationwide, just behind methane emissions from livestock.

But the new Purdue study suggests the EPA’s inventories may not be quantifying all the methane emissions from wells being drilled because few people have measured methane leaking from wells in the earliest stage of well development — the actual drilling itself.

"Some inventories leave emissions from drilling out entirely because it is assumed to be negligible," study co-author Dana Caulton, a Purdue Ph.D. candidate, said Tuesday.

The study shows that during drilling, as much as 34 grams of methane per second were spewing into the air from seven natural gas well pads in southwest Pennsylvania — up to 1,000 times the EPA estimate for methane emissions during drilling, Purdue atmospheric chemistry professor and study lead author Paul Shepson said in a statement.

“This indicates that there are processes occurring — e.g. emissions from coal seams during the drilling process — that are not captured in the inventory development process,” he said.

To determine emissions rates at natural gas fields in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale gas fields, the researchers used emissions data gathered from an airplane that flew over natural gas wells in southwest Pennsylvania in June 2012, some of which were in the process of being drilled.

None of the wells in the area were being fracked at the time, and none were in the “flowback” stage, according to the study.

“There were a large number of wells being drilled,” study co-author and Cornell University civil and environmental engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea told Climate Central on Tuesday. “No one goes out and measures methane emissions while they’re drilling.”

He said regulators have always thought that there are few emissions during the drilling process, but when drilling rigs drill through shale layers containing a lot of natural gas, a pressure pulse will send gas out of the well and into the atmosphere.

“We need to develop a way to objectively measure emissions from shale gas development that includes the full range of operator types, equipment states and engineering approaches,” Shepson said. “A whole-systems approach to measurement is needed to understand exactly what is occuring.”

The methane leak rates found in Pennsylvania were similar to those found in the atmosphere near natural gas fields in Utah’s Uintah Basin and Colorado’s Denver-Julesberg Basin, showing that methane leaks are widespread in natural gas fields across the country, the study says.

“From a climate point of view, when you’ve got thousands of wells all emitting (methane) during drilling, it’s not inconsequential anymore,” Ingraffea said. "To say we get a pass on natural gas is not faring up to current science. It is not a bridge fuel, there's too much leakage."

The study says there is an urgent need to identify and plug methane leaks in shale gas production nationwide.

But identifying and shutting off all the leaks in the natural gas production and distribution system in the U.S. could be costly.

“The same IPCC report that says (natural gas) is a bridge fuel says we only have 15 to 20 years to do something,” Ingraffea said, referring to the IPCC’s call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. “How long would it take to go and fix thousands of leaks throughout the pipeline system?” more

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Canada loses its diplomatic mind

In 1969, I knew guys who were seriously considering moving to Canada to escape the madness of the Vietnam War.  This was a difficult decision because changing countries is always a lot harder than it might first appear.  Canada might have looked a lot like northern USA but it really was different in substantial and meaningful ways.  Of course some of those differences were quite exciting and at the top of that list was the political leadership.  Their prime minister was this handsome, educated, articulate man named Pierre Trudeau.  Our president was this surly, backward, frighteningly evil guy named Richard Nixon.  For a couple of guys I knew, this was the deal-maker.

A lot has changed up north.  The current PM is a reactionary named Stephen Harper who seems cut from the same cloth as Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh.  How Canada has slipped so far is probably an ugly tale best told by her citizens but for someone who remembers the glory days of Trudeau, it is almost unbelievable.  So I leave it to Murray Dobbin, one of Canada's more insightful observers over the years, to attempt an explanation now that Harper has decided to fully support the USA-engineered coup in Ukraine.

At least Dobbin hasn't lost his touch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Peak soil?

Here in Minnesota, we have a county named Blue Earth.  Now the soil in that county isn't blue like the sky or a lake, but it is so black that under certain lighting conditions, it actually takes on an iridescent bluish hue.  It is quite remarkable.  I spent a significant fraction of my childhood not far from there so I grew up believing that all topsoil was a deep rich black.  I would eventually grow to learn just how incredibly rare such soil actually is but I still have trouble believing that any soil that isn't blue-black is really agricultural land.

Sadly, people treat this amazing resource like, well, dirt.  Careless farming practices see some of this topsoil washed into the rivers with every rainfall.  This dirt gets used to grow corn that is used to make ethanol—a product that requires more energy to produce than it yields when burned.  And of course, the petty real estate speculators think absolutely nothing about covering such ground with tacky housing developments and parking lots.

In the meantime, while crop yields per acre have increased by about six times since my childhood through a combination of better plant genetics and massive applications of fertilizers, there are only so many rabbits that can be pulled out of that hat.  So now there are looming shortages of fertilizers while at the same time, we wash so much nitrogen down the Mississippi that there is now a huge dead zone off the coast of Louisiana.  Throw in the problem of an exploding population and it seems unlikely that these trends will have a happy ending.  What's even worse, the people paid to think about the problems of agriculture are so invested in high-input, energy-intensive production methods there is barely no one to invent alternatives to systems almost certain to crash.

And you wonder why bacon now costs an average of $5.57 / pound.  These will soon be considered the good old days.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Moral equivalent of war

Back when I was a college freshman, much time was spent in the dorm's break room passionately discussing the events of the day.  While these bull sessions were often hopelessly uninformed, they served a useful function by making us defend our intellectual positions and making us engage the world we hoped to soon be a part of.  One idea that I still remember quite vividly was the notion that if the planet were confronted by an alien invasion or some similar threat, the USA and USSR would stop the expensive and pointless Cold War and join forces to attack that external threat.

So now we as a species find ourselves facing a threat that completely dwarfs any possible threat posed by a few alien invaders.  Climate change will affect every human on the planet irregardless of race, class, or nationality.  So the common threat already exists.  And yet there are folks who are actively agitating to restart the Cold War 25 years after most of us thought it was over.

Today's essay is about some reasonably enlightened Ukrainians who think that an investment in renewables would free them from their vassal status to Russia.  Well, it would.  Not only that, but eventually Ukraine will have to join in the effort to reduce global carbon emissions so now is as good a time as any to get started and the current dust-up with Russia is as good a reason as any.

Except.  If people were actually serious about this they would have started the process back in 1991 when the USSR broke up and Ukraine was stuck being a permanent importer of energy.  Changing the energy mix powering the society requires time, resources, organization, and superb planning—not exactly the sort of conditions one finds when the government isn't legitimate and the economy is being strangled by the IMF.  Given Ukraine's location on planet earth, any conversion to renewables is going to be extremely difficult under the best of circumstances.  A country teetering on the verge of a civil war is not going to produce sophisticated and nuanced solutions to existential problems.

Back in the 1970s when Jimmy Carter tried to arouse the citizens of USA to confront the problems caused when we became a net importer of energy, he said that solving the energy problem was the "moral equivalent of war."  Then he threw a few dimes at the problem, pulled on a cardigan sweater, and told us to get used to being colder—proving he didn't actually believe his own speechwriters.  For if he had been serious, we would have seen billions applied to the problem, an organized system of industrial planning, a cooperating Federal Reserve, and the other measures used to fight World War II.  Because Carter's suggested measures were so pathetic, his phrase "moral equivalent of war" was soon shortened to MEOW.  And then came Reagan who made Carter's fecklessness look positively enlightened by comparison.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ludlow Colorado—100 years ago today

On this day 100 years ago, company goons in the employ Colorado Fuel and Iron, a kindly operation of the Rockefeller family, decided to attack some strikers in Ludlow.  The strikers were living in tents because they had been evicted from their company-owned homes.  It was a one-sided affair—the goons were heavily armed with weapons that included machine guns.  When the smoke cleared, at least 19 people had died including two women and 11 children who were huddling in a tent that caught fire.

The Rockefeller reputation never recovered but it wasn't for lack of trying.  A professional liar named Edward Bernays—who many consider the father of the "Public Relations" profession—was hired to shift the blame for the massacre to the striking workers.  Bernays was successful is muddying the issue but he never succeeded in clearing the Rockefeller name.  John D. would go down in USA history as arguably the most hated man in the country—ever.  Of course, there were dozens of other reasons why he was despised, but the Ludlow Massacre would tower above the rest.

One of the reasons Rockefeller's reputation would never recover is that on Jan 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced his plan to pay his workers $5 for an eight-hour day.  The biggest name in American manufacturing had broken ranks with the robber barons of his day.  And while the rest of them hated Ford for this heresy, he would go down as one of the heroic figures of USA industrial capitalism in the eyes of the general public.  The difference was astounding.  When old man Rockefeller died, a tiny handful of people showed up at his funeral and they expected to be named in his will.  When Ford died, an estimated 30,000 people stood in the rain waiting for the privilege to walk past his casket.  Folks understood that not all the rich are created equal.

1914 would mark another significant moment in economic history—the publication of Thorstein Veblen's magnum opus The Instinct of Workmanship. This work of towering insight would argue that labor needs not be terrorized by violent goons nor bribed by a large paychecks in order to accomplish anything.  Instead, Veblen would argue that people are internally motivated to do a good job and that this motivation was similar to the desire for parents to provide a good life for their children.  In his telling, good management would not only remove obstacles to a worker's instinct of workmanship, but would provide an environment where the instinct could thrive.

A century later, not much has changed.  We still have companies like Wal-Mart that severely underpay its workers and rely of professional union-busters to swoop down on anyone who would protest this arrangement.  We still have professional liars who attempt to "change the narrative" to favor economic reactionaries.  And on occasion, we still find companies who spend good money to enrich their workplace environments—although I am not certain foosball tables in the company break rooms are exactly what Veblen had in mind.  Folks who want to change the economic thinking of this age of economic stagnation and austerity will soon discover that they don't have to re-invent the wheel.

Friday, April 18, 2014

It's Good Friday

My traditional celebration is to listen to Bach's St. Matthew Passion BWV 244.  I first tried this ritual in 1967 and wouldn't do without it.  This year I am especially enjoying a recording by Paul McCreesh and his one voice per part experiment.

Anyone up for the nearly 3-hour experience may find this Youtube clip worth considering.  The Dutch do Bach especially well and this version was done by Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.  It includes a simple English subtitle track.

The following (much shorter) clip is from a performance at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.  This is the church where Bach wrote most of his sacred music from 1723 until his death in 1750 and was the conductor of the choir—so it is ground zero for all things Bach.  It is the opening called Kommt, ihr Töchter written for two choirs, two orchestras, and a boy's choir (yes, Lutherans actually believe Bach's masterpiece is something you should teach children to sing.)  It is one of the more complex pieces of music ever written.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Major study links catastrophic weather events to manmade climate change

Many of us who have watched the weather get crazier and crazier over the past 25-30 years may find it quite surprising that most mainstream scientists have been highly reluctant to draw links between ferocious weather and climate change.  After all, for most of us, crazy weather is the evidence we have for climate change because we don't have access to the extensive records and expensive equipment necessary to do big science.

For me, my memory and experience has been more than enough to convince me that something serious has gone wrong with the atmosphere.  This winter has been miserable but it was what we used to consider quite normal.  As we bitched and moaned about the snow and cold it was also a reminder of how warm it has been for at least a decade.

But for me, the event that cemented climate change in my world-view happened on Lake Pepin about 10 years ago.  I have sailed that lake since 1970 so have a pretty good idea what sort of weather happens there.  So on a spring day we were sailing up the lake when we rounded a point and discovered the howling wind was being amplified by a chute created by the bluffs that line both sides of the lake.  In seconds, a boat that is North Atlantic seaworthy was knocked flat.  As we scrambled to right the boat, it became impossible to talk to each other because the wind was just screaming.  This was a nice day.  The sun was shining and until that moment, the sail had been pleasant if a bit rigorous.  But now we were coping with conditions I had only read about in books about storms in the Southern Roaring Forties.  I was truly frightened—something that had never happened to me before on that lake—ever!

But now the climate scientists are throwing unnecessary professional caution and providing us with big science backing for phenomenon we have been witnessing for years.  I say, its about time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What happened to John Kerry?

By November of 1969, I had spent a year and a half busying myself on the fringes of the antiwar movement.  I was still mostly a scared kid from small-town USA so I spent most of that time trying to get my intellectual act together.  I wanted to have good answers in case anyone asked why I was opposing a democratically-elected government during a time of war.  Of course, the bigger problem was what David Harris called the "John Wayne Syndrome"—the desire for young men to play hero in the defense of the tribe. Not only did I have a serious case of the JWS, but because I had spent so much of my youth in the world of airplanes, I had been romanced by the branches of the armed forces that had aircraft (all of them.)  So I really wanted to convince myself that bombing the shit out of a third-world country that could mount no defense was really as evil as it looked.  By Nov. 1969, I was thoroughly convinced about the need to end the war against the Vietnamese and was pretty convinced that I could change minds if given half a chance.

The Moratorium March on Washington was held Nov 15th.  I was there as were an estimated 500,000 other mostly lost souls.  I had ridden a bus for 22 hours from St. Paul and slept in an all-night movie house in downtown DC so I was almost asleep on my feet when the March actually started.  It was cold.  So marching from one point on the mall to another seemed especially futile under the circumstances.  I still wonder why I did it.  Over the years, I have come up with two reasons:
  1. I had reached the stage where I just had to do SOMETHING or I would explode.  This seemed like a can't-miss event which looked like it might have a small chance of changing the course of human events.
  2. It looked like the cavalry had arrived.  There were now a critical mass of returning Vietnam Vets thoroughly disgusted with what they had seen.  Most were working class or poorer but there were a few rich kids like Yalie John Kerry who was quickly establishing himself as one of the better antiwar critics.  The warmongers may have been able to ignore someone like me but an establishment scion with military training was another matter entirely.
Yup, that's the same John Kerry who is now supervising a foreign policy that most of the world considers criminal.  So what happened to John Kerry?  One of the easier answers is that Kerry is Skull and Bones and at some time he would revert to form.  And since his fortune has now merged with the ketchup heiress, he is disgustingly rich.  Why wouldn't he be arrogant and utterly disdainful of the damage his actions cause?

But even IF Kerry was the man he was in 1969, I think the institutional arrangements in place at the State Department would just eat him up.  Diplomacy is one of the acceptable jobs of the Leisure Classes and so State is populated in all the important positions by people highly skilled in the Leisure Class arts. (Something I first discovered in 1982)  Of course, this is true of diplomats around the world so Kerry is quite at home with his Yale / Skull and Bones background.  Kerry probably could have turned the ship of the State department in another direction if he was convinced it was a good idea but he seems to lack either the conviction OR energy.  And so State sails along on the neocon course it set in the post 1989 period.

Here Robert Parry tries to understand how John Kerry devolved into an imperialist war-mongering hack.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A new Cold War—a new political alignment?

I rarely drink and can count the times I have been drunk on my fingers, but one of those few times was the night the Berlin Wall came down.  On champagne, no less.  I had such high hopes that night.  We could stop terrorizing each other with nukes and we could put our industrial muscle into solving real problems instead of building ever more insane weapons with our genius.  But mostly, I hoped we could finally stop hating on the Russians.  I was a crazy Cold Warrior in my youth, but by 1989, I had come to admire Russian culture very much.  After all, we were winter people and trust me on this, there are places like Minnesota where winter so powerfully influences the culture, almost nothing else really matters.  Russia is such a place.  I had also come to loathe people who wanted me to hate them and want them destroyed.  So on that November night in 1989, I mostly wanted an end to the corrosive lies of the war-and-fear-mongers directed at USSR.

A someone who claims to understand Institutional Analysis, I should have known better.  All those people who had literally invested their lives and careers  in the Russia-hating business weren't going to disappear simply because some Berliners rearranged some concrete in a fit of drunken joy.  Prime example would be that old war-monger Zbigniew Brzezinski whose hatred of USSR / Russia is in keeping with his roots in the Polish nobility—arrogant and deep.  This is the guy who convinced Jimmy Carter that a good response to the USSR invasion of Afghanistan would be to arm an earnest group of patriots who called themselves the Taliban.  He considers himself a genius—an opinion shared by his very rich patrons but few else.  The Cold War never ended for Brzezinski—not for one day.  And this crazy idea that we should still encircle Russia so as to contain them from doing (what?) has his fingerprints all over it.

Anyway, so long as a Cold War is starting again it is interesting how the sides are being chosen.  What the establishment press calls the "far right" in Europe is in fact the designated enemy of "respectable" Europe mostly because almost all their members detest the EU.  So now that the EU is in open warfare against the Russians who have slowed their plans for a takeover of Ukraine, the Euroskeptics (which by now includes most folks with a pulse) have discovered they might have a new nuclear-armed pal.

It all seems to be a bit far-fetched.  Putin's main supporters in Russia are at least as neoliberal as anyone in Brussels.  The economics of grab and plunder has served many of them very well.  Besides, the Russians LIKE being invited into clubs like the WTO so there is no shortage of social-climbing suck-ups who want the respectability the rich believe they are owed.  Even so the Russians are well schooled in the tale of how they threw back the mighty German army on the outskirts of Moscow in Dec 1941.  My guess is that the events in Ukraine have stiffened Russian resolve and the days of them backing down are over for a long while.  As for the EU, their days are probably numbered as well—at least as an organization for the enforcement of neoliberalism.  So we will see.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thinking on the cheap

The IPCC, bless their precious little hearts, has come up with an economic report that tries to reassure us that the actions necessary to avert a climate catastrophe will "shave only a tiny fraction off economic growth."

Oh goody!  A few problems with that sort of "thinking."
  1. The alternative to solving the climate crises is going out of business as a species. And pretty soon, too.  Given that reality, anyone who questions spending the money necessary to fix the problem is, at best, hopelessly uncouth.
  2. As Edison pointed out in 1921, infrastructure projects, organized properly, pay for themselves.  As Edison was one of the few people in history to have ever really improved the overall economy, it think it behooves the rest of us to pay attention.
  3. Converting solar energy into electricity is a known way of generating wealth.  Solar power may not be as convenient as oil, but it's still energy.  And as I have been arguing for a long time now, we have been on a de facto "oil standard" since 1973.  It shouldn't require a great leap of faith to take the final step and just always value money in energy units.  Using that thinking, a solar cell is another way of "printing" money—a known form of economic stimulus.
  4. Converting from a fire-based infrastructure to solar is a HUGE project.  It seems difficult to believe that so much stimulus wouldn't lead to massive growth—not the tiny decline postulated here.
In fact, what we see here in this IPCC report is the result of using neoliberal / neofeudal economic assumptions that have been with us since before the industrial revolution to try to predict the outcome of the solar-powered megaproject.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

On responding to Pitkettyism

It was sort of like arriving in high school one day to discover that some fashion had gripped the student body and I hadn't gotten the memo.  Suddenly, I was being besieged by friends and readers to say something wonderful about Thomas Pitketty's latest tome Capital in the 21st Century.  Actually, this was about the last thing I wanted to do. But never underestimate the power of not wanting to feel hopelessly uncool (for the 10,000th time.)  Someone mailed me an epub file and no less than James Galbraith had given C21C a positive review.  So what did I have to lose—except some more of my dwindling lifespan?

I was not impressed by the new Capital.  This was not because it wasn't a serious attempt to deal with a serious problem—income equality.  But as someone who has been following this subject for most of my life, I am not exactly impressed by someone who weighs in with another study / opinion on a subject so well-discussed.  Sort of like another Ph.D. thesis on Chaucer.  There were much better thoughts than Pitketty's on the economic value of a well-paid Producing Class by the 1910s—with Henry Ford putting the ideas into practice in 1914.  Besides, no one really gives a damn about income inequality—so long as folks at the bottom get paid well enough to have a decent life.

The main reason I wish I hadn't wasted my time on C21C is that the subject of income inequality is about dividing the economic pie.  This blog is dedicated to the much more interesting problem—How do we create the economic pie in the first place.  This is an important distinction.  If we are to survive, we MUST build a very different infrastructure that what we have now.  And we don't have much time.  Given that reality, those who aspire to being historically significant economists should be devoting their intellectual horsepower to development strategies.  It's pretty simple, actually. If we want a green sustainable society, we must build it.  Anything that diverts time and resources from those who can build the better world is a criminal act against the future.

Unfortunately, as dreary as it is, C21C is obviously an improvement over the crackpot neoliberalism that so dominates the economic profession.  Of course, that is jumping over a very low bar.  Yes, I was raised to believe we are supposed to be grateful for the smallest blessings but considering we are up against extinction, I can't waste my time on something so minor.  Considering everyone's time to absorb ideas is finite, I would suggest that C21C is only worth your time when you have first read The Instinct of Workmanship (the other significant economic event of 1914.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The post–climate crisis economy (part two)

There are a lot of good reasons why not much has been accomplished in the struggle to alter our headlong rush to climate catastrophe.  But two are especially significant.
  1. Virtually all the members of the advanced industrial societies have NO idea how big the problem is and what their part in it might be.  For example, I have used the argument "Climate Change is a problem of too many fires" for some time now.  It's my attempt to keep things simple.  Yet in many cases, it only confuses folks.  Why? because they have NO idea how many fires they are responsible for.  They don't understand that their electricity mostly comes from burning coal.  They are clueless about the amount of energy used to feed them (I once told a woman that for every gallon of milk she buys, something like a gallon of energy has been spent getting it to her refrigerator.  She called me a liar.)  Most folks are surprised to learn that they start about 3000 fires for every mile they drive—and most of these folks pump their own gas!  They only understand the fires they can see—and then only rarely!
  2. Most folks have never even attempted to change something in their lives that would reduce the amount of energy they consume.  Even the most basic of the possible changes—swapping out light bulbs—is often considered too hard and in some circles, politically controversial.  I have met exactly no one who has ever modified an automobile so it got better gas mileage and I have known a lot of gearheads in my life.  I know exactly one person, my brother, who has successfully constructed a net-zero home and he fiddled with it for 20 years before he got it right.  So no matter how much one wants to do the right thing by the atmosphere, actually doing it is damn hard—and usually pretty expensive.  And this is true at all sizes of enterprise.
There are many reasons why climate conferences and other lame attempts to foster human cooperation are notorious failures.  But mostly, it's because these are the actions of people who refuse to address the two issues listed above.

In any case, the folks who DO understand the scope and difficulty of the problems caused by too many fires really cannot wait for the great multitudes to get a clue.  The essay below suggests waiting for "international cooperation" is useless and that we can get started right now if we choose.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The post–climate crisis economy

Last Sunday I created a post entitled Climate change—we just want to see your plan wherein I quoted a reader over at Firedoglake who like me is discovering that there seem to be no plans anywhere that can remotely address the serious nature of climate change.
Because I’ve never read a credible proposed plan, to get us off the current trajectory. Arm-waving in aplenty, a plan, which would require much Government control of the economy, not visible. If there is an explicit plan, please link to it.
Currently, I am working on my version of "The Plan" which will draw from the insane amount of research I have managed to do in the course of creating this blog.  Much will have been seen here before but the idea is to reduce a bunch of details into a solid list of talking points and political action plans.  In the meantime, I saw this piece over at Smirking Chimp.  In many ways, it is brilliant and is certainly a good first answer to the above complaint.  Gaius Publius reduces his primary demand to zero-carbon emissions society—which is ultimately what must happen so why not start now?  His analysis is excellent—starting with the idea that neoliberalism is a primary cause of the climate-change problem.

On the other hand, he accords far too much effective power to rationing. "Voluntary rationing means that we’ll have it very hard, World War I and II hard, for five-to-ten years, and then we’ll be carbon-free forever."  Really?  I don't think so.  We will get to zero carbon emissions by replacing the fire-based infrastructure.  If that isn't done, rationing will only provoke social chaos.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Exporting natgas?

As regular readers know, I am NOT a big fan of fracking.  I understand that since Peak Oil has passed, these secondary recovery techniques will become increasingly necessary / popular / expedient.  But even so, anything that contaminates groundwater to get at a little natgas is a seriously stupid trade-off.

Of course, what is going to do in fracking is that it is so expensive—especially in terms of the amount of energy it takes to get at those micro deposits of oil.  Fracking is really hard to do—which is the main reason it is so environmentally hazardous.  Lots of things to go wrong.

So when I hear folks claim that USA can replace Europe's gas imports from Russia with the natgas we are finding through fracking, I can only shudder at the relentless ignorance of it all.  Realizing that "important" people in your culture actually never learned to count is not comforting.  Anyway, here is Gail Tverberg who actually did learn to count setting the record straight on the state of the natgas industry.  If you want to see her charts and graphs, be sure to follow the more link.