Monday, July 2, 2012

Welcome to the new normal

The "debate" over climate change has been an eye-opening lesson in the hazards associated with the social skills required to navigate human social structures.  We are told, for example, that everyone is entitled to their own opinions.  And when it comes to topics like favorite colors or music or a concept of a deity, tolerance of other's opinions is probably a good thing.  But when the subject is science, this social skill becomes a badge of purest ignorance.

Because if the climate is changing, it doesn't matter one whit what anyone believes is true.  This is one of those things that exists outside of opinion so whether Al Gore is an imperfect spokesman for climate change (he is) or some some plans for mitigation are ridiculous (carbon offset trading really IS the new practice of indulgences) or some of the climate scientists are ignorant, self-serving pricks does NOT change the facts on the ground.  Neither does calling the climate change community "carbonazis" or pointing out that Al Gore is an overweight hypocrite or noticing that carbon trading schemes are just another cynical method to enrich Goldman Sachs.

Meanwhile, the hard evidence that humans really HAVE altered the climate keeps piling up—along with the realization of how utterly fragile our infrastructure is when faced with such a profound change.  The latest climate change disaster hit Washington D.C.  I wonder how many of these it will require before those folks stop believing that the "truth" about climate change is just another matter of who can spend the most money on lobbyists.  The following is from the Guardian and was chosen mostly for the pithy comments that follow such a routine article.

Power outages from deadly US storms could last days as heat wave continues

Storms that killed 13 across eastern US have left hundreds of thousands without power amid record-breaking temperatures

Matt Williams and agencies, Sunday 1 July 2012

Hundreds of thousands of residents could be left without power for days after vicious storms lashed the eastern US, bringing down electricity lines and resulting in at least 13 deaths.

Officials said it could take up to a week before outages are repaired, leading to fears over the effect that stifling heat could have on old, young and vulnerable people cut off from the relief of air-conditioning.

States of emergency have been declared in Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and West Virginia, as forecasters predicted more thunderstorms and temperatures tipping into triple digits in the coming days.

"This is a very dangerous situation," Virginia governor Bob McDonnell said yesterday as he reflected on the largest non-hurricane caused blackouts in the state's history.

Around 3.4 million people have been affected by the power outages, many of them in Washington DC and surrounding areas where temperatures hovered in the high 90s on Saturday.

The sheer scale of the disruption caused to the power grid by the storms caught utility firms unaware, with officials saying that it will take at least a few days to restore lines to all customers.

In New Jersey, governor Chris Christie ordered the National Guard to deliver fuel for generators and fresh waters to areas cut off by the storm.

"The devastation … is very significant," Christie said.

So far, weather conditions have been blamed for 13 deaths – six in Virginia, two in New Jersey, two in Maryland, one in Ohio, one in Kentucky and one in Washington.

In parts of Washington, residents needing assistance were urged to phone non-emergency numbers or travel directly to fire or police stations after 911 response centres were left without electricity.

Authorities also urged some homeowners to start conserving water amid concern over the effect of outages on sewage stations.

Blackouts were reported from Indiana to New Jersey on Saturday, with the bulk of the service interruptions concentrated on the capital.

On Friday, temperatures in DC reached 104F (40°C) – topping a record of 101 set in 1934. Although marginally cooler on Saturday, many were still left sweating as the mercury ticked up into triple digits.

Myra Oppel, a spokeswoman for utility firm Pepco, said engineers were working around the clock to get customers reconnected to electricity. more


  1. I'm one of the lucky people who didn't lose power throughout the entire weekend--though just a half mile east, west, and north of us was completely without power.

    My wife and I have once again had occasion to comment: This is the 21st century and we live on the heavily developed east coast of the US! Why should the power ever go out, or at least why should it go out for anything approaching 24 hours or more?

    Combine this incident with the October snow that knocked power for out up north last fall, plus Hurricane Irene last August--all of them featured massive, prolonged power outages for millions. Maybe the hurricane I can understand, but anything more than a day or so is just terrible.

    We need to bury our power lines and invest in actual emergency/backup infrastructure.

  2. Burying power lines is extremely costly under the best conditions, and when you have to move or adjust to water, sewer, phone and video cable and/or cut through rock can be a real nightmare. Also, the power loss associated with high-tension lines underground means much higher power losses due to "grounding"...added to the fact that less than 60% of power generated normally gets to the user in the first place. Add the added installation costs and the power loss and you are probably looking at power rates being 15-20X current least until the costs of retrofitting are recouped by the power companies...then a mere 2-5x cost from then on. Centralized power generation with vast distribution grids is the basic problem...THAT's what needs to be fixed.

    1. The costs associated with repair crews working around the clock and the loss of revenue would be greatly reduced with buried cables. I don't think the major transmissions lines are as vulnerable to trees knocking them down either. Additionally, if the burying of power lines is done in association with other infrastructure improvements, like replacing aging water and sewer lines or installing fiber optic cable, costs will also be lowered.

  3. Underground lines are not THAT bad, Davis. They're merely a bit less profitable.

    About the power outage in general; I wouldn't emphasize the air conditioning thing so much, as there are plenty regions in the world - also highly developed ones - which use much less air conditioning under the same weather conditions than the U.S. do.
    It's a luxury.

  4. And when it comes to topics like favorite colors or music or a concept of a deity, tolerance of other's opinions is probably a good thing. But when the subject is science, this social skill becomes a badge of purest ignorance. claremont plumber