Thursday, November 28, 2013

Would'ya like a serving of hope for Thanksgiving?

Hope is a powerful force. So what I want to bring you for Thanksgiving is hope. Hope that we CAN have cheap, abundant energy. Hope that we CAN have cheap, abundant food – for everyone. We CAN have cheap, abundant clean water – for everyone. Hope that we CAN have cheap, abundant medical care – for everyone. Hope that we CAN provide every living soul on our unique blue planet a decent standard of living worthy of the dignity of being human. And hope that we CAN do all these things while addressing and reversing the widespread environmental damage that the past two centuries of industrialization and mechanization have caused. Hope that we CAN solve global warming.

We are at a history-shattering point of transition, where resources and energy will not be scarce, and will never again be scarce. In the past half century, humanity has developed technological capabilities which are now growing exponentially. The best known example is Moore’s Law: that the number of transistors we can put on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. In a cell phone, one person has at his or her fingertips more computing power than NASA used to put astronauts on the moon forty-four years ago. The only things holding us back are old thinking in the Malthusian mold that denies the possibility of technological solutions; and old ideologies of political economy that prevent us from reforming the financial and monetary systems for the common good and to pay for what we need to do.

Economics today is hopelessly confused by a myriad of definitions for “capital”, “wealth” and even “money”. An economy is simply how a society organizes itself to procure, produce, and distribute the material, non-material, cultural, and spiritual goods and services required to sustain and reproduce human life at ever higher levels of happiness, security, and well-being. All else are really superfluities. Therefore, the major concern of economics should be the nurturing and deployment of the human mentation required to find and transform the natural resources required, and managing the scientific and industrial structures required.

In other words, the development of science and technology.

The progress of human technology can roughly be summarized as moving ever further down 1) a spectrum of energy density and 2) molecular and atomic scale. From the rapidly diffused light and heat of burning wood twigs, we have progressed to concentrate fire in boilers, then in internal combustion engines, and are now mastering the techniques of directing and manipulating single molecules, atoms, and even photons. We can now perform surgery on genes, and arrange individual atoms. These technologies are all breathtakingly recent in the context of known human history.

The implications are enormous. Almost every economics textbook I have seen – and I have acquired quite a few and looked at many, many others for just this reason – begins with some definition or other involving the allocation of scarce resources. People who have suffered through an Econ 101 course know that scarcity is central to mainstream economic thinking. In the best selling textbook on macroeconomics, economist H. Gregory Mankiw writes near the bottom of the first page:
The management of society’s resources is important because resources are scarce. Scarcity means that society has limited resources and therefore cannot produce all the goods and services wish to have. Just as each member of a household cannot get everything he or she wants, each individual in a society cannot attain the highest standard of living to which he or she might aspire.
I will put this as simply as possible: Mankiw’s and all other’s arguments that resources are scarce is a smokescreen that prevents us from seeing how rich oligarchs manipulated national economies. (Mankiw was George W. Bush’s chief economist, and earlier this year wrote a piece entitled “Defending the One Percent” – honest, not joking, that’s Mankiw’s title).

The typical environmentalist belief that the planet’s resources are finite falls right into this trap. What we consider as resources is defined by our ability to access and process them – in other words, our technology. As Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler argue in their book, February 2012 book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think
When seen through the lens of technology, few resources are truly scarce; they’re mainly inaccessible. Yet the threat of scarcity dominates our worldview.
Thus, the most important economic activity human beings undertake is scientific research. But I am here to tell you that no economics textbook I have seen has ever discussed the overriding importance of scientific and technological development and deployment. They all, therefore, lack a sound foundation for actually assisting the human species in our task of surviving and thriving. Aluminum, for example, is ridiculously abundant. It is, after oxygen and silicon, the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, accounting for 8.3 percent of the world’s weight. Yet, until relatively recently in human history, the use of aluminum by humans was far more scarce than the use of gold or silver. It was not until 1886 that the Hall-Heroult process was developed, using electricity to extract aluminum from its ore, bauxite, and aluminum became cheap and plentiful. Diamandis and Kotler argue that
technology is a resource liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce the now abundant.
But many progressives and liberals object that our world is overpopulated, and the planet simply cannot support a high standard of living for nine billion people. We are already using thirty percent more natural resources than the planet can sustain. Diamandis and Kotler explain example after example of new technologies that will solve this problem. Such as nano-engineered filters for making drinking water from the most heavily polluted sources, to new materials that will allow us to build photovoltaics without semiconductors, reducing the cost of solar energy by not one, but several orders of magnitude.

Just as important – and as hopeful – as these new technologies, is the fact, demonstrated over and over and over again, that as a society becomes more prosperous, more economically secure, and healthier, the birth rate drops dramatically. In fact, the birth rate collapses. We have seen this happen in Britain and the USA in the mid-1800s, in Japan in the late 1800s, in South Korea in the 1960s, in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and India more recently. In a number of advanced industrial countries, such as Italy and Japan, the birth rate is now actually insufficient, and the populations of those countries are shrinking. Diamandis and Kotler write:
John Oldfield, managing director of the WASH Advocacy Initiative, which is dedicated to solving global water challenges, explains it this way: "The best way to control population is through increasing child survival, educating girls, and making knowledge about and availability of birth control ubiquitous. By far the most important of these is increasing child survival. In communities where childhood death rates hover near one-third, most parents opt to significantly overshoot their desired family size. They will have replacement births, insurance births, lottery births — and the population soars. It’s counterintuitive, but eradicating smallpox and vaccine-preventable disease and stopping diarrheal diseases and malaria are the best family planning programs yet devised. More disease, especially affecting the poor, will raise infant and child mortality which, in turn, will raise the birth rate. With fewer childhood deaths, you get lower fertility rates — it’s really that straightforward."
What about water shortages? Only 2.7 percent of the water on the planet is non-salty and usable for human consumption. Right now, one billion people have no clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Dean Kamen has developed a water distiller that recovers 98 percent of the energy it uses and can produce 250 gallons of sterile water per day. The power source is a Stirling engine that really can burn almost anything, such as rice husks. Others have invented machines that process human wastes and turn them into electric power.

Energy? In sub-Saharan Africa, 70 percent of people live with no access to electricity – yet one square kilometer of land soaks up from the sun the energy equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil. Deploy enough photovoltaics, and Africa has a huge surplus of energy it can export to Europe. University of Michigan physicist Stephen Rand discovered a way of creating magnetic fields one hundred million times stronger than what the known, accepted “laws” of physics had previously predicted was possible. The result of this research will hopefully be a way of making photovoltaics without semiconductors, reducing the cost of solar energy by not one, but several orders of magnitude.

Global climate change? Diamandis and Kotler describe the SunShot Initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy
….now funded the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a $122 million multi-institution project being led by Caltech, Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. JCAP's goal is to develop light absorbers, catalysts, molecular linkers, and separation membranes-all the necessary components for faux photosynthesis. "We're designing an artificial photo-synthetic process," says Dr. Harry Atwater, director of the Caltech Center for Sustainable Energy Research and one of the project's lead scientists. "By 'artificial,' I mean there’s no living or organic component in the whole system. We're basically turning sunlight, water, and CO, into storable, transportable fuels — we call 'solar fuels — to address the other two-thirds of our energy consumption needs that normal photovoltaics miss." Not only will these solar fuels be able to power our cars and heat our buildings, Atwater believes that he can increase the efficiency of photo-synthesis tenfold, perhaps a hundredfold-meaning solar fuels could completely replace fossil fuels. "We're approaching a critical tipping point," he says. "It is very likely that, in thirty years, people will be saying to each other, 'Goodness gracious, why did we ever set fire to hydrocarbons to create heat and energy?’ “
And what about the carbon we have already dumped into the atmosphere? Dr. David Keith at the University of Calgary has developed technology that actually removes CO2 from the air. Can the technology be scaled up to actually make a difference and undo the damage already done? With enough cheap energy, it probably can.

Technology is developing so fast, it is hard to keep up. I receive a newsletter on developments in photonics, and here’s a very small sample of recent news: November 23, 2013: Superconducting Detector Measures Single Photons
A new superconducting detector array that can measure the energy of individual photons is seen as a likely successor to CCDs [charge-coupled devices] and other semiconductor-based detectors for the visible and near-infrared regions, which are starting to hit performance limits.
"What we have made is essentially a hyperspectral video camera with no intrinsic noise," said Ben Mazin, assistant professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara, of the array that he and his team developed. "On a pixel-per-pixel basis, it's a quantum leap from semiconductor detectors; it's as big a leap going from film to semiconductors as it is going from semiconductors to these superconductors.
November 14, 2013: Seeing A Photon Without Absorbing It
All current methods of detecting light share a common property: absorption and thus destruction of a photon. It has been a long-standing dream to be able to watch individual photons fly by without absorbing them. A team of scientists in the Quantum Dynamics Division of Prof. Gerhard Rempe at the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics has now for the first time realized a device which leaves the photon untouched upon detection.

In the experiment, the incoming photon is reflected off an optical resonator containing a single atom prepared in a superposition state. The reflection changes the superposition phase which is then measured to trace the photon. The new method opens up the perspective to dramatically increase the detection efficiency of single light quanta and has important implications for all experiments where photons are used to encode and communicate quantum information. The key elements in the experiment are a single rubidium atom and an optical cavity.
November 13, 2013: Researchers rewrite entire genome, add healthy twist
Scientists from Yale and Harvard have recoded the entire genome of an organism and improved a bacterium's ability to resist viruses, a dramatic demonstration of the potential of rewriting an organism's genetic code.
October 23, 2013: Study Finds Natural Compound Can Be Used For 3-D Printing Of Medical Implants
Researchers from North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Laser Zentrum Hannover have discovered that a naturally-occurring compound can be incorporated into three-dimensional (3-D) printing processes to create medical implants out of non-toxic polymers. The compound is riboflavin, which is better known as vitamin B2....

The researchers in this study focused on a 3-D printing technique called two-photon polymerization, because this technique can be used to create small objects with detailed features – such as scaffolds for tissue engineering, microneedles or other implantable drug-delivery devices.

Two-photon polymerization is a 3-D printing technique for making small-scale solid structures from many types of photoreactive liquid precursors. The liquid precursors contain chemicals that react to light, turning the liquid into a solid polymer. By exposing the liquid precursor to targeted amounts of light, the technique allows users to “print” 3-D objects.
This last reminds me of one of the most exciting developments Kotler and Diamandis discuss: the work of tissue-engineer Anthony Atala at Wake Forest University Medical Center, who led a team that modified a desktop laser printer to print with each pass one layer of stem-cell based specific tissue cells and were able to “print” a mini-kidney in a few hours. They don’t write how long the mini-kidney survived in the lab, but did mention that the organ was secreting a urine-like substance.

We are at a history-shattering point of transition, where resources and energy will not be scarce, and will never again be scarce. A truly golden age of economic prosperity and bounty is closer than most of us realize, but we are quite literally killing ourselves by clinging to ideologies that were hammered out when famine was the norm, cholera swept away millions, and the average human being could expect to live only somewhere between 30 and 40 years. . We will soon be at a point that we can give every person on the planet a decent standard of living. Not the wasteful sol of the contemporary USA, but enough that no person, anywhere, for any reason, need experience hunger or cold or deprivation But, we have rich pricks who have poured billions of dollars into promoting and propagating the idea that poor people deserve the hardships and indignities they suffer.

It already is seen as a “structural problem” that our industrial systems are now so productive and efficient, that they cannot be a source of good, steady, well-paid jobs for tens or millions of people. So we’re supposed to now accept that because of this marvelous advance in human know-how and capability, tens of millions of people who can no longer find a well-paying factory job have to settle for the marginal wages of Wal-Mart or McDonalds? I refer people to thereisnospoon on DailyKos a week ago, The glorious, dystopian future envisioned by our libertarian masters, attacking Tyler Cowen who wrote to welcome a possible future in which 15% of the population “succeeds” and the rest must learn to get by on what they are provided by whatever welfare system society devises.

We are at the point where everything we need can be produced by only 20 to 50% of the population, depending on what country and its stage of industrial / technological development. So, we need to develop an ideology in which “structural unemployment” is not accepted as an excuse for hundreds of millions — billions, really — of people being left in poverty. We need, in fact, an ideology which does not accept poverty under any excuse. We have the means at hand to eliminate poverty and privation. Will we allow some the “freedom to believe” in ideologies that prevent us from doing so? I ask in retort: what right has anyone to “trade” hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars when we have such a bright future to build, if only we summon the will to finance it? There have been a few already who have warned about a future in which the rich are able to use new technologies to genetically perfect themselves and their offspring, while the vast majority of the human race is subjugated by new ideologies that will consequently be developed to justify the rule by a small class of the wealthy bio-engineered to be “genetically superior.”

Which brings me to my criticisms of Diamandis and Kotler. I see three problems with their book. First, they are completely wedded to neo-liberal market solutions, and appear to have no desire to challenge, let alone change, the status quo in the industrialized west which is increasingly under the boot of, as Pope Francis recently said, the new tyranny of capitalism. Any economic system must be run to benefit the general welfare. This was well understood at the time of the American Revolution, but it is now lost knowledge. Did you know that the words “capitalism”, “capitalist” and “capitalistic” do not appear anywhere in The Federalist Papers, let alone the U.S. Constitution? (There is a website where you can search the text of these documents, and I’ve done the searches).

Rather than challenging the rise of the global corporatist state and its inverted totalitarianism of manufactured consent, Diamandis and Kotler promote the charity work done by what they call the technophilanthropists, the info-tech billionaires like Bill Gates, who are funding much of the work of deploying these new technologies in underdeveloped countries, and who are also approaching the charity work they do from a largely neo-liberal market perspective.

Second, Diamandis and Kotler simply do not comprehend how large and ugly are the problems of greed, economic rent, regulatory capture, and the grasping rich. For every technophilanthropist trying to do good, there is probably more than one Jamie Dimon or David / Charles Koch doing no good (i.e., evil, according to the definition by St. Augustine). Diamandis and Kotler simply are not attuned to the fact that a new oligarchy has arisen that is destroying democracy and representative government. As the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, William Dudley, recently shocked Wall Street in a speech, there is an
important problem evident within some large financial institutions—the apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust. There is evidence of deep-seated cultural and ethical failures at many large financial institutions.
Finally, Diamandis and Kotler do not understand or simply did not discuss the problem, of who controls the creation and allocation of money and credit. The control of money and credit by a small clique of oligarchs, centered in Wall Street and the City of London, but including other centers such as the futures markets in Chicago, is the major obstacle to making forward progress against these existential problem. Simply put, our financial and monetary systems must be reorganized and reformed to serve the general welfare, instead of private gain.

An article in Scientific American two years ago projected a total cost of moving the world’s economies entirely off of fossil fuels at $100 trillion. There is enough solar energy hitting one square kilometer of desert in Africa to supply all the electricity needed - in all of Europe as well as Africa.

All we need to do is build the new industrial economies to harvest and harness this energy. The only things holding are back are old thinking in the Malthusian mold that denies the possibility of technological solutions; and the problem of paying for what we need to do. And to pay for what we need to do, we simply need to stop the speculators and usurers of Wall Street, the City of London, and the futures pits of Chicago, from misusing some $5 trillion in financing each and every day.

So, what future do you want to build? One in which we spend $100 trillion over the next decade or two to give everybody on the planet freedom from starvation, poverty, and illness? Or one in which financial elites are allowed to play games with $5 trillion every day? Do you want to build a future for which our children, and their children, will thank us, or curse us?

Global outrage at dirty coal

My friend has a brother who has worked most of his life in the western coal industry.  He supervises an open-pit mine in Gillette Wyoming that can load up to three trains an hour.  Their machinery is so efficient that the trains literally do not stop moving as they are loaded.  Because Wyoming coal is considered low-sulfur, he is loading coal that complies with the Clean Air Act.  Yet every ounce of coal he loads will eventually become CO2 and contribute to global warming—and he loads tons of it every second.  It takes a LOT of coal to keep the nation's electrical generators running and his crew is a long way from digging out 16 tons a day with a pickaxe.

There is literally no way that we can continue to burn Powder River Coal and not destroy the atmosphere.  There is just too much of it.  And that's the problem—those folks invested in this coal want it turned into profits.  And they are not about to back down without a fight.  There are actually people who benefit from not doing anything about climate change.  Fortunately for the rest of us, there are not so many of them.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Solar power grows up

One of things we learned from the aircraft industry was that all the great innovations were driven by improvements in powerplants.  The reason is obvious.  If the new motor is lighter and more fuel efficient, the same airplane using the new propulsion source will lift a greater load and fly farther.  The most famous example was Charles Lindbergh who realized that the then-new Wright J-5 Whirlwind could lift off with enough fuel to fly him from New York to Paris with range to spare.  Because the Whirlwind was so light, efficient, and reliable, long-distance flying like he demonstrated would soon become routine.

So now we see that the essential technology area in a possible all-electric society is going to be storage.  And so Elon Musk of Tesla is being taken seriously by the other carmakers because he has demonstrated that storage has now reached the stage that an electric Lexus / Corvette is possible.  He hasn't done mind-blowing things but he has seized on the potential offered by the lithium-ion battery.  In the article below, we are seeing that Tesla could wind up making a bunch of money selling or leasing their battery packs to homeowners who want to even out the output of their PV cells.

Or not.  Once Musk proves that a lithium-ion battery pack combined with PV cells will allow Californians in the near future to unhook themselves from the public-service utilities, there is absolutely nothing that would prevent someone else from manufacturing and leasing such installations—including the local utility.  The truth is my electric company is extremely reliable and obviously buys quality equipment.  So if the numbers were comparable, I would rather have them install and service my lithium-ion / PV set-up.

Even though we are getting close to a major change in how homes are powered, we still face large hurdles.  Utilities are cautious—and for good reason—they have a huge bundle invested in doing business the way they are doing it right now.  Furthermore, lithium simply MUST be a limited resource.  So if batteries could be replaced by supercapacitors fabricated from carbon, buying a bunch of expensive, slow-charging lithium batteries will look pretty silly.

Shake-up at the Minneapolis Fed

If I am making too much of this story, chalk it up to wishful thinking.  I am quite aware of the link between academic economics and the economics divisions of the various world's central banks.  Regular readers around here know I have covered this link quite extensively.  The most telling link, of course, is that the "nobel" prize for economics is actually awarded by Sweden's Central Bank—which is why that award's official name is the The Sveriges (Sweden's) Riksbank (Central Bank) Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (who would be utterly horrified that his name has been attached to such a gang of scientific illiterates).

In 1981 when Paul Volcker jacked up the prime interest rate to 21%, the main message was that the world's central banks were decriminalizing usury.  The reasons usury has been the object of censure by virtually every culture in history are many and legitimate, but the main economic reason is that high interest rates act as a perpetual drag on the real economy.  So the Fed was acting against the historical, cultural, moral, AND economic sanctions against high interest rates.  And to get this crime against the economy in motion, the central bank—at the point of a capital strike—forced the repeal of thousand of anti-usury laws nationwide.  Some states were even forced to change their constitutions.

In order to justify this economic attack on the real economy, the Fed's economists had to come up with "justifications" that ranged from outright lying to institutional corruption to insanity.  Politicians being mostly historical and economic illiterates usually bought these insane lies—not that they had a lot of choice in the matter.  During this cultural upheaval, there were a few voices that tried to remind their fellow citizens that controls on the creditor classes were essential in the operation of the modern economy.  Those voices were very successfully marginalized and because they were now outsiders, many indeed turned to some crackpot theories in their critique of the Fed.

Many would probably admit there are moments when they would love to launch drone attacks against the word's central banks and send anyone whoever worked for them as economists to re-education camps where they could be taught a useful trade.  But in the cold light of day folks must admit that central banks perform a useful function and part of their operation is to measure the performance of the economy. So even if we were to destroy the central banks, something very similar would have to replace it.  And yes, they would need to employ economists.

Since we Lutherans are by cultural education, reformers, it should not surprise anyone that I believe that since we actually need central banks, we might as well fix what we have.  With this in mind, we see a public drama being played out at the Minneapolis branch of the Fed.  The head of the branch, a fine fellow named Narayana Kocherlakota, decided the some of the old guard who had spent their careers mouthing the neoliberal party line had to go to make way for new policy positions.

We don't know a lot about Kocherlakota except that both he and his wife are University of Chicago Ph.Ds and that he has a pretty solid record on the subject of neoliberal purity.  So there are several possibilities here:
  1. Kocherlakota is an evil prick who cannot get along with his colleagues (not likely), 
  2. He woke up one morning and realized that the laws of the land required that the Fed pursue full-employment policies and decided he didn't want to die as an economic criminal (possible), 
  3. After three decades of crushing austerity, the world's central banks have decided that they might need to remove their boot from the necks of the real economy and so want to change the direction of monetary policy. This means the defenders of the old order must be eased out and Kocherlakota was just following orders (I certainly hope so!)
I must apologize for the Minneapolis Tribune.  This is what happens when you try to cover a major economic story while adhering to the strictures of Minnesota Nice—"less collaboration" indeed.  Note also the chest-pounding.  Now even though the Minneapolis Fed is important to the real economy because of its role in midwest agriculture and the commodity trades, everyone I know is well aware that compared to New York, we ARE the backwater.  So we must claim something and here it is the quality of our research (Minnesota, the brainpower state.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fracking and "Saudi America"

For most of the history of oil exploration, someone would drill a hole straight down and if they were lucky, they would eventually hit an underground pool of oil in mostly porous rock.  They would set up some pipes and a pump and then remove any crude that flowed towards the business end of the well.  At some point, the recoverable oil would stop flowing to the well opening and the well's life would effectively end.  Most of the big oil finds of history worked like this.  If you punched your way into a large formation, the oil would flow for many years.

Fracking doesn't work this way.  The oil and gas are trapped in a shale formation in little cells.  A well is drilled down to the level where oil and natgas are found and then holes are drilled horizontally through the shale.  When these holes are completed, a mixture of chemicals, sand, and water is forced into those holes at a very high pressure which fractures the shale.  The gas deposits are released and then recovered.

If all of this sounds insanely difficult and expensive, it is.  Drilling horizontal holes deep underground is hard and so is forcing fluids under enough pressure to fracture underground rock formations.  The forces are enough to actually trigger earthquakes.  Worse, much of the nation's drinking water is also stored in underground rock formations so fracturing rocks to find oil can very often ruin water supplies.

It would one thing if this sort of oil exploration yielded large new supplies.  It doesn't.  The deposits being found are not large which leads to notoriously high decline rates.  Certainly flow rates are high when the well is new but they can decline by half in less than five years.

Fracking is obviously a recovery technique that has only come into play because we stopped finding those big conventional oil deposits decades ago.  But all these problems have not stopped the boosters from claiming that fracking will turn USA into Saudi America.  Of course, comparing a megafield like Ghawar to the micro deposits trapped in shale formations is utter madness, but then most PR hype is.  Even the International Energy Agency is sounding warnings.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Climate change responsibility

When it comes to climate change, I like to stick to the facts because playing the prediction game is pretty hazardous when the conditions being created haven't been seen for thousands of years.  But I will hazard one here—the "agreements" reached in Warsaw yesterday will NOT show up as a reduction on the CO2 charts published by the Mauna Loa Observatory.  And the reason I can make this prediction is that the sort of people who attend those sorts of conferences are light years away from understanding the problem.  They actually believe that if people of good will just agree that climate change is a problem and that we agree to do something about it, the problem will go away.

The ghost of King Cnut is probably laughing his ass off.
Henry of Huntingdon, the 12th-century chronicler, tells how Cnut set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet "continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: 'Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'"
There is a REASON why the energy companies have incredible power—they are providing the human race something they want and NEED to survive. Furthermore, the job they do is insanely difficult (you try drilling in the North Sea if you think it's easy) so coming up with a competition for these methods of powering human civilization will be massively more difficult than agreeing to some promises made in a convention hall. The ONLY way we can address climate change is to address the demand side—in other words, figure out a believable substitute for fossil fuels. The reason why protests and petitions and demonstrations accomplish nothing is that they do not give us a serious strategy for changing demand. 

But that does not change the minds of the folks who want us to believe that climate change is caused by a handful of bad guys who in their naked greed are going to destroy the planet for the rest of us innocents.  The following is an almost perfect example of this sort of thinking.  To give you an idea of how nasty this problem is, just look at the cast of characters here—Goldenberg and The Guardian, Al Gore, Michael Mann etc.  These are supposed to be the people who are doing the heavy intellectual lifting on climate change in the English-speaking world. This time the heavy lifting has been employed to reduce the number of bad guys to the number of passengers on a couple of buses.  If only it were that simple.

Saturday toons 23 NOV 13

Friday, November 22, 2013

Crackpot economics under fire in Britain

It wasn't much fun watching the crazies take over the economics profession in USA.  At first is was shocking to see that the Chicago boys were going to be able to put their crackpot theories into practice in Chile at the point of a military coup.  But between Watergate and the Fall of Saigon, VERY few Americans had any idea it was even happening.  Then neoliberalism became somehow respectable as Jimmy Carter set about to install the ideas of the Trilateral Commission such as economic deregulation.

During this reversal of fortune, I sort of held out the hope that somehow Britain would be able to mount a defense against the neoliberal tide—after all, Keynes was a Brit and his abilities to make money for Cambridge sort of made it what it was.  Surely they would draw the line in the musty halls of British academe. But with nasty old Margaret Thatcher at the helm, economics in Britain would not only regress to something pre-Keynes, but revert to the ideas of Alfred Marshall and the rest of the Victorian imperialist crackers.

Well, according to The Guardian, a brief flicker of light has emerged in the darkness that is Brit economics.  The spark is being fanned by students who believe, absolutely correctly, that their education is missing a LOT.  Apparently, one can get an advanced degree in economics without learning about the Great Depression, etc., or learning about the alternative thinking from Keynes, the role of heterodox thinking in political economy, or why the economic theories they are learning were not especially useful in predicting or understanding the crash of 2008.  And now that students are having to pay serious money for their educations, they are rebelling against such an inferior (worse than worthless) instruction.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Paying for climate change

Anyone want to talk about a big, nasty number? Try $5.8 billion. Now that may not seem like much in the world of aircraft carrier shopping but for a poor country like the Philippines, this estimate for the damage caused by typhoon Haiyan must seem like a crazy-large fortune.  And the $5 million the UN has pledged for disaster relief seems like an insult. In a country where a typical dwelling probably costs about $1000 or so, this number demonstrates just how widespread and massive the destruction was.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The costs of extreme weather

The main reason I cover climate change issues so relentlessly is because any meaningful solution to this problem will cost big bucks and the current economic environment will not allow us to spend that kind of money.  So obviously, the economic thinking needs to be changed.  Lobbying for such changes is the main reason I write this blog.

But once in a while, I am reminded that the costs of doing nothing are also enormous.  So we find ourselves in the situation where an economic brain-lock prevents us from spending the money we need for remediation while at the same time, we are forced to spend the money anyway to clean up the damage.

Pretty much sounds like complete insanity to me.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NAFTA on steroids—Stop TPP!

Recently, I got an email from someone I met in the struggle to stop the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) back in 1993.  He was ahead of most of us in that he had actually written a book outlining the impending catastrophes that would result from this piece of economic extremism.  We had lost touch in the past 20 years (mostly my fault I am sure) so I was glad to hear from him.  And he inspired me to create this post.

One of the things we activists did that spring was arrange a political rally for our congressman who while a Democrat was clearly one of those "third-way" types that thought it was a fine idea to allow Wall Street to give money and help set the agenda for the party. Even so, we were his constituents and we held out the faint hope that a big turnout would convince him to see the flaws in the proposed legislation.  So our congressman was treated to a string of speakers who outlined how major elements of our economy were about to be sacrificed to the chance to buy socks for $2 a dozen.  We could have been talking to a wall—he voted for NAFTA in support of President Clinton who was making a big push to pass it.

I went home from the rally and wrote what I considered an impassioned plea to scuttle this obviously terrible idea that had somehow gained the support of the party of the people.  And while this critique of "free" trade has been on the Elegant Technology website since it first went up and has proven fairly popular over the years, this effort basically marked the end of any attempt by me to influence electoral politics.

Essentially my objections to these sorts of free trade agreements are due to my extensive reading of how economies developed which showed pretty conclusively that in nation after nation, advanced economies came into existence behind high tariff walls.  This is how industrialization came to Britain, USA, Germany, Japan, etc.  In fact, the idea of free trade only became popular when the Brits discovered that this was a perfect cover for the ruthless exploitation of their colonies and that it also had the delightful side effect of preventing places like India and China from developing a competing industrial system.

I had come to hate the free-trade argument precisely BECAUSE it was anti-development and as I had argued in Elegant Technology, the only way we could meaningfully address the growing environmental crises was to develop a whole new green infrastructure. And the best way to accomplish that was to employ the economic methods that had allowed the economy to develop in the first place.  A short summary of that argument can be found here.

So now the neoliberal swine who gave us NAFTA, etc. have a new scheme to offer. Like NAFTA, it is being negotiated in secret and will be subject to fast-track approval when it finally comes to Congress.  But I am personally not concerned that I don't actually know what is in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because I would be astonished if there would be anything I could support.  These things tend to look pretty much alike.  Even so, I am delighted to see that WikiLeaks got ahold of and published the part that deals with intellectual property.  And while I am not especially concerned with this issue, there are many serious people who are including some with awesome intellectual clout like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The folks behind the TPP are used to getting their way because they have the enormous power of unlimited funds behind them.  But this time they may not and this leak may be the event that upsets their best-laid plans.  While I am not predicting a defeat this time, I think it inevitable that their demise cannot be so far off.  Because the free-traders have a fatal flaw—their economics are catastrophically wrong and there are only about 250 years of economic history that proves it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Japan and wind power

This is one of those stories that makes you wonder, "Whatever took them so long?"  Actually the answer is pretty simple—windpower isn't an obvious choice for the Japanese like it is say, for the folks in North Dakota.  Land for wind turbines on those crowded islands is extremely scarce and offshore, the water gets deep very rapidly so they cannot build in shallow waters like, for example, the Danes.  Then there was the fact that their nuclear power proved safe and reliable (until Fukushima.) Nuclear power needs a maintenance culture and the Japanese have that in spades.

But with their nukes shut down, they are scrambling find a substitute because upping their fossil fuel consumption is both very expensive and tends to piss off the climate change crowd.  As the wind industry rumbles to life in Japan, we see the sorts of organizational behavior that allowed them to dominate the automotive world.  They are organizing their efforts around a trading house named Marubeni and they are talking in brave terms about a new export industry.  Mostly, however, this effort will play to their incredible strengths in building world-class machinery.  So even though the challenges of building deep-water wind turbines will be daunting, I for one do not doubt they can produce Nikon / Lexus / bullet train quality goods.  And yes, I am quite certain that they will have satisfied customers before long.

I wish them luck!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Warsaw conference on climate change

For many reasons, I believe the climate change debate is about to enter a new phase.  Some of those reasons I have already created posts about.  On the plus side, we are discovering that even in bastions of climate change ignorance and naked stupidity like Texas and Oklahoma, the folks on the street are roughly as enlightened about the issue as they are in Massachusetts (the political positions of their respective representatives in congress notwithstanding.)

But the down side is even more depressing as the events at the current climate conference being held in Warsaw demonstrate so vividly.  We see the Japanese backtracking on previous committments to reduce their carbon footprint—mostly because they have shut down nearly 50 nukes post Fukushima. Australia and Canada are also backtracking even though their reasons are not nearly as compelling as those of Japan (hey, you must make those fossil fuel lobbies happy, eh?) And then we see Al Gore issuing his "dire" warning that climate change will destroy human civilization in only 100 more years—which has the side effect of telling a whole lot of people that hey, we still have plenty of time to fix things.

On the surface, this sounds like more business as usual.  That's because it is.  However, the important message is beginning to sink in—however tentatively—which is, doing something about this problem is going to WAY harder than we first thought.  Oh, and conferences, treaties, and other sorts of expressions of good intentions are not going to accomplish much.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The truth is usually funny

In another entry in the "you cannot make this up" category, we discover that J.P.Morgan Chase decided to reach out to the public and allow them to ask them questions on Twitter.  One must assume they were expecting many "how can we become as awesome as you?" sort of questions.  Instead, they got what they deserved.  Here actor Stacey Keach reads some of the better ones. Incredible.  Read Matt Taibbi's take on this PR fiasco here.

Saturday toons 16 NOV 13

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Are supercapacitors finally a possibility?

I must admit that when I first read about capacitors in junior high (early 1960s), I thought their behavior was so unbelievable I just put the whole subject into the category of magic I hoped to one day understand.  Of course, most of the circuits I was playing with had capacitors but they were tiny and I just assumed that whoever specified them knew what they were doing.  I DID read about the possibilities of giant capacitors one day being used for significant electrical storage but the engineering involved was in the same category of giant flywheels—again almost unimaginable.

Well some folks, thank goodness, have been imagining and with the discovery of graphene, have begun to make the elusive supercapacitors actually work.  This folks, is fantastic news.

The Super Supercapacitor | Brian Golden Davis from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Texas and Oklahoma citizens are not so crazy

Watching Texas and Oklahoma politicians in action is not for the weak of stomach or faint of heart.  They dumb down the nation's textbooks, they cheapen the political discourse, but worst of all, there's a whole bunch of climate change deniers who sound like drooling morons when scientific studies are debated.

But it turns out, most folks from these states can actually do things like read thermometers and rain gauges—and have memories good enough to remember what those readings used to be.  What with prolonged droughts and crazy heat waves and force 5 tornadoes, these people are as conscious of climate change as almost anyone anywhere in the nation.

So for all my liberal environmentalist friends out there I would say, "Stop excusing your inaction because you think the deniers are winning.  They are not. And IF you wish to lead on these issues, you better come up with something more interesting than a program to raise consciousness.  The consciousness is fine—it's the what-are-we-going-to-do-about-it part that needs more work."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A green industrial strategy?

When I wrote the precursor to Elegant Technology that was published in Finland in 1989, I was shocked to learn that many of my readers thought my book was funny—as in it made them laugh. This was noted in several reviews. I didn't know just how to respond—while I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humor, I certainly did not write anything I deliberately tried to make funny.  So of course I asked anyone who would answer what he or she thought funny.  One answer was my contention that we could organize a conversion to a green society using largely the same organizational techniques used by the military-industrial complex.  I certainly did not think such a suggestion funny.  After all, a green technology would be, by necessity, bleeding-edge sophisticated and no one got to do bleeding-edge like the MIC.  Why not borrow such a strategy?

The real reason folks thought such a suggestion funny is that when they thought about environmental problems, their knee-jerk reaction was to reach for the Garden of Eden, back-to-nature solution.  The fact is that this option was eliminated so long ago, it is not even worth considering but there it is—the first suggestion at every gathering of environmentalists.  If you don't believe me, I encourage you to read the comments this video provoked—follow the link.  Garden of Eden thinking lives on.

Transcript: PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Getting serious about climate change

I have just spent a couple of hours looking at pictures of the devastation that is the Philippines.  It is enough to make grown men weep. If I have ever sounded flippant about the human toll climate change has caused, I sincerely apologize.  And I make this promise—no more Mr. Nice Guy.  If anyone tries to deny the science of climate change in my presence, I will utterly destroy that person with every debating skill I have learned in my life.

Denying climate change is not clever.  It is not cute.  It is the act of fools.  It is the act of psychopaths.  And this especially goes for the Poles who have "invested" in brand-new coal burning plants and then have the temerity to host a climate conference this year.  What ARE you thinking?!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The latest climate change "hoax" roars through the Philippines

I have a rule about commenting on extreme weather events—they must be record-breakers.  This time, the record in question is: What are the maximum recorded winds of a storm at landfall?  This seems to have been broken.  Unfortunately, the human toll and damage to the life-support systems of the country have probably suffered record damage as well.

Typhoon Haiyan swept ashore in the Philippines on Friday Nov 8 at 4:30 am local time packing winds in the neighborhood of 200 mph (320 kph, 90 meters per second).  To a landlubber like me, such a storm is almost incomprehensible.  We have tornadoes here in the American midwest and while I have been lucky enough to have never seen one in action, I do know about the sorts of damage they can cause—especially the big ones.  A force 4 monster leveled one of the little towns I lived in as a child—just reduced it to splinters.

Here's the deal.  The arbitrary line between a force 4 and 5 tornado is windspeeds of 200 mph.  So Typhoon Haiyan was as destructive as a force 4 tornado (think Joplin Missouri or Moore Oklahoma.)  But here's the difference—a very large tornado is only a couple of miles wide.  You can be in the center of the destructive path and yet be a few-minute walk to somewhere where the water systems work, the electricity is on, and the roofs still keep out the weather.  Rescue efforts can begin almost immediately.  By contrast, Typhoon Haiyan laid down a path of force 4 tornado destruction almost 300 miles wide.  It will be weeks before we even know how many people were killed and years before things can be rebuilt to anything like it was pre-storm.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Renewables encounter the industrial saboteurs

The Europeans have decided that they should embrace renewables while here in USA, we are going fracking.  Right now, there are those who think that we have made the right choice.  I seriously doubt it.  When the real bills for fracking come due—just in time to notice that this is a very expensive way to extract fossil fuels from the earth—I am pretty sure that folks will come to the opposite conclusion.  But this piece comes from Business Insider and they are notorious for taking short-term views of almost everything.

There is SOME validity to the arguments that Europe's push to meet their pretty ambitious emissions targets has indeed made electricity expensive and that expensive electricity has and will cause a world of hurt to Europe's poor.  In my mind, this says that the real problem is trying to meet some tough carbon emission standards using neoliberal economics—the flaw isn't the attempt to cut down on carbon pollution but the crazy idea that everything worth doing should be profitable.  Veblen called the folks who use the monetary mechanisms to disrupt the necessary workings of an economy "industrial saboteurs."  It is hard to imagine a more accurate description.

One can only hope that these conditions are temporary because it is a disaster if they are not.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The mess that is Fukushima

While some serious scientists are telling us that it would be a good idea to start building nuclear power plants again because of the threat of climate change, the Fukushima disaster keeps reminding everyone just how dangerous such an idea really is.  Yes, it required a freak set of circumstances to bring down the Fukushima complex.  Yes, TEPCO has been so inept at handling the disaster that recently, Prime Minister Abe did the unthinkable—he actually asked for outside assistance.  (Notice that idea has gone nowhere fast!).  But even so, it is extremely difficult to argue that that such a set of freak occurrences cannot happen elsewhere.

So now TEPCO is about to embark on a very dangerous operation they have known was necessary since the big tsunami—they have to move the spent fuel rods off-site.  Moving fuel rods is a normal operation of a nuke, but the automated systems for this operation have been damaged so this must be done manually.  There are 1500 rods that are both heavy and fragile.  The money quote is “There is more radioactivity in that fuel pool than in all the bombs than in all the bombs that were fired in above ground testing. So we have the equivalent of 700 nuclear bombs worth of material in that fuel pool. These [the fuel rods] are not going to pull out easily and the fear is, is that they might snap and release the radiation that’s inside them.”

Keep in mind here that Fukushima is close enough to Tokyo and its 30 million inhabitants that even a slight mishap would put all those folks in an exclusion zone.  TEPCO estimates this operation will take 18 months.  And then the hard part begins—removing the damaged reactor cores.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Conformity is so important to economic thinking—NOT

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise (as Gomer Pyle would say).  The Initiative on Global Markets took a poll of academic economists and gloriorski, they took the exact same position—all of them—that the Fed itself would.  Now here's the "ironic" part—one of the questions was whether the Federal Reserve should be audited—a political position that has drawn growing support in Washington in the past few years.  The support comes from seeming opposites such as Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders.  The Fed is opposed to an audit because they believe—probably correctly—that if their workings were exposed to the light of day, all sorts of bad things would happen to them including a loss of their ability to act independently from political demands. (The horror.)

Now anyone remotely interested in how the economy is doing should just leap at the chance see the Fed's books.  The Fed is an important actor in the economy so it's kind of hard to say anything meaningful about economics without good information on what they are doing.  So here we have it—a bunch of top-flight economists have decided that their "scientific" discipline doesn't actually need key data.  So they are not scientists at all—but rather shills for a narrow point of view on monetary policy.  And like the faithful acolytes they are, all of them without exception have toed the Fed's line.  (Cue Gomer)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Keep an eye on the water—ocean warming

Because my favorite college prof, by far, taught energy and public policy, I have some opinions on energy issues that I have held for a long time that properly belong to him.  They are:

1) Nuclear power generation is properly thought of as a state technology and attempts to convert it to private enterprise is both hypocritical and nonsensical.  Until we jettison this crazy idea, nuclear power will remain too dangerous and only profitable with massive subsidies.

2) No matter how many problems nuclear power has (and he could go on for hours about those problems) the dirtiest power source will ALWAYS be coal.  In those pre-climate change days, he taught about the evils of coal's combustion products like mercury and acid rain.  What he insisted we understand was that air pollution tends to become water pollution—and while air pollution is an enormous problem, water pollution is deadly.

So it doesn't surprise me one little bit that the added atmospheric heat and CO2 is ending up in the oceans.  That is how these things work, after all.  (Because air and water are both fluids, they tend to act in identical ways and because we spend our time living in these fluids and navigating the interface between them (boating), we have accumulated an incredible amount of information on the nature of these fluids.)  So as anyone familiar with the science will tell you, this is NOT good news.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The austerity swindle

Actually, when you think about it, there is nothing "neo" about neoliberalism.   It's a set of ideas that have been around since forever—or at least since the moneychangers started getting economists to justify their greed and the tactics used to satisfy that greed.  It turns out the the sort of economic thinking used to organize a society to maximize prosperity for the maximum number of people is the exception.

This reality came as something of a surprise to me.  I was educated to believe that economics had evolved over the years to the point where a near-universal prosperity was well within the realm of possibility—and that only fools would even consider returning to the bad old days of colonialism, feudalism, slavery, usury, and the rest of the manifestations of Predator Class thinking.  Well, we were wrong—it turns out that the economics of unchecked greed is the default position and what was even more sinister, that thinking was just sophisticated enough to seduce folks who didn't think about economics very hard.  And so I watched in horror as politicians from the supposed representatives of the poor and middle class sell out to the economics of the Predator classes.  It didn't just happen to the wicked and stupid.  Jimmy Carter was a Baptist Sunday School teacher who was once Hyman Rickover's fair-haired boy in the nuclear navy.  Bill Clinton was once a Rhodes Scholar who could act as empathetic as anyone on earth.  And Obama was once the editor of the Harvard Law Review.

But as Hossein Zadeh argues below, it is those Democratic neoliberals who have done so much damage to all manifestations of progressive economics.  What is even more pathetic, these folks have actually believed this was a good thing.  To this day, I doubt Jimmy Carter has ever questioned his decision to appoint Paul Volcker to head the Fed, or to deregulate the trucking and airline industries, etc.  Clinton has never apologized for NAFTA or the repeal of Glass-Steagall.  And Obama is set to rip apart the remnants of the social safety net and apparently thinks this would be a good idea.  He even calls it a "grand bargain."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Is nuclear power necessary?

Mention nuclear power at a gathering of self-proclaimed environmentalists and you will understand immediately what it is like to actually take a dump in the punch bowl.  Sociologists talk about boundary-maintaining mechanisms—the issues that determine whether or not someone is a member of a group.  Opposition to nuclear power is indeed a boundary-maintaining issue for the vast majority of environmentalists—at least in the English-speaking world—and for many it is the most important one.

These are people who argue that we can make a shift to renewables that in combination with major improvements in energy-efficiency, would allow us to go green.  For over 30 years, I have argued this point of view myself.  But the older I get, the more I worry that we don't have the sociology to pull off such a trick. The biggest problem, of course, is that current economic thinking will not allow us to spend enough money to effect such a big change.  I happen to think that such economic thinking is insane, but since about 98% of working economists are more concerned with debt servicing than a significant rebuild of the planet's infrastructure, it doesn't much matter what people like me think.

In the meantime, the environmental movement has not been able to make much progress in an actual conversion to a green society.  MUCH time has been lost holding conventions, publishing papers, and getting arrested in civil rights-style protests.  And in all this time, the output of carbon emissions has not slowed one whit, the number of successful net-zero habitats is tiny, the overwhelming majority of environmentalists still believe pollution is something we can outlaw, etc.

I am hardly alone in wondering if we still have time to build the green future we imagined.  When James Hansen was on Letterman, David asked him point blank if he didn't think it was already too late to do anything about climate change.  Hansen bailed on him and put on a happy face, but we know that Hansen can count and knows that at the current rates of green reform and renewal, it IS already too late.  So it was not especially surprising that Hansen is one of the big name scientists who has asked the environmental movement to drop their opposition to nuclear power.

I can almost hear the screams of protests.  I mean, I know environmentalists who know only two things—clubbing baby seals to death is wrong and nuclear power is out of the question, but they're open to compromise on those cute little seals.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The perpetual ugliness of "American Exceptionalism"

188-2.  Really.  That's how badly USA recently lost in a General Assembly vote to condemn USA's economic blockade of Cuba.  As a foreign policy strategy, the USA's continuing confrontation with Cuba would have to improve considerably to rise to the level of simple insanity.  I just hate this sort of thing—along with all the other reasons the warmongers give for making life miserable for others for no reason that makes any sense to any rational being.  I want to work with everyone to solve the grave problems facing human existence but because I detest the machinations of the military-warmongering set, I regularly am accused of harboring "isolationist" sentiment.  It's the slander hurled at we poor "misguided" folks who think that almost ANY policy is better than blowing things up and murdering people.  If warfare ever had value, it most certainly ended August 6, 1945.

Nice to know that no matter how global one's perspective, the New York Times will call anyone who doesn't enjoy the thought of wrecking things an isolationist.  I wonder if it ever occurs to anyone at that hopelessly arrogant publication that it is they who are the partially evolved.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fuel cells for cars

Like many, I went through a serious hydrogen phase in my green thinking.  Part of this was due to youthful experiments with the gas.  In those innocent / optimistic days of the early 1960s, I was able to get my hands on the materials necessary to construct a primitive hydrogen generator on my parents back porch one summer when I was still in junior high.  A neighborhood pharmacist actually GAVE me a gallon of hydrochloric acid in return for a promise that I would make a few hydrogen-filled balloons for his kids.  Because the hydrogen molecule is so small, the resulting balloons did not stay inflated very long, but we got a few to climb out of sight.  Mostly, I was interested in making enough hydrogen to get some small explosions.  They were quite amazing—a gallon jar filled with hydrogen made a satisfying whomp when lit.  Actually, what was amazing is that no one got hurt, I didn't burn the house down, and nothing was ruined by spilled acid.  Even so, enough responsible adults got worried enough by a kid producing small explosions that my source of acid dried up.

This led me to an attempt to produce hydrogen gas through electrolysis.  My source of direct current was the transformer for my electric train.  I did not make much hydrogen this way—after running my generator for three days I only had made a few teaspoons of gas.  Soon the summer ended and I went back to school having learned that while fooling around with hydrogen was a lot of fun, it was extremely difficult to handle and contain and that separating hydrogen out of water would require very sophisticated machinery and a lot of electricity.  That summer's experiments were the source of my skepticism whenever I have encountered hydrogen enthusiasts who claimed that the only path to the future lay in replacing the carbon-based infrastructure with a hydrogen-based one.

But because it is possible to run many thing on hydrogen, the enthusiasts have been able to look past the very real practical problems of making the new society work.  Just the problem of self-serve fueling stations for cars and trucks should be enough to scuttle most hydrogen enthusiasm—but not all.  And so we find that the world's largest carmaker is going to try to sell a vehicle powered by a hydrogen-fueled fuel cell.  As someone who has had a more-than-normal experience with hydrogen, I remain skeptical.  However, this is Toyota and as someone who lives in a town crawling with hybrid Priuses, I am impressed by what that company can do through sheer determination.  The question will be, will Toyota's supply of world-class engineers be enough to produce a car my Prius-driving neighbor could fill with hydrogen?