Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu sorrows

The Guardianistas are blaming swine flu on US multinational pig-rearing corporations, who apparently have exported pig CAFOs to Mexico where they are unregulated and don't have to properly treat or handle wastes. This comes the day after Aimee and Jen's Nicaragua travel class explained to its audience how US corporations and Ronald Reagan's right-wing heros like Olliver North were responsible, in their eyes, for some of the misery they encountered in that country this spring.

As a small scale pig-rearer and livestock farmer, I have little sympathy for the CAFOs. I don't eat their product, and never will, since I have plenty of much healthier produce of my own.

However, one predictable consequence of a US-caused swine fever epidemic is likely to be the rejuvenation of the NAIS regulation push from USDA. NAIS, or North American Animal Identification System, was a push to register farms and animals, and to computer-track their pathways from farm to market so food safety concerns could be addressed more easily. It was looking like a dead duck.

I think it's going to have a miraculous recovery.

Like a lot of small farmers, I'm fearful of USDA regulation if it means a lot of work and inspectors stumbling over my rust garden looking for pathogens. It's a lot easier for the big agribusiness corporations to make it look like they run nice sanitized clean operations, and to comply with paperwork and regulations. They don't have to study up on it all themselves after a hard day's work at a day job they can't quit.

It's probably better for me to spend that extra hour or two mucking out the barn than filling out the form.

While I tend to walk around with a supposition that my small mixed livestock/horticulture farm, with its well-sized but limited level of operation, green grass, shady pastures, obviously healthy animals, and non-smelly well-aerated compost piles to manage wastes, is inherently superior to any corporate set-up.

I guess we may find out, when swine flu hits as it probably will, how well we can manage.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New "Environmental Literacy" study out

The headline was, "students least knowlegeable are least concerned about the environment."

No way, Sherlock. You don't say? I'll be dagblasted.




Sunday, April 26, 2009

President Obama to Address National Academy of Sciences

Copied from Promethius blog:

April 25th, 2009

Posted by: David Bruggeman

As part of its annual meeting, President Obama will address the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, April 27. The address will take place at 9 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, and there will be an audio webcast. Link to the Academies’ home page starting at 8:55 to follow the address live, and check back after the address for audio and video recordings. As only three other sitting presidents have addressed the Academy of Sciences (much less the Academy of Engineering or Institute of Medicine), this is noteworthy. Perhaps the President will give further detail to the oft-repeated phrase from his inaugural address - “restore science to its rightful place” - or give some better idea of what he means by scientific integrity.

Friday, April 24, 2009

UK commits to "clean coal"

The UK government, after many years of wavering, has decided to sequester carbon from its new generation of coal-fired power stations.

This issue has a huge history, some fo which is personal to me. The UK coal fields were deliberately and shamefully run down by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. She was willing to sacrifice the entire industry to break the back of organized labor in the UK, and so undermine the Labour Party. That and Greenham Common forced me to leave UK government employment in 1985, in protest at Thatcher's policies. (It's a long story.)

Labour fought back, primarily on the issue of supporting nationalized health care, another Thatcherite target, and has been in power since 1992, but without as clear a connection to the unions. Labour today is in many ways just another European social democratic party, and in fact more right wing than it's French or German equivalents, more like the US Democratic Party.

Labour takes climate change serously, but they previously couldn't commit to the huge expense of sequestration. Neither, it seems, could they withstand the protests from coalfield representatives, and worries about how to power the islands.

So the Missouri compromise will go ahead, at least partly under the guise of holy Green Stimulus.

It remains to be seen whether sequestration will actually prove cheaper than alternatives for base load power or base load demand reduction, such as nuclear power, third generation offshore wind, pumped storage hydropower, energy efficiency, green building, building retrofit, and smart grids. I tend to think all these prices will equilibriate over time.

But Britain was built on coal. Literally. The coal fields underly such a large part of the island, it's hard to live anywhere that doesn't have at least a disused coalfield close by, within 30-40 miles.

Britan has a lot of expertise too, in major nationalized technology endeavors. Not that these were ever efficient. For the most part they weren't. But they were damnedly competent, in a bloody-mindedly, independently mindedly, British engineering kind of way, damn the torpedoes, fly the Concord, build-our-own jets without US help, have our own private system of nukes, our own cars, trucks busses tractors powerplants combines ships TVs stereos you-name-it.

How we ever afforded a middle class lifestyle with all this R&D expense and duplication is a mystery, but also possibly a subject for theorists of economic multipliers.

British heavy industry designs from the nationalized era, 1945-1979, went out all over the world in the form of ideas, engineering, patents, licenses, and the like. As a Rolls-Royce trained aeroengineer with the RAF, I benefitted from the hard-minded technological competance of this culture through discipline, training and analytic attitudes that I still use daily.

It's just possible that Labour's clean coal push can recover some of this vigor.

I am suspicious of "clean coal" as greenwash for Peabody et al. I lean towards Hansen's position: phase out coal completely. There will certainly have to be verification.

But if British CCS can be made to work, it will be another tool in the expanding base load tool box, one that with the right geology is potentially exportable to China and India.

Now that might solve a very big problem indeed, the problem of how to power China's and India's expansion without destroying the climate for everyone, and success would be well worth the effort.

More power to them. Despite sympathizing with Hansen, I don't think we can afford to rule any solutions out at this point.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Copy of summary from Hansen et al, 2008, in PNAS

The full text, with the calculations to support the conclusion that coal phase out and replacement with renewables is the priority, is at http://arxiv.org/abs/0804.1126

Humanity today, collectively, must face the uncomfortable fact that industrial civilization itself has become the principal driver of global climate. If we stay our present course, using fossil fuels to feed a growing appetite for energy-intensive life styles, we will soon leave the climate of the Holocene, the world of prior human history. The eventual response to doubling pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 likely would be a nearly ice-free planet, preceded by a period of chaotic change with continually changing shorelines. Humanity’s task of moderating human-caused global climate change is urgent. Ocean and ice sheet inertias provide a buffer delaying full response by centuries, but there is a danger that human-made forcings could drive the climate system beyond tipping points such that change proceeds out of our control. The time available to reduce the human-made forcing is uncertain, because models of the global system and critical components such as ice sheets are inadequate.

However, climate response time is surely less than the atmospheric lifetime of the human-caused perturbation of CO2. Thus remaining fossil fuel reserves should not be exploited without a plan for retrieval and disposal of resulting atmospheric CO2. Paleoclimate evidence and ongoing global changes imply that today’s CO2, about 385 ppm, is already too high to maintain the climate to which humanity, wildlife, and the rest of the biosphere are adapted. Realization that we must reduce the current CO2 amount has a bright side: effects that had begun to seem inevitable, including impacts of ocean acidification, loss of fresh water supplies, and shifting of climatic zones, may be averted by the necessity of finding an energy course beyond fossil fuels sooner than would otherwise have occurred.

We suggest an initial objective of reducing atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm, with the target to be adjusted as scientific understanding and empirical evidence of climate effects accumulate.

Although a case already could be made that the eventual target probably needs to be lower, the 350 ppm target is sufficient to qualitatively change the discussion and drive fundamental changes in energy policy. Limited opportunities for reduction of non-CO2 human-caused forcings are important to pursue but do not alter the initial 350 ppm CO2 target. This target must be pursued on a timescale of decades, as paleoclimate and ongoing changes, and the ocean response time, suggest that it would be foolhardy to allow CO2 to stay in the dangerous zone for centuries. A practical global strategy almost surely requires a rising global price on CO2 emissions and phase-out of coal use except for cases where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. The carbon price should eliminate use of unconventional fossil fuels, unless, as is unlikely, the CO2 can be captured. A reward system for improved agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon could remove the current CO2 overshoot. With simultaneous policies to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases, it appears still feasible to avert catastrophic climate change.

Present policies, with continued construction of coal-fired power plants without CO2 capture, suggest that decision-makers do not appreciate the gravity of the situation. We must begin to move now toward the era beyond fossil fuels. Continued growth of greenhouse gas emissions, for just another decade, practically eliminates the possibility of near-term return of atmospheric composition beneath the tipping level for catastrophic effects.

The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2, is Herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Busy bee

Your blogmeister has been too busy to blog these days, and today, although a Saturday, is no exception. It's Earth Day, one of the college's big annual events, but due to a cognitive dissonance, or scheduling malady, or some such brain fart among Maine canoe race enthusiasts, it's also the annual Kendusgeag River Race.

They always do this. Well, not quite always. But often.

Accordingly, the fishers of men (and women and small children), otherwise know as Unity College Search and Rescue Team, go out. And since I'm the SAR Team adviser, I go out too. You'll be able to see the photos of us pulling the punters out of the water over on the SAR Team blog later today or tomorrow. That's if I don't drop my camera in the river.

This means that about one year in two, or two years in three, I miss Earth Day. But it's a good fun day on the banks of the river fishing out near-drowned and freezing folks. I generally catch more people than I do fish on the one or two days each year I go trout fishing.

But you shouldn't miss Earth Day. There are events at the college all day.

On Monday, I will be traveling to the NCSE Federal-University Dialogue, along with other leaders in college and university climate change and environment education, to talk about eduction for energy and environment with the new administrators. I'm hoping to get briefed on the administration's policy pushes, particularly in light of the decision to force congress to legislate on greenhouse gasses by using the EPA listing process under the Clean Air Act.

This was my Earth day surprise on reading the paper this morning, and the news marks the first serious step by any US federal executive branch agency to do anything other than study climate change. Like a lot of environmental policy folks who work in climate change, I had read the reports from the NYT and others that Obama was going to punt until the recession was over, and I was telling my students that I was getting less hopeful and anticipatory as a result.

Our own Maine legislature is reportedly having a hard time sorting out what to do about renewable energy. I wonder how many folks realize how much more quickly the rule-making process under the EPA can move, compared to legislation. I wonder too, how many realize that a national CAA Act climate change rule that reduces GHG emissions is also a national and state-level renewable energy policy by default.

Feet of clay make for slow plodding, and it's been a long haul. I first learned how dangerous climate change was in the 1980s. Since then we've only increased our awareness of the dangers. Now it looks like we're finally on a timetable to do something.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Home energy tax credits summarized nicely

The NYT made a good effort with this article. The previous two years I used the credits to help pay for insulation, windows and sealing on our old farm home.

Unfortunately, for most of us this blurb comes a little late, as April 15th is very close.

But clip it, electronically or otherwise, and save it for next year!