Monday, October 31, 2011

Corridors and the Cabinets

Map and panorama of the Cabinet Mountains wilderness. Map is USFS, photo is from Wikipedia. Click on either to enlarge.

A long time ago, indeed a very long time ago, it sometimes seems, I was both a USFS volunteer wilderness ranger and an outdoor activity instructor in Montana's Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, north of Thompson Falls, MT. This was just a few years after getting out of the British military. I helped patrol the wilderness on summer weekends, hiking in with the paid seasonal ranger to dismantle fire pits and pack out trash, and then the rest of the time I would go to work at the troubled youth camp, hiking back in to the same mountains or the Little Bitterroot range across the Clarks Fork River for weeks at a time with bands of troubled teenagers and packs of rice and lentils.

I also loved to hike in by myself when I could, to fish the high mountain lakes for cut-throat trout and wander the high ridges alone.

Those were great days for a leggy kid from Yorkshire who liked to hike the high peaks. I had the place entirely to myself most of the time. No doubt a lot of my current students would love to have that life, despite the fact that I was paid only $1,500 per 21-day backpacking trip.

Later, after I realized I needed a college education to break into some more remunerative wilderness-based work, and began a biology degree at the University of Montana, I volunteered to help with the Cabinet Mountains Fisher Reintroduction Project, an Endangered Species Act-driven project to boost fisher numbers by releasing wild-caught individuals from Minnesota. We hiked in on snowshoes, or snowmobiled in, to "soft-release" our fishers in the deep cedar groves of the west slopes of the Cabinets. The lead biologist on that project was Kevin Roy, who was later killed in an air crash over Wyoming while tracking grizzlies. It took four years to find his plane.

That was big country out there.

But not the Cabinets. The Cabinets were and are a tiny sliver of wilderness, preserved under the 1964 Wilderness Act. At the narrowest point, Rock Creek, the protected area is less than a mile, east to west. They are a natural corridor.

Anyway, long story short, here's a great Yale 360 article on the Cabinet Mountain's role in working out some ideas in conservation biology related to climate change, particularly the need for wildlife corridors.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A grid storage beta test

Just putting it out there...

A thought that just came to mind following the Long report from CA, below.

Why tie climate policy schemes only to carbon, and thus internalize concerns about attribution, as well as prolong the denier-warmer debate?

Why can't we tie a Coasian climate policy instead to carbon volume via the actual climate change itself, using some reasonable central indicator such as global AAT increase? It's true that we have imperfect measures of the impact of each unit of carbon on AAT, but the models that approximate this, GCMs and the Lean and Rind multiple regression, and so on, give us workable correlation coefficients. If we just picked one, however arbitrary, we would abstract away from this issue, while abstracting towards actual solutions.

One option that satisfies this concept would be to make the fee per unit of fossil energy use in one time period a function of the AAT change during the previous period, after correcting for ENSO, the solar cycle, and volcanic aerosols.

That way investors would have to strategize using more complex thoughts about the mix of carbon and carbon free technologies, going forward.

Let the Koch brothers and their ilk bet against climate change if they wish. But make the consequences of such a bet direct and natural.

Deniers shouldn't complain about such a policy, since they believe that climate change is not a result of all that carbon. If you tie carbon fees to both carbon and ATT, if the deniers are right, the fee would be minimal. Which is just what they believe should happen. If they're wrong, they get left holding a whole bunch of worthless investments.

We could call it the "Put your money where your mouth is" climate policy.

Whereas right now, the cheapest route for the Kochs, et al, is to fund the denial movement!

I don't have time to take this idea very far myself, but someone else in the mitigation business might.

So I'm just putting it out there.

An important article

Jane C Long, of the Lawrence Livermore Lab, has published a column summarizing a very important new analysis of energy approaches in Nature.

The analysis itself is also available online.

The upshot: There needs to be a 50-year strategic energy policy, not a piecemeal approach. There are important considerations that result from interaction between green power sources during the roll-out or deployment period.

Those of us in the energy education business now need to absorb this, and think about it, and teach something a little different.

Importantly, the interactive effects are different for different regions. So, because California has little coal-powered electricity, each unit deployment of wind power may add some emissions from a corresponding unit deployment of base load natural gas. In a mid-western state, the natural gas would naturally reduce emissions, from the coal fired plants that currently provide the base load.

I think the difficulty that results from this is that the result is a negation of the carbon tax and/or cap and trade approaches. Those are essentially Coasian economic approaches that allow free reign in terms of technology. What this report is telling us is that there are important coordination issues between technologies in any green energy roll-out strategy. Since free market economics is essentially technology-neutral, we got ourselves a problem, Houston.

Arguably, free-but-Coasian energy markets can take care of this problem too, if investors and planners have enough knowledge of future carbon penalties. Capital depreciation is an important consideration. Wind turbines are good for 20-25 years before a major refurbishment is called for, not the forty or fifty years of this analysis. They might be deployed in one region for 25 years, then taken down, refurbished and redeployed elsewhere, an efficiency even within the confines of the strategic vision outlined by this plan.

Since it remains to be seen whether or not the US will opt for any carbon reduction mechanism, all of this is speculative. It's only in states like California that are ahead of the game, where problems like this are being worked out, that this is even a reasonable kind of thinking at this point. The rest of us need to think as much about adaptation as mitigation, especially those of us that teach.

I'd give us a fifty-fifty chance of figuring it all out in time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CAT on video

A great short clip about the Centre for Alternative Technology on Wales, where a dozen or so Unity students and I visited in 2010.

NYT special on energy trends

Just-in-time, as we switched from discussing climate change to discussing energy and land use solutions to climate change, the NYT has a special on energy trends. It's quite good, as these kinds of things go, and well worth your attention.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jane Long on geo-engineering

A quote below from a Jane Long interview in Yale Env. 360, which happens to underline some of the ideas discussed with our recent classroom discussion of mitigation versus geo-engineering options. The emphasis is mine.

Read the full article here.

"...the best way to solve a problem is not to have it. The best way to solve this problem is to mitigate as fast as we can manage. We should be talking about how we can get to a zero emission energy system as fast as possible. That’s what the climate science tells you the context should be. The discussion about saying, “Well we’re going to reduce by 10 percent or 20 percent”— it doesn’t really jibe with what the problem is. The problem is how fast can we go to zero and then probably below zero. Believe me, I know how hard it’s going to be. Even if we had the will tomorrow to do it, it would not be easy. So the next arrow in the quiver is we know some areas are going to flood, we know we are going to have more forest fires, we know we’re going to have more droughts. And how are you going to better manage these phenomena? And the last and the scariest is we’re going to intentionally manage the planet so that climate change doesn’t destroy us."

New report on global carbon sources

A useful new online device for teaching some aspects of carbon mitigation is an interactive web page called The Supply Chain of CO2 Emissions, by Davis, Peters and Caldeira, also published as a short report in PNAS.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Green collar jobs and the missing workers

I found this article interesting, particularly as it illustrates the fact that even with 9% unemployment, there are still jobs to be had, and even jobs left unfilled. Mostly, it seems, the missing workers are engineering jobs at the technician or journeyman level -- the kind of jobs I held for much of the ten or so years I spent in the workforce before I became an academic.

These are the jobs that, as Matthew Crawford pointed out, can't easily be exported to China. And the absence of adequate workforce must be holding up the recovery, since the toolrooms and assembly lines that make our stuff, however robotically, are still put together by humans: fitters, machinists, welders, and process engineers.

In the green economy, the primary missing ingredient is energy modeling and cost analysis -- there are literally thousands of dollars of energy efficiency measures to be found in almost every large institution and even in most family homes.

You'd think we would get on it, considering what's at stake, for the climate and the economy.

"Get it sorted," as we say in the yUKe.

But even here in Maine one of our most technically proficient and largest green contractors has felt the need to have its own job fair (to which our Sustainable Energy Management degree students got a special invite).

Imagine, needing to have an expensive event like this in the middle of a jobs recession!

Here's the invite, the flyer, and a neat letter that accompanied it all:

From Nicole Collins at the Unity College Career Center:

Evergreen Home Performance, a Rockland-based energy audit and contracting company, is holding a Career Exploration Open House on Tuesday, October 18. They are hoping to see some Unity students there!

The information is attached. Please contact Elise Brown, Development Manager, with any questions. Her contact info is , 594-2244 x711.

Career Exploration Open House – Tuesday, October 18, 5-7 pm

Ham Niles can’t quite remember when he first set his sights on a job with Evergreen Home Performance. He’d worked with the energy-efficiency contracting company on his own home and found that “an hour or so with them revolutionized my whole agenda and the framework on which it was based,” so he paid attention when friends mentioned a Career Exploration Open House last spring. Evergreen’s next Open House is Tuesday, October 18, from 5-7 pm, at 15 Tillson Avenue in Rockland.

It was clear that Evergreen wasn’t a regular contracting company. Everything from its mission to make homes more comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient to its culture (family-friendly with health insurance for all full-time employees) intrigued him, so Niles applied for Evergreen’s free, six-week, 24-hour class in building science.

The course is part of Evergreen’s long-term workplace development process, explained Development Manager Elise Brown. Regular open houses and building science courses have proved an effective hiring tool. “Instead of waiting till we’re desperate for new advisors and technicians, we’ve created a longer period of time to explore the relationship with potential employees,” said Brown. “Applicants get the change to learn about the field and prove their commitment, and we get to assess their skills and enthusiasm.”

At the October 18 Open House, Energy Advisor Cree Hale Krull will explain how the training process prepared him to figure out what’s wrong with a house, explain problems and solutions to customers, write reports, and make sales. Project Manager Svea Tullberg will talk about the hands-on work she and the other technicians do to improve homes, including adding insulation and drainage systems.

Niles – who started as an Energy Advisor this month – recommends the Open House to “anyone who has a desire to more fully understand how houses work and make the leap from theory to practice.” Those who share his interest in working with “smart people who do dirty jobs with dignity and an eye for the details that count” can apply for the next building science course. Evergreen has already hired four of the students from last spring’s class, and anticipates another round of hiring soon.

Friday, October 14, 2011


An interesting question: Does the 1918 eruption mentioned in the article below appear in the L & R 2008 base data, graphed above and in the table below?

Answer is a pretty unequivocal no. The values for optical depth (of sulfate aerosol-caused UV light scattering -- VOLC in the data set below) do not exceed typical low/background values. Something like a value of 0.05 would have been required to register.

Katla does not appear to historically have been a high-sulfate aerosol type volcano.

Which is good for humanity in general, although it may yet disrupt air travel.

And although it would have been a nice test of L & R 2009 and other models, had Katla erupted as predicted, and had there been sulfate in the stratosphere as a result.

But I found this a valuable short exercise. The value of this kind of thought experiment is in providing students with the kind of mastery over the facts and math of climate knowledge that will be needed to provide mitigation and adaptation needs in the next few decades.

A special version of what philosopher Matthew Crawford has called, in another context, "mastery over one's own stuff."

A shortage of java? Not necessarily.

Starbucks execs are warning that the humble Arabica bean may shortly go into short supply, as a result of climate shifts.

What do I think about this? Moi, who drinks probably a good half-gallon of the strongest possible brew per day, and is a most-favored customer at all branches of the Seattle-based chain within forty miles of Unity, Maine?

Well, I think I know far less about coffee cultivation than I would need to know to comment.

But I know enough about genotype, phenotype, climatic zone and climate change to know how to think about it. It's not rocket science. It's just good old fashioned ag sci

With a twist.

The slight difference is that your climate zones, or hardiness zones, or whatever you want to call them, may shift faster than your cultivation and cultivar might.

Not something your average aggie has had to contend with, historically speaking. And your average aggie does have a rep for being, ummm, well, a bit of a plodder.

(A cruel and foul canard -- you try getting your head around all that juju. Especially when the guys from Monsanto, et al, come in with their Wall Street lawyers.)

And so what I think is that there's a small fortune to be made here by the company or individual or even national government of a small semi-tropical nation that can most quickly match current or future variety to future climate zone, essentially put the ag sci alongside the climate sci, and thus identify where the next great coffee growing region of the world will be, where the most cost-effective agricultural land resources will be within that region, what variety of bean to grow there, and, inestimably, how to grow it without large fossil fuel subsidies required.

Job creation, albeit of a somewhat unusual kind (that will get far too usual as time goes on).

Because I may be willing to do without oil heat, incandescent light bulbs, and even gasoline-powered cars to help save the planet, but I'm not sure I physically can help save the planet without me regular cup of joe beside me! And I know I'm not the only one.

Maybe it's time for me to review this obvious addiction.

BTW, I'm not sure how many agricultural scientists there are that get this training elsewhere, but I work with about five or six of them each Tuesday/Thursday.

And that exact kind of problem, ladies and gentlemen, is what we are talking about. That kind of thing.

It's called adaptation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

From Jerry Cinnamon

(Recently retired UC Geology professor)

I thought that you might be interested in this presentation. It's both
stunning and informative.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Ap for L & R 2009

For Environmental Sustainability class:

I built a Google Docs spreadsheet ap embodying the regression model obtained by Judith Lean and David Rind in their 2009 paper, How will Earth's climate change in future decades, which we have been studying.

Instructions are here.

The calculator is here.

(Note, there are no margins of error given in this simple ap. To see the margins of error, which are important, you would have to get the basic data and replicate the model in a stats program such as .JMP or Smith's Statistical Package (a free download). I will give extra credit to any student who replicates this analysis on their own using the software package of their choice. See me for the data.)


Extensive McKibben

An interview, at the Guardian

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Andy Burt comes to visit

One of my favorite local organizers came to visit college yesterday. "Andy" Burt is a Quaker, a long-time member of Mid-Coast Friends Meeting (where I met Aimee, many years ago now), and was for many years the key organizer in Maine Interfaith Power and Light, the religious environmental organization that spurred creation of the renewable electricity market here in Maine.

Andy now organizes the Green Sneakers Project, a door-to-door canvas working on local energy advocacy.

I think this is a great project for Maine, primarily because of its ability to reach out to people suffering what is currently great hardship each winter because of high energy prices and actually help reduce the hardship by making homes tighter, warmer, and more efficient.

Andy was also arrested at the Keystone XL protests in DC.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Deep background to forest dieback article

On the NYT's Green blog:

McKibben hammers Obama on pipeline

In today's paper.

Of course, Bill doesn't have to win re-election.

What the Obama administration are thinking, and why they are thinking it, is probably less to do with cronies and more to do with the calculation of 2012 votes, and the timing of the decision.

Obama's team probably wishes it could drag out the discussion until after next November.

Think about it:

If the administration nixes the pipeline directly, the climate wins a short-term battle, but then the Koch brothers and less rabid oil interests pour money into the election, and get their pipeline anyway.

If the administration supports the pipeline directly, they lose all negotiating power with moderate oil interests. No point in giving it away.

But if the administration is seen to be thinking of supporting the pipeline, asking, even begging for moderate oil interests to show some support, jeez, buddy, spare a dime for a poor embattled most-powerful-man-in-the-world, then the Obamites get a new angle on the election, something they're going to need if they continue to abandon their base, and a wedge is driven between the radical conservatives such as the Koch brothers, and more moderate oil interests.

The notion that somewhere in Canada there are two trillion barrels is itself enough to take the edge off the bull market in oil which will take the edge off the bear market in general. I'm not a practicing econometrist but I was well trained by some very good ones, and can read the numbers well enough to know that there may be two percentage points of employment numbers for Obama, if the edge can be taken off the oil price.

I'm not saying it's good, or that I like it, or that Bill should back off. As Jim Hansen has intimated, the CO2 from two trillion barrels of Canadian crude is probably enough to send us back to the paleocene.

I'm just saying, it is what it is.

By the way, if the jobs numbers will be the primary determinant of 2012, and if oil interests like the Koch brothers want so badly to see Obama gone, do you think they might find a way to send the NYMEX crude numbers up again at some opportune point?

I would bet on it, myself.

You'd think that those conservative types clever enough to work this kind of stuff out would be clever enough to read a few science papers and realize that, no, scientists actually aren't kidding, nor a liberal conspiracy, and that the possibility of going back to the paleocene is real.

You'd think.

In the same paper, an article about new support for geoengineering, and a good discussion of the risks of the Keystone XL.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Forests and climate change

An excellent article in the NYT, featuring woolly algedids, the Harvard Forest, and the work of the Running lab at UMT, among other things we teach in Environmental Sustainability and at Unity College in general.

UK up to ten per cent renewable electricity