Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Talking about when the penny might drop earlier, I see from my favorite SEM job board, Clean Techies, that Saudi Aramco is hiring lots of renewable energy and energy efficiency specialists.

And I mean lots.

These would be top dollar jobs, although you would have to suffer the indignities of being an ex-pat in Saudi Arabia, where a kind of apartheid is practiced between westerners and the middle and lower echelons of Saudi society, who tend to be religious and intolerant of western attitudes.

But still. If I were 25 again, I might consider it. Put in a few years. Retire at 40.

Saudi Aramco.

It's a kind of coming of age, of sorts, for the renewable energy industry. I've said it before: My work used to be radical, but now it's mainstream.

It's the dinosaurs out there crying out to protect the "lifestyle" of coal-mining that are radical.

Drought, for class

Renewables in Orkney

Some of the tidal technology may one day come to Maine, although it would be nicer if the Ocean Renewable Energy prototype turned out to be a winner, too.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Farmers changing minds?

Reference my previous post, I did some online searching:

Journalistic references:

1) Article in Climate Progress about Ohio farmers

2) From NPR in Michigan

3) Perry County, AK

4) Article about Poll (before this year's drought): seven in ten Iowa farmers believe climate change is happening

I'll keep looking. There should be an update of that poll next year, which would be very interesting.

How bad does it need to get?

In a recent editorial by Cornell economist Robert H. Frank in the New York Times, Dr. Frank expresses the opinion that the recent extreme weather will help push climate policy to national prominence by 2016.

I'd like to think so.

I am very interested in how long it will take for the American penny to drop on climate change. Other than the fact that all our lives depend on it, this was also, after all, the topic of my dissertation. And I deal with climate skepticism and denial each year in my classes.

(You wouldn't think we have many climate denialists at Unity College, but we generally get a few in each section, one or two or three. It keeps me on my toes.)

This would be a good time for some aspiring graduate student to do a poll of mid-western farmers. A before/after poll would be best, but failing that a poll that asks whether the subjects have changed their minds about climate change in recent years.

The results wouldn't necessarily be capable of extrapolation to other constituencies. As every good teacher knows, some types of people have minds that are easier to change than others.

But it might be a source of hope.

The heartland farming constituency is a powerful lobby. If they finally get the message (that climate change will ruin the value of their property and destroy their lifestyle) that might actually be helpful politically speaking.

I wrote my dissertation on the basis of an ethnographic and oral history research study of the development of the religious environmental movement in the US and it's potential to spread the word about climate change. To my admittedly historical mindset, religious groups have been important in most prime American issues from abolition on down through the years. I wanted to know if the current movement would help us get through with the climate change message. At the time, and still, the movement was moving to spread the word about climate change among different faith congregations.

I was particularly interested in the southern evangelical denominations, which have historically been slowest to change their minds on just about anything in American history from slavery to gay rights, and remain a force within the Republican party. They are the good folks responsible for the infamous item in the Texas party platform that attempted to outlaw critical thinking in schools.

Dr. Frank might be disappointed in how long it takes to bring climate change to the top of the agenda, if some of these Texans get their way.

How many bankrupt mid-western farmers does it take to outweigh the effects of a single southern evangelical pastor?

That's the kind of see-saw this climate thang will boil down to in 2016 or 2020.

For the record, Dr. Frank also echoes my proposal, given publicly in my last post to Andrew Revkin's NYT blog, to use an element of economic protectionism to force the Chinese to play ball on climate emission reductions. Not that I'm feeling protective of my idea. I don't particularly care who expresses it as long as it gets adopted and is used.

I'm also still watching the weekly El Nino stats, to see if the current conditions remain predictive of a reversal this winter.

So far, so bad.

It's going to be an interesting school year.

Friday, August 24, 2012

New graphic, for class later

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Twelve bucks a bale!

Hay Appreciation at the Womerlippi Farm

I was reading, as I often do, the inestimable Real Climate blog, when I came across a link to this NYT article about feral horses dying on the range because of the drought, which is of course exacerbated by climate change (and likely to get worse, especially if we get the El Nino that NOAA is predicting this fall).

But what caught my eye more than anything was the price of a bale of hay in some mid-western and western states mentioned in the article: Eight to twelve dollars!

My wife Aimee and I raise livestock, sheep, pigs, and chickens, as part of our family's smallholding lifestyle, and as part of our contribution to the mission of Unity College. We buy hay "off the field" each year, exercising a time-honored rural tradition to both save money and participate in community. And we have students over to our farm to engage them in agriculture and get them thinking about science.

The way the hay thing works is, a hay purchaser and a hay farmer agree on a lower price for hay, if the purchaser picks the hay bales off the field and transports the fodder themselves. This saves the farmer some labor and management costs, and it engages the purchaser in the heavy work of getting the hay in.

It's a tiny, very practical bit of applied human ecology.

We get the hay we need for sheep feed and pig bedding from an Amish family. We pay $3.50 a bale, but the deal is, we help get the hay off the field with our equipment (originally a flatbed truck, but now we have a Land Rover that can pull a hay wagon), and we get a couple of young Amish helpers to help load it into our barn.

(So we know something about hay, is what I'm saying.)

I already knew that there was an extended market for Maine hay in recent years. I know of one farmer who trucks round and square bales as far as New Jersey.

It looks to me like there might be enough money in hay right now to truck to the midwest, if not the west. Or the markets might bump along in series: we truck to Jersey, Jersey trucks their hay to Ohio and Ohio trucks west.

This is just one example of how climate change is already affecting agriculture. But it's also a good example of how markets respond.

For the stock farmer out west, twelve bucks a bale is a terrific calamity. But for the hay farmer elsewhere, it's an opportunity.

There's no understanding climate impacts without some knowledge of economics, is there?

Beyond climate guilt-trips?

On Revkin's blog this morning:

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What does the "Pussy Riot" verdict have to do with humanity's ability to survive climate change?


Because there exist at (at least) two massive former communist world powers who eventually will have to cooperate with the west if we're all to somehow safely manage what's happening to the planet's climate.

Especially if we wish to come out of the other side of a decades-long, perhaps centuries-long, period of climate instability with western ideals of freedom and democracy more or less intact and expanding.

One of the commentators in my Sunday "paper," the exceptionally well-named Carole Cadwalladr, writes that, "[i]t took a bunch of bright, sassy women in colourful balaclavas to blow the lid off Putin's Russia," exposing it for the medieval fiefdom it has become (and perhaps has always been).

I spend a lot of time keeping up with the ideas of the great and the good of the world of climate change science and policy. For the most part this is a worthwhile endeavor, and certainly necessary if I'm to explain to my own students what those ideas mean and what they are worth, which is how I earn my keep in this world.

But I don't hear a lot of acknowledgement from climate leaders that this difficult geopolitical situation exists. And I hear virtually no commentary about how we might resolve it.

But, unless there's some secret plan I'm not aware of, it seems self-evident that humanity cannot mitigate climate change without the cooperation of China and Russia. Either has access to enough carbon and has enough people, or enough influence with other countries who have carbon and people, to prevent any less-than-completely-global climate mitigation solution from working.

Without them, we can only adapt.

Even adaptation would be difficult without stabilization. Knowing what I know about the carbon flux (the basic box model of earth's atmosphere's carbon concentration, sinks and sources), I can't even currently figure out how we might stabilize, without the full cooperation of these two global powers, and I don't see how this cooperation would be forthcoming without Russian and/or Chinese democracy.

I suppose, if iron fertilization or something like it works well enough, we might somehow manage to independently sequester enough global carbon annually to offset Chinese and/or Russian carbon, and future increases due to Chinese and/or Russian growth, but how long could we keep this up? That's a pretty big "if" there.

If someone knows something I don't about how this might be possible, please write and tell me.

In the meantime, the best hope for humanity seems to be, as Ms. Cadwalladr states, "...just a bunch of highly-educated, articulate young women."

We should all be enormously grateful to these women, currently the spearhead of democracy.

Hopefully, they won't have to spend as long in Siberia as many previous generations of Russian political dissidents have.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


A great NYT article on divisions over drilling and fracking on the Blackfoot reservation took me back a bit.

In another life, I was an environmental campaigner for something called the Badger-Two Medicine campaign, which aimed to stop drilling on USFS lands adjacent to the southern third of the reservation. These were lands formerly belonging to the tribe, and contained many of the sacred mountains in the Blackfoot creation myth. I could tell you truly hair-raising stories about hiking the backcountry there, and about meeting the Indians, grizzly bears and other residents.

The NYT article shows that the same divisions over drilling which existed in the early 1990s still exist today.

Michael Levi on natural gas exports

Levi, a serious climate-and-energy thinker whose viewpoint I respect, argues for allowing exports of our newly abundant domestic supplies.

The primary importers would most likely be European countries currently dependent on Russian gas.

The play, if allowed, would reduce the revenue available to the Russian kleptocracy. More importantly, it would reduce the dependency and vulnerability felt by many of these countries, when, as they often do, the Russians play politics with gas supplies, turning pipelines on and off, sometimes in the dead of winter.

Well, two can play at that game, can't they?

Biodiesel Boosters

Photo: Former student Jake got deep into the biofuel topic

A group of scientists, including our own President Stephen Mulkey, have come together to promote biodiesel.

They have a blog up at

Among the attractions are support for students to study biodiesel, and later in the fall, a webinar, which we'll likely be using in class.

For now, here's some former Sustainability Blog posts about Unity College's involvement in biodiesel:

The former Grease Car clubhouse, sadly defunct

Josiah's ethanol truck. (Whatever happened to that jalopy?)

Jake's grease-powered Jetta

Anders on life-cycle costs of biofuels

Anders on biofuel and conservation 

Bob Zeollick from way back on the ethics of biofuel

Running the Put Solar on it campaign bus on biodiesel