Monday, March 31, 2014

IPCC Report

The newest IPCC report is out. We'll be reading parts of it in GL4003 Global Change. Here's the NYT article about the report:

Here's where you go for the report itself:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What my college days looked like...

I'm not sure what reaction my students will have when they see this awesomely naff video of my old school in the 1960s (discovered by one of my old service buddies and posted today on FaceBook). Probably hysterical laughter. But, as the movie shows, it was a whole world unto itself.

In my partial defense, I will say that when I went through RAF Halton's aircraft engineering school, about fifteen years later in 1979, the coveralls were fireproof and slightly smarter, and the technology more modern. However, the instructors were just the same character types, crusty, bristly, bloody-minded corporals and sergeants, some of whom were actually left over from WWII, who thought nothing of taking a week's metalwork, rejecting it on some minor flaw, failing tolerance by 1/1000th of an inch, and making you start over. Some of them were probably the same instructors in this movie.

Interestingly, the cars and motorcycles we drove and rode were actually much worse by 1979, as was some (not all) of the popular music, although the newer aircraft types we trained on and later were responsible for were even more awesome. These classic British Lightnings and V-Bombers were cool and helped face down the Soviets in the 1960s, but the Harrier actually won a war -- the Falklands -- in 1983.

The RAF's unique paternalism was just the same, as was the attitude to sports and outdoor activities. I couldn't play rugby anymore by then -- I'd gotten too skinny for the front row, so I became a distance runner instead while at Halton. There were lots of British Asian kids there too, just as there are in this movie. The club facilities were probably a little shabbier by 1979, but I spent hours nightly, fixing up my motorcycles in the motorcycle club. Later I learned BW photography in a photography club at RAF Leeming. The glider field was still there, but had newer model gliders.

I never regretted for even a minute becoming an RAF engine fitter. The technical and engineering education I got there was second to none, and it's paid off in thousands of dollars of income and value over the years. I expect the character traits this former life helped me develop -- intellectual honesty, stubbornness, bloody mindedness, being totally unimpressed by spin, results-based, interested in real things and real results -- have been both good and bad for me, but mostly good.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Essay prompt for Climate Solutions Expo attendees

This prompt is for GL 4003, PS 3003 and EC 2003 students planing to use their Climate Solutions Expo attendance and volunteering as the basis for their project grade:
  1. Of all the ideas, items, and innovations you observed at the conference, whether in booths, posters or talks, which do you feel has the most immediate and powerful potential to reduce climate emissions? Explain what it was and why you think so.
  2. What is the technological and/or economic basis for this potential? Give details, with references.
  3. What is the greatest disadvantage of this idea, item, or innovation? Give details, with references?

Monday, March 24, 2014

A student's wrong-headed question could save the world

It's the season for high school interest in renewable energy, apparently. We have a large number of events to respond to, organized by schools and by teachers around the state.

One question which made it's way past the "front line" of SEM students that are mostly fielding this interest was "How efficient is tidal power compared to other alternative energy sources?"

It’s not a very well-thought out question, and probably a “canned” question thought up by the teacher and passed on unthinkingly by the student.

Here’s my answer, which I told SEM student Andrew B to first forward to the student uncut, then think about it.

I added, as a kind of humorous aside, "This is as deep as I can get ;)"

I wasn't entirely joking. Other scientists might be concerned with the "meaning of life, the universe and everything," but I'm mostly interested in this nexus between economics, renewable energy, and climate change.
"Your question requires a better definition of efficiency. Do you mean thermodynamic or economic efficiency?

Renewable energy is ambient energy. Ambient energy is abundant in sun, wind, waves, tides, biological organisms, and the internal heat of the earth. Questions of thermodynamic efficiency don’t really apply to an energy source so abundant. When we look at the thermodynamic efficiency of fossil energy, then efficiency is important. A hybrid car might be able to convert 45% of the energy in gasoline to useful transportation, and this is better than 35% thermodynamic efficiency, which is what a regular car might get. But if you could cheaply extract even 0.1% of the total of terrestrial ambient energy, which is about 85,000 terawatts a year (tW/y), that would be several times more than humans would ever need. We currently use 15 tW/y, so do the math.

Economic efficiency is a more important question. We live in a society of (mostly) free market economic systems. If it costs 5 cents a kW to convert, say, wind energy to electricity, and 3.5 cents a kW to convert fossil gas energy to electricity, then a free market for electricity production will choose the fossil gas energy. But from the point of view of climate change and the longevity of gas supply, the wind energy is far more efficient.

This is why we need a national climate policy, and possibly a carbon tax: because free markets choose inefficient outcomes when there are significant external effects such as climate change.

This is also why, in the renewable energy industry, we generally think of efficiency in terms of leveled cost per unit energy, not in terms of thermodynamic efficiency."
I might have added, "Become a scientist or engineer and find a cheap, decentralized and efficient way to convert solar energy to an energy-dense, safe, liquid fuel that runs in existing engine types, and we can not only solve climate change and make you incredibly rich, but also make dozens of dictators around the world obsolete, strengthen democracy worldwide, and save millions of lives."

So maybe it wasn't such a bad question after all.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Denialist fury

I'm not fond of bullies, so it was heartwarming to me that, despite the obvious pusillanimity of the journal's publishers, the paper is still hosted by UWA:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Grading rubric for GL 4003

EMT issues RFP, HCIT

(HCIT: How cool is that! Mostly because it comes via our own Anne Stephenson.)


RFP EM-013-2014, Research and Development and Demonstration Projects under the Renewable Resources Fund

The Efficiency Maine Trust seeks qualified bidder(s) or teams of bidders for community demonstration projects and research and development projects that utilize and demonstrate cost-effective renewable energy technologies.

These grants are designed to provide financial support for cost-effective community energy installations and the development of new renewable energy technologies in Maine while increasing public awareness of these options.

Last year a total of 6 projects were awarded grant funds supporting a range of technologies including biomass district heating, solar electric arrays, municipal solar hot air heating, and a pellet boiler pilot. Proposals will be considered for individual merit per scoring criteria in the Request for Proposals and are not limited to renewable technologies or project types awarded in prior years.

Anne Stephenson
Communications Manager
Efficiency Maine
151 Capitol Street, Suite 1
Augusta, ME 04330
(207) 213-4158

Notice: If you are not the intended recipient for this message or if we have sent you this email in error, we ask that you notify the sender immediately and delete the message from your system. Also, please be advised that emails and email attachments received by Efficiency Maine, with certain limited exceptions, are considered a public record.

Cool internship in CO

Hi Mick,

We are hiring a sustainability intern for our site.  We will be sending this job description out on this side of the country, but thought you might pass this along to an interested student! 

Cara Olivenza

Cara Olivenza
Windy Peak Outdoor Lab
Curriculum Specialist
(303) 982-9494

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


I expect that in a decade or so's time there will be a very big "We told you so" moment in American and global political life.

Monday, March 17, 2014

EC 2003 links from Jim G.

Relevant to conversations we're having in our Ecological Economics class:

Hi Mick,

I'm sending along the link of the World Health Organizations report that mentions the "Invisible Hand of the Market" that I had mentioned to you. 

The context of the report is based on the regulation of industries who are in control our nations food supplies, and recommends that nations need to regulate these industries to combat the rise in obesity rates across the globe.  WHO warns that if action isn't taken that the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote and produce unhealthy food which will lead to increased complications for peoples health and for the economic prosperity of nations.

Here's the link.

On another note, something that plays directly into our conversations in our economics class. 

I was watching the C-Span coverage of the Ukraine Aid Bill Markup that was simply fantastic.  It's a bit long, but all the things that we talked about in regards to the economics of nations and the natural gas industry, to the affects that exportation of natural gas will have on our nation are brought up during the course of this hearing.  I was really impressed with the comments made by the senator from Massachusetts, Edward Markey.

Here's the link to the C-Span coverage of the hearing.

Friday, March 14, 2014

At Climate Solutions

We went to table and various of us spoke at the Climate Solutions Expo and Summit in Augusta on the 12th.

Diane Laliberte of Admissions is behind our table.

Pictured next are Professor Balda and student Marina Theberge

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Smith's is rediscovered

Smith's Statistical Package, which we thought had been removed from the Internet, has been rediscovered by Sam! Rumors of its demise were "greatly exaggerated." Here's a new download link that works.

Thanks, Sam!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Daly Rules* for EC 2003

A. Renewable resources:

Renewable resources should be exploited in a manner such that:

(1) harvesting rates do not exceed regeneration rates; and

(2) waste emissions do not exceed the renewable assimilative capacity of the local environment.

B. Nonrenewable resources

Nonrenewable resources should be depleted at a rate equal to the rate of creation of renewable substitutes.

*These appear in several sources, but the original is found on page 227, Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics, Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend (1993, first edition 1977)

ISBN 0-262-54068-1 MIT Press 800-356-0343 or 617-253-2884

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How Not to Make a Farm

There's a vast area, some four or five thousand acres, of second growth woodland behind our house. There are even small pockets of old, old trees that have never been logged, as well as the extensive wetland of the Great Farm Brook. 

A large portion of this wildland once belonged to the Great Farm that Israel Thorndike had cleared. One area that was allowed to grow back to woodland only in the last thirty years or so is the so-called Hundred-Acre Hayfield. This starts just beyond our back fence and continues for a half mile or so east and about a third of a mile south. You can tell where the hayfield was because most of the trees are, or were, young ash under ten inches diameter. Elsewhere the trees are older and more established.

No longer, because the young fellow that now owns it has had it logged clear, or almost so. The ash trees are now in a giant pile waiting to be chipped by Sappi Paper Co.

This is, to say the least, a scene of some considerable devastation. The idea is to make a livestock farm, and I suppose that with effort a decent crop of fodder will eventually grow where the trees were. But it will be many years before the stumps rot and allow machinery to be used, and until then there will be a lot of weeds and less than optimal forage.

Here's the giant forwarder moving the cut trees in bundles to the yard.

Here's the log yard, where a chipper will stand in a few days time and reduce all these trees to chips.

Here's the new access road that was put in.A house will be built here this spring.

This is a relatively new development in Maine agriculture. It's been a century and a half or more since farmers cleared land in Maine. Farming declined after the Civil War around here, as the people moved west to warmer climes with better soils, and land was cheaply available for decades for those few youngsters who did want to try their hands. Now that the nearby coast has become such a tourist and second-home magnet, old farmsteads are too expensive, but timber land is not, and the equipment now exists to remove an entire forest in a few days.

This particular young farmer wants to grow organic beef. I'm not sure the founders of the organic movement had this kind of approach in mind. And it will take a lifetime of organic beef-raising to offset the climate emissions caused by the removal of the forest. That was a fast-growing second-growth New England forest, the kind that sequesters most carbon of all.

This is one of those cases where the desire to own a farm over-rode other principles. As someone who dreamed of a farm for many years, I'm sympathetic. But it will take a mighty act of denial to go through with this. I feel sorry for this kid that he can't afford to buy one of the established old farms that are for sale around here, but that would have probably cost three or four times what he paid for this forestland, and there would have been no income from logging to tide him over until other income arrived.  But I don't think an enterprise based on so large an act of denial can succeed in the long run.

Removing large areas of active climate-sequestering forest to make an organic farm probably shouldn't be allowed by organic certification standards. Organic certification, based primarily on not using artificial chemicals,  means very little if other kinds of environmental damage are not taken into account. I've talked it over with some of the staffers of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener's Association, of which we've long been members, but they say that with the USDA now issuing organic standards, some of the authority is out of their hands. The beef raised here can be marketed as organic and customers need be none the wiser, at least until the authorities wise up, or a more comprehensive climate bill is passed. In Europe, the landowner would have been better compensated for the climate sequestration value of the forest, but not yet in Maine.

Aimee is of course, the Steward of the Great Farm Brook Preserve. Although the preserve is fine, the trail that goes from our house to the preserve is over part of this cut-over land, and the right-of-way is now covered in chips and cut brush, with machinery blocking the way. The snowmobiles have taken an unauthorized detour to the north, over a different owner's land. We don't know whether or not we'll be able to resume the public access that used to exist.

All in all, a major countryside disaster at the Great Farm. Very sad.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Economics of Parks (from Tom Mullin, for EC2003)

Valuing nature -- for EC 2003

Greenland Ice Core drilling video

Wind makes emissions reductions

From the AWEA blog:

Washington, D.C. — Today, EPA released data showing that power plant carbon dioxide emissions declined 10% between 2010-2012. During this period, U.S. wind energy production increased 48%. The U.S. wind energy fleet is currently reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 100 million tons per year, or just under 5% of total electric sector emissions in 2012. Interestingly, preliminary Energy Information Administration  (EIA) data for 2013 shows that some of the previous emissions reductions from switching from coal to gas, which contributed to the reduction cited by EPA today, have actually subsided. It finds electric sector CO2 emissions were up about 2% for the first seven months of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.

While some of the emissions reductions noted by the EPA appear to be fleeting, the EIA data shows that wind energy is a key contributor in reducing emissions for the long-lasting.
As outlined in the table below, the increase so far in 2013 has been driven by coal electricity generation increasing somewhat and gas generation decreasing by a larger amount, attributable to natural gas prices rebounding from the extreme lows set in 2012. Importantly, the 2013 emissions increase is much less than it would have been had total fossil fuel generation not declined thanks to increased wind energy use.

Offshore wind energy market analysis

Someone who agrees with my POV on Ukraine

Of course, only time will tell. But it won't take long. We should know in the next few days whether or not Putin is willing to risk sanctions.

Citizen scientists work on attribution