Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Our political economic analysis for the 21st century

Environmental Protection Agency v. EME Homer City Generation: The interstate air emissions standards ruling is in.

Monday's ruling has implications for climate mitigation too, since it essentially legitimates the "cap" theory part of cap and trade. It also re-legitimated the old liberal arts "great books" notion that classic English-language literature, from Chaucer through Shakespeare to Twain and Steinberg, remains a fundamental font of modern culture. It simply goes to show, you can know everything there is to know about math or technical subjects like climate change or solar power, all my bread and butter stuff, but you need to know where our language comes from too.

I'm re-reading Bryson's Shakespeare, The World as Stage, and was reminded of just how many everyday phases we use came from such literature, especially Shakespeare himself.

In this case, Justice Ginsberg ruled directly from the King James Bible, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.”

I liked Mr. Art Lien's courtroom sketch of Justice Ginsberg delivering her apparently biblical ruling in this case so much, I though you should see it. I could almost hear the words coming out of her mouth.

But only a thumbprint. Go to the original post to see the real thing.

Justice Ginsburg announces the opinion of the Court. (Art Lien) 

(Henry V, Act III, chorus) 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Vehicle safety report

This afternoon, 13 students and one instructor from PS 3003 Sustainable Energy performed safety checks and pulled trouble codes on 39 student and staff vehicles. We checked lights, fluid levels, tire wear, and tire pressure. We also "pulled" check engine light "trouble codes" using a computer-based code-puller device, and dispensed advice as to what to do about them.

Several more dangerous safety concerns were noted that would have almost certainly related in a summer travel "fail" and possibly a stranding, or worse, an accident:

The following is our report:
  • At least five vehicles with disturbing low engine oil levels. We added up to two quarts of oil. By the time a four quart oil sump is down to two quarts, there's only half the oil there should be circulating to do the job of cooling and lubricating the engine. If you are losing or using oil like this, you should monitor your oil every time you add gas to the tank, and find out where the oil is going. You want to know.
  • Several cars with failed disc brake calipers, resulting in rusty and/or scored brake rotors. One car had a brake caliper stuck on, a dangerously defective condition. In some makes of modern cars it is possible to check brake rotors for scoring, and to check the brake pad for wear, through the spokes of aluminum allow wheels. If your car is built like this, take advantage of this opportunity to check your brakes more regularly.
  • Several "customers" reporting "not worried" or "not bothered" by check engine lights being on. The problem with this theory is that the check engine light may come on one day for something fairly safe, say a small leak in the evaporative emissions system, but while the light is on, a more problematic defect can occur, and the driver never know. If your check engine light is on, you should find out what the codes mean. If you choose to ignore the defect, you need to regularly pull check engine codes, in case an additional defect occurs while the light is on.
  • Many vehicles had tires that had only a millimeter or two of tread remaining. One had completely bald front tires. The Maine regulations require at least a millimeter all round, but this isn't enough for wet Maine spring driving conditions, especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. These students were advised to get new tires, and, until then, to pull over in heavy rain storms.
  • At least four vehicles had one or more tires with dangerously low tire pressure. When your tire pressure drops below 15 pounds per square inch or so, the wheel can no longer keep straight on the road and that corner of the vehicle will wobble dangerously on corners. The best that can happen is that you wear out a tire prematurely. The worst that can happen is that you get a nasty wobble at high speed on a corner or while passing on a highway. This can lead to loss of control, even a rollover accident. The remedy is to check your tire pressure more frequently. If the pressure in one or more tires is regularly down, you have a slow leak. Take it to a shop and get the leak fixed.
  • One vehicle with dangerously high tire pressure, above 50 psi. The correct tire pressure is not the maximum tire pressure written on the tire. It's the recommended tire pressure given in the owner's manual or written on a small sticker on the drivers-side door. Too much air in your tires can be dangerous too, just like too little air. You'll bounce more very time you hit a bump, and can bounce yourself clean off the road. You'll also wear out your tires unevenly.
  • Two vehicles, check engine light indicates loose gas filler cap. Recommend purchase OEM replacement  filler cap. Other check engine lights indicate evaporative emissions control failures probably secondary to filler cap problem, but recommend monitoring
  • One vehicle check engine light indicates lean mixture. Recommend check spark plugs for sign of overheating and/or knocking, if found fix tuning to increase mixture, or try higher octane gas.
  • Various vehicles check engine lights for oxygen sensor.
That concludes our 2014 spring vehicle safety report.

PS: I recived the following this afternoon:

Hi Mick,

Since I don’t have all of the names of the students who so diligently looked over our cars today, I wanted to send you an email in the hopes that you will pass along my gratitude for the service you all provided.

Thank you and take care.
With appreciation,

Brenda Bonneville
e-Communications Manager

Vehicle checks today!

Dear students:

As part of the overall and superior customer service provided provided by Unity College, consider taking advantage of free vehicle check-outs today, April 28th, 1.00 - 4.30 pm in front of the Activities Building.

Is your vehicle sustainable? Resilient? Adaptive? Or does it require mechanical mitigation. Or are you just tired of the gratuitous misuse of important terms in the sustainability debate?

Either way, don’t miss the opportunity today to have it checked out thoroughly. And don’t risk being stranded someplace remote, dangerous, or worst of all, uncool!

Before you get in the olde jalopy and drive off into the sunset for a long, hot El Nino summer (50-50 chance, right now), let the experienced mechanics and other techy-geeky students of this year’s team of volunteers check the poor beast out.

We will check your tire pressures and pump them up if necessary, check and top off the oil and other fluids, clean your windows (dirty windows are a major source of vehicular accidents), and finally and perhaps most usefully, if your CHECK ENGINE light is on, we will use our computer reader to “pull” your trouble codes so you can finally know just what it is that your poor neglected automobile has been trying to tell you all these months.

(Did you know you can save lots of gas by keeping your car’s tires at the proper pressures? And that tire pressure changes as the weather warms and cools with the seasons, so you have to check them regularly! Did you know that a blown oxygen sensor is easy to fix and can save on gas too? Did you know that low oil level can kill your car’s engine? Well, now you know.)

Each participant will receive a written report on the serviceability of their vehicle, with details of any trouble codes and what they mean.

The college accepts no responsibility for the use or misuse of any of the information we give you about your vehicle, or for your car’s safety after you leave the campus, but we do suggest that it’s always better to know than not to know. In most cases.

(Employees are welcome too. Thanks to the Maintenance and Student Affairs departments for aid in providing this service.)

Be safe, drive safe.

Mick Womersley

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Intrinsic properties...

Rare that a journalistic article about business and economics is mathematically competent. But here are the "intrinsic properties" of computer and internet innovations", at least according to The Observer's  John Naughton today:
"They are: near-zero marginal costs (which confer massive advantages on early movers and investors); network effects (which lead to winner-takes-all outcomes, as has happened with search and social networking); the way in which online phenomena follow power law statistical distributions that apply when a few players capture the overwhelming bulk of the action, leaving everyone else scrabbling around in a "long tail"; and technical lock-in (of the kind that has enabled Amazon to exert an iron grip on cloud computing)."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Final exam dates, places and times for my class sections

This, following the Unity College Final Exam Schedule for Spring 2014:

PS 3003 Sustainable Energy

Monday May 5th, 12.30-2pm, TLL 104

EC 2003 Economics of Resource Conservation and Sustainability

Monday May 5th, 4.30-6pm, KH 203

GL 4003 Global Change

Tuesday May 6th, 7.30 - 9am, KH 121


Cultural Cognition update

Jimmy Carter solar panel blog at the Smithsonian

Long ago, I helped organize the delivery of a Jimmy Carter solar panel to the Smithsonian.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Geoengineering materials for GL 4003

1) Russ George, rogue geoengineer, video from Newsy:

2) Smetacek, et al, 2012 Deep carbon export from a Southern Ocean iron-fertilized diatom bloom

Maine frosh co-authors divestment column

Clara Belitiz, from Bowdoin, wrote this along with star science historian Naomi Oretz. I liked the new direction they took: Colleges and universities must divest because, essentially, denial is anti-intellectual and therefore anti-education.

And it is. Of course it is. How many years have we been warning about climate change. A hay-maker argument, that one.

Harvard's board is now outed as anti-science and anti-education! Time to resign, ladies and gentlemen. Give up and go home. Your services are no longer needed.

Article on CBA in the yUKe

We were discussing cost-benefit analysis in EC 2003 last night, specifically the problem that occurs for environmental (and other long-lived social) concerns when we discount future costs and benefits.

As it happens, I found an article in my morning paper about just such a difficulty in the UK.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Krugman calls for solar and wind

"So is the climate threat solved? Well, it should be. The science is solid; the technology is there; the economics look far more favorable than anyone expected. All that stands in the way of saving the planet is a combination of ignorance, prejudice and vested interests. What could go wrong? Oh, wait."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jacob finds a flaw in ENSO

The Lean and Rind model data for 2014 has an as-yet undiagnosed flaw in the ENSO column, discovered by Jacob today.

Here's a patch to allow you to complete the assignment: Use the 2010 ENSO data in this spreadsheet here, except for the intervening years since 2010, for which use the 2014 data. be sure to add the timelags.

In the meantime, I'll try to see if I can figure out what happened with the 2014 data.

Update: Dawn found the problem. There are default-entries of "999.99"in places where the original data was missing. They're skewing the data averages. These need to be deleted and replaced with blank cells.

John L. joneses for a cover picture

Cool video of alum John L. singing for ReVision.

Monday, April 14, 2014

PS 3003: Our LED voltmeter circuits for experiment

Click on either to enlarge.

Circuit version number 1 uses zener diodes. The original was designed by and published at

Circuit version number 2 uses IC  LM 3419, was designed by Electronic and can be found here:

LM3914 12V Battery Monitor Circuit

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Island Institute internship -- on an island!

The Island Fellows AmeriCorps program has been an integral part of the Island Institute's mission to support island and coastal communities for fifteen years. Island Fellows apply their skills and experience to a community designed project, while living within the community on a remote Maine island for a year, or two.

This year, the islands of Monhegan and Matinicus have applied for a Fellow to support the local electric utilities and the residential community as they work toward lowering the cost of energy.
The Fellow will work with the community to survey island energy use and identify areas to increase energy efficiency.

We are looking for candidates to apply for the Energy Fellowship.  The ideal candidate will have experience with energy systems, energy efficiency measures, and data collection and analysis.
A candidate should also have an interest in renewable energy and exploring island energy challenges, while living in a remote island setting for part of the year.

The Fellowship offers housing, health insurance, a living stipend, and a $5500 education award on the successful completion of service.

If you know of any seniors or recent college graduates who bring knowledge of energy resources and would be interested in this position, please encourage them to apply.

All the best,

Kate Tagai
Community Development Associate ​

Friday, April 11, 2014

Next Step is hiring

Desmond Tutu calls for non-violent resistance to the fossil fuel industry

(Wikipedia photo of Tutu)

This via a Guardian column published today.

Tutu is of course a much-lauded hero of the apartheid era in South Africa, who played a leading role alongside Nelson Mandela. A key point in that campaign was in 1986, when Tutu was made Archbishop of Cape Town by the Anglican Communion, much against the will of the Afrikaner minority. Now he brings the soft power of the Church to bear on climate change, something I predicted would happen in my PhD dissertation (2002).

Tutu's declaration is not a particularly specific milestone. The Anglican Communion has been working quietly on climate change for some years. But it is a very public commitment, that by implication with Tutu places climate justice on a par with apartheid (where it belongs). In my thesis, I tracked the various historical cases of the religious response to similar concerns, such as Abolition, the entry of the US into WWII, and Civil Rights. Once the mainstream religious groups get involved, there begins to be a kind of moral pressure that is ultimately irresistible. At least, I thought so in 2002 and still think so now.

So if I'm right, now it's only a matter of time, really. Resolution is inevitable. Unless we (scientists) really don't understand the climate system and have made a major mistake, something I do not believe and would not give more than a one percent probability, well within the reasonable bounds of a precautionary principle, the involvement of more and more "respectable" institutions such as the mainstream churches will sway the general public of the civilized world, and appropriate policy will follow.

There's no room for complacency, considering that an awful lot of ordinary people really don't understand yet, especially after this recent difficult North American winter, but I do believe we're on the right track and can probably stay there.

Note that the route Tutu maps out requires divestment as a key act for participants.

Here's an excerpt. 
People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change. We can, for instance, boycott events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil-fuel energy companies. We can demand that the advertisements of energy companies carry health warnings. We can encourage more of our universities and municipalities and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil-fuel industry. We can organise car-free days and build broader societal awareness. We can ask our religious communities to speak out.

We can actively encourage energy companies to spend more of their resources on the development of sustainable energy products, and we can reward those companies that do so by using their products. We can press our governments to invest in renewable energy and stop subsidising [sic] fossil fuels. Where possible, we can install our own solar panels and water heaters.

We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.
And the good news is that we don't have to start from scratch. Young people across the world have already begun to do something about it. The fossil fuel divestment campaign is the fastest growing corporate campaign of its kind in history.

Last month, the General Synod of the Church of England voted overwhelmingly to review its investment policy in respect of fossil fuel companies, with one bishop referring to climate change as "the great demon of our day". Already some colleges and pension funds have declared they want their investments to be congruent with their beliefs.

It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future. To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title; it requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands.
Here's the rest:

PS: Here's a similar declaration by a long list of major corporations, including Shell Oil. Led by the Prince of Wales via his Corporate Leader's Group. Puts ExxonMobil to shame for its recent and highly irresponsible response to the IPCC report. Should Exxon be surprised if they now become the primary target of the world's ire?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Divestment news -- time to sell short?

An article somewhat hidden on the business pages of today's Guardian reports a press release by Harvard stating that the university will now adhere to the PRI protocol.

This isn't quite the same thing as the honest thrashing of ExxonMobil executives (via attacking their stock options) that McKibbon and were looking for. But it is something.

And it all started at The Little College That Could.

The thing to do now would be for an awful lot of activists, scientists, and professors and other small investors interested in climate justice to call their existing brokers, if they have them, or put a few hundred dollars of savings (or daddy's savings!) in a new online account and then sell Exxon short.

Those of us troubled by the possibility of making money out of the demise of an oil company could then donate the proceeds to the charity of their choice, even

But this notion might be asking for more economic savvy than is perhaps available to us. And of course, the company might rally due to other factors, or it might fight back in the media, and the environmentalists would then lose money, although probably not much of it. But I do think it would be worth a try.

The PRI Protocols (abridged):

As institutional investors, we have a duty to act in the best long-term interests of our beneficiaries. In this fiduciary role, we believe that environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues can affect the performance of investment portfolios (to varying degrees across companies, sectors, regions, asset classes and through time). We also recognise that applying these Principles may better align investors with broader objectives of society. Therefore, where consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities, we commit to the following:

Principle 1: We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.

Principle 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.

Principle 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.

Principle 4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.

Principle 5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.

Principle 6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Today's round-up: McKibbon, LiSC Batteries, and finally someone explains the aesthetics of why every kind of energy production is hated by NIMBYs

1) McKibbon pans ExxonMobil. Well deserved.

2) A "game-changer" battery? Would be nice. There are lots of types in development, though, so don't run to your broker's office just yet:

3) Obviously I'm no artist. My aesthetic is probably very limited, at least according to art aficionados. I like to see new-born lambs, even when manure-and-blood smeared. Honest people always look beautiful to me, even when other folks think that they're ugly. Beautiful people are immediately suspect, especially when it's obvious that they believe that they are so. I'm fond of well-cleaned engines, tidy wiring, and exceptionally well-done soldering on plumbing projects. Tight carpentry joints and clean engine oil is right up there, too. I even like to smell the manure in my compost heap. I actually like wind turbines on the landscape is some if not most spots. There are other places I wish to see left alone, mostly for wildlife and habitat conservation.

But I don't understand and have never understood why anti-wind NIMBY's can't see that what they advocate for Maine -- no wind turbines on our landscape -- really means more fracking for people in PA, or more nukes in Delaware, or more oil drilling in Texas. Wind turbines to me are inherently more beautiful than frack pads.

If any art history teacher would like me to prepare a expressive slideshow to promote this aesthetic, I'm waiting for the chance. Right now I have a large collection of manure-and-blood smeared lamb photos.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From Andrew

Letter from an Aussie veteran

These paragraphs excerpted from an article by Bill Ryan, an Australian climate campaigner, writing today in the UK Guardian:

"At 92, I was arrested for protesting against [coal] mining. I'm glad I took a stand

The people worried about climate change have got to take action, because the government has completely ignored them. So I’ll continue to protest – I owe it to all children....

...What concerns me is that this coal will eventually be burnt and produce carbon dioxide, and add to the global warming we’re experiencing, which scientists say will only get worse.

...They also say we need to keep 80% of the coal in the ground, otherwise it will be a catastrophe for global warming. The use of fossil fuels must give way to renewable energy.

...I’m now 92 years of age and I was a veteran of the second world war. I served in the Kokoda campaign in New Britain. I thought what we were fighting for there was proper democracy. But I’ve learned that was not the situation. The government doesn’t listen to the people, and this mine is a good example. There were over 300 submissions against the mine, and one submission for it. But it was approved."

Here's the rest of Bill's article.

For those students and other readers that don't know about the Kodoka Trail, read this.